Of all sports, what is it about Mountain Biking that sees so few people ever take a mountain biking coaching lesson, and such a very small number of people take regular coaching lessons?
Perhaps it stems from the saying “its like riding a bike” in reference to something that once learned, will not be forgotten and can be picked up again very quickly. However I am confident this saying comes from riding a bicycle on a smooth surface (eg cycling) and NOT from mountain biking, as I would contend they are two vastly different sports requiring vastly different, and often contradictory, techniques.
In fact at Gravity Nelson we find that for the vast majority of our coaching clients (ranging in age from 8-74) their mountain bike coaching lesson with us is their first ever lesson, and many admit to having been mountain biking for 5+ years. When we ask them what other sports they do, and they mention golf, tennis, football, skiing etc we also ask them if they had never had a lesson with those sports and most admit to having had years of coaching in the other sport… leaving us all to wonder why not for mountain biking. Once the question is raised, it almost becomes a running joke throughout the coaching clinic, with every advance in skills and breakthrough in technique met with a laughing “why didn’t I get a lesson years ago”! In fact that refrain is second only to “ahhhhh, so that’s what I’ve been doing wrong all these years” comments with every lightbulb moment or epiphany as the lesson progresses.
In this post we will quickly explore the Top Ten signs you need to get a mountain biking coaching lesson… or in fact more than one!
#1 Professional Coaching Clinics Help in EVERY Sport
As mentioned earlier, it is hard to imagine participating in almost any sport without getting at least some regular lessons, whether ping pong, swimming, diving, or skiing, the benefits are so understood and obvious that no-one even questions starting out with some lessons, and not just one lesson, but frequently participation in the sport is accompanied by regular weekly, or perhaps even twice weekly coaching sessions. Football and Rugby are two sports with a culture of multiple practices under the guidance of a coach each week. In fact if you look at sports like Skiing, world-wide organisations of formal coaching programs have been in existence since the 1930’s, with one of the largest such organisations boasting that their instructors coach around two million people a year! While mountain biking is definitely a newer sport that doesn’t mean it is somehow magically exempt from the benefits of having occasional or regular coached sessions.
#2 You Feel Your Mountain Bike Riding Has Plateaued
One of the thrills of taking up any sport is the feeling of progressing your skills and “levelling up” in the sport. While self-directed learning, listening to the advice of your mates, and watching the odd random YouTube “hints and tips” video can help you slowly improve for a while, you will soon find that your rate of improvement plateaus or that you get stuck at a certain level of trail or certain kinds of trail features. Clearly this can be frustrating, and often mountain bike riders simply give up blaming their own inability (or their bike!). One or more mountain bike coaching clinics can quickly help you progress your skills and help you continue progressing and recapture that awesome feeling of clearing a previously undoable obstacle on the trail.
#3 You Don’t Feel Comfortable or Safe Riding On New Trails
A sure sign that poor or wrong technique is holding back your enjoyment of riding is that you don’t feel comfortable or safe on new trails in new areas, even though they are around the same trail grade as what you ride at home. I’m not talking about your first time down a new trail, as we all feel a little on-edge when we “pre-ride” or “scout” a new mountain bike trail, but instead I’m talking about not getting comfortable on new trails until you have ridden them many times. No matter what grade of trail you ride on, it is possible to “cheat” a bit on technique when we are very familiar with a trail, we can find all the chicken lines, and deploy emergency tricks and techniques (like the tripod maneuver) when we hit harder pieces of a trail we know, but its a lot harder to cheat on trails we don’t know well, and we are likely to get ourselves in serious trouble if we try. Usually it is flaws in fundamental underlying basic techniques that are holding us back, and no matter how often we ride, if we don’t correct those we won’t be able to improve our comfort or safety on new trails.
#4 You Keep Crashing
There is nothing like a few crashes to wake you up to the fact that you might need a hand upping your skills and technique. While we all like to challenge ourselves, a sudden spate of crashes, slips, wipe outs, and wash outs likely points to a technique deficit. Many things can be the culprit, perhaps a well meaning friend has been giving you tips on how to ride, or you looked at the wrong YouTube video and they have given you some wrong techniques which are now imbedded in your brain. You are now going to need a coach to put you back on the straight and narrow, identify and eliminate the bad techniques and replace them with correct techniques. What is likely to happen if you don’t get this sorted? More crashes, increasing frustration, possible injuries, and perhaps getting disillusioned with mountain biking. It doesn’t have to be that way. Good quality professional mountain bike coaches can quickly identify flaws in technique and have a variety of tools for helping you ditch those bad habits for some good ones.
#5 No Matter What You Do, Your Friends Keep Beating You
Mountain bikers can be a competitive lot, whether or not they are entering races, we often can’t help but compare ourselves to other riders and wonder how or why they keep pulling ahead of us on certain kinds of trail features. Do you quickly fall back behind at every corner? or is it rooty sections that have you on the brakes and left behind? How about drops or jumps, does your lack of confidence see you pulling on the coward levers and bumping and bashing your way through them while your friends shoot into the air with the greatest of ease? Whatever your weakness, a professional mountain bike skills coach can help you improve pretty much any skill you name. Sometimes it will be by providing you with a focused lesson on that topic, but surprisingly dramatic improvements can often come from tweaks to bike set-up (for example handle-bar width), changes to equipment (having better flat mountain biking shoes and proper mountain biking pedals), and simple adjustments to fundamental mountain biking skills (such as body position, foot position on the pedal, etc). If the fundamentals aren’t correctly in place then it is very hard to successfully execute most maneuvers, lets alone advanced ones.
#6 You Have Recently Upgraded To A New Bicycle
Whether you have recently upgraded to a new acoustic or a new electric mountain bike you may not realise how much change there has recently been in the design and function of modern mountain bikes. Since 2017 mountain bikes have been getting progressively slacker in the fork (more swept out), longer in the top tube, shorter in the stem, and steeper in the seat-tube. These changes plus innovation like Mullet bicycles (read more about Mullet style bikes HERE) provide much stable and capable bikes than previously was thought possible. However, and here’s the rub, if a mountain biker uses out-dated techniques then these modern mountain bike geometry’s will punish the rider. The majority of mountain bike riders who have not recently had mountain bike skills coaching ride with their weight too far back and with little to no front brake, they do this as the steeper front fork angle often made the bike feel like it was going to toss the rider over the front as soon as it got steep or the front brake was applied. However doing this causes the front of the bike to unweight and “wander” around the trail especially on sharper corners, plus the back tire frequently locks and skids while not effectively slowing the rider down. Sharp steep corners then become a near impossibility without dramatically changing our body position and riding techniques. This is made even more noticeable with an electric mountain bike (read our article on TEN REASONS TO GET AN E-MOUNTAIN BIKE THAT DON’T INCLUDE BEING OLD AND UNFIT) as the low slung weight of the motor and battery combine to provide extra punishment of poor technique and conversely a greater reward when good technique is learned and applied.
#7 You Currently Can’t Afford To Upgrade To A New Bicycle
As much as it would be great to be able to afford a new mountain bike with more forgiving modern geometry, this simply can’t always be the case. However this is actually an excellent reason to invest in mountain bike coaching lessons instead. Think of it this way, while a new mountain bike might cost you thousands of dollars, lessons cost significantly less than that, and can significantly improve your riding ability. We often call investing in mountain bike skills coaching an upgrade that never wears out, and keeps on growing. Whether you invest in one lesson or multiple lessons, each session will undoubtedly improve your riding, and the more you ride (and practice what you were taught) the more improvement you will see, investing in a new bike or a new component has the reverse result, the more you ride your new equipment, the more it wears out and the benefits decrease. Providing your mountain bike is not unsafe or so old-school as to be holding you back, lessons will see you levelling up your riding ability and making the most of the mountain bike you currently own.
#8 You Are a Parent Who Loves Mountain Biking And You Want Your Kids To Love Mountain Biking
Sharing mountain biking with your kids is an especially magic experience. Unlike team sports where you are most likely relegated to the sideline to cheer them on, you can participate together going on mountain biking adventures. Helping your child to get hooked on mountain biking can be helped considerably by getting them in regular mountain bike skills programs with their peers, having fun with their mates will quickly have them forgetting the uphills, and quickly improving their skills. By entrusting at least part of their skills development to professional mountain bike skills coaches you can ensure that you aren’t teaching them bad habits or outdated techniques. As modern children’s mountain bikes have gotten better and better (check out the Transition Ripcord or the Mondraker Factor 24) kids who receive coaching quickly improve their skills to beyond what most parents can teach. Check out the kids in our YouTube channel for examples of the skills we teach and the progress they can make in a relatively short period of time with regular coaching. One interesting bonus from having professional mountain bike skills coaches teach your kids is that, they might actually listen to them! As any parent knows it can be tough to teach your kids many things or get them to listen to you, let alone to get them to do skill drills, and even worse, any feedback you might give about their technique will always be laced with a tinge of emotion that can get in the way of effective learning.
#9 You Are A Parent Of A Kid Who Loves Mountain Biking… And You Want To Keep Up With Them.
Now that your kids are improving their skills with regular mountain biking skills coaching in an after school program like ours, and they are loving the sport, and riding better and better each day, you might find they are starting to get away from you, or they are happily tearing down trails which are more advanced than you are comfortable riding… well what better reason to get some coaching for yourself? Or even better do some lessons WITH your kids. Being able to take part in their progression in mountain biking, and being able to level up your own riding at the same time opens up a world of possibilities of tackling more advanced tracks together or tackling bigger mountain biking adventures. While parents often lament how quickly kids learn new skills, and how hard it is to teach an old dog new tricks, but they often forget that the kids are taking lessons and the parent isn’t! Seems like an easy fix.
#10 Sucking Without End Is Frustrating.
Look, lets be honest, there comes a day when not getting around a certain corner for the 50th time, or having to walk that small drop for the 100th time… well, the internal “next time I’ll get it” wears thin, even with ourselves in denial. Someone smarter than me once said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”, gosh they nailed it. We can’t simply hope that by repeatedly trying a trail feature, that we are struggling with, almost exactly how we failed at it last time we will somehow nail it this time. Sometimes our sub-conscious brain is holding us back simply because it KNOWS that we don’t have the skills or technique to consistently safely clear a trail feature, something our conscious brain is in denial about. This disconnect between what our cautious brain tells us, and what we want to believe we can do (and perhaps even what our friends or kids tell us we can do) causes frustration and stress in what should be a highly enjoyable activity. An experienced and skilled mountain bike coach can help someone to overcome the fears of their cautious brain by progressively and safely building their skills until they are comfortable tackling the trail feature. As much as friends might say … “just hit it with speed”, or “send it”, or “pull up”, these overly simplistic tips more often than not cannot convince the cautious brain to do it, AND WITH GOOD REASON, more speed, sending it and pulling up are not the answer if your basic underlying techniques are not solid, in fact they are a recipe for disaster.
Really, if you’ve never had a mountain biking skills lesson in your life… what are the odds really that your fundamental mountain biking skills are up to date and solid? Do you want to test those odds by just hitting something with speed? just sending it? or just “pulling up”? Given the relatively low cost of a lesson, or multiple lessons compared to the cost of your mountain bike, is saving money on not doing skills coaching lessons really a saving? or is it just a way to self-sabotage your own riding progression, and your own fun?