Mountain Bike Skills with Paul Howard of ZEP Techniques [Podcast #247]

photo courtesy Paul Howard

On this Episode

Paul Howard has been coaching mountain bikers all around the world for over 20 years now. He’s a co-founder of the Professional Mountain Bike Instructors Association (PMBIA) and is the owner and head coach at ZEP Mountain Bike Camps in Whistler.

In this episode, Paul shares the #1 skill mountain bikers actually need to work on, and how that’s often different from the skills they think need improvement. We talk about mountain bike skills myths, how mountain bike skills and fitness are related, and whether watching videos online can be a substitute for in-person skills coaching. Paul also fills us in on the PMBIA and its role in improving coaching in the mountain bike world.

Learn more about ZEP at zeptechniques.com.

A full, automatically-generated transcript of this podcast conversation is available to Singletracks supporters.

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Transcript

Jeff 0:00
Hey, everybody, welcome to the Singletracks podcast. My name is Jeff and today my guest is Paul Howard. So Paul has been coaching mountain bikers all around the world for over 20 years now. He’s a co founder of the professional mountain bike instructors Association, and is the owner and head coach at zip known by camps in Whistler. Thanks for joining us, Paul.

Paul 0:46
Thanks for having me.

Jeff 0:46
So how did you get started teaching mountain biking in the late 1990s?

Paul 0:51
Well, it was we kind of started, like a lot of kids, you know, just grew up racing and riding in the UK and just with friends in the woods. And then it was kind of in my my gap year before University, I got a job as an assistant teacher in Australia and took my bike over and started just sort of helping the kids and our springs actually in the middle of Australia was a bit random. But yeah, I just started riding with the kids and kind of teaching them a little bit. And that’s that was sort of what initially sparked my interest was like, Oh, this is kind of wonder if you could do this as a job. This was

Jeff 1:28
what were you teaching them though? I mean, were you like, what were they trying to do? Like, they just wanted to? I don’t know, like jump ramps, or were they like, trying to get ready to compete?

Paul 1:38
No, because I mean, this was like late 90s, in the middle of Alice Springs, so it was the mountain bike network, there was just coming around. And there were some pretty cool trails, some really unique terrain and, and it was more just getting the kids into an activity and showing them the sport. And, and sure enough, you know, most soon as you get a 14 year old and a bike at some point, they’re going to want to jump it. So yeah, it just kind of started off really casual. And then when I was at university, I was looking for a similar experience in the summer, you know, like, see if I could find an outdoor ed or, or a guiding or a coaching job in the summer. And I ended up with a teaching getting a job as a mountain bike instructor at a big outdoor camp in North Carolina. So Oh, cool. That’s where really, that’s where it really kicked off. And back then there wasn’t really the you know, the idea of having a job as a mountain bike instructor was wasn’t didn’t really exist. So, you know, there were kayak guides and rock climbing guides, and you know, rock climbing instructors, but mountain biking, you know, it was pretty early. So that’s what really got me into it was that job in North Carolina. And then I stayed there for four or five summers kind of developing the mountain bike program there. And developing trails, we built a bunch of trails, and then a little had like a two week teaching program and a four week teaching program for teaching the kids, it was crazy. Like, we would have up to six, six to eight one hour lessons a day, for five days a week. So the teaching volume, like two months of work on that, that massive camp in North Carolina, like the teaching volume, as far as like teaching math and broken it was, you know, two months teaching there would be the equivalent to like the most, it’d be it’d be about the same as what people would teach in a full season or even two seasons today. Yeah. So it was like, fully just chucked into the deep end and given this mountain bike school and said, Hey, teach kids mountain biking, and we were like, oh, okay, cool. How do we do that? And it was it was literally up to us to develop everything. And that’s what we did. And luckily, I had an outdoor background and grew up mountain biking, and been in a lot of sort of leadership and teaching roles before. So luckily, I was in a good place to kind of try and figure it out. That’s what we did. And it just kind of blew up from there.

Jeff 4:08
Yeah, well, you you mentioned that there wasn’t a lot of like formal mountain bike instruction you know, two decades ago that did you have any sort of helpful instructors yourself or like mentors, or did you just kind of figure things out on your own

Paul 4:24
back then like in North Carolina, it was a lot of just figuring it out on our own. The first summer I worked there, I worked with a girl called Jules and we, we kept she had a kind of a good background in outdoor education. And so between her and I, we figured out a bunch of stuff. But then the second year, she didn’t come back and I just kept, kept building it each year and it was a little bit of a for sure it was trial and error. But I know at school I studied psychology and I learned quite a lot about different learning styles and my mom was a teacher and I think people have their natural skill sets. And for me, I think that was the time in my life where I kind of discovered my natural skill set. And it definitely seemed to be teaching. So yeah, a lot of the time I, I had mentors in other ways, like, mentors in terms of showing me that you could make a living in the outdoor industry, like, Foxy was the guy that kind of ran the outdoor education program at this camp. And, you know, he, he clearly was showing me that, you know, I was 2021 22, something like that. And at the time, I was at university doing genetics, thinking, I might go and do medicine after I finished that. And then all of a sudden, in the summers, there were people showing me that you can earn a living teaching rock climbing, or you can, you can live in like nada, you never going to be rich, but you can earn a living doing it. And so I had lots of mentors in the sort of the wider scope of the outdoor industry of people showing me if you work hard, you train hard, you get certified, you get organized, and you kind of treat it like a chosen career path, that there’s a way to do it. If you treat it like a sort of a summer job, then it will only ever be a summer job. So yeah, that was definitely some people that helped me those aspects.

Jeff 6:20
Yeah. Well, were you surprised? Like as you were putting together this first like, program like the curriculum and stuff. Were you surprised that how much there is to learn about mountain bike skills?

Paul 6:32
Yes. And I like I’ve always been really analytical. And even as a kid growing up, I was never a natural mountain biker. And my best mate growing up, Danny swerd was annoyingly good on a bike, he would just learn, I’m going to bunny hop over this four foot wall, and he would just be able to do it, then I would have to like, oh, I can’t do that. And it would take me like four months to figure out how to do it, right. So I always had that kind of mind with it. And then around the same time when I got into mountain biking, or teaching mountain biking, rather, I started learning to when I finished uni, I studied my snowboard instructor training, and then seeing how it was all broken down in the winter, you could and what we’ve been developing in the summer, there were a lot of crossovers and similarities. And that’s where I think what we were doing in North Carolina, it kind of in almost gave that credibility, because when I started the snowboard stuff, a lot of this stuff with developed or developed was very similar. And that’s where I felt like we’re on to, we’re onto something good here, because these ski and snowboard guys have been doing it for decades. So the fact that we had quite some similar structure and similar ideas and concepts and methodologies, it was sort of a, it was a good way of knowing that we were on the right track with something and but yeah, so in some ways, it was surprising because it’s like anything, when you analyze it, and you break it down, you start kind of going into this rabbit hole of like, Oh, if we if we look at this piece, and then we break that piece into two smaller pieces, and then we look at those smaller pieces. And it’s sort of your, I guess it’s a little bit of my science background, too, is I think that’s just the way my brains always worked. So you just when you study something, you always break it into pieces. And then when you have it into bigger pieces, you break it into smaller pieces. And it’s you end up Yeah, he definitely ended up going wow, there’s a ton of information here.

Jeff 8:30
Yeah. Well tell us about the professional mountain bike instructors Association. How did that come about? Like was there a need for mountain bike instructors to be certified?

Paul 8:41
Yeah, well, it was, it was kind of towards the end of my time in North Carolina, like had been teaching mountain biking, full time every summer for four or five seasons. And I decided when I finished my degree that I was going to give this a try. And I was going to try and make a career of teaching snowboarding and teaching mountain biking. And when I finished my degree out, I got my snowboard instructor sets. And similarly, I wanted to do the same for mountain biking. And I was like, Well, I’ve been this mountain bike coach and I’ve run this mountain bike school for a few years and kind of want to get a piece of paper that that justifies that knowledge or that perience and so I ended up doing an instructor course in the UK and I did one in Canada and yeah, long story short, they were pretty horrible. And, and the fact that there was nothing in the US at the time to and it was it was very clear to me there that like there wasn’t much available and what was available just didn’t matter to the ski or snowboard industry at all. So that was definitely one of the motivations behind starting zap was I felt like I could take some of the stuff I had developed in North Korea. airliner and, and some of my experience in the winter as well and at least start to offer the industry a stronger product, I think, I think it’s always that way in life, isn’t it, you either complain about something or you do something about it. And that was really why we started zap was I felt confident we could offer a good quality course and there was a need for it. Because for us like going back to your point, like, if you want to improve the quality of the teaching of a sport, then it has to be there has to be a standard so that you know, the end user, the person on the bike, buying a mountain bike less than or the tour or the or the mat or the coaching camp, whatever it is, they know they’re buying a certain quality of instructor educator. And that’s definitely taken a while for that culture to come around. Because before you can train instructors, you need people to understand the value in getting a lesson. But it’s hard to understand the value in getting a lesson if the instructors aren’t very good. So it’s a bit of a chicken in the egg scenario, right. And we still have that a little bit in the industry today. But but nowhere near what it was in the late 90s and early 2000s. So that was our biggest goal. It’s like if we can offer a better quality course and then and try and build it to a point where it becomes an industry standard, then ultimately people will, they’ll have a better experience. If they do take a lesson or they do take a camp, they’ll see the value in doing it. And from there, we can train more instructors. So you see in the winter hits. You know, so many people take ski lessons and snowboard lessons because they see the value in it. And that’s what we’ve been working really hard on in mountain biking is it’s it’s really no different you take a golf lesson, you take a tennis lesson, mountain biking is just as complicated if not more complicated with no sports. So right think of tennis, the environment is very consistent, you think of golf environment is less consistent, but you kind of look at that relative to mountain biking where the trail is completely different weather conditions can be completely different. The the bikes can be completely different, like so many constantly changing variables, you have all these biomechanical skills, but then you have the mechanical skills of the bike itself. So if everybody is teaching it a different way, and to teach teaching it to different standards, it, it makes it really hard to trust any lesson or product. So that’s why we need the industry needs that certification. And that that kind of standardization a little bit is making sure we’re all on the same page where we’re teaching off the same system. And then ultimately, it makes lessons safer and more effective. And then people are more likely going to either take less than and or they’re going to I think for us, it kind of reduces the what I’ve seen is it reduces the barrier into the sport, if you want to try a sport. And there’s a coach to help you try it. It’s going to be a better experience. And you see this, you see this a lot in the winter with the classic kind of girlfriend boyfriend scenario, hey, just stand a newborn and just pointed down and just turn in like having massive arguments like it’s, it’s horrible. And then you see the student take a lesson and they love it. And they’re hooked.

Jeff 13:34
Yeah, imagine, like, in the early days of mountain bike construction, it was a lot of it was local. And so it’d be, you know, somebody in the area that either was just a talented writer. And so that was kind of their credibility, or maybe they did have like a teaching background. And so that was kind of a natural outlet for them. But today to see it, you know, yeah, much more rigorous and regimented, have the techniques in mountain bike skills instruction evolved much over time with that, like, Are there best practices that, you know, have started to become apparent after training a number of instructors from all over? For sure,

Paul 14:13
I think. Yeah. I mean, to your point, like, back in that late 90s, early 2000s, it was, it was really loose. I mean, primarily, a lot of coaches teaching back then were, you know, races or athletes or retired races. And the classic thing you’d often see and you still see it a bit today is is this those strong riders teaching less skilled riders to ride how they ride. And a good coach understands that, you know, I hate jump like this. So I do a front wheel lift like this, but I’m teaching someone two or three ability levels down from me and so how I might do that skill or that maneuver is, is going to be different to how they should learn it. So how you do it versus how you teach it sometimes are the same. And sometimes they’re different. And a good coach understands that, like classic is always you get pro riders telling people to pull off the lip of a jump. Not all the time, you know, I don’t want to, I don’t want to put a wide brushstroke on to provide his coaching, because some of them are amazing coaches. But that’s, that’s the classic scenario, perhaps, if I’m honest, and and you know, how you might teach someone who’s new to jumping is very different, how someone might jump, who’s been jumping for, for 20 years. So in terms of sort of how things have developed, I think a lot, a lot of it through the last 1520 years of training instructors is just giving them consistent methodologies to not only structure a lesson but to deliver the right content. And that’s really how we break teaching down is you can have great structure to the lesson, good, intimate introduction and warm up and assessment, and good training well, and teaching and feedback and demonstrations and stuff. And that’s really all the teaching skills side of it. And then you have the content, you know, what skills you’re going to teach? And in what order and on what terrain and what progressions are you going to use to help introduce this skills gradually, or what tactics are you can use to help your students feel certain things, it’s those kinds of teaching tools that have become a lot more consistent, because in the past, no one was really trained how to teach. And I think that’s something we’ve been really big on in PBIS. The pedagogy side of it is someone coming into a into a course and saying, it’s great, you can ride a bike, but we’re going to learn how to teach and teaching is a skill, just like any other skill. And you can, you can be a horrible teacher or you can be amazing teacher, regardless of how you ride a bike. And just because you can ride a bike great doesn’t mean that your teaching skills are going to be great. So I think that that’s been a big shift in the last, you know, couple of decades is people understanding and respecting that teaching is a hugely important skill. And if they want to be a coach, regardless of how they ride a bike, they need to understand how did I develop that teaching skill? So I think that’s probably been the biggest change is people just respecting that. They need to they need to be a strong teacher, and not just Australia.

Jeff 17:38
Yeah. Well, you kind of touched on this earlier. But you know, this new found sort of availability of instructors and quality instruction definitely seems like, you know, it’s, it’s different from the past. So what is this going to mean for like, the next generation of riders? Are we going to see more talented riders are going to see people, you know, breaking new barriers because of this? I think so for

Paul 18:02
sure. And I we’ve kind of seen it a little bit already. And we’re seeing we’re seeing it now. And I think a good example is you know, in Whistler, we’ve been having kids, kids camps for a long time, the local club here walkers. It’s an amazing it’s an amazing bike club, we have a great community. And there’s there’s been kids coaching programs here for a long time. And, you know, there were times when seminar can fin hours and all those kids went through a lot of the local community coaching programs here. And partly what those programs do is as much as sort of teach them skills is it just provides an entry for kids to get involved in sport safely. And I think that’s one of the big shifts coaching has has provided the the sport of mountain biking is now parents feel way safer, and way more comfortable about letting their kids try the sport sooner. Because there’s there’s kids camps, and the kids camps are coached by certified instructors.

Jeff 19:09
Yeah, it’s not just kids going out and like building ramps in the backyard are try Yeah, really dangerous stuff. It’s it’s all like much more structured.

Paul 19:18
Yeah, it’s structured, it’s organized, but you know, it’s still a ton of fun. And I mean, going back to like, my time in North Carolina, like we were sort of proud how sort of safe and kind of organized we were running our camp in North Carolina but we would be out on the trails and you would see trucks turn up with 20 bikes on the back. All the bikes were like look like they’re about to snap in half. And then one kind of slightly older kid or young adult like right kids let’s go and they had like one instructor to like 20 kids and they just ride off up into the road with like no water bottles half their helmets didn’t fit and like, it was so loose, and, and basically, you know, these days that just wouldn’t be able to happen. And I think having an instructor, you know, standard is, is a big part of that. And now and now parents, you know, they expect it and adults expect it to when they sign the killer app, or they sign themselves up for a coaching camp or a clinic that is now that expectation, much more than it used to be that, you know, are you certified, what’s your certification level, do certified with the NBI, and things like that. So I think it, I think for the next generation, it, it’s great for the end user, because now there’s a resource within the sport for people to either either try it for the first time, or have their kids try it for the first time, but there’s a there’s a system or a product in place for them to feel more confident about it. Or there’s a system of coaching and camps and clinics in place for people to continue. Because, you know, in the late 90s, early 90s, it’s like mountain biking. From from where I was standing was pretty much is, you know, is considered an extreme sport. I hate that term. But extremely, maybe everything was extreme. And it was for like pros that were like, you know, 18 to 30 years old, and it was just for dudes, right? Whereas you look at Mountain Biking now. And it’s it’s young, old, male, female, whoever and and I think coaching camps and instructors, you know, definitely played a part in that because it’s like I said before, it kind of opens up the doors for everybody to try it to be less intimidating and, and more inviting to anyone from all walks of life, different backgrounds, different ages. So sometimes I think like, what happens if you didn’t if the bikes hadn’t evolved, and you just had coaching? Or, or the other way around, if you if coaching hadn’t involved in the bikes had involved? Like, I think partly the growth of sport and the health of the sport right now is all of these things like trails are way better than they used to be? Because the green and blue trails are way better than it used to be. Same with the bikes. Same with the coaching, I think it’s sort of those three things that work together. Yeah, that’s where you get the magic. It sounds kind of cheesy, but if you have like a really well, well built trail with a new modern bike with a professional certified coach, like holy cow, the gains you can make in a short time a huge compared to where we were 1520 years ago.

Jeff 22:39
Yeah. Well, what does the typical set mountain bike camps client look like? Is it? Is it someone who’s just starting out as a young people? Is it older people who are like trying to progress? Like what what are you seeing there?

Paul 22:53
I think, I think for us was that when I started zap and Whistler it was we kind of looked at the other camps at the time. And we wanted to make sure we, because I think there’s kind of that respect in the mountain bike industry that I love where, you know, if there’s one camp near you offering a certain product, you’re going to look to sort of offer a different product. And a that kind of makes business sense. But be I think there’s kind of that respect. Well, they’re handling that let’s not sort of jump on their turf.

Jeff 23:21
Yeah, I’ve heard that from other instructors too, which is interesting. Yeah. And there’s

Paul 23:25
definitely kind of crossover for sure. And you end up offering similar or the same products as another coaching company. But each coaching company kind of has its main gig. So for us, like when we started, we wanted to focus on in intermediate, and up adult riders, we really wanted to focus on adult skill based training. But since then, you know, we’ve definitely grown like today, we went through a lot of private coaching lessons from beginners all the way up to advanced but I’d say I mean, Zack client, outside of the kids programs that we run is sort of a discerning adult rider that can already ride and they they want to learn how to jump or they can already jump and they want to learn how to whip or they like technical trails, but they struggle on steep rock rolls. Everyone wants to corner better. That’s pretty much I think every lessons, everyone shows that I want to corner better. So yeah, I’d say as sort of most common rider for for adults is typically intermediate and that last summer, we started a mums program. And that was that was a big success. And that was a lot of fun. We had a few people sort of say well, what why don’t you Why isn’t it Why is it a man’s program? Why isn’t it a women’s program? And first of all, there’s a ton of women’s programs in Whistler already. So we felt like that. That nice was sort of being looked after and my wife we have two kids and a lot of her friends and there’s just a slightly different demographic. So it was kind of a out twist on the old women’s camp and these moms had such a good time, they felt less intimidated to try stuff because they weren’t, you know, 1819 year old girls, they were just sort of with with their own friends, their own age group. And so these days, we have a real mix, we and then we’ve started kids camps, six to nine year old kids camps. And then we have the teenagers in our racing youth development teams. So for kind of smorgasbord of people these days, but traditionally, it was kind of that intermediate.

Jeff 25:32
Yeah, well, right now, it looks like you’re offering distinct bike park and enduro camps, which is one of those more popular than the other, and how we’re kind of the skills different for each of those two.

Paul 25:45
Yeah, it’s interesting, like, I think, because we’re in Whistler, and a lot of Frylight, one week, bike, parking enduro camps, that product is typically someone that’s, you know, traveling to Whistler for a holiday. It’s not necessarily a local in the sky corridor. So with that in mind, they’re kind of traveling to Whistler, and they, they often just why they’re coming is because they want to ride the bike path, because it’s, it’s an amazing bike park is the best in the world. So typically, the bike park camps are more popular, but definitely in the last five, five or six years with the blow up of AWS and all the new enduro bikes, the Enduro camps have gotten more popular, but it’s funny every summer like our enduro camps include coating in the BiPAC, as well. And that is a huge advantage of the Bikepark. Because you can do so much more skills development in a short space of time and for less effort. So we’ll do like an intro day into the bike park and the Enduro camp, and then you know, that the second or third day or whatever, we’re kind of scheduled, so to speak, to ride somewhere else in the valley. And they’re like, Oh, can we can we just, can we stay in the bike park tomorrow, and it happens on every single cam. It’s pretty funny because they, they kind of get it. As soon as they ride it. They’re like, wow, I can hit 50 jumps in a run, and I’m gonna learn, I’m gonna learn how to jump way quicker, or it’s the same with corners, or like we can do one lap from Garbo down to the village and ride like eight different nine different rock rolls. Yeah, so in in terms of skill development, outside of technical climbing, obviously, because you’re not doing that in the backpack. It’s just so much more efficient. So they, they I think that’s one of the, you know, going back to that previous conversation, I think bike parks have played a huge role with coaching, because it’s finally as coaches we have terrain and environment where we can much more easily and efficiently break things down and, and teach essentially, so I think those two have gone hand in hand and Western bypass pain. I think people don’t always understand what so by Parkway, they think it’s so popular because it’s got all these amazing route trails and these chemtrails and it is popular because of that, but I think it’s the whistler did really well early as they did green and blue trails really well. And it allowed them to get kids in their newer riders in the less confident riders in there. And it allowed them to run coaching programs and products and, and the growth of Whistler I think is because, you know, from a very early day, they’ve they’ve been able to do that and understand that well. And so that’s kind of fed into the local community. And from a long time ago, everyone realized like, oh, kids can go down crank it up and new 50 year old, right is that never mountain bike for can learn how to jump. And so it’s sort of I think that’s been a bike parks have played a big role in helping coaches deliver the lessons they want to deliver, because it’s, you can have the best coach, but if you don’t have the terrain, it’s it can certainly make your job a lot harder. Yeah, that’s

Jeff 29:12
really interesting, something I hadn’t thought of before, but it totally makes sense. Yeah. So what’s the number one skill people are looking to develop? And then what is the number one thing that they actually need to work on? Are these two different things you mentioned? You mentioned cornering, which I think most of us know, we’re not great at it. But yeah, are there are there things beyond that? And are there things that that we’re not good at that we don’t even know we’re not good at?

Paul 29:40
Yeah, I could probably talk about this for like a week. So if I waffle on you just have to tell me to shut up. But uh, yeah, this is common like in a bike park scenario. Obviously the common one people, you know, request they want to learn to jump and so the first thing we do is we just go down at A simple trail, blue Beeline trail or something, and we assess their cornering skills and their ability to pump on the bike. Because it if you think of a corner and a giant, there’s a lot of similar physics going on in terms of going through a radius and feeling pressures and trying to maintain a strong position. So sometimes we say like a jump, it’s just a corner turned 90 degrees, because there’s so many similar physics going on. So that’s the classic one, they want to learn to jump and then but they can’t pump through a berm without getting pushed into the back seat. And they can’t they can’t maintain a Senate strong body position as they pump a berm and they and they can’t get the timing right. So it’s until you can do those sorts of core skills through then how can you be expected to do that safely through the transition of a champ when you’re there, and obviously, you’re kind of projected into the air, so there’s more consequence. So it’s very common that we’ll get in a bike park scenario, people want to learn to jump and we end up just doing working on their body position, their pressure control and timing and actually improving their cornering and getting them to ride as an active rider. Like so many riders, don’t pump the bike enough, push on it on way to try and pick it up and try and generate speed through pressure control. And without that fundamental skill, it’s it’s hard to then learn to champ so we we break broken down into different sort of fundamental skills. So they’re really the tools you need to do that job. And if you don’t have certain tools, you can’t do the job. And the job of jumping requires really good pressure control and timing skills to do it safely. So that’s, that’s the common one, and then for cornering. Again, you know, probably in or out of the backpack scenario, the common one is people think they need to get better at sort of bike body separation, and lean the bike more than the body, which we’ve all I’m sure these days, that techniques pretty, pretty well known. But again, same thing, we’ll go through a corner and their weight will go back. And if you’re not centered and strong, and on the corner, a lot of times you’re gonna lose front end grip. So same thing with a lot of cornering lessons, we ended up just working on body position. And then once we thought that in, we can work on other things like separation and pushing on the bike or rotating the hips and stuff like that. It’s nearly always that process, whether they’ll want to learn X, whether they need to go back two steps and learn something more fundamental and build that before they can go back to learning. Learning X, like rock rolls is, is another classic like, that’s a huge one we see in BC just because of the writing we have here and especially around Whistler and Squamish is sort of rock slab, rock slab heaven here. And you know, the classic is just back break, put your weight back, put the back brake on, and it’s good down on the rock face, picking up speed. So you know that you want to learn rock rolls, what you actually need to learn to do is learn expert front brake skills, how can you get super confident using the front brake only to control your speed, but stay stable and keep two wheels on the ground as you do it. So I spent half my summers I sweat just creeping down rock rolls really slowly with just my front brake on to show students you know, without this skill, you will always pick up too much speed on a rock roll. Yeah, and we get into a lot more with body position and all that kind of stuff but body position and breaking like two peas in a pod to say,

Jeff 33:44
Well, speaking of breaking, feel like there’s some myths around that. I mean, one of them all beginners, it seems like the first thing they hear is like Don’t use your front brake. Right. So there are other like mountain biking myths that you’ve encountered over the years like that.

Paul 34:01
Oh, like I actually did a bit of a mythbuster series on pinkbike secondsit Mythbusters series, you can look through it. And we kind of address a bunch of those, like, the classic one is when you go downhill, you put your weight back, which was these days, I think it’s pretty good. Like people are starting to understand like, No, you don’t do that. And especially with drop, especially with dropper posts,

Jeff 34:24
right? Well, yeah, that was that was because you kind of had to Right? Like if your seat is so high, the only place for you to go is like back and getting over it. But

Paul 34:33
yeah, and I think that was that was the big cause of the problem was what you wanted to do was get low that you couldn’t get low because the seat was in the way so you had to move your hips back but then that got misinterpreted in the 80s and 90s. It’s like oh, you go downhill you put your weight back but but it was sort of a misinterpretation of what you were actually trying to do. So again, that’s where equipment and coaching it really kind of come together. Like, drop a post now like, you don’t have to put your weight back. And if a good coach understands why you have to stay centered, and they understand how the teacher and and then again, position and balance is that fundamental skill, if that’s off than anything else you do is going to going to struggle. So I think that’s a big one. The other one I hear a lot is during breaks. That’s a classic one. And it’s more about how much to break and when to break through a corner and which break you can use. So many people are struggling through the corners, because they’re literally just letting them off completely. Because they’ve heard a racer, or they’ve heard some races head at some point. But they don’t necessarily appreciate that the racer has.

Jeff 35:45
Yeah, I feel like we learned that with cars, too, when we first learned to drive right, like they tell you break before the turn, and then you know, not in the turn.

Paul 35:54
Yeah. Well, it’s interesting, because I did a bit of driver training years ago. And like, when you when you do that mean driver training like race, racecar driver? Not

Jeff 36:06
a little different than than your daily driver.

Paul 36:09
Yeah, it wasn’t a penalty, I didn’t have to do extra driving for some reason. Yeah, we were on a chat in a track car, basically. And, and the big thing, when you’re going fast and encourage, you have to have the gas on to the corner, because it puts drive into the tires and you get more grip, if you let if you lead off through the corner, you also get less downforce and the car gets lighter, and you spin out. It’s one of the most common reasons why cars spin out in tracks. So straightaway, they’re like you’re in an environment you’ve been told to break and then lead off. And soon as you get on a track, they’re like do not do that, right. And it’s the same here. Like we often talk about trail braking, like maybe you’ll let the front brake off, but you might just keep the back brake on a little more, just so that the bike doesn’t accelerate so much and get away from you. And that’s one example of addressing that there’s a ton of other ways of addressing that. Yeah, yeah, there’s, there’s a ton of myths out there. The other one I got is the one you mentioned, like for beginners, like don’t use the front brake. And I actually heard someone teaching that last summer and I was like, full on,

Jeff 37:15
like, where’s your certificate?

Unknown Speaker 37:16
I’m gonna rip it up. Right? Yeah. Oh, my Lord. And they weren’t, they weren’t satisfied.

Paul 37:22
But you know, the first thing you can do to help a beginner is show them how to safely use the front brake, because the front brake, you know, as we all know, that’s, that’s the one that’s going to make you stop. And that’s the one that’s really going to control your speed. So if you’re starting your mountain bike career, and you’ve been told to not use the one thing that actually slows you down, like, holy, so it’s not about not using it, it’s more about, well, let’s introduce you to this fan break. Let’s show you how we can use it safely. Let’s go through a progression that builds your confidence gradually. And yeah, and all the beginners and kids that walk away from camps there. They’ve never been introduced to the concept or the other notion that the front brake is dangerous like that is that that isn’t even in their conscious. And it it impacts their writing positively on. On day one.

Jeff 38:14
Yeah, well, yeah. And you mentioned too, about how the equipment has evolved. And, you know, for a lot of us who started out brakes weren’t very powerful, you know, many years ago. And so, you know, you would use two fingers or three fingers, pull on the levers, and now it’s one and dropper post two, I mean, do people could you even teach a class or a clinic, to people that don’t have a dropper post? Like, is that even? Is that like required equipment nowadays in terms of like, the skills and things that you need when you’re on the trail?

Paul 38:48
Yeah, it’s a good question. Because, you know, I remember it was three, four years ago, I was running a PMP instructor course and I remember standing there and I looked at the whole group of instructors that I was training and it was the first course where everyone had a job post I was like, This is awesome, it’s gonna be so much easier to show you guys how to teach this stuff. It’s certainly not a requirement and lessons but I find it’s less and less common for somebody to come to a lesson even a new rider with without a dropper post. But you know, a good coach can always adapt there’s there’s things you can do. If you go back back a few years, let’s lower the seat for the downhill section that’s if we can’t lower the seat that’s what we’re definitely going to go back even further and show you how to get low and put your head behind the seat because the seats you know, to the moon but generally speaking, you know, a character can adapt to any equipment within reason that the student shows up with, but I think these days it’s, it’s thankfully it’s less common. At the very least they have a quick release. So if they need to quickly You know, that during a cornering session or whatever, they can just lower the seat? A couple couple of inches or they’re doing downhill section or something.

Jeff 40:09
Yeah. Is instruction keeping up with the equipment? I guess one thing that comes to mind would be like E bikes. Right? So when is that something that that you’re able to incorporate into your instruction in terms of like, well, these bikes are weighted differently? And how do you manage the acceleration and those kinds of forces that are going to be different than the bikes that people have been using up until this point?

Paul 40:35
Yeah, yeah, that’s it. Yeah, I remember now what you’re saying with is the coaching keeping up? Yeah, with respect to ebooks, and all these, you know, the evolution of bikes the last few years? Like, I definitely think the coaching is everyone involved is so passionate, every year we’re looking at how we teach, whether it’s a zap camp, or whether it’s an instructor course with MBI, where we just constantly have that nature of you walk away, and how could I do that better? How could we train instructors better? How can I improve the resource materials for coaches? Or how can I improve the lesson progressions for students? Like we’re just constantly trying to find ways to improve our coaching, so the industry just trust that more and more and, and a big part of that is keeping up with equipment. So for example, with eBooks, like you mentioned, we have, we’re just what we’ve been working the last couple of years on an ebike, instructor module for a certified PMP, or instructor, we’ve got an online ebike module coming out so they can look at how can you take the the methodologies and the content that you’ve learned, as an instructor through European vi courses, and adapt, you know, X, Y, or Z, if you have a student on an ebike. And we’re also working on like an adaptive mountain bike module as well, for instance, because that’s another part of the sport that’s going to is adaptive mountain biking, and these three wheeled bikes with motors on them and hand driven and so that Yeah, I think that’s always been a natural part of the sport, because whether it’s an E bike or an adaptive bike, like we’ve gone from, you know, in the late 90s, we, you know, we’ve seen Well, now, now we’ve got suspension, and then we’ve got disc brakes. And then now we’ve got full suspension, like adding that’s just constantly. The two things are constantly evolving together and push each other I, I think for us, the bikes evolve, the coaches evolve, the coaches evolve, the bikes evolve, and people are getting better on bikes. That’s the other thing. They’re getting better on bikes, because they’re starting off with better information. And so they want better bikes. They want bikes that can handle more, and it’s sort of a, again, a chicken in the egg like, the bikes getting better. Some people are riding better, people riding better. And so they’re demanding better bikes.

Jeff 43:02
Yeah, yeah, it’s a virtuous cycle. And yeah, one gets better, and it pushes the other to get better. And yeah, just keeps going on and on.

Paul 43:09
Yeah, so I think that’s our job as professional instructors is you got to constantly reevaluate every year. What are we doing what’s happening in industry? And how can we stay ahead of the curve?

Jeff 43:23
Yeah. Well, as someone who coaches, mountain bikers and who’s developed curriculum over the years, do you think it’s possible for people to become skilled riders simply by watching YouTube videos and practicing at home? Or is there something? Is there something to be gained by doing it in person and having like, sort of a more one on one experience?

Paul 43:44
Yeah. Yeah, that’s, that’s an interesting question. And we definitely laugh and like, talk about this quite a lot, as you might imagine, because,

Jeff 43:52
I mean, that’s probably what most people do. I mean, there’s probably way more people that do it that way then go to a coach, but But I imagine it’s a different experience.

Paul 44:01
Oh, totally. And it, you know, I guess the short answer is, it depends on what video you’re watching. You watch. If you’re watching that video, it’s gonna be good. But the problem is like, we have well everyone knows it, right? Like YouTube has a wealth of information on there and a lot of it is pretty horrible. As far as mountain bike coaching goes, you talk to any any sort of respectable mountain bike coach about YouTube, they’re, they’re probably going to sneer at you because there’s there’s a lot of horrible information on that. And some of that information is by by I won’t use any names, but like, well respected mountain bike channels with X races and Welker races and they’re telling you to do things that are not even doing themselves. Yeah, yeah. Oh, you want to lean back down this bit and then they write down it and you’re like, he didn’t mean back until the witches do There’s a complete disconnect of like, how very skilled writer, but they didn’t understand how to teach properly. And, but you know, that being said, there is some good info on there. And the way I look at it is like, if if you happen to come across a good video series, it’s gonna help, I think it can be a great resource. And more and more these days, people are making better how to videos because more and more these days are coming from certified coaches, and they’re not coming from other writers in the industry that don’t necessarily have that training or background. So I, it, I think it’s just sort of you got to sort of filter through the weeds and try and be aware of who is making that video? Why are they making that video? What is their background? Are they making monies from that video? Or is that a professional coach, just genuinely trying to help them by community? Whether they’re making money or not, I always try to look at that. And you know, for me, I look at, I’m a snowboard coach, and instructor and instructor trainer as well. And there’s a ton of same in the winter, there’s a ton of like, how to do 360s on a snowboard and how to carve and wood. And it’s the same thing, that’s a really horrible video. But you kind of get through the weeds and you find a couple of really good SEO channels, and you watch them and then I do it myself. And then I was like, cool tip. I didn’t think of that. And then you go try it on the hill the next day, and you’re like, Oh, that was cool out. So all information is good information, I think. I think the real question is like, how does watching YouTube videos, and practicing on your own compared to getting a coach? Like, for me, that’s always the real question. And YouTube videos and practicing on your own is obviously free, or free, yes, depending on what it is on YouTube. And obviously, you have to pay for a coach. But if you get if you get a good coach that PMP is certified, they’ve got years of experience, it’s in all honesty, it’s night and day, because a huge part of the learning process, which I think the modern world kind of forgets with this, you know, this massive growth of YouTube. And stuff like YouTube is a huge part of the learning process is assessment and feedback. So, you know, we have this in our pedagogy and pmdi. Like, it’s great, you can explain something clearly and even demonstrate it to a student. But can you analyze their writing? Tell them what they did well, and give them tips on how to keep improving?

Jeff 47:44
Right? Yeah, everybody’s starting from a different point or, you know, may have bad habits that they’ve picked up and that they need to address.

Paul 47:51
Yeah, oh, you might just try something new, and you tried it too early or too late. And then you think, Oh, that was horrible. That didn’t work. But all you needed was a coach to watch you and say you did the right move, you just did it too early and, and too quickly. And that’s the huge value of a coach is you’re going to have that that person next to you on the trail. And that’s a hugely important part of learning is assessment and feedback. It’s a continuous cycle. And if you don’t have that assessment of feedback, essentially what happens a lot of the times you just hit a roadblock, you’ll get to a certain point trying to teach yourself. But if you really want to progress efficiently, then then hire someone. There’s a reason why, you know, all the best athletes in the world have coaches. And they have coaches for years, because they can’t do it themselves. You know, they need someone to watch them and be like, Wow, yeah, try this. Try that. And it’s yes, he is with the YouTube, you just kind of miss out on that whole part of the process.

Jeff 48:57
Right. Right. It’s very one sided. So in your opinion, how are mountain bike fitness and skills linked? You know, it seems like a lot of times new riders maybe have a hard time separating the two, like when they’re thinking about tackling a difficult trail, you know, like, Is this hard for me? Because, you know, I don’t have the fitness to do it, or is it because I don’t have the skills? I mean, can you can you learn the skills without first having the fitness I guess is the question.

Paul 49:26
Yeah, it’s, it’s an interesting question, because it essentially the the answer is those two components go together hand in hand, you need some physical fitness and dexterity to just physically control a bike, off road. On mountain bike trails, you need some base level of fitness. But I think more often than probably should happen is people tend to kind of blame one on the other. Like if they can’t, if they don’t have the skill, they’ll say, Well, I’m out of shape. Hmm, you know, maybe they have this, maybe they’re in really good fit, fitness shape, and they’re super fit, but I don’t really have the skill. So I think the two go hand in hand for sure. But if you look at a beginner, and you’re on well built, well designed green and blue trails, and you have a nice bike, you shouldn’t need any exceptional fitness level to perform the skills you need. At that point, I think fitness becomes a bigger piece of the pie, so to speak. Yeah, as the terrain gets more challenging. So as soon as you get to sort of blues, you know, dark blues, blacks and beyond, clearly fitness, you need a certain amount of fitness to just get up that climb. Regardless of your climbing technique, if you don’t have the power and the cardio, you’re going to struggle up that climb regardless of your technique. And I feel that every summer I think we all do, we all get onto a climb where we’re like, Man, if I was just further I could claim that you didn’t have the power. So that’s that’s a common scenario. And what we see a lot with cornering is people not having the core strength to and it’s definitely technique, but definitely it boils down to leg strength and core strength to maintain a strong position on along this tent. So their weight gets back and in their hands get tired because their weights back. Because when your weights back, you have to grip really tight.

Jeff 51:33
Seems like some of us too, we like use one to get away with the other, you know, the speaking of cornering to like, you know, if you’re a really fit rider, you can make a mistake in terms of like losing a lot of speed in the corner and then just making up for it by furiously pedaling out of it. Yeah.

Paul 51:52
Yeah, that’s super common. Oh, you just get people that are super strong. And they kind of just bulldoze through things, without any financial skill. And yeah, I mean, it definitely goes both ways. Like some people that are super fit, they will make up for it by with their physical strength and vice versa, that some people that allow that’s fit. They don’t have that to lean on. So they have to be more skilled. Yeah, so they’re definitely both important. pieces. And it kind of just depends where you are, I think in terms of terrain, in terms of ability level, how much each one will kind of impact you.

Jeff 52:33
Yeah. Well, I want to ask you, how do you personally progress in terms of your own mountain bike skills?

Paul 52:40
I think, for me, personally, what really helps is constantly because I live in Whistler. You know, from December to November to April, essentially, I’m snowboarding a lot of the time will travel to Australia and do some biking there and the winters for sure. Some PMBA courses down there, and New Zealand as well. But if I’m not on the road to in that sense, and that that really helps just having multiple sports I think has always been a big, big driver to a keep you stoked and interested. But be just, I think multiple sports is key to sort of that all around athleticism that all around agility. Because on a snowboard for example, a lot of the skills that same like the concepts are the same your position and balance your pressure control. Yeah, yeah. Hedging. Yeah. timing and coordination. They’re all similar concepts, regardless of the sport you’re doing. So I think that’s one thing that house and then the other thing that helps for me is because I’m by nature, especially given my job, I’m really analytical. So like, it’s hard for me to go on a ride and not think, man, what am i How can I do that better, or, or I want to do this today. And like, I’m just constantly setting goals, I think that’s the big thing, it boils down to it. It’s very rare that I go on a ride. And I’m just like, a completely switch off and thinking nothing like partly why I love mountain biking is I’ll get on my bike. And I’ll be like, I want to work on that climb today or I want to I want to be breathing less by the time I get to the bottom of that descent or I want to clear that rock roll smoother today or whatever it is like I’ll have something and then my whole focus is purely on just riding my bike better. Yeah. So I think that’s what a lot of people don’t do is they don’t think enough about how they are riding their bike and how they could be riding or should be riding their bike. And, again, that kind of goes back to YouTube. Like the ton of people we see they just don’t have the body awareness. They think they’re writing a certain way but they’re not or they think that doing If x and y, but they’re not, or they don’t even think about it at all, and they just don’t realize, they don’t realize that they’re not doing something because they’re not even aware of what that something should be in the first place. And that’s where a coach comes in. It’s so many times what have like, a client, Oh, I haven’t been mountain biking for 20 years. And so I try a lesson. And then in five minutes, you’ll say, hey, just try this. And it kind of blows their mind. But it’s literally because they’ve just never thought of it. Yeah. And they could have fixed that themselves 15 years ago, but they never even knew it was a thing to fix in the first place. So that, you know, again, having someone there watching you is, is such a big part of it. Because unless you have amazing body awareness, the chances are, you’re not thinking about it. And you’re not thinking about how to fix it, or you don’t even know what to think about and you don’t know what to fix. Yeah, so I think that helps me as I’m just constantly self coaching. And then and then the other one obviously, is just riding with people better than you like, yeah, I live in Whistler, luckily, I’m fortunate to doesn’t matter how good you get here, you always suck. There’s kind of a good way of looking at it, because it’s, you can never get you’re always humbled here, right? Like, as good as you get. And as smooth as you get. There’s always someone smoother and better and faster. And it’s such an inspiring thing to have, every time you go out and ride with your coaches or you ride with, with your friends. You know, I have a couple friends here and Ross Dunlop is one of our coaches. He’s such a strong athlete, strong rider. And every time you ride with someone like that, it just, it just makes you better, because you just follow and follow and watch. Yeah, and I think that’s where for coaching it, it really helps me everyone has their different learning styles. But for me, as soon as I’m with someone stronger than me, I just, I just want to sit on that tail and follow them. And I learned so much just from

following someone physically on the trail. And again, you can’t get that in a video, you can’t get that by reading a magazine. Like, you have to follow someone who knows how to ride smoothly and efficiently because they’ve thought about it. Or they have all those years of experience. And then you just for me, I just get better. Every time I ride with my staff, my staff keep me on my toes, a little bit younger than me and they’re all pushing, pushing me every year. So I try and help them with their coaching. And then it helped me with my writing. But it’s an ongoing process. I think the first big part of it is just is is the past is the cheesy bit right? But it’s true. It’s It’s the passion for the sport. I think if I wasn’t getting better, I’d get bored and motivation wouldn’t be there. Like that’s why I love biking after all these years is every time I go ride, I’m like I can still get better. And that just drives me I think if I if I ever I felt like I could go on a bike ride, and I couldn’t get better. And I didn’t even know what that would feel like that’d be kind of weird. Yeah, it’d be, it’d be a weird feeling.

Jeff 58:18
Well, do you have an example or a success story from one of your clients or students at zip? Who’s you know, really skills work is like really made a difference in their writing?

Paul 58:30
Oh, yeah, tons.

Jeff 58:33
Yeah, I mean, what does that look like for most people is that they’re faster or they’re just enjoying the sport more or confidence? Or, you know, I mean, what is it that people

Paul 58:42
take away? Well, all of the above really, like we we always try and start with like, confidence and and I think a lot of a lot of everything else you want to achieve in your biking comes from the confidence. If you’ve learned a technique and you’ve developed certain technique, you’re going to feel more confident and from there, you’re going to be smoother or faster or more efficient or less tired. I think that confidence is a huge thing. So our big goal is if we could show you how to develop your technique, the confidence will automatically kick in and then and then everything kind of builds from there and I think plastically I mean our goal every lesson is to do that so I’ve been teaching a long time now and and it’s the same with instructors to is every instructor course we run or camp or private coaching session we run you know, we always ask at the end like what have been your main takeaways and a lot of time you can just see it. You don’t even have to ask them like if you’re coaching Well, you’ve got good terrain. You will see it through the day or you’ll see it through The weekend or whatever the product is, and you don’t even almost have to ask them at the end. They’re just smiling. They’re laughing. And they’re telling you I think that’s something I’d tell my instructors and coaches that we trained a lot is, if you do it, right, like the students should be just telling you what they’re feeling, man, I’m feeling faster, I can’t believe how slowly creep down that rock roll. That was crazy. And this goal is for the students to kind of either show it or say it before the end of the lesson. I think, to kind of speak one example I always think of this one guy. He did one of our five weekend step. Instructor camps and it’s it’s basically five weeks of rider development, improving your your writing here in Whistler, and then as part of the five weeks you get to do like, a level one pmdi course and level two pmdi Cross. And anyway, he he was a racer in Australia, mostly raced cross country. And we worked a lot on sort of skills for downhill for him because he was a crazy fit guy, like super fit. Top 10 National XC rider. And I remember that camp because he was basically away from home, away from responsibilities. And he, he was partying, he was enjoying. Like, he wasn’t, he wasn’t training or eating like he probably should have been. Anyway, I think his first race back home, he got his first ever podium in a national race. Oh, wow. And that that example always sticks out to me because he says like, I’m not as fit right now physically, but I just got my best result ever. Because I just he saved a ton of energy on the downhills, because he just had better skills. So he could kind of make up for that lack of fitness on the climbs. Yeah. And he was just way faster on the downhill. So he was like every lap, he was either just passing people on the downhill, and then had just about enough in the tank to kind of hold it on the pills. And a lot of it was cornering to I mean, he was an XC rider, I think a lot of cross country and trail riders don’t understand the importance of a lot of the time cornering kind of gets lumped into like, well, that’s a downhill thing when you can’t drink, you know, but I’m not a downhill I don’t really need to work My cornering. But, you know, up, down left, right flat, like that’s gonna be corners. And that was the other thing he said was just just constantly maintained pace through the corners, no matter where it was on the trail. Yeah, and I think that season, he got back, he got a bunch of podiums in his best season ever. But he started the season like totally out of shape so and bikes that it was a big part of it, too. Like we helped him with a bike setup and got rid of his tiny skinny handlebars and sad looking front tire that just had no grip on it, which is really common people focus, a bit, I think still these days is there’s still a tendency sometimes for riders to focus too much on pedal efficiency. And then they have a front tire that has no real tread. So regardless of the style of riding, if your front tire has no real tread on it, every time you turn the bike through a corner it it’s not going to give you the stability in trusting grip that you need. So yeah, that always sticks out to me as an example. And

Jeff 1:03:37
yeah, I mean, I think that’s a lot of people. Yeah, can identify with that, for sure. So, before we wrap up, what’s one skill that mountain bikers can work on right now? That’s going to pay back the biggest dividend over time?

Paul 1:03:51
Oh, take take that lesson. And then No, I think the big The biggest one is, and it’s, it’s fairly, I’d say it’s more common knowledge these days, but it’s really just you positioning on the back and doing a better job of staying in a better position more of the time, it’s pretty easy on a mellow trail to kind of stand up and be centered or, and be nice and wide and be able to move the bike underneath you but but can you be in that, that solid position anytime anywhere, like just watch some Red Bull, downhill racing, you know, one of the key things that sticks out, you know, your look alike, and go in some of those top guys, you know, and this is why Sam Hill was always so, so good back in the day was the one thing he was doing better than everyone else more of the time was his body position on the bar. He was just more centered more stacks. And because of that he was he had more control All bike, if you’re saying it and stable it in yourself as as a, as a mass, you’re, you’re in a much better position to manipulate and control the bike. If you’re trying to control your mass and where it is or isn’t, then how can you really control the bike. But if your mass is where you want it to be, then you don’t almost have to think about that. And you can you can then manipulate the back you can push on it or lean it or, or whatever you want it to do. And that that’s the key skill. It’s all it’s all position. And that’s that’s everything stems from that. So yeah, that would be the

Jeff 1:05:36
Yeah. Yeah, that’s, that’s a really good tip. And, but at the same time, yeah, it’s not one that, you know, you can just hear that and know what that means, right? Like, you still need to, you need to do your homework. And you know, having a coach certainly helps.

Paul 1:05:52
Yeah, totally. Because it, you know, you can say it simply like, well, you want to be centered, but there’s a ton of different, there’s a ton of different ways to like, how can you be centered on the bike and being centered might look differently to a five foot four roller versus a six foot two rider on a downhill bike and versus a XC bike or something like that, like there’s, there’s all these different variables, and that’s where that’s where the coach is gonna come into play and give you what you need.

Jeff 1:06:20
Yeah. Well, Paul, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us about mountain bike skills. I know I’ve learned a lot and I’m sure listeners have as well. So thank you.

Paul 1:06:31
Thanks for the opportunity. And yeah, appreciate listening. And yeah, thanks so much, so well, you

Jeff 1:06:38
can learn more about zip at zip techniques.com where you can also find out schedules for upcoming camps and training opportunities. And be sure to follow the single trucks podcast solid got this week. We’ll talk to you next week.


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