Learning to Ride, Again

08.29.2006 | 3:51 pm

I have three theories for why I am timid and incompetent when mountain biking on technical terrain.

  • Theory 1: About twelve years ago, I started mountain biking. My friends, however, started mountain biking three years earlier than that. By the time I bought a bike and started riding in earnest, they had learned the basics and got their legs, so that I rarely–if ever–actually saw them during the ride. They’d drop me at the beginning of the climb. We’d regroup at the top and begin the descent, at which point they would immediately drop me again. As a result, I am pretty much a self-taught rider.
  • Theory 2: I never approach people with technical skills and asked them to teach me.
  • Theory 3: I am a clumsy oaf with no natural grace, coupled with a very vivid imagination; I am very good at picturing how I could be injured by the impending obstacle.

Needless to say (and yet, I am saying it), these theories are not mutually exclusive.

There’s not much I can do about my biking history, and there’s not much I can do about my lack of natural grace, but–as of yesterday afternoon–I am getting some instruction on basic technical skills.

My mentor? One of the frequent commenters on this blog. Yes, I am taking mountain bike lessons from a guy who calls himself "BotchedExperiment."

If that’s not confidence-inspiring, well, I don’t know what is.

Here’s what I learned yesterday.

Lesson 1: My Saddle is Too High
Ever since I started riding, I’ve kept my saddle height adjusted according to a formula that works really well for road riding. I get good power with this height, and can ride all day without my knees getting sore.

So the first thing Botched did was drop the saddle about four inches. Now when I’m riding I feel like singing "Lowrider." I assume this tendency will fade over time.

The point, says Mr. Experiment, is to make it easier for me to get way back off the saddle, to hang my butt over the rear wheel and rest my chest on the saddle. When I am in that position, says Botched, it is virtually impossible to endo.

He then had me practice riding around this way, getting comfortable with speed, with turning, with wheelie-ing, with riding down short flights of stairs. 

Lesson 2: Tripod
Next, Botched had me learn to stop. Skid the rear tire out, turn pivoting around your strong foot. Put the foot down, and now you’re a tripod. Most kids learn to do this in first grade. I just learned how last night.

Oh, and it turns out I’m goofy-footed.

Lesson 3: Wheelie and Lunge
Botched can do massive wheelie-to-bunnyhops that allow him to clear practically any obstacle. Last night, he had me work on the wheelie first (imagine, he says, you’re hoisting a bucket of water onto a high shelf), and then the accompany lunge upward and forward.

This is where my natural awkwardness really became manifest.

I can do a simple wheelie. I can even do a simple lunge. But chaining them together into a bunnyhop was…erm…problematic.

You know what, though? At least now I know what the motions are. I figure if I do them often enough, they’ll eventually seep into my subconscious and–eventually–it’ll become a natural motion.

Next Up: Shin, Knee, Elbow and Arm Guards
At one point yesterday–as I was practicing wheelie-lunging onto a flagpole platform at an elementary school–I turfed pretty well. Today I’m sore in a number of places, and my left wrist is all swollen.

Botched says I need to buy some courage, in the form of body armor.

Do I think I’ll ever be a technical wizard on the mountain bike? No. Will I be as good as my riding friends? No. But do I expect, eventually, to appear less the buffoon on mountain bike moves and technical descents?

Why, yes. Yes I do.


  1. Comment by mtnbound | 08.29.2006 | 5:09 pm

    FC, great post!  Started reading your blog earlier this summer and loved it.  I also learned via the self taught method of mtn biking for the same reasons.  I only took up the sport at the advanced age of 33 when I moved to Colorado from midwest.  Of course, everyone else in CO already knew how to ride so I was always bringing up the rear.  Improving every year, though.  Keep working on those technical skills and courage comes with the confidence of mastering them.  /s/ Mtnbike W

  2. Comment by Andrew | 08.29.2006 | 5:56 pm

    Excellent post. Whatever you think your problem is, wait until you turn 52 and then, after no biking experience at all, you think it would be cool to take up mountain biking. Foolery, I say.
    How do you think dropping the seat will affect your vaunted climbing ability? It makes my knees sore just thinking about it.

  3. Comment by Jsun | 08.29.2006 | 6:51 pm

    I too am ‘goofy foot’, which really only applies to old school surfing and not much else.  I find that my powerslide, which I have been perfecting since childhood, and still makes me feel like a kid, is best performed with my left foot down and right foot on the pedal.  Thinking about those ice racing motorcycles and making the screeching sound helps also. 
    But remember - SKIDS ARE FOR KIDS (or don’t skid on the trails)

  4. Comment by Unknown | 08.29.2006 | 6:53 pm

    I have one word for you.  Maverick Speedball.  Yes, I realize that is two words.  I think you get the picture though, right?  http://www.maverickbike.com  Botched is a good egg to show you some stuff.  Did he sign a liablity waiver?

  5. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 08.29.2006 | 7:29 pm

    How long is it to Lotoja?
    or should I say
    It’s great that the venerable BotchedExperiment is giving you some pointers as to the finer points of MTBing.  Points obviously previously lost on you - or never seen because you were so far back in the bunch. 
    But remember rule 1 of cycling… never change anything during race week.  And more importantly, rule 1(b) – the longer the race, the longer the "no change" duration prior to the event must be.  Lotoja is 206 miles.  That sounds like about a 3 week no fly zone.  In fact, with a ride of that magnitude I wouldn’t even change my socks or underwear in the preceding couple of weeks.  I’ve got some spare jars at home if you need them.  3 should do it, one to store each knee in and one for the family jewels.
    Good luck at Lotoja, or more to the point, good whatever-it-is-you-have-when-luck-deserts-you.

  6. Comment by Sue | 08.29.2006 | 9:12 pm

    I should have made clear, that the drastic lowering of the saddle was really just for practice sessions (although I think it is too high for general riding too, but since you are the endurance mt bike master, and I can’t even finish an endurance race I’ll keep that particular opinion completely to myself (except for the 10 times I’ve expressed that opinion)).
    Sorry to hear about the wrist. Now, about that waiver . . .
    P.S. Don’t be fooled by Fatty’s claimed akwardness, he’s really not *that* bad. In fact, he was barely more akward that my 4 year old was when she started riding without training wheels earlier this summer. 
    P.P.S. Whaddup wit dug?

  7. Comment by Sue | 08.29.2006 | 9:37 pm

    Whatever happened to Al Maviva? I love that guy.

  8. Comment by Lofgrans | 08.29.2006 | 10:20 pm

    FC- good to have you back. Love the posts, I keep emailing them to my husband- who has wisely opted out of LOTOJA this year. Last years blizzard and the continuously pittiful payout (If I placed top 10 in a 200+ mile race, I’d want some cash too) are enough to keep him home bound. Are you racing/riding? If so, good luck.

  9. Comment by James | 08.30.2006 | 12:15 am

    Elden- If our paths ever cross, and I hope they do, we need to have a big chicken contest. I think I’d win, and by that I mean I think I’m an even bigger chicken on the bike than you are. My self-preservation threshold seems to be set pretty high when it comes to things involving leaning over, standing still or going down steep slopes, even paved ones.
    I’m going to try to bring that down a bit by trying cyclocross this fall. Even if I’m still a chicken at the end, if I can do those mounts and dismounts with any sense of grace, I’ll feel better about who I am and what I’m doing. And the bunny hops…man, I’m going to have to find myself a course lined with deep pits of foam rubber to practice those.

  10. Comment by Jon Paul | 08.30.2006 | 1:45 am

    From everything you’ve blogged about, getting your downhill speed up will get you the sub-9 time you want! Go Botched with the training runs! As for dropping seat height, I’d keep it low for downhills and where you like it for uphills and distance. I have no basis for saying that, just things I’ve read and Botched’s comment about too high. Lower, on technical stuff, also makes it easier to work the bike; if the seat is set to road-bike height, you’re gonna rack yourself.
    New blog, migrating from old blog: jonpaulbaker.wordpress.com. The old blog links to the new.
    Best wishes for the training. I’m still just a wannabe, but I’m working on it.

  11. Comment by mark | 08.30.2006 | 7:58 pm

    Fatty, I highly recommend checking out "Mastering Mountain Bike Skills" by Brian Lopes. Coach Lopes is full of good advice and lots of fine technical information like the difference between a manual and a wheelie. Sounds like what Botched had you working on (the bucket lifting thing) was a manual, not a wheelie. Anyway, the book is awesome, and pads will help tremendously with confidence. They will give you the courage to ride the harder line on the "spine" section of Wasatch Crest. That and flat pedals. And a gravity dropper seatpost (solves the saddle height climbing vs. descending problem). And a six inch travel fork. Downhilling, not a rigid fork, is your answer to the sub-9 Leadville.
    For what it’s worth, though, I’ll ride down almost anything on a mtn bike, but you will never find me going 56 on a road bike.

  12. Comment by mhywan | 08.30.2006 | 8:46 pm

    Tell me that you have to pay something in order to keep this bike.
    I am also very interested to know how to get on the list to be a reviewer for bike publications. :-)

  13. Comment by mtnbound | 08.30.2006 | 8:57 pm

    I agree with Mark on that book.  I got the book about a month ago and found it useful and full of details.  The seat post position is a tricky thing for a race since you can’t adjust it while racing.  You have to pick the best position for you and the particular race course at the start and keep it there.  FC, I would suggest lowering your seat post by an inch or so from your normal "power position", so you keep the power position for climbing yet have it lowered somewhat for the descents.  Since your strenght is climbing, your seat position should more reflect that but concedea a little for the downhill portions.
    Mtnbike W  
    BTW, how’s Dug?

  14. Comment by Random Reviewer | 08.30.2006 | 10:25 pm

    Mtnbike W, i’ll be fine. just got my bike back from the shop, new chain, bar tape, shifter/brake lever, cables (impact rubbed through some cables). gouged the rear der, but didn’t wreck it. lucky to keep the bar i spose, hm, maybe i should re-think that. new helmet.
    as for me. elbow is swollen and cut up, but not bad, right hip is multi-colored, but road rash will stop needing big gauze in a day or two. right side ribs hurt getting in and out of bed, cars, and stuff, laughing and sneezing can be painful.
    i’m planning on riding up mill creek canyon in salt lake tomorrow. i’m hoping that goes well. still planning on lotoja. when i got home and the wife saw the damage, first thing she said was "oh, you’re riding lotoja. no refunds." so i’ve got that going for me. which is nice.

  15. Comment by Jsun | 08.31.2006 | 4:50 am

    dug- your wife rocks, and as for replacing the bar, I think about a previes post here regarding rocky’s LT100 ride

  16. Comment by Dillanger | 08.31.2011 | 12:26 pm

    Wonderful expltaniaon of facts available here.


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