We all see those certain people that seem to be athletically gifted, and we assume they’re just good at any sport they try. Sure, some are genetically inclined when it comes to natural sports like running, but mountain biking is not something humans have been doing for thousands of years. It’s a sport that takes training and practice to do well. If you feel that you just aren’t inclined to be good at mountain biking, or you’re not fearless enough, let me assure you that you can indeed become a competent rider if you’re willing to put in the time.
Historically I’ve been quite terrible at every new sport I pick up. Let’s take swimming, water polo, skate skiing, and mountain biking for example. I vividly remember my first day with all those sports because I was so frikken awful. But with guidance from friends and coaches, along with the determination and time spent practicing, I learned that I had the power to turn things around.
In swimming I went from being the slowest freshman in the pool to the school’s fastest breaststroker by my senior year. My first day of water polo I couldn’t egg beater to save my life, but three years later I was the first runner up as goalie for the junior National water polo team. And from my first downhill race where I fell over countless times and finished as the slowest Cat 2 girl, two years later I took home the Stars and Stripes jersey as the Cat 1 National Champion and got my pro upgrade. There’s no success story for skate skiing because I thought it was boring and I didn’t put in the time to get better. I have no regrets.
We can’t always get on trail every day, but you don’t need a sweet trail to improve your bike handling skills. In fact, I find more value in running “parking lot drills” to get my technique down. An open parking lot or gravel area is perfect because I’m not going to get in anyone’s way, and I can focus on exactly what I want to do without trail obstacles.
I have an XC background and I love the thrill of going fast, but for a long time my technical riding was uber novice. In my six years of racing XC no one ever stressed the importance of learning to ride rock gardens or drops with me, nor proper bike handling skills. Of course my technical riding was terrible, and in races it was faster to get off the bike and run through those sections. There were no points for riding features. It was all based on time and I went with whatever was quickest for me.
When I started riding downhill I worked with a number of coaches and quickly learned that there’s a lot of skill involved to ride features. It’s not that downhillers are fearless, it’s that they’ve learned how to ride things properly.
I like to do parking lot drills throughout the year to keep things fresh, but I’ll work them more frequently in the winter because
A. The trails are usually too snowy or wet to ride;
and B. It’s the off season and I have more time to devote to the fundamentals.
If you can’t hold good form through corners on flat ground, you aren’t going to magically corner perfectly when you get to the trail.
After five months of off season training which was mostly comprised of strength training and parking lot drills, I drove to Nevada for an early season race as a test. Bootleg Canyon is pretty gnarly and I quickly found myself struggling with steep tech because I hadn’t practiced any of that all winter. But my corners and endurance were pretty darn good, because that’s what I’d been training and practicing.
So what am I trying to say? There’s no such thing as a natural born mountain biker. You can shape yourself into whatever you want to be. Your ability is not limited if you can’t hit the trails often. Running drills for even 20 minutes in the morning, during lunch, or after work can make big improvements in your overall riding. It’s the consistent practice of basic skills that will yield the biggest gains in your riding. Buy some cones and have fun out there!
Join coach Kim Godfrey at the VIDA MTB Series Signature Clinic in Sedona as well as other Colorado locations in 2015.