I was told years ago that “you can only go as fast as you can see” and that has stuck with me ever since. Today, let’s take it one step further and update that advice to say “you can only go as fast as what you can see”. This, my friends, is trail vision.
Trail vision, or what you see as you look down the trail, is crucial to both rider safety and a better trail experience. As your riding skills start to progress, the “what” you see will start to change. You’ll start to notice that you can see multiple lines or style options on a single piece of trail.
The best part about trail vision? There are no rules that require you to ride the same line as everyone else! Rather, it is your independent interpretation of a trail and its features that makes riding such a dynamic and rich experience. As your skill set grows, you get more options. Today we are going to show you how trail vision can help you see beyond the basics and launch you into some fun on-trail options!
Option 1: Roll
Here we have the aggressive roll approach to a double drop in the trail. The drops aren’t too tall, so this technique is a safe approach, and keeps the rider in position for the turn that comes afterwards. Note what the eyes are doing – looking through the drops and forward to the turn. Then notice what the eyes aren’t doing – staring down at the wheels! Trail vision requires you to see and setup for what’s coming before you get there, and as your bike/body is riding that feature, you are already looking ahead and starting to setup for the next feature. What matters here is being ready for the turn, so trust your bike and your skills as you ride the drops.
Also note the stability of the body in this video. You are never at the mercy of your bike or just “along for the ride”. Rather, you are in control of everything! That’s why even when riding this roll with a bit of speed, you won’t see any bobble-heading or rocking horse action. Place the bike where you want it to go!
Option 2: Manual
This is my favorite move, the manual! The first thing I’d like you to notice is where the eyes are focused: down trail at the coming turn! Once again, this feature is already happening, so staring down at the drops would only cause problems.
I use the manual often, and it brings my overall trail experience to life. Keeping that back brake covered is the most important part, acting as your safety net in case the bike tries to loop out. For this feature, I love that the rocks on the second drop can provide just enough resistance to bring the front wheel back down smoothly without any disruption. Practice your manuals over roots and bumps to get more comfortable!
It is important to note that each of the maneuvers were performed at the same comfortable trail speed. Faster is usually not the answer! The key to trail vision is having the skills and using them to keeping the bike in control.
Pro Tip:I struggled with manuals before I learned to set targets. Here is what helped me – pick a root, bump, or spot on the trail to manual. These targets can help with timing, give your rear wheel a little extra boost, and even help your front wheel come back down smoothly. And don’t forget, if you want to get better at these, you have to start trying them more. Occasional practice gets occasional results!
Option 3: Bump Jump
In this video, I do what I call a bump jump, which uses an on-trail feature to initiate a bunny hop. Start by noticing the compression before the hop, and how the feet scoop the pedals to bring the bike into the air. You’ll learn in our Ninja clinics that this compression is crucial for increasing the height of your hop, and we’ll even give some pointers on getting that back wheel off the ground when riding flat pedals. When or why would we go “full send” on a section of trail? One, because it’s super fun! And two, the bump jump would be ideal if there were a nasty root or rock pile between these two drops.
Once again, take note of where the eyes are looking. Down the trail at what’s coming next! Because I’m in control of the bike and looking ahead, even if the back wheel were to hit the bottom drop, my body position would let the bike roll through without too much consequence. As you learn to execute various skills like a bump jump or bunny hop, bring them to the trail and have some fun!
ClosingTip:There’s a reason we cover the Ready Position in the first minutes of every Ninja Clinic – it is absolutely essential to riding performance! Think of that “ready” or “attack” position as your get-out-of-jail-free card when things get rowdy. It provides the maximum range of motion in all directions, as well as stabilizes your bike and body. A good ready position, will allow you to better execute on your trail vision. And don’t forget, one of the major components of the ready position is eyes looking ahead! Something as simple as keeping your head up and eyes looking down the trail will go a long way for improving your trail vision, and riding experience (aka more flow and MORE FUN)! Learn more about Ready Position here.
He’s a wild man with a wild plan, living the nomad life as a skills instructor and trail builder. With a background in moto and 15 years of mtb experience, he has tips for riders of all levels! You can find him leading Ninja clinics all over the country and on Instagram @vitabrevis
Enrolling in the Intermediate/Advanced clinic was the best thing I’ve ever done to improve my speed and ability on the bike.
Hands down, enrolling in the Intermediate/Advanced clinic was the best thing I've ever done to improve my speed and ability...
Ninja Mountain Bike Performance
Hands down, enrolling in the Intermediate/Advanced clinic was the best thing I've ever done to improve my speed and ability on the bike. I am so much faster on singletrack and through technical sections/jumps that even if people are more fit than me, I still keep up with them (and kind of love watching them do a lot more work than they need to). Richard and Kris are fantastic and break things down in a way that makes sense and is manageable. By the end of my first clinic, I was jumping off ledges and power climbing up sections that I couldn't drive a car up. You could buy a $5,000 carbon bike and do 10,000 ft rides every day, but you will get the best return on any investment you make in your riding by attending a Ninja Skills Clinic. ~ Regina J.
My 14 year old son and I (I'm 43) went to the Intermediate/advanced skills clinic at Malibu Creek State Park....
Ninja Mountain Bike Performance
My 14 year old son and I (I'm 43) went to the Intermediate/advanced skills clinic at Malibu Creek State Park. We both race and ride at a very fast pace. Getting faster for us is about making sure our fundamentals are solid and we can continue to use those fundamentals to smooth out our flow to increase our skills and confidence. Richard has a way of breaking down all the information to make it very understandable and usable. My son and I have been to other skills classes before and knew what to expect, mostly. Richard was able to coach us to better form riding high speed flat corners! We brushed up on and cleaned up some less helpful habits. We really worked to understand the how and why behind some skills that we already had but didn't know we that we did. All in all we had a blast! Richard was fun and informative. Taylor was helping Richard out for the day. It was fun to watch her demo some skills at speed. Her input throughout the day was informative and light hearted. It was a fun day on the bike with some great people and coaching. This will not be our last Ninja training clinic! Thanks for everything Richard and Taylor! ~Eric Zubick
I have, like many cyclists, been riding bikes since childhood. Feeling like I hit a plateau in my technical riding...
Ninja Mountain Bike Performance
I have, like many cyclists, been riding bikes since childhood. Feeling like I hit a plateau in my technical riding skills (because I had), I began searching for a mountain bike skills camp. I wanted to attend a camp that would push me to be a better rider, but I needed it to be in a great location on actual trails. After a fair amount of searching, I decided that spending a weekend at a Ninja Mountain Bike Skills camp would be perfect. It didn't hurt that the camp was in Big Bear. The condensed review: It took only a few hours of trail riding with Richard and Daniel to drastically change my riding for the better. The long review: The camp was broken into morning and afternoon sessions, separated by an amazing lunch on each day. The morning sessions were, in general, based on technique and riding isolated technical features. The afternoon sessions functioned more like a capstone; we rode incredible trails, like Fall Line and Skyline, and put our newly-learned skills into action. Richard and Daniel were attentive to both the class as a whole as well as each individual. The pacing of each individual lesson (I'm a teacher, so I viewed each piece as a lesson) was wonderful. There were constant checks for understanding as well as incremental assessments of our skills on the bike. We were never once, all weekend, bogged down in repetition, nor were we rushed through a skill or concept. I was blown away by the sheer volume of skills that were taught in such an easy-to-grasp manner. Of course, we were not standing by our bikes the whole time listening to a lecture: we were actively riding while Daniel and Richard looked on with critical eyes. Richard was clear in his introduction...
G2 Bike looks forward to many more of these clinics in this area.
Ninja Mountain Bike Skills is a warm and friendly environment to learn new skills and hone ones you already know....
Ninja Mountain Bike Performance
Ninja Mountain Bike Skills is a warm and friendly environment to learn new skills and hone ones you already know. It's a non intimidating environment where mistakes are welcomed so corrections can be made. I own G2 Bike is Aliso Viejo and this clinic has been ran out of the Aliso Woods area and when I interviewed the clients they had all but great things to say. None arrogant instructors and easy to follow steps. The biggest bang for many was meeting new area riders at their skill level, gaining confidence, and getting the bike set up and fit properly. G2 Bike looks forward to many more of these clinics in this area. Thanks Richard for all you do for the MTB community! ~ AJ S.
We are a group of passionate, dirt-loving, community oriented, world class mountain bike skills instructors committed to helping you reach your personal riding goals through clinics and camps. We are excited to work with riders of all ability levels and share the joy (STOKE) of mountain biking.