One of my weaknesses is trail handling skills. I can clear most objects and difficult sections on the racecourse, but I often lose time doing it and I have to work really hard to keep contact on sweeping corners, especially when there are several of them linked together. At the Kingdom Trails last summer with the MTBVT crew my trail flow shortcomings were pretty evident.
All in all I've spent more time in surfing lessons than I have in mountain bike lessons. I've worked with a coach to develop my endurance training, but other than countless conversations with various folks in the sport I've never had any formal trail instruction in the 16 years I've been riding and racing.
Simon has built his career around teaching people to ride better and leverages a decade and a half of pro downhill experience and some forward thinking. As a result he has the best selling mountain bike skills DVD (which will have digital download options through Amazon, iTunes and Xbox in the coming months) and offers private lessons around the Seattle area.
So what did I learn in my lesson? For one I've been overcomplicating things by trying to pedal too often and switch up my leading foot. I've also been riding for a very long time in a head down, roadie-centric attack position with a rounded back.
First was to get into a more upright, balanced athletic position where I could not only see more of the terrain but also use my legs more to suspend my body over the bottom bracket. The key really is in the feet and using the pedals and crank to optimize your body position relative to the terrain. It sounds simple, but I will admit I had a hard time absorbing everything Simon was telling me to do the first time around. I was in full-on geek mode and still felt like I wasn't getting it all.
Then it clicked.
After several cornering drills around traffic cones we started back down a trail we'd ridden a few times before. First time through I was ahead of Simon and pushing as hard as I could to keep my speed. Honestly I couldn't have gone much faster than I did. Second time through things were different and all of a sudden I felt like I was more in control.
Over the course of a single lesson I'd trimmed about 20 seconds off of a 2 minute run. I won't even talk about how much of an improvement that can be over a full marathon or even Wednesday Worlds. My head hurts thinking about how much I'd need to train to pull a similar gain out of my aerobic performance on a pedaling section of similar length.
Fast forward to my first few rides back home on familiar trails. Old habits were creeping back in on sections that I'd ridden countless times. Retraining was a conscious effort, but as I kept riding I was able to clearly see how much better off I was to employ what I'd just learned versus what I'd been doing before. As I hauled down the steepest and bumpiest trail in the park I focused on relaxing, keeping my head up/looking ahead and making sure I was positioned so my weight was over the bb shell.
One of Simon's most memorable quotes was essentially to relax and imagine my body as a column of atoms slowly falling down into my socks (and I have lots of matter- good thing I have tall socks). Thought provoking for sure, but envisioning that made me really focus on relaxing and staying fluid.
And to top it all off I can see there's plenty more to improve above and beyond what I've done already. I have no idea how this season is going to be, but I'm going to attack it smoother and faster than I've been before.
For more information check out www.fluidride.com.