I recently did this written interview with MTB trainer James Wilson. It’s posted on his site, and it might as well be posted here too.
James: What are the top 3 basic skills that feel all mountain bike riders should have?
Lee: I’d say all riders should start by mastering the three dimensions of movement:
– Forward and backward – Complete and fluid access to the front and rear of the bike, as well as the ability to stay balanced over the bottom bracket.
– Up and down – The ability to get very low, extend very high and operate fluidly everywhere in between.
– Side to side – Be able to lean the bike to a great degree, in both directions, independent of your body.
Taken together, mastery of these three dimensions forms your neutral attack position and gives you complete access to your cockpit — the base of everything you do on the bike.
What is the number one skill you see missing from most riders in your camps?
It all starts at the bottom of the skills tree, which is position. Most riders are too far forward, too high and too stiff.
What is the number one mistake you see riders make with cockpit set up?
The most common mistake is a stem that’s too long. Riders are running stock stems, which are fine for a skilled XC rider, but the longer stems gobble up arm range and pull already-forward riders even farther forward.
A shorter stem makes it easier for most riders to stay neutral and move effectively on the bike. Once you master that 3D movement, you can go back to a longer stem to improve your pedaling/climbing. But the benefits there are questionable.
What is the number one mistake you see riders make with bike set up (tire pressure, suspensions settings, seat height, etc.)?
Ninety-plus percent of suspension systems are set up improperly. That creates a sketch factor most riders can’t pinpoint until the issues are fixed. After their suspension is dialed, they realize, “Oh, this is why I just paid $X thousand. This bike is sweet!”
What is your favorite technical skills drill?
Depending on your level, figure eights while pedaling or — turbo — figure eights without pedaling. That drill transcends the pump track and works your kung fu in all three dimensions.
What is the number one thing that every rider should do today to gain more confidence and speed on the trail?
Go outside on your bike, even if it’s just rolling up and down your street, and pay attention to your position. Practice moving in all three dimensions, then find the middle. Practice that. Make it your default neutral attack position. Everything you do on the bike — pedal, corner, manual, hop, pump, drop, jump — will improve.
Know more. Have more fun!
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