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How to Become a Faster Mountain Biker – MTB Skills with Lee Likes Bikes

A lot of what we do here at TrainerRoad is … I mean all of what we do … is focused
on improving performance on the bike and we do a lot of that in terms of interval
training and focusing on that — that’s obviously what the product is all about
— but on the podcast you get a ton of questions from people about every
aspect in performance and one aspect that all of us felt like we could
improve on was bike handling and all of us are in three totally different
positions with that. I’m known at least on our podcast, to the podcast listeners,
I’m known as like you know the proficient bike handler, Nate you’re known … less so, and Chad you used to race mountain bikes, haven’t
raced them in a long time, technology’s changed, the bikes are 100% different, but all three of us we decided to to deep dive into this
and we brought in a hired gun that was a smart guy who knows exactly what he’s dealing with this, Lee McCormack from Lee likes bikes.
I went from almost quitting mountain biking to being super excited about
mountain biking just over a weekend. Let’s go over some of the principles that we
learned and attach some context to it then hopefully people can get an
idea of how they can apply this and get faster. I’ve noted a big trigger for bad times on the trail or in any circumstance, it’s when my knees go forward, that ‘s the problem. He also said too, like you said, cross-country racers will be up like that, but for me since I’m to new he’s like don’t
do that. Just stay in the position like the the correct position with the
hip like a deep hinge when you’re going downhill. When I would get better you can
be more efficient and then they said the best riders would just drop into that
position for a second go over the bumpy terrain, absorb it and come back out. That was pivotal. I mean finding that position on
the bike, because bending over is one thing but all we do in that case is load
up our quads and then our weights really forward. But when he showed us that hinge
position that was more akin to a deadlift than a squat and the whole hips
glided back the whole body went with it yeah we still could maintain that low
position, it was a total game changer. By the end of that second day my
hamstrings have never hurt so much in my life, even doing like heavy deadlifts,
like it was amazing and I could actually tell on the trail. I would say I’m
not in the right position because I can’t feel the stretch in my hamstrings. If you think about it makes perfect
sense right the center of where your body should be on a bike, you’re not
weighting your bars, the weight’s through your legs right, and it’s over the bottom
bracket which is the center of the bike. It makes the bike stable, it makes it so
that your weight is distributed lower. Another thing I want to bring up is with
the putting the weight through the pedals in the bottom bracket and how the
bike is weighted I kept going back to that is I would think for my hands am i
pulling on the bars well I’m too far back am I putting too much weight on the
bars like my like you know through my hands yeah and I was thinking oh I have
to put the weight through my feet pull my way from my feet and adjust my
position then I would be in that position to be able to absorb a lot more
and the level of my fear you know I would go from a 12 out of 10 right
instantly down to a seven or eight which just like we’re fun happens. A substantial
drop yeah right. I noticed the same thing the confidence is just like there, just
right right away so that that more or less put us like, that gave us the
foundation, he calls it the base of support. That gave us a foundation from
which we could work on and then actually start getting dynamic with a position
that we are in on the bike. He talks about it in terms of rowing and anti
rowing and he basically boils down every situation that you could come across on
a mountain bike. We rode some jump lines, we rode berms, we
rode drops, we did a lot of different things and I kept realizing all this is
is a row or an anti row or a combination of the both, but we should probably
explain what they are first. On the row side just like if you’re on a rowing
machine and you’re pulling back right, a row is when you are pulling the bike
back and and also up, and then an anti row is the opposite of that, when the
bike is going forward and consequently down as well, I should say the front end
of the body. What’s key there is it’s a it’s not a push and a pull which
basically just takes place in the arms. It’s a row and an anti row which involves
basically the whole body but especially the hips. We don’t have as much power
from our arms we’re relying on a structure that isn’t as strong that’s gonna be really difficult for us to actually move the bike like we need to
but if we start in the hips and with a bunch of power we can get super
explosive movements or at least controlled movements that way. And we
learn to utilize rowing to go up, whether it’s a ledge, we went up a ledge in this
case, or a rock but going up routes. If you’re in a situation where you think
oh that’s a really tricky line that’ll have to negotiate maybe you can just
row your way up the whole thing and skip those tricky lines. It was
interesting to think of rowing in that perspective to help go uphill
quicker. There are two parts of it. One is when you hit small routes going up you
couldn’t just bam hit each one, lose a couple watts, each one lose a couple
watts, or you can row up each one a little bit, save a couple watts and gain
like you know 10 seconds on a climb which in racing is a lot. There are
other things that you can’t roll over which I think the video doesn’t do it
justice again, but Jonathan went up this crazy rock where if I were to go into
with my technique I would have just BAM right into it a faceplant into it but
you had to go in at you had a lot of speed within you and Lee both did it,
you rowed hard, R-O-W, rowed hard and went up and over the rock on something
that I would have honestly I didn’t think you’re gonna make it. Right like I
I was watching on like I’m glad we’re going to have this on camera because I thought you were gonna crash and I wouldn’t be the only one who crashed that day so it’s
just it’s just so like I wouldn’t think of that that you could use those on an
uphill climb that same motion, the row motion. And I think that’s where a lot of
professional cross-country racers will drop a lot of people with less power
actually and basically if you think about it your feet are fixed to the bottom bracket, your hands are fixed to the bars
and basically what you’re doing is you’re leveraging that bike up right up
so it can go over something unloading it ,and then at the top of that once you’re
doing that in most cases unless you’re just jumping up something or dropping
off something you’re going to want to then do the opposite which is that anti
row down the backside of something and on a pump track this is really cool
because it’s like an instant reward system you find out if you did it right
or not just by the feeling that you have you can totally feel it and I would go
through on the pump track session after session and I get like three of the ten
whatever happened there were bumps right and then I would say, Lee would try to
talk to me and I’m like, “Nope I got to go, I got to go,” because I could feel the ones
that when you do it wrong you can feel it and then you want to do it over and over again because it feels so good. You get into what he calls that flow state, get in touch with it, yeah it feels
amazing when you do it right. When you do it wrong you can totally feel it. Yeah and
something that I had made a mistake you know I was I was decent enough to get by
on the pump track I could carry momentum, I didn’t have to pedal on most pump
track so it’s just fine but something that I was doing was I was
basically like thinking up, down, up, down. So up when the jump goes up, and down
when it goes down and I was trying to time it so that I was like just before
it you know. But one thing that I would get
especially if it was smaller bumps or bumps that came in rapid
succession as I would my bike would be unweighting too much and I would lose
rhythm and it also wasn’t getting nearly as much speed as other people were
getting through those sections so instead of up and down when we’re
talking about rowing and anti rowing it’s more fore-and-aft with what we’re
doing with our bars. It’s like this circular motion, exactly, hence the row and not the push and pull. Learning to row or to anti row
separately they’re effective, but learning to do them together I feel like
is key for a couple things, so first of all like you said when we’re going over
terrain it allows us to maintain more momentum and control which is an
important key because if you’re going really fast into something and you’re
not rowing or anti rowing to be able to absorb and use that shape that shape is
gonna make you fly off and possibly lose control. And also I noticed really helped
when we were going through sections of trail that had a lot of almost like a
puzzle that you couldn’t unlock it would have a lot of chunk or roots or
something like that. Suddenly you saw the whole trail in like
a different language like you saw spots where you could, yeah that was another
point that you really pushed was connecting the shapes, that’s the frame
or the term he kept on using and at first it didn’t really click with me
and then over time you started looking a couple moves ahead and stringing things
together before you’ve gotten there and again I mean it helps you find a rhythm
better it helps you employ that row anti row motion and just another game changer. Going through that motion that pattern, like so many times in a row it helped me
a lot to first get it and I’m assuming that if I use it even more it’ll become
more ingrained, that movement pattern. I mean we were employing those on
everything, everything from jumps that were big and even pushing our limits to
things like drops and basically the anti row is really helpful when you’re going
over something off something like a drop which is key. Especially when the drop gets taller and you go over it I mean if you
stop and think about it it can turn into a pretty sketchy situation if your front
end drops down and you end up going over the bars. Usually our response and my
response has always been, I just need to hit things with more speed and if I hit
it with more speed I can kind of carry off and then hopefully land in the right position. That’s that’s the more natural response
I think is to just get over something. My natural response is when I see that is
to hit the brakes and lean back away from the danger which is and then I get
pulled over, and then I get sucked in, and then I flip over, whereas now we learned how to anti-roll over those things, how to drive the bike
down, keep the bike in contact with the ground which maintains such a higher
level of control, yes, because if we were to jump off those things and what comes
next we’re already we’re in a bad state, whereas if you roll that and the bike
tires are in contact with the ground the whole time you have so much more control
for whatever comes next. Yes and that was yet again a really big
takeaway. I was braking all wrong. You were too. Completely, that’s that’s why my brakes were heating up I was getting to squeal in my rotors yeah and I thought I
just got bad rotors why doesn’t this happen to anybody else yes because I was
on the brakes the whole time and just basically dragging my wheels no traction
no control just fighting the entire descent. So my takeaway was, and he had us do these drills at the Truckee Bike Park, is to, the drill was to
unweight your bike and then as your bike pushes down in the ground brake, yes, and
we practiced that in the gravel a few times and it took me actually a little while to
get it it, it feels kind of weird but the idea is once you’ve doubled your body
weight you have more traction right so it’s easier to slow down. I then took that to the, there’s some slalom runs on the pumptrack,
and before what I would do I’d see something scary coming up and I
immediately get on my brakes and kind of softly do it and try to scrub off speed
but then a lot of times my bike would be unweighted because of the way that the
trail goes up and down and I would lose traction. So now what I would do is
I would see something scary coming up and I knew I was going to go back into a
motion of down force in about a second from now so I would wait that second and
that was so hard for my brain to say wait a second to brake, but then I would
break more forcefully, I would drive through my pedals, right he
taught us that about doing at the right angle, yeah, I’d have much more traction,
I’d scrub off more speed faster so I kind of carry more speed, you brake later
and harder into the turn but it actually felt better. I could break, still be fast, break when I needed to, still be fast. Rather
than just go slower slower slower, I’d lose control over the entire course of
the descent. The way that I was thinking about it in my mind was placing
your braking appropriately and where you place the braking is of
course relative to where the turn is, relative to your speed, but it’s also
relative to the terrain coming in to it. You might have really big braking
bumps or sequential drops into a turn right it changed my mindset to look at
that as okay so I have two cascading bumps into this turn, big drops let’s
say, so that means when I drop off the first one and I land that will be a down
motion and I will place a lot of braking and I will scrub my speed and then the
next one there’s a big braking bump coming into that turn like you know a
lot of turns will get a bump coming into it. That’s a good opportunity for you to
place braking there. When you’re going down any trail you should always be
looking for and making those shapes. You should be creating them if they aren’t
there if it’s pan flat you can still be weighting and unweighting into a turn and
therefore create this better braking effect. And that, I almost want to say, was the single most important thing that I took away from that whole thing.
It’s hard too because there were several things that were just so key, that made such a big deal and every time I employ them it’s like wow I can’t believe I didn’t
know that before. That one in particular changed my riding I think more than
anything else. One thing I want to talk about is you said going into some of these berms that we did a Northstar there are braking bumps and what
Lee told us which is I wasn’t entering the turns wide enough, and I was doing
whatever the sheeple line was, so there is a line in the trail he calls the sheeple one where everyone just goes and that’s usually were the braking
bumps are too but we practice at Northstar, we had a kind of like an S-
turn berms, coming in extremely wide and I did that one a few times, that was pushing some bounds because he made us go so high up on that berm as like a half expected the
berm to break off and for me to slide through. I was before I would
I would go low right and there usually too at Northstar there’d be like this
looks like six-inch pit right in the lowest spot because so many people would come in right there and break and that then breaks up and gets dusty and it
blows out, but when we went high, man I felt so much better and you get, this is maybe the the only time I’m trying to get better at this
I felt that row, anti-row, weight, unweight so I would come into the turn one way, weight on it on, unweight come over to the other turn, weight on it, come through the turn and
feel awesome and that is, that I think Jonathan correct me if I’m wrong that’s the way to ride mountain bikes. It really is. So to recap really it starts at the
feet and that’s where your weight’s placed and from there up you want to
make sure your knees are in that right position, we’re not talking about
going in front of that center of weight where you have that base of support
right, hinging at the hips is key and then that allows you to then be in a
position to effectively row and anti row through any sort of terrain that you
come across and provides greater control. And these principles helped all
three of us, all three of us are in starkly different positions, in a weekend, and massive massive improvements for all of us so it was it was educational for
us. I feel like these are the types of principles and that would be helpful for
plenty of people but I believe that something that it behooves us to say,
it’s actually necessary to say is that all three of us agreed that having an
educated eye, a different perspective was key with this because we feel like we’re
doing it right and but we’re not doing it right. You know I’m having somebody
that knew exactly what to look and could effectively communicate, tell us what
we’re doing wrong, put it in ways we could understand individually and then
apply. That was huge. Very impressive stuff. Very impressive. Hopefully
people can apply these things and get faster on their own too.

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