Jumpers for Goalposts (4 of 4)
Jumpers for Goalposts (4 of 4)

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.

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[part title="The Modern Rider: Jumpers for Goalposts... Page Two..."]

Jumpers for Goalposts (1 of 4)
Jumpers for Goalposts (1 of 4)

“So Lance..."

So thinking back, what was the complicated bit about that corner, how do you think riding a BMX bike down the trails is going to help you with that? Better yet how about a road cycle? Great, get fit, stay fit, ride a BMX for fun, ride a motocross bike, whatever, but TRAINING for a DH race HAS to involve cornering on a DH bike how else will you train those muscles (mostly the one between your ears) that you need to understand and attack the corner?

So training is a way of proving to yourself you want to go faster when deep down you know you can't face the fear of going faster. Agreed? Glad we got that cleared up.

Are you really prepared to go faster? Who is out there doing braking drills? You? A rider develops a poxy couple of horsepower, a brake develops 40–50 reverse BHP. The only reason it can't develop more power is because the bike will loop out and you'll go over the bars. Why aren't riders thinking about stuff? Is it not fashionable to be smart in British DH, why is everyone 'playing dumb' to mates instead of 'playing normal'? DH is full of only-fools-and-horses ‘Trigger' type characters, “had this frame ten years, three new swingarms, two new front triangles and a new shock".

“Did you stay at the Pleney until you are the fastest man down there, or did you 'freeride' to Switzerland and back?"

Are playing or are you practising? Do you go riding to try to go faster or do you search out new tracks all the time for the novel experience? Are you having fun? If you bought your own stuff and you ride masters, great, have fun, you deserve it, well some of you do. If you get stuff for free, bikes, accessories, expenses, etc., you are someone's representative whilst at the races, you are not supposed to have fun at work! If you want to have fun go on holiday, whilst racing as a sponsored rider you are NOT on holiday. I'd say don't go and try a new track until you have reached the time limit of your current track, but 99% of you NEVER get a timed run until you are at a race, how can you know if you are improving or not if you never know exactly how many seconds it takes?

Product development

Do you actually deserve any free stuff? Do you know how to receive free stuff and do you know the responsibilities that come with free stuff? I've seen the best riders in the world riding on sponsored tyre deals in BIG teams using rival brands with logos duct taped over!!! If you want to run Brand A and they don't want to pay then you don't take money from brand B and still run Brand A, you simply BUY brand A, you can afford it. Is it better to have a normal, real job and ride a good bike or have a poorly paid ride and pilot a free turd?

“Whose line is it anyway?"

‘Externalisation’ of problems, just another way of making excuses. It's NOT someone else’s fault, EVER, it is always in your hands. See how you can learn from that now? If you blame the tyre for puncturing and shout at the tyre in order to teach it a lesson, it will not learn, it will always be a tyre and will never show remorse for letting you down. If you work out what you control action you took that made it puncture and reduce the chances of it happening again, tubeless, Stans, line choice, tyre pressure, then that is improvement through experience, if you take responsibility for everything that befalls you then you stand a chance of learning from the experience and improving, if you off–load responsibility you can never control that off–loaded situation again? Bad weather beyond your control? Maybe, but not beyond your understanding, get a barometer and learn how to read the clouds…sorted. Now you have an advantage and ‘Trigger’ simply has a brolly.

“Does my bum look big in this?"

Has MTB DH moved on or has it been held back by riders and riders' agreements? Are you more interested in fashion than speed? Are baggies just another way of comfort braking? No one would argue that a skinsuit and an aero tuck would be faster, all we hear from riders is that it's not cool to wear lycra. So go and race supercross! Oh, you aren't good enough? Well let's not pretend that this is supercross for losers, it's a different sport with different needs – human powered, get over it!

“...Oh, and all of a sudden everyone's a course designer..."

How can YOU call a course 'TOO EASY'? Only one guy/girl can call a course too easy, the one person that wins, everyone else should try going faster, it won't be so easy then will it? By the way, after the last Pro DH humbling display by Sam Hill, I reckon even the very quickest of the rest need to go about 15–20% faster, 'cos one day, he'll get a run down Champery in the dry and then you'll all look really bad. Just be thankful it's not motorsport and you don't have a 'within 10% of the leader' cut–off for qualifying, if he had a dry run on those rules, he might be riding the finals with very few riders for company.