Are you doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?
Riding the same feature with the same technique and expecting different results is insanity! The next time you find yourself challenged on the trail, take a step back to troubleshoot and change your plan of attack. To help, we’ve outlined 10 considerations for diagnosing a problem, making a change, and finding both success + sanity on the trail!
1. Where are you looking?
The first thing I ask myself when I don’t clear a feature on the trail is “where was I looking?”. Wherever you are looking – that is where you (and your bike) are going. If you are trying to avoid a big rock in the middle of the trail, stop staring right at it! Instead, see the rock as you approach and then look past the rock to where you want to go. Keep focusing on your exit and your bike will follow. Keeping your eyes up and looking ahead is especially helpful for clearing technical climbs and cleaning tight switchbacks.
2. Consider compression
Compression is a key component to so many riding skills including lofting your wheel onto a rock, clearing a jump or bunny hopping over a log. If you are asking yourself… “wait, what is compression?!” Compression is the act of stomping your feet quickly – think STOMP. Compression is a short and powerful movement initiated with your feet, resulting in an equal and opposite explosion (or rebound) and helping to lift your bike and/or wheel(s) into the air.
Often times when riders are struggling with a feature, they think “… if I just go faster or harder, I’ll clear this!”. Stop right there! Focusing on speed is often not the solution. Compression may be the answer you are looking for!
If you are struggling to clear a jump, rather than just trying to go “faster”, focus on your compression. Do you need more compression? And what about the timing of your compression, perhaps you are compressing a little toosoon or a little toolate? If you are overshooting a table top jump, maybe you need a little less compression.
3. Look at line selection
Often the most worn out part of the trail is NOT the best line. Is your line not working? Try something else! Take a step back to consider alternative line options and then try them. You’ll be surprised how fun (and successful) your rides will be when you mix up your lines.
4. Pick the right tool for the job
Are you practicing the pedal n’ pray technique? You know, the technique where you pedal into a feature with no real plan and half the time you clean it and the other times you crash? Yikes. Let’s make this a thing of the past.
First and foremost, make sure you understand WHAT skills are at play for the trail feature you are riding. If you are riding a set of rollers, you may want to pump through the trail or manual. If you are on a technical climb and striking your pedal, try adding a quick ratchet. If there is a log in the middle of the trail and you don’t have enough speed for a level lift, try a bunny hop.
If one skill doesn’t seem to be working, reach into your tool bag and consider what else you could try.
5. Where are your thoughts?
Never underestimate the power of positivity. Anger, frustration and defeat will do nothing to help you accomplish your goals. If you are feeling flustered, take a deep breath, reset and try again with a “can do” attitude.
Sometimes you’ll catch me talking to myself out on the trail. I’ll say out loud “I got this…I got this…” as I tackle a technical climb. And you want to know what? Usually this works and before you know it I’m at the top of the climb.
6. Set expectations
You can’t expect to go from zero to hero. You can’t expect to go from jumping off a curb to hitting a 10ft drop in a day. Improving your skills on the mountain bike is all about progression. Take baby steps as you work your way up to bigger features and to avoid frustration, don’t forget to give yourself props along the way for all the mini-successes.
7. The power of video
Have a friend take a video of you riding so you can watch yourself ride. Consider filming in slow motion. Sometimes what you THINK your body is doing is not actually what’s going down, and you can’t change something until you recognize it’s an issue. Being able to see yourself on camera can help to illuminate differences in what you are thinking vs. doing.
Some quick words of wisdom – avoid posting a video to Facebook and asking a random assortment of internet friends who *think* they are experts for their opinion. This is a recipe for getting bad advice! Try to critique your own video or ask a focused trustworthy source.
8. Read up
It’s time to study!
Find a Ninja article covering the skill or topic you want to work on. These articles break down skills and topics into easy to follow and understand progressions. Next, print it out and take it with you on your next ride. Having the article in your pocket to refer back to mid-ride can be a huge help. Then get out there and practice, practice, practice. Browse our How To articles here.
Pssst – If you can’t find a Ninja article on a particular skill, shoot us a note and let us know! We’ve love to put together some tips for you.
9. Attend a clinic for in-person feedback
Having a professionally certified instructor give you in-person feedback in real time is invaluable. An instructor can quickly help you to identify problem area, offers tips for improvement and teach you some pretty cool skills you didn’t even know you needed! All Ninja Clinics are taught in a progressive manner where one skills builds on the next. This allows rider to progress at their own pace and fully understand the components of each on-trail skill. Click here to find a skills event near you.
10. Seek online instruction and feedback
After attending a skills clinic in person, connect with an online community such as the Ryan Leech Connection (RLC) where you can continue your learning journey with video skills. All Ninja participants receive a 30 day free trial of RLC after attending a clinic!
Thanks for letting us be your guide to finding sanity on the trail since 2010!
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.