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Uncle Dave - Should I complain about the MTB Coach?

Words Dave Tolnai
Date Nov 20, 2018

Just looking back through the Uncle Dave history...holy shit, I've been totally cheating for months now! Editorials...Gear Roundups...Ebike bullshit...time for a question!

Uncle Dave:

I’ve been riding and racing in one form or another for about 35 years, but my 13-year-old son is just getting into it so I thought it would be good to take him to an intro to mountain biking class hosted by a local trail advocacy group. I went with him to make him feel comfortable and figured it would be good to focus on the fundamentals.

Unfortunately, the class was teaching horrible technique. One egregious example was when they insisted that proper cornering technique is to keep your bike as upright as possible and lean your body into the turn. Eventually, I took my son and left because I didn’t want him to learn such awful technique.

So here is my question. What if anything should I do about this? They host the clinic monthly (it is free) and a dozen or so people show up to each class and they’ve been doing it for something like 20 years!. It makes me cringe to think of all the people that they are teaching habits to that they will need to unlearn later. I appreciate what they are trying to do, but ultimately it’s probably doing more harm than good. Should I spread the news via the internet, word of mouth etc.? I tried talking to one of the instructors, very politely, but to no avail. What do you think?


Matt Duchene

Dear Matt:

Every time I go to some kind of press camp, I'm always amazed by what I see when the photos roll in. As you sift through the dozens and dozens of photos of people doing the exact same corner/drop/climb from the exact same angle,  you soon realize that no two people look all that similar to one another. Some look good. Some look atrocious. Some, you wonder if they've ever actually ridden a bike on a trail before. Which is all sorts of baffling. It's almost like there's no consensus at all as to how you're actually supposed to ride one of these things.

When I raced bikes, way back when, this was actually one part that I really enjoyed about the sport. You had to just sort of get out there and figure it out on your own. You'd keep trying things until your bike stopped catapulting you off into the woods, and then anchor that muscle memory deep into your brain as the proper way to do things. It seemed inevitable that people would eventually form into clubs, hire coaches, and actually start to take things seriously, but for a few years at least, you could be not that great at riding and still do pretty well! The bikes sucked anyhow, so why worry too much about how you were riding them?

You can see how much better people ride with proper coaching. But, since we've started to treat this mountain biking thing like other serious sports, I can't help but feel like some of the fun is gently getting squeezed out. I mean, sure, if you want to actually learn how to do something properly, pay somebody who knows what they're talking about money to tell you how to do that thing. But having to experience the emotional scarring that accompanies years of some 30-year-old man screaming obscenities at you about the subtleties of cornering technique is a tough price to pay for athletic achievement.

So, ya, we're slowly but surely moving towards a world where people actually know what they're talking about. Where geometries don't radically change from one season to the next. Where there is some form of consensus as to what sort of pedal or wheel size to use. Where you can watch a World Cup race and half of the fun isn't attempting to interpret why each rider is taking a completely different line in a totally different way. Once again, it's almost like there's no consensus at all as to how you're actually supposed to ride one of these things.

But really, look at great achievements in sporting history. Athletic greatness usually does not come to those who play by the rules. Usain Bolt changed the way we think about sprinters. Steve Nash changed the way you pass a basketball and sell a computer. Lance Armstrong changed the way you pedal a bike and spend your off season. Marc Marquez changed the way you corner a motorcycle. Maybe this coach...this buffoon...is just three steps ahead of the rest of us? Maybe we'll all soon be dragging knees around corners with our bikes held high? I'm not going to pretend to know enough about this shit to totally rule that out. And just to be certain, I reached out to a friend of mine who's a well respected coach and who knows all about these things. It's been 4 days or so now, and he still hasn't written me back. So. I don't know. You should feel lucky that people are willing to spend so much time with your kid, and reply to your e-mails. You realize there's other parents reading this right now saying "Wait...this guy...got some other guy...to take his kid off his hands for an hour...for free...and he's complaining about it?"  You want to put a stop to this?


Uncle Dave

Congrats Matt! This week Uncle Dave is giving away a monogrammed prize pack from Lizard Skins. The grips will be etched with the message of your choice (up to 14 characters). Also included is one pair of gloves of your choice and Lizard Skins frame protection. Send us an email and we'll get you hooked up!

MacAskill Grip

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Monitor line

Lizard Skins Gloves. Pictured left to right, the Monitor SLMonitor and Monitor HD

If you'd like to win a sweet prize you'll have to figure out a question that will moisten Uncle Dave's creative juices. All you need to do is send him an email (moist or otherwise) to askuncledave@nsmb.com

Uncle Dave's Music Club

People keep asking me if I have a Spotify playlist. Which is a really great idea. I've actually been working on the pre-Millenial version of this. It's called sticking songs you like into an iTunes playlist. But, scrolling through that right now is absolutely no help right now in figuring out a Music Club selection. Ooooooh...wait....here's one. No. Shit. That's not good.

Okay. I know I dropped Wings into a column a long while back. And I still love me some "Band on the Run". But I think that Paul McCartney is going to be one of the people who we are going to look back on one day and wonder why we didn't appreciate him more. I mean...I say this conscious of the fact that I'm describing a man who is consistently mentioned as one half of the greatest pop music writers of all time...and who still sells out stadiums and plays Super Bowl Half Times. I just think sometimes...you know...it's not enough.

A couple of things...this song made it to #1 in 1971! How great is that! Man, those people knew what they were doing back then! The way this song transitions, starting at 2:16...oh my goodness! Who could do such a thing, these days?

And you just have to watch this guy, if you have a few minutes.

Trending on NSMB


+5 Cr4w AJ Barlas oudiaou Velocipedestrian natbrown
Shinook  - Nov. 20, 2018, 5:55 a.m.

I've experienced the same frustrations as Matt when it comes to coaching. The current state of mountain bike coaching is pretty pitiful, IMO, and it's largely driven by the misunderstanding that being a good/great rider is the only prerequisite for being a great coach. They may be great riders, but they lack the qualities of a good teacher and many of them have been riding so long they've forgotten the most important base fundamentals (they are just muscle memory for them) especially as they apply to complete beginners. 

It's evident just about everywhere I've been and with the majority of other coaches I've worked with. You go to an area and the best rider(s) in the area decide they have the opportunity, meaning well, to coach others and help them out. They mean well, they think that their status as a successful racer locally (or even globally) puts them in a place to teach them, but it doesn't. I'd argue that is the least important qualification for being a good coach, rather knowing how to break techniques down in ways people can understand and know how to teach them is more important, along with actually understanding those techniques. The latter seems to be the biggest problem, where riders have been doing something for so long that they can't actually interpret what they are doing on the bike to communicate it or teach it. 

Finding a coach is a frustrating experience, I worked with 8-9 others before anyone ever talked about having your weight centered on the bike, applying proper braking technique, and taught true fundamentals. I was frustrated because it felt like something was missing that I just couldn't wrap my head around, but the thousand(s) of dollars I spent on coaching went to waste because they were all teaching me to run before I could walk, some just flat out teaching bad habits that I see taught time and time again.

There are companies out there with dozens of coaches on their roster, all with extensive riding backgrounds but next to no teaching qualifications. There is also a lack of real mentorship and 'teach the teacher' programs, except for PMBIA and IMBA (the IMBA program is a joke though and PMBIA needs more resources). So what you end up with is a list of people that think they are great riders, therefore they are great coaches, but they aren't because no one will (or is) telling them they need to work on being a teacher, too. 

So yea, I'd say something, but more importantly, be the change you want to see. Go take a PMBIA course and take over doing the clinics or offer your own. You clearly have the background and experience for it, but don't rely on that, rather work on being a skilled teacher and instructor. If you are seeing people consistently do something incorrectly, put yourself in their shoes and try to learn how you can teach them correctly. We need more of that right now and people will see the difference in your area.


-2 DB@EB Shinook
Aiden Stefanson  - Nov. 20, 2018, 8:47 p.m.

The PMBIA course is laughable. The entire test is based on your riding ability and not your ability to coach. The textbook is rife with spelling and grammatical errors, and needs many rounds of editing before anyone should teach from it. The instructor was a blowhard who couldn't shut up about being a park-rat at Whistler long enough to listen to anyone taking the course, and made a point to rag on and insult everyones equipment despite his own bike being in shambles.

The whole experience reflects poorly on PMBIA as an organization, and the insistence that it is the "ONLY" coaching program. Not even close to being worth the $


+1 DB@EB
Shinook  - Nov. 23, 2018, 7:14 a.m.

I'd venture it depends heavily on the coach you work with for the program. Everyone I know that's taken it, mostly with the same group of instructors, has had good experiences. I've worked with several PMBIA coaches that were all awesome, especially the level 2 and above.

If yours were so negative, then it may be worth reaching out to PMBIA and pointing that out. They don't need that kind of representation.


+1 Shinook
DB@EB  - Nov. 23, 2018, 8:08 a.m.

Passing the course is not based on riding ability. There is a misunderstanding here for sure. Riding competence (matched per level of course) is part of it but it’s the combination of teaching, guiding and overall demonstration of an understanding of the methodologies that will determine if you pass the course. 

The association has been built by volunteers over 10+ years and every year the materials has gone through edits and improvements and we currently have an entire team dedicated to it. I’m confident it’s improved a lot since you took the course. In 2019 there will actually be an entire team of staff to continue to develop and improve the PMBI materials, courses and operations. 

I’m curious as to when you took a course Aiden? I’d like to look into this further as this doesn’t seem to match the PMBI standards at all.  Can you share what month and year you took a course? Sounds like it was in Whistler? I will certainly bring this up with the Board if Directors and look into your feedback further.


rolly  - Nov. 25, 2018, 1:13 p.m.

I'll put this out there to all current or potential mtb coaches.  I coached basketball for twelve years (both boys and girls high school teams), coached soccer for five (girls high school), taught for seventeen years, and have ridden mtb for twenty+ yrs.  I'm not the greatest rider in the world, but have been told that I'm a fairly effective teacher/coach.  If you want to talk about approaches to help your coaching become more effective, message me.  It could be fun!


+1 Mammal
Cr4w  - Nov. 20, 2018, 7:44 a.m.

Steve Nash sells computers?


-4 IslandLife Skyler AJ Barlas Shinook
Michael  - Nov. 20, 2018, 8:02 a.m.

Um. Keeping your bike upright and leaning your body is how you should should be riding a flat to off camber corner... (incorrect statement written in caffeine starved prove someone wrong on the internet state) in fact I’d like to see someone ride those two scenarios whilst leaning their bike and body (this is still true), just let me get my go pro and a beer.


0 IslandLife lukey
Bushpilot  - Nov. 20, 2018, 8:38 a.m.

Lol...lots of differing information out there about this:  

"When you’re nailing it round a nice bermed corner, your body leans with the bike and most of the time you keep your pedals flat. If you use the same technique in a flat corner it could lead to a nasty crash. Instead, make sure to press down on your outside pedal and push it down towards the six o’clock position. At the same time, lean your bike towards the inside of the corner with bent arms, while keeping your body in a slightly more upright position. This will help push your tyre’s shoulder tread directly down into the ground, and ultimately give you more grip."



+3 AJ Barlas lukey Mammal
IslandLife  - Nov. 20, 2018, 8:44 a.m.

Nope... lean the bike under your body... how much is determined by your speed (as you get gain speed the less difference there will be between your bike and body lean), but speed is determined by grip... which is ever changing... so, the fundamental is to start slow and lean the bike under your body, get the side knobs involved, get the outside pedal low and drive body weight down though the leaned bike into that outside foot and pedal which forces the knobs into the ground generating grip.


+3 lukey IslandLife Cam McRae
Michael  - Nov. 20, 2018, 9:02 a.m.

You're totally right I had that reversed in my brain and blame not having enough coffee before wanting to tell someone they were wrong on the internet. Lean your bike not your body in flat/off-camber. Just don't do both on a flat or off camber corner or my go pro beer statement still stands ;) thanks for the slap.


IslandLife  - Nov. 21, 2018, 3:03 p.m.

haha, not a problem... been there, done that.


+1 Skyler
[user profile deleted]  - Nov. 20, 2018, 10:23 a.m.

This comment has been removed.

+3 natbrown Shinook Rob Gretchen
Marty Zaleski  - Nov. 20, 2018, 12:05 p.m.

Here's the thing. You might be really good at biking. But that doesn't mean you're the best teacher for your own kid. It's not about the riding. It's about all the other stuff. The lectures, the little resentments, the baggage that's piled up over the years you've been developing your relationship. Your kid might not be able to hear you through all that noise. That's why you get a pro every now and then. It's not because the pro is better than you. Or because the pro knows what your kid needs. It's precisely because the pro doesn't: there's no background noise. Side perk is that absence makes the heart grow fonder, or something like that. Your kid will be stoked to show you what they've learned. Sometimes it's nice when it's not always you downloading onto your kid. Even if you do it better.

Or: prove me wrong and teach your kid yourself. Sometimes that works.

For the record: I coach my kids' sports. Team sports. I'm not a team-sports guy; never have been. They get a lot from me coaching their teams, I think because they have peers and can see in real time how other kids respond and learn, and that sets a standard of behaviour and engagement for them. But I don't push biking or swimming or skiing instruction much, if at all, because it's better that they have fun with me at those things. So they get lessons for those things, and they look forward to actually doing them with me. And I get to shut up for a change.


+2 LWK Rob Gretchen
DB@EB  - Nov. 20, 2018, 3:17 p.m.

Hello everyone. 

Free Instruction should always be looked at carefully. Who is teaching? What are there credentials? How much experience do they have? Why is it free?

Instruction & Guiding is something that has improved dramatically in the last 20 years and it’s been exponentially improving along the way 

The PMBIA is doing good work at unifying the standards of teaching and guiding, globally, with courses being offered in almost 20 countries by 2019. These courses are rapidly improving and putting better and better Instructors & Guides our in the field each year. I see this first hand as I do conduct courses for them, so I know the courses, the content and the standard to required to successfully pass and maintain certification. 

There is awful advice being given to Matt’s son and I’d love to have the opportunity to help if I may be granted that opportunity one day...

You get what you pay for and anything free usually has some strings attached. 

I welcome any of you to come and see me at Endless Biking and I can help with just about anything, riding related. There are some great Instructors out there, some good ones and unfortunately some that are below the industry standard in terms of updated training, experience or even compliant business practices. 

I’ve dedicated almost 20 years to my craft and for the overall improvement and accessibility of it, industry wide. This level of coaching is unacceptable in this day and age. You can find better and you deserve better. 

One little nugget I will leave for you all to consider, is that no 2 corners are the same. These aren’t absolutes, so applying absolute theories will present limitations along the way. 😉



+4 Shinook DB@EB Rob Gretchen rolly
LWK  - Nov. 20, 2018, 3:30 p.m.

As someone who provides some MTB coaching and having attended various PMBI courses, I have to cringe at some of the experiences people have had!  The ability to pro-bro-shred does not equal the ability to teach anything.  MTB skills coaching is fundamentally about teaching, not showing off your self perceived pro riding skills.  I've had to really work and practice to improve aspects of my riding and I think that helps my teaching.

Teaching means you understand the fundamentals, know how skills build and progress, and are able to combine that theoretical knowledge with the ability to observe people's movements, understand what they are doing and finally be able to communicate all this to them in a way that they can understand and relate to.

I can imagine its hard to find a "good" coach but I do think the PMBI certifications provide a pretty solid framework and foundation.  And for what its worth, I think cornering is actually the hardest MTB skill to master and/or teach - there is just so much going on, variables to deal with and options to use.


+1 ZigaK
Reed Holden  - Nov. 20, 2018, 8:40 p.m.

I wouldn't bother complaining about the coaching - if it is free especially. If you can find a coach that can teach you everything you need to know, consider yourself lucky. Often you learn different things from different people. That guy may have some things he teaches well, maybe clearing a log. Most of us in the 90's had to do that with the seat all the way up.

Upright bike cornering was actually a thing in the 90's. The tires back then didn't always have side knobs so you were supposed to corner that way. I learned that technique years ago and then as tires, geo and tech imroved I also learned modern day cornering. This being said, I still use the old technique sometimes - it comes in handy in really tight trees when you can't dip your bike into the corner without clipping trees.


+1 Cam McRae
taprider  - Nov. 20, 2018, 10:59 p.m.

Uncle Dave!

You broke my sarcasm detector with your music choices


Cam McRae  - Nov. 22, 2018, 10:53 a.m.

The man is a mystery wrapped in an enigma!


Dave Tolnai  - Nov. 22, 2018, 12:22 p.m.

Why would anybody be sarcastic about Paul McCartney?


taprider  - Nov. 22, 2018, 1:04 p.m.

when I now look at my sarcasm meter, it's like someone slipped acid into my coffee


Mark  - Dec. 10, 2018, noon

Came to this via a post from somewhere else and a second important question answer that should be asked here is what makes a good mtb coach, especially for kids/youth. Darren brought up some good points about the importance of some sort of education and certification. If I was going to boil it down there'd be three things I'd look for in a coach either for myself or a kid:

1. Coach training via the NCCP program or something similar such as the PMBI 

2. The requisite physiological knowledge preferably via a post secondary education program in something like human kinetics or kinesiology. This should also include an understanding of the psychology of sport.

3. Enough practical experience to understand the nuances of the sport and what it takes to be good.

That person may be better off in some of those areas that others, but someone who say is an great ex racer who doesn’t have the proper physiological knowledge will be limited in their effectiveness and vice versa as well. For the parent looking for a coach for their kid ask about credentials and check up on them. I should also add that the parent should be sure this is something their kid wants to do, not something the parent wants their kid to do.

As to the original question which really didn't get answered, Matt should definitely bring his concerns to the trail association. I'd let them know why you think what they're doing needs improvement and also offer some suggestions as to how they can improve things such as making sure the person running those free clinics are qualified to do so.


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