Pro Skills: Braydon Bringhurst Offers His Best Tips for Technical Climbing

All photos courtesy of Burst Media

You don’t have to fall far down the YouTube rabbit hole to figure out that mountain bike media favors descending. Videos of World Cup downhillers ripping their favorite local trail, partnering with gravity, take precedent over XC videos panning with endurance athletes battling a steep climb.

The sensations of gravity riding have traditionally been more exciting. Who doesn’t want to watch someone whipping and flowing over step-downs and slicing berms? The sounds themselves are inspirational enough for most to get out and ride, but the preference for downhill mountain bike videos largely ignores what most mountain bikers spend most of their time doing on a ride: climbing.

Braydon Bringhurst approaches his own media unconventionally, which is also an apt descriptive for his background and foray into professional mountain biking. Bringhurst got his first full-suspension mountain bike five years ago. Today, he has sponsorships with Canyon, Smith, Maxxis and others. While that’s a quick rise to pro status for anyone, Bringhurst’s offering to the MTB world is unique, just like his style.

“I realize I’ve had a unique opportunity to develop myself athletically,” he says. Bringhurst raced BMX for a decade when he was a kid, devoting a lot of time at the track and developing his smooth, yet explosive style early on. “I loved the technical side of it. I was so obsessed with being technical and flowy, over winning races.”

After high school, he put the bike down for a few years, and departed on a service mission with his church. Coming home, he went back to school, studied film and competed in track and field and pole vaulting, another set of sports that lended to his mountain bike athleticism. When Bringhurst graduated college, his stepfather bought him a full-suspension mountain bike as a gift. He wasn’t sure what he’d do after college, but he knew a few things. He loved film and he loved bikes.

Eager to get out on the mountain bike, Bringhurst rung one of his friends that he used to race BMX with, who also mountain biked. That friend, now pro, Cannondale enduro athlete Mitch Ropelato, went out with Bringhurst.

He helped Bringhurst dial in his new bike and they got out for a ride. After, Bringhurst says, Ropelato told him that he was riding far ahead of others when they start mountain biking. Bringhurst took it in stride and continued to work on his skills, everything from climbing to cornering. He says he quickly became obsessed. “I took the same approach that I took with pole vaulting but I actually love mountain biking.”

In 2017, Bringhurst moved to Boise with his wife and wanted to keep his MTB momentum going. He started an Instagram account and got involved with his local bike shop and would go out and offer skills sessions with local riders. He started posting more videos to social media, and caught some sponsors’ eyes.

In 2019, he pitched three videos to Canyon, starting with Transcend, a sub-3 minute video where he claws up some iconic climbs in Moab before descending. Then, he says, Canyon started selling more Spectrals, which is his ride in the video.

Bringhurst has used his inertia from those videos and is still producing videos for Canyon, his latest a tribute to the 1986 film, Rad, which was a day from going live when we chatted with him. Today, he lives in Boise with his wife and kids. Bringhurst and his wife film and photograph weddings regularly, as well as the MTB films. He’s also involved with his local trail organization, the Southwest Idaho Mountain Bike Association.

We caught up with Bringhurst to hear more about his approach to media and to glean a few tips for climbing.

A lot of your videos focus on climbing, which is different than a lot of MTB media. What is your intent with showcasing more climbing?

I want to make good content that inspires people to get out and climb and descend and enjoy the beauties of mountain biking. I’m a firm believer in climbing your mountain bike. It’s in my blood, but I never want to be that guy that’s like, ‘earn your turns. If you shuttle your mountain bike then you’re not a real rider.’ A lot of people are figuratively dealing with mountains in their life or they’re actually hiking up with their downhill bike. I just know that with me, I really enjoy the climbing side of mountain biking.

I think my videos, it shows climbing in an extreme way, but the best answer I want to share, is to get out there and climb, and I think when you do that, when you climb a mountain and get on top of it, every vertical foot you drop, you are so appreciative of that. For me, it’s such a high. It makes me feel like I can do hard things. When I go ride and I get the adrenaline rush and the rider’s high, when I’m doing other stuff, I was reminded that morning on my ride, that I can suffer through it, because on the other side will be a fun descent. It’s a daily reminder that you can overcome adversity or make it through this or through that. So, when I make a video, I want to share that message.

Another thing that’s unique about your climbing, is that you bunnyhop a lot. How useful do you see bunnyhopping as a climbing technique?

I think the concept of the bunnyhop is huge. A lot of my climbs, my wheels don’t actually leave the ground, but I’m still using the bunnyhop motion to get up hills. Just realizing that if you break down a technical climb, there’s parts of it that you can use to gain momentum or traction. The whole motion is huge to carry the momentum up a climb.

On a lot of my climbs, I don’t start super fast. I start casually and slow, and use the bunnyhop to create inertia and carry me through, versus just smashing through rocks and hopefully making it to the top.

How do you choose your gearing? Do you avoid the granny gear?

I hardly ever climb technical in a granny gear. I’m usually in 3, and I have a 32T chainring with a 10-50T rear. I feel like gear 3 gives me enough torque when I slow down completely, but I can get enough speed if I’m spinning before the climb, to get over rocks in the beginning or something like that.

How about your suspension? Any special way you set it up for climbing?

Full open. I’m always open. I don’t touch my tire pressure or suspension pressure for climbing. I don’t run it fully fast, but it’s on the faster end, because I like that on the descent. So, everything is set up for the descent. I do like a progressive suspension curve, so my fork has three tokens in it, it’s 20% sag and the rear is 20-25% sag.

It’s built to ramp up a lot. If I’m going to set up for a big gap I don’t want to just smash through my travel. It’s definitely set up to feel playful, I would never want my bike to feel sluggish. At the same time I want it to feel good and supple just cruising down the trail.

How about your dropper post?

If it’s mildly technical and a longer climb, I’ll keep my seat post up. But if it’s gnarly technical, I’ll drop it down, because I want that thing out of the way, if I need to bail or get my weight low and back.

How about your stem? Slammed or stacked?

I keep spacers under it. I want a really good time on the descent. I try to find a happy balance, so they’re not super high, but not super low either. I try to keep them as high as possible because I want that descent to be fun, but too high is just too high.

How about your body positioning?

One of the big things about climbing, is that if you’re too far over the front you’re going to spin out in the rear, so you’ve gotta learn to pivot in your hips and get your hips back toward the bottom bracket but keep your chest down and forward. You can feel it, if you’re too far forward you’re going to spin out. You’ve gotta drive your chest, lower your weight, and shift your hips back to keep rear wheel traction.

Press play to watch Braydon crank flip up and a over a ledge during a climb – with clipless pedals

Do you train with any certain exercise to be a better climber or more explosive?

Yes, definitely. You can do plyometrics. You want to do them when you’re fresh because you want your muscles to be at 100%. So if you want to go burn yourself out on a ride, that’s fantastic, but don’t do plyometrics after. Plyometrics are fantastic, like box jumps or anything like that, but you have to be careful not to overdo them.

I’d say 15-20 minutes max, maybe twice a week, but that’s it. You don’t want to treat your plyos like a cardio session. A picnic table is perfect, because it’s about 24″ at the first step and then 36″ at the top. You want to land with about a 45° bend [in your knees] and then rebound to the top part of the picnic table.

So if you jump to the part where you sit at the table, and then rebound and jump to the top, that rebound training you do with your legs is going to be exactly how it’s going to be in real life on a mountain bike climb. There’s going to be a ledge, and then there’s going to be a ledge immediately following it. So, if you’re going to see massive gains on climbs if you’re training your muscles to do that.

There’s so many perspectives on how to weight train. What I’ve found is that it’s so important to get the most out of the muscles you do have rather than putting on mass and more muscles. Very often I’ll do weights that are pretty light and I’ll move them at a swift speed, and I’ll supplement that with depth jumps or box jumps or whatever and that maintains my explosiveness. So as soon as I’m building muscle, I’m training that muscle to be fast. So two times a week, I’m lifting and doing explosive stuff, and that’s 30-40 minutes, and I’m done.

Any other tips?

One thing that’s really important for climbing, if you’re in clipless pedals, you need to be able to get out really quickly sometimes. So, I’ll do drills on the grass where I practice clipping out. I’ll run into a tree and practice having to clip out really quickly before I fall over. I’ll do things where I’ll go slow and stall out, and have to jump off backwards, and practice clipping out from the back.

So, I’m really competent in dismounting my bike and that takes a huge factor of technical climbing out of the picture. If you can get off your bike and you’re on some funky climb where you need to get off, it’s a good feeling to be able to do that. That skill in itself can go a really long way.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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