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15 Tips to Dump The Slump*

Words Cam McRae
Date Jul 4, 2019

*Originally published 2015-12-15

What sucks more than riding like a putz? Obstacles you once owned become impossible, corners feel square and your 6″ travel bike feels fully rigid. Sometimes this happens for some logical reason; a hangover, recovery from injury, a series of crashes or a fork that’s lubricated with gravel and shards of glass. The inexplicable slump is more of a slap in the face. You’ve been charging and improving and feeling great, and it all comes crashing down in an avalanche of clumsiness and shame.

I slump regularly and hard, but I’ve gotten much better and busting out by identifying some efficient cures. Below you’ll find a couple of my tips, four from Wade Simmons, two each from Kelli Sherbinin and Darren Butler of Endless Biking, and five from James Wilson of MTB Strength Training Systems. Some cures are aimed at getting you calling shots mid-ride while others are off trail solutions, that can also prevent slumps.

And here’s a bonus. Some of these tips might just get you to the next level even if you aren’t riding sub par.

Here are my two. To be clear, while I’m good st slumping, I’m not a coach or a pro. These are just things that work for me.

Cam McRae’s Tips

  1. Nose On Stem. Often body position is the culprit for me. I get tentative and ride with arms straight and stiff like baguettes. Exaggerating an elbows out, head forward position serves up the aggressive position and attitude required to tackle challenging trails. In fact studies suggest that an aggressive stance has an influence on testosterone and cortisol levels, hormones critical to performance and confidence.
  2. Stomp the Pedals. This may sound obvious, but before Shaums March spelled this out for me (in the middle of a slump) I was riding with a constant rearward tug on the bars, botching my balance and virtually everything about my riding. Focussing on evenly weighting pedals, when coasting with feet at 3 and 9 o’clock, shifts my focus to pumping and moving the bike with the terrain. And things start to flow.

Wade Simmons’ Tips

It’s nice to know that pro riders like Wade sometimes find themselves riding like mere mortals. Banner photo – Brian Vernor

  1. Get Angry. Whenever I’m riding gingerly and/or scaring myself, I start talking to myself and calling myself names like: you fu*%in’ wuss, etc… I then take it further and ride really out of control. I like to spike little rolls and big rocks to bottom out forks etc…. After a bit of rodeo riding, I reel it back in, and after I’m usually riding better and faster.
  2. Crash. That might sound funny and maybe a little painful but I find a crash is a good reset for me and I always find them a little comical – well, the ones you walk away from. You got to realize crashing is part of mountain biking and really if you’re not crashing you are pretty much in a slump all the time anyhow.
  3. Ride New Trails. I really dislike out and backs and riding the same loops again and again. I get the fact that some people love it and revel in the challenge of trying the same obstacle over and over. If I’m a bit bummed on my local trails or my riding, I like to travel and explore areas I don’t know. Luckily living in the Pacific Northwest allows much variety in a short distance.
  4. Buy Your Way Out. Most of us have jobs and we love mountain biking, so don’t be afraid to treat yourself to something: new tires, better brakes, fork overhaul etc. If you upgrade something on your bike and you love this sport, I will guarantee it will be worth it in the end. Why save a little money on a cheaper parts when 6 months down the road you find yourself even more addicted to biking and you’ll buy that part anyhow? It is true in mountain biking that you get what you pay for; usually when you do fork over the big bucks for the premium gear, the warranty is that much better!

James Wilson’s Tips

As the strength and conditioning coach for World Cup Teams and 4 National Championships ranging from DH to XC, his programs have been proven at the highest levels. James Wilson has helped thousands of riders improve their speed, endurance and skills on the trail. Visit his web site for more info.

  1. Crosstraining. While it seems counter-intuitive, the brain and body can get burned out on the same basic movements and types of fitness. By getting away from a bike (this means that road riding and cyclocross don’t count as true crosstraining) you force your body to use new movements and new types of fitness. This expands your athletic base and often allows you to take your riding to another level as well. I recommend Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Indoor Rock Climbing/ Bouldering as two great sports that have a lot of carryover to the trail.
  2. Yoga. Mountain biking requires a lot more mobility than other cycling sports. However, almost every rider I have ever met is too tight in 1 or more key areas. By taking a yoga class or simply spending some time foam rolling and stretching on a consistent basis you can greatly improve your ability to move efficiently on the bike, which will help you ride faster and waste less energy on the trail.
  3. Flats. Flat pedals take advantage of what I call Forced Efficiency Training. While you may be faster in clipless pedals, using them all of the time can result in some bad habits that are wasting energy on the trail. Flats force you to use the most efficient pedal stroke and give you immediate feedback on when you aren’t doing it properly. By spending 80% of your training time with flats you ensure that you are reinforcing great technique, which will help you no matter which pedal system you use.
  4. Get Strong. The trail is a rough place requiring more core, grip and upper body strength than any other cycling sport. When you get stronger you can produce tension more efficiently, which means you can handle the high tension side of riding better. This means you won’t be as taxed after a hard descent or technical climb, which adds up to more fuel in the tank at the end of the ride.
  5. Improve your mindset. Not to get all mystical on you, but your brain controls your reality. When you understand how to control your mindset to help you perform better in the moment and how to best learn from your experiences you add rocket fuel to your progress. While it is geared towards rock climbers, I recommend the book The Rock Warriors Way as a good starting place to learn more about how to do this.

Kelli Sherbinin’s Tips

Co-owner and Professional Mountain Bike Instructor & Guide with Endless Biking. Kelli also trains Instructors and Guides, serves as a Director of the Professional Mountain Bike Instructor and Guides Training Association and teaches at Capilano University. Photo – Dave Silver

  1. Open Your Eyes. Take a looks at what’s ahead. As often as you can, every 10-20 secs, try to take in as much information as you can about the trail ahead, instead of looking down at your front wheel.
  2. Do Over. Repetition is great! Choose a short trail that you can ride over and over again. Take a moment to look for lines, be the best you can be on that trail and watch your skills improve dramatically!!

Darren Butler’s Tips

Darren Butler – Co-owner & Professional Mountain Bike Instructor and Guide with Endless Biking. Darren is a Course Conductor who trains MTB Instructors and Guides. He also serves as the Assistant Technical Director of the Professional Mountain Bike Instructor and Guides Training Association. Photo – Coast Mountain Photography

  1. Get Wet. Get out and ride a bit in the rain. The roots will always look scary unless you can try riding them (with success) when they are soaked and look slippery. Once you gain some confidence riding in the wet (please choose trails carefully!) you will even more confidence coming spring and summer when things dry out.
  2. The Ride You Need. If things haven’t been going your way, don’t just hook up with your regular crew of shredders who only take on gnarly lines. Take a few rides for yourself and lap some lower- consequence trails to build some confidence.

How do you reclaim your flow when it goes to hell?

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AlanB  - Dec. 20, 2015, 9:24 p.m.

Hitting the gym regularly and a good routine from a personal trainer resulted in rapid improvements for me. Hills I used to climb in 2nd I now do in 3rd!

For balance and confidence, ride more and ride technical trails. Practise, practise, practise.


+2 Saša Stojanovic E-wok
Merwinn  - Dec. 17, 2015, 9:25 a.m.

Breathe. When I get nervous I stiffen up and find I'm holding my breath a bit or at least smaller breaths. Slow down, take a few bigger deep breaths, which relaxes me and I remind myself to loosen up, center my stance and the ride typically gets much better.


UnkeeTyTy  - Dec. 16, 2015, 7:57 p.m.

Wade Simmons' first two tips are my secret weapons. I love my attitude after a medium sized wipe out. Sometimes I'll purposely pull a move I know I can't land so I can feel a bit of a tumble. And stomping small hops, yelling angrily, and riding nearly out of control always pumps me up. I never ride better than after these things notch up the intensity. Music helps too, if I want to be fast and super aggressive it's gonna be Slayer, Pantera, or some other equally hostile band. My PR runs come out of this stuff 90% of the time. As do my wildest, most exhilarating rides.


tw  - Dec. 16, 2015, 12:04 p.m.

Off the trail try monitoring your HRV (heart rate variability) with something like ithlete. This can help you understand when your body needs rest rather than riding. Can help identify and prevent overtraining. Found it very useful this summer.


Cr4w  - July 4, 2019, 10:52 a.m.

Proper weightlifting/powerlifting will get your hip, shoulder and back functioning well (especially in combination with a little yoga). Not only will it make the strength requirements of mountain biking seem quaint but it trains your breath-brace practice for much improved crash survivability. You don't need to gain much body weight (if any) to benefit.


+1 Cam McRae
Pete Roggeman  - July 4, 2019, 11:02 a.m.

Riding different trails and with different people has definitely helped for me in the past. Ditto switching back and forth between clips and flats. Anything to shake up the routine puts my brain in a different place and helps me to reset.


+3 Mammal Cam McRae Metacomet
Garrett Thibault  - July 4, 2019, 1:30 p.m.

Definitely just sessioning alone without any pressure helped me. 

I was too afraid of crabapple and all of the big jump lines for a long time, despite riding with people that rode them constantly. I’d always do a different trail when they were doing the big jump lines or roll the crabapple turns beside. 

Last year I hiked up alone and sessioned them until I was comfortable letting go of the brakes. I had no problem going into coastal cruise and flight deck and the new dirt merchant after that. 

I’m sure my technical riding would improve with a little solo “track walk” and session as well.


+3 Mammal Cam McRae capnron
Brad Sedola  - July 4, 2019, 1:31 p.m.

I get out there and kick the shit out of the trails with the brushcutter. That stump I couldn't see beneath the canopy of ferns that threw me OTB and bruised a few ribs... I'll teach you. Once I've pruned everything back, a couple hours pulling a rake down a trail is some of the best cross training, if you ask me.


Mammal  - July 4, 2019, 2:07 p.m.

Great call! A similar, but also totally different party in the woods.


+1 Cam McRae
Mammal  - July 4, 2019, 2:06 p.m.

Similar to some of Cam's thoughts...  I focus on overall body position and where I'm applying pressure to the bike when things feel wrong. 

Make sure knees and arms are bent ready to absorb. Hover "in" the bike instead of on top of, or behind it. A big part of this for me, is preparing for corners. If I'm feeling like a hack, it shows up first in my cornering. I make sure I'm almost in full cornering position as I enter the turn, eyes ahead, upper body notably forward and legs crouching low, inside knee and elbow poked out and weight the inside grip into the turn. Seems to work a treat, and I feel like a ninja in no time (emphasis on "feel like").  

Cam's "stomp the pedals" is the other part of this. If I focus on "plowing through my feet", all of a sudden my hand/arm fatigue fades away, and my body position isn't getting jerked around constantly. That was a giant help to me while getting back up to max hard tail speed over the past year.

Lastly, riding different bikes with different riding styles never allows you to feel the funk, as it's always a fresh experience. I've traditionally had more than one bike, but this year is my first for having a hard tail, mid-travel trail bike, and designated DH bike all at once (that all fit me and I actually like to ride). Never a dull moment when I have totally 3 different experiences during my 3 or 4 rides per week. God I love the S2S corridor.


+1 Cam McRae
Garrett Thibault  - July 4, 2019, 3:14 p.m.

It’s hard to go from my super modern super long DH bike back to my super old and small dirt jumper. It’s fine on dirt jumps, but I’ve actually been riding it on trails occasionally and I usually do feel a bit of a funk the first day back on the DJ bike. I’ve always found it helpful to do my first ride back on a hardtail with another rider so I can chase someone and not focus so much on the fact that I’m going slower than I was the ride before on my full-sus.


Mammal  - July 4, 2019, 3:23 p.m.

I got a custom hardtail built by a friend of mine this year, and had him make it as modern as possible (low and slack/long as the tube set would allow). Amazing difference, as my reference point was a 2012 Chromag.  Geo has come so far, and hardtails absolutely SLAY with the right geo (much like most bikes these days).


Karl Fitzpatrick  - July 5, 2019, 1:55 a.m.

Body position is definitely something to fall back on but one thing for me is watching 'Rad Edits'. I feel like getting excited about a good shred-it can give skills via osmosis...


Allen Lloyd  - July 8, 2019, 1:51 p.m.

Different people and bikes is key.  I love my Hightower, but sometimes it is more fun to ride my Nimble 9 for a few weeks and then switch back.  Also riding with friends then with my kids keeps me interested and trying different things.  My kids climb pretty slow so I have been working on riding wheelies uphill when I am with them, it keeps it interesting for me and the kids think it is pretty cool.


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