A one-sided debate about whether the modern rider is ‘practising’, improving’, ‘testing’ or simply ‘playing out’…
dirt issue 66 – august 2007
Words by A D Hiller Photos by Steve Jones
Why not work hard for it? I don’t have a ‘protestant’ work ethic, I come from Lancastrian, Irish Immigrant, Catholic roots. That’s given me a sense of fun, a passion for life and a disrespect for authority…but I still know that you only get out what you put in…in sport, as in life. Those that coast will flounder, and those that strive will look back at a full and rich life and all its rewards…phew, so deep so soon? Like the great Geddy Lee once said, “you don’t get something for nothing”, he also pointed out that “you won’t get wise with the sleep still in your eyes…”. Indeed Geddy, you simply won’t get freedom for free – I digress – as usual.
If it’s too easy, it isn’t worth doing, if it’s worth doing and if it seems too easy, then work harder, do more, be better.“So, are you in your comfort zone, trying to appear to be working hard?”
Is fitness training being used as an excuse for not trying, a way of showing you REALLY want to improve, but without being forced outside of your comfort zone, “look at me, see how I get up early and ride my road bike for three hours before going to work, see how dedicated I am to going faster”. Are you all IN your comfort zone and kidding yourselves? I’d say most people are. It’s easy to make the decision ‘all I need to do is pedal harder to go faster’ but without Tour de France style drug programs this is a dead end.
How exactly are you planning to make more power than the next guy? Are you planning to speed along the evolution process a little more in the next year or two? Maybe grow an extra pair of legs?
The engine in DH racing has a reasonably fixed maximum power to weight ratio and it’s not very strong. However hard you train, even if you dedicate your life to it, you will only gain a couple of percent on the next guy, but importantly you will not have been riding your DH bike. If you have ever been beaten down the hill by a Josh Bryceland or a Danny Hart (and a lot of you, like me, will have been many times!) ask yourself how much more actual horsepower these little waifs make over you? If you want to beat these guys using your power, take them to a velodrome…no don’t do that, but you get the idea.
If you think making more power for longer is going to help you a lot in your chosen sport, answer this question: How many corners do you go through on a DH course without even touching the brakes on the entry, whilst pedalling madly in top gear, in an aero tuck, thinking to yourself ‘I wish I could generate more power and therefore more speed’? On the other hand how many turns do you go through after braking?“Isn’t pedalling always going to be faster than not?”
Studying the form of Jason Carpenter’s chainless races both last year and this year shows that a lot of people actually go faster without chains! Maybe we should think of shouting ‘DON’T PEDAL’? How is this?
Well, try making careful judgements about your speed and about speed reduction, you make these judgements using your ‘speed memory’ and ‘speed perception’, you can practice and sharpen these mental faculties but they will always require concentration. Now try making the control actions to effect this speed reduction all whilst steering the bike to pinpoint accuracy, make all the control actions necessary to steer and slow the bike within inches of your pre-designated reference points, use front and rear brake pressure, handlebar movements and weight on the pedals to control the deceleration and attitude of the bike, include as part of the basic control actions weight shift through body position to generate better weight transfer. But it’s not just an outward ‘thoughts to body function’ process. All the time imagine doing all of this whilst assessing grip levels during braking through your feel at the bars and pedals, modulating braking force to achieve a maximal deceleration and also assessing side grip levels as the bike turns in and changes direction. All this happens between start of braking and end of braking in a brake turn, ‘oh shit! I forgot to shift down and rotate the pedal to make sure the chain drops onto the right gear for the exit, and what was the right gear for the exit?’ The centre of the corner may have slightly less control actions, but it has so many things for you to assess and react to that this part of the corner actually requires more concentration than the braking zone, want to start thinking about sorting out that gear selection problem now?
It’s no wonder that by the time you are far enough out of the corner to start pedalling again you are 20 to 30 yards behind your non-pedalling self. Come back to the imaginary straight before the imaginary corner and coast your imaginary bike in towards the braking zone, shifting gently into your choice of gear for the exit, imagine yourself getting into the right body position and feel how stable the bike is as you feel the brakes in to their maximum deceleration and then ease off as you reach the correct speed and turn the bike in. Good speed through the corner and a better exit speed all the easier to accelerate with. Next, throw in 20–40kgs of meat throwing 340mm circles preventing your body weight from having direct contact (and therefore getting good info from) the bike chassis and the ground. Going to be any easier?
So you can go into a corner faster than the next guy and you can start pedalling sooner than the next guy, even though you both have a similar actual SKILL level, but will you be faster? Look at all the above and then compress all that concentration and thought into a smaller space, you WILL be MUCH slower in the corner than the guy that coasts through. You will gain a yard or so on the brakes on the way in (try it! It won’t be much more) then you will almost instantaneously be overtaken at the corner entrance and by the time you are pedalling again your coasting buddy will be dozens of yards ahead, by the time the power you generate allows you to catch him you will be knackered and he won’t be, because he exited the corner 5mph faster than you and you now have to accelerate to 5mph faster than him to catch him. That’s just one corner. You are using your skill to brake harder and go through the corner slower, you are doing this because you have told yourself that you can go faster by pedalling harder because it easier to accept than being telling yourself that I must take risks in corners to go faster, this takes thinking if you want to do it properly or it takes pain if you would prefer the trial and error method (not recommended). In order to go faster in a corner you will have to get out of your comfort zone, it WILL be uncomfortable.