The Mountain Bike Life

A few weeks ago, I posted my very first trail video to Reddit. Very exciting, right? Admittedly, I asked everyone to give me tips to get better, but I was pretty comfortable on that trail so I didn’t think there would be too many suggestions. Well, actually, no! As it turns out, one of my biggest flaws showed up, and working on it has actually had quite a large impact on how I ride.

The advice I got from a nice Redditor was to adjust the camera mount, so it looked more at the trail and less at my front wheel. That makes sense, so I went to check out my helmet. I actually did have the mount attached properly: it looked right where I looked. So, what’s the problem? Maybe that guy just likes to have a higher view? Or maybe, just maybe, there was actually something wrong with what I was doing.

I started thinking about what I did, watching the videos I’ve taken, and comparing them to the other sports that I’ve played. I realized that, while biking, I tend to spend a lot of time reacting to what I’m riding over / through / across, rather than being proactive. Think about it for a minute: you probably downshift before you hit the big hill, and stand up before the downhill, but do you look ahead of where you are, and plan your line through technical features before you hit them?

If you’re like I used to be, then you probably try to plan on the fly, and figure out where you’re going once you’re already halfway there. As you may already know, this is not a particularly effective strategy, and it results in quite a lot of backpedaling and failed attempts at hitting that complicated technical section. It’s good to know what’s underneath you, but I would argue that it’s actually more important to know what’s in front of you. That way, you know whether you should be gearing up or down, or shifting your weight forward or back. It also helps when you’re on a trail that quickly transitions from one type of riding to another – for example, the trail on which my video was taken switches rapidly from bermed singletrack to rather large rock features (both up and down) to wide forest service roads. What really clued me in to the problem was watching myself almost eat dirt on a tiny jump, because I didn’t see it until about a foot before I hit it. Once I figured that out and watched some of my other clips, it became pretty obvious that I spend way too much time reacting to the trail, and not nearly enough time setting up for what’s coming.

I spent way too much of the video (and trail) with this view — almost completely incapable of reacting to what’s coming up!

How did I fix it? Well, it was pretty simple, really. I thought to myself, “self, look farther ahead!” It’s a new skill that previously I’ve only used while driving, so at this point I can only read the trail about five seconds in front of me. That doesn’t sound like much, but the difference it’s made has been enormous. Now, instead of hauling ass up to that big drop and slamming on the brakes (which usually results in a few choice words with myself, and disappointment because I’ve ridden it before and know I can ride it), I actually put some effort into planning my line to and through the rocks. The first few times I only got the rough outline of where I’d be riding (“centre of the trail to the root, then take the right half, then dodge that rock and take the left”), but now that I’ve been practicing a bit more, it’s gotten much more in-depth. As I said earlier, I am still quite limited in the distance I can plan ahead, but usually I have a pretty good idea of where I should be and how fast I should be going for a given section of trail.

This is about what I look for in my videos now — I consciously try to keep myself looking forward while riding, and when I get back home and check the footage, I can usually see how well I did.

Try it out on your next ride! It isn’t a particularly big thing, but I think it’s the biggest improvement to my riding I’ve made since I learned how to bunnyhop. It takes practically no effort, and even making a tiny change in my field of vision seems to have made a major improvement to my riding.

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