BRAKE LESS AND LET THE BIKE ROLL!
Lately I've been SO STOKED on riding! I'm riding almost every day and getting really fit. As stoked as I am, I must admit I've been descending slowly and carefully relative to my potential.
Why am I riding below my potential?
1) Medication. A couple years ago I was diagnosed with depression. I've had a hard time adjusting to riding on meds.
2) Risk aversion. I cannot afford to get hurt. Like most of you.
3) Life stress. When I am stressed off the bike, it makes me tense on the bike. It's like there's a direct connection between my broken inner child and those damn brake levers.
As a professional mountain bike skills coach, I believe we can all benefit from help.
The more control you give up in a moment by letting go of the brakes, the more control you gain overall.
I recently rode with a guy names Myles Rockwell. Myles is a dad and a cool fellow, and he happens to be the 2000 Downhill World Champion. We went to our local gnarly spot. Stuff I know. Most of what Myles said to me I say to my clients every day, but it's different when you're at your limit and it's being told to you. My base is good. As he said, I have good enough skills, I'm strong enough and I'm riding great equipment. The limiting factor is mental.
I'm braking way too often, way too passively and way too unconsciously. I know about this! I teach emphatic braking to people all the time! But I'm struggling with it. I think it comes from 1) the meds, 2) anxiety, and 3) a habit that I've developed from lots of "successful" braking. Successful meaning the braking has given me the result I want — that I haven't been crashing. But I'm not achieving Flow either, and that needs to be part of the goal.
Brake less but brake harder. Instead of dragging brakes through long sections, let the bike run then brake harder when it counts. I know this, but I needed the reminder. We played games like, coast in from here and don't brake until you reach this rock. After some stressful reps, we moved the rock farther down the trail.
Trail braking. Myles didn't call it trail braking, but this is what he was doing. In the spirit of condensing braking, and working with great gobs of energy in focused moments, he encouraged me to 1) start braking late, 2) brake very hard into the corner, 3) lay heavily on the front wheel (and the brakes) in the beginning of the turn then, 4) at the moment of special juiciness, to let go of the brakes and start pumping the turn. Braaap!
Spend more time falling. Not falling as in falling off your bike. Falling as in freefalling down the trail. Enjoying the sweet nothingness of floating light over some rocks, of accelerating downhill without braking. That's when your bike works best, and that's when you have no tension. Learn to trust and enjoy that feeling. I, for one, hated the feeling of acceleration when skydiving, but I loved the beautiful violence of riding bulls. Go figure.
Focus the energy. This is the opposite side of the freefalling wave. When it's time to brake or turn, do it very heavy. Read the terrain. Look for natural heavy spots (the landing off a rock drop, say). Use them with great intention. I know this! But it's impossible to do when you're nervous.
Look way ahead. We all know this, but we forget when we're stressed. More specifically, look as far ahead as you can. Pick the most distant reference point you can see. Decide where you're going to brake and turn. As needed, check the closer reference points as they scroll at you, but keep picking distant ones. "Don't brake until I get ... right ... there."
Open it up. Let the bike run. The more control you give up in a moment by letting go of the brakes, the more control you gain overall. Good life lesson.
Be willing to make mistakes. Push a bit harder. Don't insist on everything being perfect. Believe that I can make a mistake and not get hurt. But, at the same time, make a decision about how much risk I want to take on. (My answer is zero).
Gain 15-20%. I told Myles that I feel I can gain some speed/flow without taking any more risk. As a matter of fact, if I ride more emphatically, riding will be both more fun and safer. He agreed and said I can gain 15-20% without increasing risk.
How about you? What do you need to focus on?
Lee McCormack is the author of 9 books on mountain biking, an active coach, and the inventor of the RipRow, a mountain biking strength and conditioning tool, to name just some of his production. You can track him down using the links below.