Recently, after a decade and a half of sun baked fire road climbs in Southern California, I decided it would be a good idea to lead a more oxygen inhibited lifestyle and move to Colorado. Denver to be precise. A quick survey of my newly accessible trails left me both overjoyed and slightly intimidated, how was I going to find time to explore the abundance of trails now within striking distance on the Front Range? (For non Coloradans the Front Range is the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains and is littered with trails from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs and beyond). Little did I realize time management was not going to be my only problem!
I linked up with some local rippers including ex New Zealand Pro DH racer Hayden Barnie and the Yeti Factory crew for an introduction to some great Colorado single track. Being a bit of a downhiller myself I was stoked at the thought of carving sweet corners and finding flow through the clusters of rock gardens that make riding here both challenging and super fun. Soon after tackling the first climb however, I realized there were far greater challenges in store for me.
As we all know, what comes down must first go up. And the trails on the Front Range definitely go up! Often steep enough right out of the parking lot to challenge my “sea level” lungs and if that weren’t enough there was also the seemingly impassable fortresses of stone that appear around every turn. Oh, and the water bars conveniently placed in almost every switchback. The technical challenge combined with my lack of acclimation left me staring in helpless wonder as my riding partners easily picked their way through and over the rocks into the distance. It quickly became obvious that if I wanted to keep up I had some tricks to learn.
Rather than throw my bike into the nearest ravine and go home to watch reruns of Red Bull Rampage I decided to get to work. Actually it was no choice at all really, the trails in Colorado are simply too good to ignore.
My experience teaching Mountain Bike Classes has also made me a good student. I knew if I could pay attention to what was stopping me on the climbs I could also figure out which MTB tools to apply to overcome the problem. Learning mountain bike skills is very much like adding tools to a kit. The more tools you have, the more things you can fix!
The problem I found is that I was losing balance and tipping sideways through technical sections. This made it impossible to hold my chosen line through rock sections and as a result I kept straying into unrideable sections of trail. I realized the instability came from placing too much weight high up on the bike because my seatpost was fully extended for the climb. I wanted to maintain correct seat height so simply lowering my seat wouldn’t solve it, but what if I could unweight it? By lifting my butt just a half inch off the saddle into a crouched climb and supporting my upper body with core muscles, I was able to drive all of my weight low on the bike into my pedals. I quickly found the stability I needed to hold my line and turn my bike into a rock crawling machine! It was hard at first, I hadn’t climbed technical terrain like this in a long time and found myself engaging muscles in a different way but knowing I had the answer I stuck with it. It took some practice to really develop the ability but it was worth it. I’m now making climbs I would have thought impossible for me several months ago!
One of the key elements of good body position on a mountain bike is riding with your weight low into the pedals.
Now I know The Front Range and I are going to get along just fine.
Here’s a quick checklist for negotiating technical climbs
1. Approach in a gear that will allow you to apply power without needlessly spinning your pedals.
2. Look for the easiest/smoothest parts of the section and connect them in your mind, this is your line.
3. Hover slightly above your saddle driving your weight low into your pedals.
4. Lower your chest towards your handlebars while supporting your upper body with core muscles.
5. Keep looking ahead focusing only on your line, scan ahead to the end of the section.
6. Making sure your elbows are up and pointing out (not tucked against your body) use your arms to lift the front wheel over obstacles placing it back down on the other side.
7. Shift your weight fore and aft to maintain traction and clear obstacles. Aft to add traction, fore to unweight the rear wheel to clear objects.
8. Engage your core to help supply smooth consistent power to your pedals.
Richard La China is a Professional Mountain Bike racer, USAC Certified Cycling Coach and a IMBA Certified Mountain Bike Skills Instructor who coaches beginner to pro cyclist. Currently working with mountain bike XC, Endurance and Enduro racers and other competitive and non-competitive mountain bike riders seeking to become their best.
Woohoo! As good as it gets is appropriate! Richard is not only a great rider, he is a great teacher!...
Woohoo! As good as it gets is appropriate! Richard is not only a great rider, he is a great teacher! I would encourage everyone to stay away from the mind trap that buying a more expensive mountain bike is what you need to ride better. Spend the money on lessons instead, and I know you will be happier (and safer) in the long run. I can't say enough positive things about the Bike Skills clinics. ~ Chris G.
Within one hour we we clearing a 5 foot jump easily and with confidence!
Wow, a friend and I just did a one day private lesson with Richard and I can’t believe how much...
Wow, a friend and I just did a one day private lesson with Richard and I can’t believe how much we learned. I’ve been riding for over 10 years but with all self taught skills. We wanted to learn fundamentals the right way and Richard took us through all of that (along with critical bike setup) and the intermediate stuff that they teach in one day plus he spent an extra hour at the end to teach us jumping which I had always been nervous about. Within one hour we we clearing a 5 foot jump easily and with confidence, we even learned to move the bike in the air on a crossed take off and landing. I think my favorite part though was riding fast on the very gnarly technical descent. We will be booking up more private lessons during the summer at Big Bear. Thanks Richard you are a very good teacher! ~John U.
I took a Fundamental Skill clinic last weekend and learned so much! I've been riding for a few years and...
I took a Fundamental Skill clinic last weekend and learned so much! I've been riding for a few years and felt stuck and was not improving at all. Aaron was a great instructor! Very patient and broke down everything step by step and we repeated the skills until we felt comfortable. I look forward to mastering the skills I learned and taking another clinic in the spring. ~Jody Hachenberger-Amend
Special thanks to Santa Fe Fat Tire Society for bringing you in!
My wife and I had the privilege of attending the skills 2 day camp in Santa Fe New Mexico August...
My wife and I had the privilege of attending the skills 2 day camp in Santa Fe New Mexico August 20th and 21st. Richard and Aaron and Catherine where fantastic trainers and teachers they brought new light into basic skills of riding each person in the group was able to excel in what we were doing before we moved on to some other awesome skill or task individual attention was felt by all in the group and visible Improvement was seen in all Riders when we have you back next year you should plan on doubling or tripling the number of riders thanks for a super fun weekend and special thanks to Santa Fe Fat Tire Society for bringing you in and of course thanks to Richard and Aaron and Kathryn. ~Bruce Hamby
This past fall I finally broke down and upgrade my mountain bike. I was riding a hard tail bike mostly...
This past fall I finally broke down and upgrade my mountain bike. I was riding a hard tail bike mostly for the workout. After racing in an Xterra, I realized that a new bike was in my future. ( I could tell a huge story about the process of purchasing a new MB and the massive amount of miss information you can obtain from bike shops. Especially when you know nothing about bikes. ) Not long after I purchased the new MB, I had my first over the handle bars wreck. I still cannot remember the actual crash. I can see the rut that I am about to hit on the downhill, and then I remember waking up on the trail barely able to breath. The crash gave me some time to catch up on email. One of those emails was a beginners MB clinic hosted by Richard and the Ride Like a Ninja crew. I swallowed my pride and signed up. To date I have done everything I was taught. I made every adjustment to my bike that was recommended. I then had the bike fitted. The skills taught that day are priceless to me. For the first time I understand what position my body needs to be in for each type of terrain. I am not perfect by any means, but in my mind I am shouting the word NINJA to remind myself. I practice the techniques ever time I ride. ~ Hal N.
This truly life changing gift will be greatly appreciated by the recipient and is the perfect choice for birthdays, holidays, or any other gift-giving occasion!Gift Certificates are available for all Mountain Bike Skills Clinics, Camps, One-on-one Sessions and Ninja Gear. Order yours here.