I have uber-students, they take every opportunity to learn more about riding. They take a 3-day course from me, camps from other coaches, 2- 4 hour clinics from other coaches, etc. They ask me all kinds of great questions, they go online and participate in forums on mountain bike skills, etc.

These students are stoked about learning and I love their enthusiasm! Sadly, most of them haven’t improved nearly as much as they could have with the amount of time and money they have invested in their riding (from me, and/or all the other coaches).

Now, don’t get me wrong,
they possess a ton of knowledge, often jumbled and contradictory knowledge, but there is a lot of knowledge stored in their big brains. “Look at the big brain on Brad!” – my favorite Pulp Fiction quote.

So, why are they wasting their money on that coaching (including my coaching)? They are wasting their money because they keep looking for that next piece; the little piece about cornering that is going to make them finally corner like Aaron Gwin, or manual like Cody Kelly! The thing is – there is no little piece they are missing.

What they are missing is mastery of the CORE SKILLS.
The core skills that I, and any other coach that is an actual coach, taught them! Dan Millman (World Champion Gymnast, coach and author of “The Inner Athlete”,” Body Mind Mastery” and “The Peaceful Warrior” Series) states:

“Athletes’ problems with learning or improving their skills are tied to weak fundamentals. To raise athletes’ potential you need to rebuild their foundation for success”​

Famous Alabama Football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant would tell you the same thing as would all US Team Coaches (US Skiing, Tennis, Soccer, etc).

I understand, we want more! More skills, more $2,000 rims that make the trail feel rougher (whoops, different blog topic) more little “tips” that will finally get us where we want to go.
The problem is, they (the uber-students mentioned above) may understand the fundamentals, and probably do them a fair amount of the time, but, they are not doing them ALL THE TIME.

They haven’t mastered the basics from their first 3-day course with me. What they are missing is MASTERY of the core, fundamental skills. This means when the trail gets challenging their lack of mastery shows as they make mistakes and/or revert to old, bad habits.

Ask Greg Minnaar and/or Aaron Gwin (or any other top 10 World Cup downhill racer) what “advanced skill/s” are they using? None! They are just executing the basics flawlessly. Watch them through a gnarly rock garden: their head isn’t moving, watch Aaron Gwin or Minnaar in a corner, they are simply executing the basics, flawlessly.


Greg in 2010 at Fort William, centered, balanced, fast, and consistent.
Nothing fancy here, just executing the basics!

Are they also doing a little “thing” or two that maybe aren’t basic, fundamentals? Yes, but they are little things!

Do those little things help Aaron Gwin win? Yes, they do. (the top five pro men are often separated by less than a second in World Cup Downhill racing) Will those little nuances help someone who rides at 80% or less of Aaron Gwin’s ability, NO! Why? Did I mention Aaron Gwin executes the basics flawlessly?

There is a hierarchy to skills and the fundamentals are the most important, advanced “little things” don’t work on a flawed foundation.

“What about in a bermed corner, what is the difference in technique in a bermed corner vs a flat corner Gene?” I get some version of that question almost daily and the answer for most riders/racers is: “Nothing, if you aren’t looking through that corner” and “Nothing, if you are going faster than that berms ability to help you” (all berms aren’t created equally). For the actual differences in Bermed vs Flat Corners, check out my article on the BetterRide forum later this week.

In all “mature” sports (sports that have had coaching for 30+ years and top athletes make a good living in) such as ski racing, football, golf, tennis, basketball, etc) the top athletes spend 80-95% of their time deliberately practicing their sport (doing drills with a focus on quality, not quantity) and only 5-20% of their time actually doing their sport. Football great, Jerry Rice, spent 99% of his football-related time practicing and only 1% playing (as referenced in the book “Outliers”).

NOW, I realize that your goal may be to simply have more fun and/or ride safer. You have a family and a job, you can’t devote 80% of your riding time to practice and I’m not expecting that out of you. Add up your last month of riding. How many hours did you ride and how many hours were spent doing deliberate practice? Was your practice time even 5% of your riding time? All I’m asking is three, 20-minute practice sessions a week (that could be done during your lunch break at work).

In those more “mature” sports, athletes spend years/decades practicing the basics five to six days a week. Once they have truly mastered the basics they start adding in the more advanced skills to their practice, but the bulk of their practice continues to be the BASICS, every day, using drills that they “mastered” 5-15 years ago.

The majority of us need to focus on the basics (that will make us 20 -100% better) and get them wired before we work on the little nuances that might make us 1% better.

Are you honestly looking ahead 100% of the time? Looking past the exit of every corner? Always cornering in a perfect body position? Are you always returning to a centered, balanced, neutral position after every rock garden, jump, drop, and obstacle? If your answer is a resounding yes, then it might be time to add the little 1% skills to your foundation training.
Until then, work on mastering your foundation. Your time spent/reward ratio will be much higher than working on skills you lack the foundation to execute.

Dirt Magazine to 2009 Pro 4x and Jr. Cat 1 Downhill US National Champion Mitch Ropelato (now on Specialized Factory Team) in an interview in the Oct. 2009 issue:
Dirt Magazine: “You seem to be able to turn amazingly, what do you put that down to? Got any special tires on there?”
Mitch Ropelato: “Ya, Gene Hamilton is to thank for that, I took his clinic last December in Bootleg Canyon and he was
able to show me the correct technique I needed to pull them off.”

Mitch cornering back in the day, notice his vision (looking way past the exit of the corner).
Easy to talk about but takes a lot of quality practice to master. Thanks to Decline Mag for the photo.

That was after 1 or 2 “basic courses” with me. Mitch understood that he didn’t need to know more, but that he needed to know BETTER. He did his drills, religiously! Mitch didn’t say: “Now I know this, time to find something new”. He said: “Now I know this, time to master it”.
Mitch went on to take a total of five “basic courses”, and then my Downhill Race course and some private lessons (where I still focused on having him execute the basics). Can you corner like Mitch? If not, time to work on the basics!

Look, I could make a fortune if I offered basic, intermediate, and advanced courses and sent students down the line through my series of three courses, but I’m in this to help people, not pump them up and lie to them. You don’t need an advanced course, you need to master the basics.

Stop searching and wasting your money looking for “more” and focus on “BETTER”.
I’m sure your favorite coach would love to continue to coach, critique, and work with you on the basics instead of trying to coach you some little nuance that you lack the foundation for.
Master the fundamentals and you will reach your potential as a mountain biker! Keep trying to figure that “magic piece” that you are missing and you will never reach your potential.

As I heard a college football sensation say the other day, “most people aren’t willing to put in the work”. Your progress is directly linked to the amount of effort you put into structured, deliberate practice. There are no shortcuts.

Please feel free to share your experiences or ask questions.
Thanks and create your best ride yet,