Riding Tip: Working Into Longer Mileage Mountain or Road Biking
Over the past couple of weeks, my back has been feeling great. I am not getting any pain at home and I am able to hit the road and trail when I have time. Life is good on the road back to the bike during my recovery.
However, I find myself in a place in my riding that I have not been in for a long while (almost since I started riding seriously back in the 90′s) – working back up my mileage endurance to handle multi hour rides on weekends.
Last weekend, we headed up to a southeast US favorite – Raccoon Mountain. This 18 mile or so loop is atop a ridge in the Tennessee canyons outside of Chattanooga and they hold some of the best single track the area has to offer. Additionally, there are built in tech sections that are great for sessioning and tuning in your technical riding ability. About 12 miles in, my legs decided they were done and I bonked. It was almost as if you could hear them go BOOM through the woods and it was the first time I have bonked in 12 miles in longer than I can remember.
Working Up To Longer Miles
New riders and riders coming back from injury run into an interesting predicament. You love riding, you want to more of it, but you do not have the endurance for several hour long hammers in on the road or trail. For riders coming back off of injury, you have memories of those days but no ability to make it happen at this time.
So what do we have to do?
We need to start conditioning our bodies to get to handle longer times in the saddle. It is an incremental change that is fueled by two key ingredients.
- Consistent Riding
- The Will To Not Get Frustrated
The only thing that will get you riding longer miles is stretching what you consider normal and doing that consistently. Whether it is hitting shorter rides harder or slowly extending your mileage when you can, you (talking to myself here as well) need to start extending your riding to push your threshold farther. While I wish there was a magic bullet or some super secret underground method for doing it quickly, the reality is that you have to work to get your body to create a new “normal”.
For most riders, this is not an easy thing to accomplish given other life obligations. Some of us have families, jobs and other outside factors that make getting in more longer rides difficult. But – as I mentioned earlier – the key is to stretch yourself. You need to hit that climb harder, bring your average speed up on the road and keep pushing your fitness to be better (within reason…don’t push to explosion). Even shorter distances with higher efforts will help your milage on the weekend.
For me, I have found that weekly rides that are on a certain day greatly help my endurance while being able to balance life’s obligations. If you have one or two rides after work that you can depend on, that will bring the consistency to your riding that is required to push the limit of your time wall.
But most importantly…
You have to remember not to get frustrated through the process…because it is a process. It is almost as if I am going through a mental battle on the trail. My mind remembers being able to push harder but my legs and body can’t get the job done. I want to be able to jump right back on an attack trails and road rides like I did at the injury point, but my endurance and strength is not even close. Somehow, I have to keep reminding myself on the trail that it is ok and it is better to be on the bike or off…this is just another stage in the process.
Some days it is easier said than done, but – for the most part – it is easy to get stoked when I get out of self loathing enough to turn my eyes up and see what is front of me. Single track ready to be ripped and fresh asphalt ready to be carved is the best therapy no matter my riding ability is at the time. When you keep that in focus, the rest comes with time.
Pushing The Limits Of What You Consider Normal
This past weekend was a brutal one. With multiple weeks in succession of being out of town, I was itching for a ride in the worst way so there wasn’t anything that was going to keep me off the bike on Saturday and Sunday if I could help it. Sometimes you just need rides and this weekend was one of those weekends. This sequence of stories from the weekend does have a point as you will see by the wrap-up at the bottom so bear through my pain as we take something valuable out of this adventure!
The Blistering Cold Road Ride In The Rain
Saturday started off with a road ride with a couple of friends. While we knew the temps were going to be down in the 30′s, what we were not expecting was the rain that we woke up to. I swear one of these days I am just going to quit this whole online thing and become a weatherman because all they have to do is guess, be wrong and get paid really well for it. I had already laid out my riding clothes the evening before so I knew as long as I got my gear together, on and took a few pedal strokes, I would be on the bike at least so there was no turning back. I was right and started off down the road with cars kicking up 30 degree dirty water in my face. It was awesome.
Four of us headed out and got in about 45 miles before the rain and cold started to create that numb pain that you can only get on a bike. Ever get that feeling that you need to sit and defrost in your living room because a hot shower would just hurt too much? That was my experience on Saturday and after 20 minutes of sitting in dry clothes petting the dogs…I cleaned up and took stock of what we just accomplished. It is not everyday that you suit up for a rain ride for 45 miles in temps in the 30′s. That was a new one for me and it stretched my abilities even though the ride wasn’t that long. Conditions just take a toll after awhile…
The Mountain Bike Ride That Caused Me To See Things
To keep with the insanity for the weekend, another group of 4 of us decided it was a good idea to hit 30 miles of some of the hardest trail in Georgia on Sunday. Thinking it would be a good idea to put in a later start time with the hope that the temperature would rise some, we opted for 10am. We were wrong about the temperatures but that was probably a good thing as the ground was frozen instead of muddy. With about 50 layers of riding clothes on, we headed up the first climb ready (so we thought) for what was in store.
The trail of the day was Snake Creek. Known for its rock gardens, this trail is a ridge ride full of steep up and downs within some of the rockiest trail in Georgia. On tap for the day was an out and back on the hardest 15 miles of the trail. After picking our way through the first 15 miles of the day, we arrived to the radio towers half frozen when the reality of the situation set in (for me at least)…we are only 1/2 way through the day and we are already 2:45 in. It’s ok though…I had to go find my ego somewhere around mile 12 anyway. I dropped it.
Luckily, gravity played more of a roll coming back and many of the rock gardens that we had to climb got the added benefit of momentum on the way down which made the more technical side (the first miles coming back) a blast to run through for those of us that are really into technical riding. After we got past the wall that we had to climb walk up the last time through, there were several more sections of hike-a-bike that I remembered blasting down and thinking…this is going to be hell coming back. I was right and the calves started burning like crazy as we pushed bikes up some crazy terrain. On the second section of pushing, the wall hit and my fitness was spent. Since I had been on the road for several weeks traveling, my body was just not ready for two days of grueling pain. However, it was time to sack up and finish the ride because the only other option was laying on the side of the trail dead.
The earphones went in and I let the loud hard rock blaring into my ears help with the pedal strokes until finally we were at the last downhill of the day. Ironically, this is the same downhill that I had voiced I needed to be in front for the finish. I couldn’t find my ego…and it was time to take my place at the back as my vision was now getting blurry and my arms were so tired that it was going to take everything in me not to wreck…much less lead the charge down the hill. We finished up the ride with zero mechanicals and all body parts in place…and it was still sub 40 degrees outside.
Pushing The Limits Of What You Consider Normal
For many riders, the weekend I had could have been just another weekend on the road and out in the woods. For others…it could be almost unimaginable to put in over 70 miles in terrible conditions. Every rider has a baseline they work off of and that is what they consider normal riding.
In the metro Atlanta area, we hear a lot of complaining about trails being too hard…there being too many rocks…or just complaining about the conditions and not being able to ride. This past weekend, I took my baseline of what I considered normal and raised it a bit to increase my skills and ability to ride a bike. Did I increase my technical ability? Probably not…but I did increase my fitness and threshold for weather conditions. There will be other rides on other trails that test my riding abilities and each time I extend those (safely hopefully) I increase what I consider normal on the bike.
I do not believe that mountain biking, road biking or even urban biking should be as easy as riding a bike.
I do believe that trails should be constructed within an area that allows for progression within the sport. Just like at a ski resort, they should not all be double blacks or bunny slopes. It is up to the rider to ride within their limitations and test themselves to become a better rider over time. By testing ourselves and extending what we consider normal on the bike, we are able to continue to enjoy the sport of cycling. Just because you can’t do something today does not mean that you won’t be able to do it tomorrow.
If you want to get faster…ride with people that are faster than you are.
If you want to become a better technical rider…ride harder trails.
If you want to be able to ride longer distances…start riding longer rides.
Stretching your limits in life and on the bike is a good thing. Sometimes it takes pain and stress to figure out what you are really made of. If you make the decision to never stretch what you consider normal, you are making the decision to never get better at anything you do. Next time you are on your bike, look for that obstacle or feature that you want to be able to do. Find a way to either work up to that point or get the courage to try it. There is only one way to do it and that is to try…
Images by Laurie Phillips
Is There A "Right Way" To Mountain Bike?
This past weekend, I hung up the suspension bikes to get out on my 29er rigid singlespeed. It had been awhile since I had ridden the one gear bike and even longer since I had forgone suspension on the dirt. A group of us decided it was a good idea to make this ride a theme and I was joined by two other riders all looking to dust the cobwebs off the spokes of their SS sleds. The day ended up being a 24 mile hammer through the woods without a single click of a gear on a sunny and 70 afternoon in the southeast United States.
In contrast, last weekend we all grabbed the larger suspension mountain bikes and headed up to a trail to do some drops, jumps and rock tech…the exact opposite of the ride this past weekend all within a 7 day period…and that got me thinking…
There Is No “Right Way” To Mountain Bike
Mountain biking is about the only sport I can think of that offers this kind of diversity to such a wide range of people around the world. Anyone who knows how to ride a bike can find a segment of mountain biking and call it their own. Furthermore, there is no right or wrong way (from a style standpoint) to ride your bike.
The crew here at Bike198 is friends with riders across the globe that vary in preferences due to a number of factors. Much of your “right way” to ride is dependent upon your surrounding landscapes and availability of parts and bikes. For those that have an abundance of different landscapes like in California, you have the ability to choose which area of mountain biking you are going to call home.
Even if you decide to call suspension-less SS your ride of choice this year, that same rider might change their preferences over time and bring themselves over to the tech/drop side of riding. As abilities increase and technology continues to make different riding styles easier to accomplish on the trail, we are seeing riders that have ridden a certain type of mountain bikes and trails start to venture over to other disciplines as bikes allow riders to tackle varying terrain with greater ease. The emergence of the 5.5″, light trailbike and 4.5″ travel 29er has also brought more technical abilities to riders who never saw themselves on 33+ pound mountain bikes of years past. With very capable bikes in the sub 30 pound range, more riders are throwing their leg over a bike that can take technical riding and drops than ever before. Among our location in the southeast, I have seen riders jump back and forth between the DH/FR end to XC racing…enjoying the aspects of both equally…just different. In my opinion, the second best part of riding is the ability to change the story as you go along as there is no perfect solution for all riders over time.
As we look at the different styles and preferences, there is no “right way” to mountain bike. There are plenty of different preferences and tastes…but at the end of the day…we are all just mountain bikers. We might enjoy the sport in different ways with different equipment, but no matter whether you are riding a 10 inch travel downhill rig or a rigid singlespeed…you are still a mountain biker and that story can change and adapt with time as you absorb yourself into this culture that we call home.
6 Tips On What To Do When Rides Just Can't Seem To Add Up
This past weekend, a group of us headed up to Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina to get some tech riding in. The area is about 3 1/2 hours from Atlanta and features arguably the best riding on the east coast and some of my favorite riding out of anywhere I have been to date.
Saturday we hit up the hardest trail in the area (Farlow Gap) and Sunday we headed off to Pilot Rock for some crazy fast rock downhill. On the Laurel Mountain climb up to Pilot, I should have known it was going to be a rough day in the saddle when, on the climb, a thick tree branch swung into my front wheel, grabbed tension off of a spoke and flung itself to hit me square in the face. It was the beginning of one of the roughest days I have had in the saddle that didn’t result in a serious injury.
4 wrecks, 4 mechanicals and a host of other issues later…I proved that I can still cuss and throw 5 year old temper-tantrum with the best of them as what was supposed to me a flawless day in the saddle went to shit in a hurry. Now…the screaming and getting pissed of that I did is the exact wrong way to handle days on the trail that result in this and typically just make it worse. So…in the light of showing how I did it wrong…here is the advice I should have taken that would have resulted in a better day…
6 Tips To Get The Ride Back On Track
There are going to be those days that seem like they have everything stacked against them. At every turn, all flow goes away and you are presented with a new obstacle that isn’t a rock or root to tackle. Here are some zen tips to get rolling and hopefully get all of the pedal strokes back in line before you give your friends the middle finger for trying to make it better.
- Take A Deep Breath – The absolute worst thing you can do when days don’t add up on the bike is to get super frustrated and start to rush into the rest of the ride pissed off. By doing this, you are just going to continue to make things worse as you hit the trail with enough adrenaline and anger to take on a bear. When things just seem to continually go wrong, it is better to take a deep breath in…and try to regain composure for a second.
- Do A Quick Once Over of the Bike – Wrecks breed wrecks and mechanicals breed mechanicals. Before you go tearing off into the woods looking for that flow that you have lost, really take a good look over the bike and make sure everything is in working order. If you catch potential issues before they happen, you can prevent another frustrated moment trail side. The most common areas to check would be your tires (pressure and bead) and your shifting (derailleurs and chain).
- Slow It Down A Notch – The first thing I want to end up doing after multiple unscheduled dismounts and encounters with the ground is drop the hammer. However, I obviously am having issues or I wouldn’t have been on the ground multiple times to begin with. When you are trying to find your flow, do tip 1 and then build speed back up. By building up instead of hitting the gas, you might be able to get back into the swing of things and get the ride on track.
- Take A Quick Break – Sometimes it is better to just sit on the side of the trail and regroup. When you wreck or experience mechanicals on the trail, you instantly peak your heart rate and throw your body into temporary survival mode. It can be hard to get things back to normal so taking a quick break to regroup can go a long way in getting the ride back to a manageable level. This is especially true if you are finding a sequence of wrecks.
- Ride The Trail…Don’t Play Catch Up – One of the temptations (especially on technical trails) is to try to ride against your fellow riders instead of riding the trail. Everyone has different skill levels and sections where they are faster or slower than the riders around them. If you forget to ride your ride and try to catch up to other riders in your group (or try to speed up not to hold riders up), you are going to multiply your problems quickly. Pro race car drivers will always tell you, “you are racing the track…not the other riders”. You should be doing the same thing. (of course…if you are holding people up…get off to the side and let them by)
- Go To A Happy Place – Just as in Happy Gilmore, take a second and get your mind in a happy place. If you are in a good mood…you will ride better. Pissed off riders just get more pissed off.
By taking some pretty easy steps, you can salvage cursed rides and regain the flow you lost on the trail. Admittedly…this is one of those advice pieces that is often easier said than done when you are in the moment as I proved this weekend.
Riding Tip: 7 Tactics for Tackling that Next Steep Hill
In this guest post by Greg Heil, Greg goes into the mechanics of steep mountain bike climbing. You can check out Greg’s blog and riding tips by clicking the link at the end of this article.
Some of the most challenging parts of a trail for a new mountain biker to conquer are the climbs. Pedaling through the flats is relatively easy: you just have to pedal. Going downhill is pretty easy as well–until a tough turn or drop off pops up. But climbs… climbs are challenging. If the climb is especially steep, it will undoubtedly knock you off your mountain bike unless you know and utilize these key tactics:
- Don’t wait to shift. Since you should already be looking down the trail and know what’s coming at you, shift as you approach or begin the hill. Do not wait to shift until you are in the middle of the hill and under full power. It is virtually impossible to shift the front chain rings while under power, and is also rather difficult to shift the back cogs–so shift preemptively. Since the rear cogs can usually be shifted under moderate power, take special care to make sure that you pick the proper front chain ring. For a steep hill, like we’re talking about in this article, that’s the small ring.
- Shift all the way down. What I really mean is don’t be afraid to shift all the way down. Of course you don’t want to shift down too quickly and lose all of your precious momentum, but I have seen so many beginners walking up hills when they didn’t even try to shift into their lowest gear (called the granny gear). You don’t want to disrupt your two-wheeled experience by having to walk up an easy hill, so shift those gears all the way down.
- Choose the right line. Even though you may be climbing a steep hill at what feels like a snails pace, it is still imperative that you keep your eyes up, scanning ahead in order to pick the path of least resistance up the hill.
- Keep your butt in the saddle. Not only does this make you more efficient by keeping the weight off your feet, but it keeps your body weight back over the rear tire and is hugely important in maintaining traction. If you try to lunge out of the saddle and stomp the pedals, chances are your rear tire will spin out because your weight is too far forward.
- Maintain a smooth, circular pedal stroke. This can be tough to do at times, especially if you don’t have clipless pedals. But if at all possible, try to focus on maintaining consistent power to the back wheel, thus avoiding surges. This will help keep the rear tire firmly connected to the ground and prevent spinning out.
- Remember to breath, and keep loose. The worst thing you can do while climbing is to seize up and forget to breath. Focus on consciously keeping your body loose and your breathing deep and regular to provide oxygen to those churning legs!
Maintain Rear Wheel Traction
In order to get to the top, your main focus must be maintaining rear wheel traction. All of the points above will help you do this, especially numbers 5 and 6. However, there is one secret, one technique that will exponentially increase your chances of cresting the hill without having to get off and walk. This technique is called “rowing the boat.”
Climing: Rowing the Boat
I was taught this technique of “rowing the boat” during my first-ever singletrack experience by a middle-aged mountain biker who has been riding bikes his entire life. These principles that he taught me on my first day of riding over 5 years ago have stuck with me as I’ve ridden mountain bikes all across the nation. I’ve learned to tweak this technique to suit my needs in different situations, but the basics always remain the same. As you climb up the hill and come to an especially steep spot:
- Drop your elbows slightly.
- Pull back and down on the handlebars. Don’t think about lifting the front wheel up, but rather think about using the bike frame as a sort of lever with your body to leverage the rear tire into the dirt to increase traction.
- Continue to row. As you continue up the steep section, continue this back/down pull. As you will see, it begins to create a “rowing” sensation.
- Keep the front wheel down. When the hill gets very steep, your front wheel will have a tendency to pop up and wander off line while you’re rowing because so much weight is over the back wheel. To combat this, lean forward to keep weight over the front wheel and keep your bike on course, while still keeping your butt in the saddle and maintaining rear wheel traction.
What this Rowing The Boat Looks Like
To help you visualize proper climbing position, check out the picture above of Matt “rowing the boat”:
Matt is exhibiting picture-perfect climbing technique on this challenging hill (it looks steeper in real life, trust me): butt is in the saddle keeping weight over the rear wheel, elbows are dropped, his arms are rowing the handle bars, and he has his body hunched over the front wheel to keep it from popping up as he powers up this hill. Matt showed this climb who’s boss!
If all of these factors are combined together into one cohesive attack on that excessively steep hill on your home trail you should be able to dominate it in no time! If you had not heard of these techniques until now, you will hopefully be pleasantly surprised by how much more conquerable your old nemesis now is.
That being said, there are some hills that are physically impossible to climb on a mountain bike. The physics of it just don’t add up. Those hills are usually a result of poor/old construction before much of the current sustainable-trail science was created. Despite the poor construction of some of these obscenely steep climbs, you may surprise yourself with just how far you get using these techniques!
Your Turn: In your opinion, what is the key technique for climbing up a steep hill? If these are new to you, how do you plan to implement these techniques, and what hill do you specifically want to conquer?
Greg Heil is an avid mountain biker and has traveled all over the country riding singletrack. He also writes an informational and instructional mountain bike blog.
How To Ride Your Bike Without Your Wife (or Husband) Hating You
It’s the constant battle of balance between the need to hit the trail and spend time at home. During a time where we are all working longer hours, the stress relief of riding keeps us in shape both mentally and physically, but that also means there is less time to spend at home with our other halves and families.
With the prime riding season starring us in the face on the northern hemisphere, this is going to be an challenge that is soon on the horizon. Sunny and under 70 conditions can bring out the best in any mountain biker and the decreased light availability has the tendency to push time backwards. As we continue the pursuit of sweet singletrack, how can we keep our love of dirt alive without facing a boxing match when we get home?
Spousal Tips In Regards To Mountain Biking
We know we can’t give up the obsession, so how to we keep a happy home and rubber against dirt at the same time? While nothing will work perfectly…here are some tips to keep you from having to suit up before entering the garage…
- Start Earlier – Let’s face it…you can sleep when you are dead. By going to bed earlier and getting up earlier, you can get to the ride spot as the sun rises and get your miles in early. By doing this, you will be home earlier to a happier crew back at home base. You will have to battle your single friends (or the ones who happen to have their wife or husband riding with them) to get the earlier start time, but it will be worth it in the long run. While they don’t have anything to be home for…you do.
- Get A Schedule – I have a friend of mine that schedules his rides on Saturday morning with the hope of getting around mid-day. On Sunday, that is dedicated family time and everyone knows it. If he gets out on a ride at all, it is with his daughter or an early morning road ride that doesn’t take that much time. Your family, husband or wife will get into the rhythm much easier if you set a schedule you can stick to. We also have our weekly schedule that hits like clockwork if the weather is right. That tends to work really well.
- When You Are At Home…Be At Home – Even a decreased amount of time at home is circumvented by spending quality time. If you just come home and become a part of the couch…don’t expect anyone to be happy about it. By giving quality time at home, the time away is justified easier.
- Flowers Always Work – I have been known to bribe my wife (and hopefully she is not reading this) in the past. Dinners out and flowers always work to bring a smile to her face. “Honey, I know I was gone longer than I had planned on today, but didn’t you say that star gazer lily’s were your favorite flower?”. Cheesy…but she likes it.
- Set A Time To Be Home (Even though you will probably break it) – I always give my wife a range of time when I will be home from a mountain biking outing. She jokes about how she has to add 1.5 hours to it every time, but at least she has an idea when to expect me back so she can plan out her day. Not knowing when you are going to be home is worse than being late…I have learned that one the hard way. I also tend to call right before we eat or when I start the commute home with a rough estimate on time.
- Drive Yourself To The Trailhead – Carpooling is great if you want to save gas but it is a pain in the ass if you are on the clock. By driving yourself to the trailhead, you can come and go as you need to without having to worry about how it affects others on the ride. Nothing is worse than an upset wife (or worse…something happens that you have to leave quickly) and no way to easily get up and moving.
If you ask my wife, she will tell you that I probably do half of this half of the time, but…when I do…things work out a lot better around our house.
Riding Tip: Big Mountain Riding – Tackle The Peaks
For those lucky riders in mountainous areas like Colorado, North Carolina, Sections of California, Canada, sections of Europe and other places that are graced with big mountain riding, you guys are used to taking in the tips I am about to lay out on your regular weekday rides. And don’t worry…the rest of us are incredibly jealous…
But for those mountain bikers that find most of our riding with short climbs to short descents, we handle water consumption and ride pacing much differently, so when you are headed for a trip to the mountains…how should you adjust your riding to accommodate for the change in environment?
Big Mountain Riding: Tackling The Peaks
Big mountain riding usually consists of a steady climb to the top and a blast down the other side. For longer rides, you can combine several peaks, but you are still churning your way up for a trip down. In more urban mountain biking landscapes, you are used to short climbs to short descents and more of them than you can count. What adjustments do you need to make when you go to rip off massive changes in elevation all at once?
- Drink Early and Often – The temptation when you hit the mountains is to drink your water and take in food much like you do in the lower land areas…rationing it out throughout the entire ride. However, with a lot of bigger mountain rides, you are only dealing with one or two peaks. This means you are tackling one extended climb, so drinking early and often is key to proper hydration. Think of it this way…are you going to stop during a blazing downhill just to take a sip of water? Probably not. In a lot of big mountain rides, you could almost run out of water half way through the ride at the peak of the mountain and be ok. The same would apply to nutrition.
- Find A Constant, Sustainable Climbing Pace – This is not a sprint over some small hill…you are climbing for miles so you better get into a pace that you can sustain for a long period of time. If you hit the trailhead with the same intensity that you hit your rolling local trail, you are going to blow up half way through. When you are tackling higher peaks on your mountain bike, provide yourself with a slower warm-up than usual and built up speed over time until you find that sweet spot that you can keep up for hours.
- Bring Extra Parts – If you are taking on a big mountain trail, bring extra tubes and tools. In most cases, you are going to be out in the middle of no where in pursuit of singletrack bliss, so getting stuck in the wilderness miles away from your vehicle with a second flat can turn into a really long and dangerous day. (Extra Reading: 14 Must Bring Items On Every Ride)
- Invest In A Bike GPS - If you have never ridden this trail before or ride it once ever couple of years, it is a good idea to bring along a bike GPS like the Garmin Edge 500, 605 or 705. You can search Garmin Connect or Motion Based to find your particular route, load it into the GPS and then you will always know whether you are on track or not. In a worst case scenario with a wreck or serious mechanical, you can also find the quickest way back to the cars.
- Rip The Downhill – Long, extended downhills are amazing rides in mountain biking. When the front wheel gets pointed down and gravity starts to take over, absolutely rip up the downhill. Long, big mountain downhills are where I really feel like I can stretch my legs and feel the real speed in mountain biking. As long as you keep things in check and don’t get over your head, you can feel the freedom that long downhill mountain biking runs give. Don’t hold back…
Big mountain riding is mountain biking in its purest form. For that reason, it will be some of the most memorable riding you do over the years, and by taking in these tips…you can insure that it doesn’t become a disaster story.
Image by RegularJoe
Does Mountain Biking Require The Mountain?
This past weekend, a friend of mine and I hit up Pisgah Forest, NC to ride on some of epic eastern United States singletrack. Known for the long climbs to long, technical descents, this area of the world was just built for mountain bikers. During a long climb up Laurel Mountain on our way to one of the best downhill mountain biking runs in the area…Pilot Rock…the thought hit me…
Does mountain biking require the mountain?
For me to answer that question right now…I am kind of biased. After a weekend of big mountain riding where my elevation profiles from 4 rides all look close to this…
…I would have to argue that “yes…mountain biking really does require the mountain.”
For this mountain biker, the experience of long climbs to long descents in the wilderness away from all things urban is what defines mountain biking away from the rest of the cycling disciplines. Practiced in its purest form, when you hit the trails in mountainous areas, it is you, the bike and the challenge of tackling technical, steep trails. With longer descents and climbs, I feel like I can finally get into a rhythm and stretch my legs outside of the tight confines of short pitches and smaller descents that the lack of significant elevation change brings to a trail.
Mountain biking first got started with riders like Joe Breeze and Gary Fisher bombing down forest service roads and walking trails on beefed up, custom made bikes letting gravity do the work. Without mountains…that wouldn’t have been possible.
However, just like with any sport…times change and the sport evolves. With fantastic trails in areas like Florida and epic adventures in Moab that are not considered “mountains”, is mountain biking really about the mountain? If mountain biking is about the mountain, what do we call everything else? Off-road cycling?
My opinion…while I define mountain biking as an off-road biking discipline that requires the mountain it its purest form…that doesn’t really matter. The beauty of the sport of mountain biking is that you alone get to define how you interpret the definition and at the end of the day…it is just you and the bike. It is not about how I define mountain biking but rather the enjoyment you get out of throwing a leg over that knobby tired, pedal powered machine and rip up whatever trails you call home.
Mountain biking is as much about personal expression as it is about the rig or the trail you ride. Your definition of what you consider real mountain biking is all that matters and that can change with time.
Elevation profile mapped with a Garmin Edge 705
Returning To The Scene Of The Crime: Wreck Recovery
My wrecks come in series. I’ll go months without hitting the ground and then…like it came out of the sky…I will hit the ground several time within a several week period with the scrapes, bruises and other miscellaneous damage to show for it. Typically, none of these wrecks are season ending, just annoying enough to get under my skin and shake confidence which ends up breeding more wrecks. The vicious cycle continues until I get my head wrapped around it and regain the confidence I was riding with the months proceeding this fun interaction with the trail. The #1 thing I can do to get out of the cycle and gain confidence back in my riding is returning to the scene of the crime.
Regain Trail Confidence: Hit That Section Again
One of the biggest obstacles that we face as mountain bikers is our own head. The bike is always far more capable than our abilities, we have the skill set to get the job done…it is all just in our heads! Your brain is the #1 thing keeping you from riding obstacles or riding with the confidence you had right before your wreck. Nothing else…just your head.
So what do I do to get my brain out of the equation and get my riding confidence back after a wreck?
As quickly as I can, I return to the scene of the accident and ride it successfully. If I just wrecked and do not have enough injuries to keep me off the bike, I hit it right then and there to keep that wreck out of my head for future rides. If I wreck hard enough to end that day of riding, I return as soon as possible and ride that section again successfully as soon as my body is ready.
When a wreck is gone untreated, your mind will start to build it up to be something that is much bigger than it actually was. Mistakes and accidents happen. It is not if we are going to wreck as mountain bikers…it is when. Managing your mindset after a wreck is what separates the riders that let wrecks keep them from accomplishing their goals and riders that move forward and learn from the experience.
Last night’s yard sale…
Last night, I took a drop I have taken dozens of times. It is about 4-5 feet to transition off a rock with a blind landing. Nothing big but not exactly your…”just ride on over it” drop. Fresh off a wreck last week that took me off the bike for a couple of days, I hit the drop and half way through I already knew I was going to slow. The front end slammed against the ground and I headed over the handlebars in a ball of dust that left me with a broken cable, broken shoe clamp, scrapped up arm, bruised hip and a ton of dirt.
Since I was still able to ride, I picked up the bike, shook off some dirt, straightened the handlebars and headed back up the hill. Starring down the drop…I repeated one thing in my head.
“Commit or eat shit.”
The reason I wrecked last time around was not because of my fork, my bike or my abilities as a mountain biker. I wrecked because I wussed out and hit the drop too slow. I didn’t commit to that section of the trail so it bit back. On the second round, I hit the drop with the correct amount of speed and everything went smoothly. Since I decided to hit the section right away, the only adverse affects I have from my face plant is a couple of bruises and scrapes that heal much faster than a wreck that lingers in my head.
Confidence while riding is what gets you through harder sections of trail. When that confidence gets shaken up, you hit areas of the trail timidly which ends up hurting your riding even more. By getting back ont the horse and tackling the section of trail that bit you before, you can insure that you will hit the trail with confidence and prevent future accidents bred by riding without confidence.
The shot up top was taken by Keith Pytlinski (recently featured on the cover of Dirt Rag). You can check out his shots on M5Photography.com and his series on how to take great mountain biking pictures here. Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
The New Bike Break-In Ride: What Should I Bring?
Nothing beats a break-in ride. You have either picked up your new mountain bike from a local bike shop or you built it up yourself in your garage and it is time to get it out on the trail. Those shinny new components and frames can only stay tied up for so long before we start to go insane! Now…there is nothing that kills a break-in ride worse than something going wrong out on a trail without the proper tools or gear. Do you really want to spoil that first ride with a part that isn’t adjusted correctly or a mechanical that ends the ride early? I didn’t think so. Here is a list that should keep the break-in ride more about the ride and less about the bike.
The Break-In Ride: What MTB Gear To Bring With You
After you rip off the reflectors, pack up this gear and hit the trail.
- Tire Lever, Pump and Spare Tube – While you should be bringing this with you on every ride, the chances of something going wrong is the highest after an install. New tires can be pinched in with tubes without you even seeing it, so having the extra gear on board insures that a flat doesn’t end the day.
- Shock Pump – While you might have known your exact pressures on your last mountain bike, it is more than likely that your new suspension is going to behave differently under different pressures. After a little bit of trail time, you will know what adjustments you need to make with air pressure in the fork and rear shock.
- Multi-Tool - A multi-tool is another necessary item for all rides, but your break-in ride is a crucial time to carry as many tools efficiently as you can. Derailleurs might need small adjustments, bolts might need tightening…anything can go wrong on the trail that were not happening in the stand. When you put a mountain bike under load on the trail, the forces put a different stress on components and the frame. Being able to make trail side adjustments will keep the ride rolling without a creak.
While you are on the trail, you need to be watching out for loose bolts, shifting issues due to new cables (you typically won’t see too much cable stretch on the first ride, but the cables can “set” causing your derailleurs to go out of adjustment), suspension settings not correct and any creaks or noises that are not part of normal riding.
Carrying a little extra weight with you on the initial break-in ride can mean the difference between walking and riding. Otherwise…get out and cover up that shine with fresh dirt…
5 Ways To Get Back Into Peak Riding Shape…Fast!
With peak riding season just weeks away, we can taste sunny and 70 weather like it was just yesterday (for some of you…yesterday might have already felt like that).
One problem, a bad winter has left us fat and out of shape. The trainer in the corner started with all good intentions, but let’s face it…it became a towel rack. So…what do we do with winter legs and a gut as we get into crunch time? We find a way to get back into peak riding shape…and quickly.
Top 5 Ways To Get Back Into Peak Riding Shape
Here are the top 5 ways you can get back into peak riding shape quickly. Word of warning…some of these might hurt a little…
Miles With Elevation
The fastest way to get back into shape on your mountain bike is to start putting in the miles. When you combine miles with an area that has pretty significant elevation change, you are forcing yourself into pain that drastically increases your fitness in a short period of time. A couple of things to consider while taking this journey.
- Bring plenty of water and nutrition. It is going to be somewhat of a culture shock to your body so you want to have reinforcements. That same hill that you killed in the fall is going to feel like a brick wall if your legs and lungs are not ready for it.
- Take it easy. Get in a good warm up and tackle the time slowly at first and then start building up. If you go out to the hill and hit it full blast, you are going to cramp…or even worse…hurt something and you could be out for the season.
I know the trainer collected dust on the portions that were covered by the towel, but at least with road biking you are outside ripping up the blacktop. While road biking is a great way to get in spin time when the trails are wet, it is also one of the best ways to become a stronger mountain biker. The constant, repetitive spinning will do incredible things for your mountain biking endurance even when you are not trying to work off the winter.
I started the Ultimate MTB Workout Program to get my body in better technical riding shape. While improving your core strength is always a good thing, it also keeps and improves your riding endurance. When it comes time to put in weekend epics, your body is ready to handle the abuse and you prevent injury through correct strength conditioning. The best part…even if you do not belong to a gym..there is a way to do it at home.
There is nothing I hate more than running, but it works when there is no other option available. Running is the oldest way in history to get into shape and when done correctly can drastically improve your fitness. A byproduct of running is increased bone density for those hard hits on the bike.
I am as guilty as the next guy for eating like crap and expecting my body to feel and look the same. When I am off the bike, the bad food seems to call me by name. During this time of year, I take a close look at my diet and start to eat healthier again to shed the winter warmth. It’s back to lighter, more natural foods that my body can actually use rather than the waste that is mostly processed. How you eat can effect every pedal stroke on the trail, so try to keep the gas station food at a minimum.
Ideally…we would be doing these things all year long, but reality is that we can’t. By looking hard at our choices and preparing for the season, we can capitalize on those first couple of rides out in perfection and let the bike flow like it really wants to. Nothing kills a first ride stoke like leaving your lungs and legs at the car. But still…it beats a day of not riding at all!
Image by jmdgolfman
How To Progress Into More Aggressive Riding
I received a great email from a reader yesterday wondering how to get into more aggressive FR/DH riding from an XC background. The question seems like a simple one, but nerves can start to get the best of you as you look at obstacles and covers of Bike Magazine.
So how does a rider that wants to get into more drops, jumps, rock gardens and other freeride and downhill riding but still conquer the nerves and fear at the same time. There is a secret to the madness and I’ll share that now.
Riding More Aggressively Is A Progression
Before you go find the first 10 foot to flat drop you see and try to huck off of it, just know that you are probably going to chicken out or break something. You have to condition your skills and your mind to accept a more aggressive riding style over time.
Those guys that you see doing massive drops and jumps did not start out with the biggest thing to land them on magazine covers. They started with smaller drops and technical features to grow the skill set and confidence that eventually led to the build up and larger stunts.
If you are looking to start getting in to more aggressive riding. Find smaller drop and TTF’s that you can start off with. If your mountain bike tires have never left the ground, this might be a 6″ lip off the ground. It literally does not matter how big or small your first attempt it…it just matters that you did it, so pick something you are comfortable with.
As you start to get more confident, move up the scale. Go from 6″ to a foot…a foot to 2 feet…
Eventually, you will hit a limit that you are comfortable achieving and you can start to make that height harder with more difficult lead ins and landings (rocks, roots, etc.).
What Gear Do You Need?
Luckily for you, today’s 5.5″ trail bike can handle a pretty good amount of abuse. As long as you are not dropping off the roof of a house, you should be able to ride just about anything you put your mind to. Granted, you are not going to take full DH runs at the speed you could on a real DH bike, but there are guys that rock that stuff on a hard tail, so anything is possible.
To help with the confidence level, I would pick up a set of pads like the 661 Kyle Straits knee pad and some elbow pads. This keeps your joints protected and gives you a little bit more confidence as you hit the hill. I would also recommend picking up a full face helmet to keep your brain in tact in case the worst should happen. A full face helmet can take some getting used to…so make sure you are comfortable with it before you hit anything big.
As you progress in your new aggressive FR/DH riding style, you are going to want to get more dedicated equipment for the cause as there are things like a specific DH rig that will make your riding faster and more controlled with bigger suspension, but…in the meantime…feel out your tolerance level and start to stretch what you consider normal.
It always starts with smaller to bigger in your quest to hit the bigger stuff. By conditioning your mind and body to take on more aggressive riding, you will prevent injury or equipment failure from trying to hit something you weren’t ready for.
Original Image of Ethan Taken by RegularJoe