Ever since I purchased the book Mastering Mountain Bike Skills by Brian Lopes and Lee McCormack (my blog post about it here), I’ve been interested in learning BMX skills, not to race BMX but to improve my mountain biking. Lee McCormack (LeeLikesBikes.com) has many blog posts about BMX and emphasizes the benefits of learning BMX skills in his book. And when deciding between a 20-inch BMX bike vs. a 24-inch BMX bike (cruiser), he says:
Most adult MTB’ers find 20s too much of a handful, at least at first. Start with a cruiser; then work your way down (up?) to a 20. A winter, or even the occasional play ride, on your BMX bike will do wonders for your riding skills.
Jed told me last week that he and Chance were heading to Over The Top (OTT), an indoor BMX/skate/rock climbing park that’s part of the Bluff Valley Campground complex in Zumbro Falls (45 minutes from Northfield) on Friday. Good timing, as my 29′er is the shop, waiting for a new rim. I was pumped (heh) to go.
OTT is an impressive facility that bills itself as a skatepark but on Friday night, there were only BMX’ers there, no skateboarders. It also has a rock climbing/bouldering area.
Jed and Thor Shellum (a product design engineer at QBP / Surly Bikes) were airing it out pretty good over the big jumps.
Chance was impressive on the footjam tailwhips (PinkBike how-to video here).
My problem was that there’s not much at OTT that’s doable for a rank beginner like me. The one table top they have was not only bigger than the ones I learned to do at Ray’s. But there wasn’t an easy way for me to get up enough speed for it since I didn’t know how to do a 180 and pump back down the ramps to gain speed. So I asked Jed to map out something that I could practice.
He suggested that I learn to do the prerequisite to a basic BMX 180, and pointed out that the when the big ramps weren’t being used by other riders, I could make a wide loop across the face of them and just concentrate on A) getting comfortable with the leaning my body with the bike on the ramps; B) pumping the bike instead of pedaling as I went back down the ramps; and C) gradually tightening up the loop. By night’s end, I was able to stay within the single ramp in the middle (red arrows) both directions. Next time I go, I’ll be ready to try a 180, which involves a bit of bunny hop.
The connection of BMX to mountain biking now makes much more sense to me because I see how learning the basic 180 maneuver of a bunny hop and pumping will make practicing table top jumps (a common feature of MTB downhill trails) more fun.
Blake Waters, whose family owns and runs Bluff Valley Campground and to Over the Top, was on-duty Friday night and made me feel welcome, as did all the other young guys there that night. He’s a talented rider, but my only photo of him is the one on the right after a slow motion crash. (Blake maintains the Over The Top Facebook page, so you can contact him there, too.)
And in case you’re wondering, I wore every bit of protective gear that I own and was glad I did because I crashed a lot, landing hard on my elbows, knees, hips, shoulders, tailbone and head. I came away with zero bruises and just a mild ache in one knee from my old cartilage injury. I will be back.
I met Caleb Wendel, co-owner of The Bike Shop in Houghton, Michigan that weekend and yesterday, he alerted me that the video he took of me riding the hamster wheel was now up on Vimeo:
As I wrote earlier, Ken and I figured out one way to ride the hamster wheel without putting your feet down: ride in fast and up as high as you can go without falling backwards; lock both brakes until the wheel starts to move, then pedal quarter turns with the same foot to keep the wheel moving; use your elbows against the hub and spokes as needed to keep your balance.
Of course I’m now itching to go back to Ray’s at least one more time before they close for the season and I’ve been thinking about how else the hamster wheel could be ridden. This video shows a Ray’s employee, Dave Barnett, riding the hamster wheel (some of it includes a helmet cam view). It appears as though he’s not pedaling at all, once the wheel starts to move, but rather just throws his body weight forward a few times (starting at the 23-second mark):
I’d like to try that approach, regardless. I’d also like to figure how to ride the hamster wheel perfectly clean, ie, no shoulder or elbow dabs against the hub and spokes. It would seem like hopping the bike left and right as needed to keep balanced might be a way to do that, though doing that at a steep angle while pedaling half turns seems daunting. I’ll report back next time I go but if anyone has ideas or experiences to share, please attach a comment.
Here’s a short video clip on how NOT to ride the hamster wheel:
I was initially shocked by the number of technical obstacles at Ray’s Indoor Bike Park in Milwaukee: dozens for novices, dozens for intermediates, dozens for experts. And the cool thing is that most of the obstacle lines that start out at a one level of difficulty end with a ‘safe’ next-level of difficulty. I say ‘safe’ because nothing bad is likely to happen if you don’t make it. For example, the skinnies might be too tough for your level of ability but they’re low to the ground so you go for it. This encourages riders to keep at it because you experience success at the start of an obstacle ‘line’ and maybe the middle but then you get a real challenge towards the end, all in a single attempt. Brilliant.
Above: The lines in the Novice section that end with ‘safe’ intermediate difficulty.
Above: The lines in the Sport/intermediate section that end with ‘safe’ expert difficulty.
This pretty much holds true for the spectacular Expert section, too, i.e., expert lines end with tougher challenges.
Ken Barker from Cedar Rapids, Iowa was there for the weekend with his son Will and buddy Adam Knutson. I first met Ken up at the Cuyuna Lakes MTB Trail System last summer when we both were riding over a big rock out in the middle of somewhere. As you can see from this 90-second video, Ken can do it all, even in his Sunday best sport coat and pigtail hat:
Ken and I figured out one way to ride the hamster wheel without putting your feet down: ride in fast and up as high as you can go without falling backwards; lock both brakes until the wheel starts to move, then pedal quarter turns with the same foot to keep the wheel moving; use your elbows against the hub and spokes as needed to keep your balance. Way fun. I’d like to be able to make it without any elbow dabs.
I saw one guy clean this skinny on Saturday but I didn’t get his name. Ken and I tried it dozens of times, only rarely making it past the highest part. I finally cleaned it once late in the day on Sunday. w00t!
On the far right of the Expert section are two lines constructed of rocks and logs. The left line is much skinnier, dips up and down, and is crooked and slippery. Ken and I tried it dozens of times, only rarely making it past the big stump on the left. Twice I made it to the last 3 feet (red arrow) but then fell off. Neither Ken or I ever made it but a guy from Iowa named TJ Davis (above right with his dad, Tom Davis) made it once. I guess I’ll have to go back.
Jed Olson was one of a dozen or more Minnesotans who made the trip to Ray’s Indoor Bike Park in Milwaukee for the IMBA members weekend. I hadn’t met Jed before but had seen his postings in the MORC forum and was bummed when I couldn’t make it to the Gravity Summit he hosted in Red Wing last fall. (Above left photo: I’m using a ‘dad’ photo from his Facebook profile because, duh, I neglected to get a photo of his face at Ray’s.)
As you can see from my photo and the 19-second video clip of Jed above, he knows how to ride. So when I saw him with his buddy at the Micro Rhythm track at Ray’s, I asked him to critique my form. He said I was pumping the rollers just fine but when I got to a tabletop, it looked to him like I was trying some kind of jumping or bunny hop motion. He told me to just ride the table top with the same motion as I was riding a roller, like it’s round going up, round on top (but in the air), round going down. (Those aren’t his words, just my best recollection.)
I rode the track once and immediately felt the difference. I think I said "Wow" but I was actually thinking "Holy fucking shit." After a few more times, Jed said, "You got it." He said I just needed a little more speed. And sure enough, by mid-afternoon I was able to clear the lips of all three of the table tops on the back stretch of the Micro Rhythm track.
I’ve watched many how-to-jump videos (BikeSkills.com example here) and I’ve read and re-read the section on jumping in the book Mastering Mountain Bike Skills by Brian Lopes and Lee McCormack (I blogged it here). So it was more than a little amazing to have Jed diagnose what I was doing wrong and prescribe a fix in one sentence. I guess that’s what good coaches can do.
My whole weekend at Ray’s was memorable but learning a new skill was not something I expected. I’m psyched to tackle the table top jumps at Lebanon Hills (photo here). And I now have the confidence to work my way up to where I can handle some of the bigger jumps at other area MTB parks. Copper Harbor, here I come.
Along with the upgrades to the cross country course, there is an out-and-back Micro Rhythm track which is a great place for people to get comfortable with how a jump line feels. Built with an out-and-back design, the track features several boxes and jumps. Instead of a bermed turn at the end of the outbound rhythm line, there is a platform that allows the rider to reset themselves if they hadn’t been able to get in sync with the course before attempting the inbound line. Personally I had trouble getting back in sync once interrupted by the platform, something that I had issues with on the out-and-back in Cleveland as well. But, I understand the idea behind the exclusion of a bermed turn.
Indeed. Having that platform instead of a bermed turn made a huge difference, for me and from what I could tell, many others.
I was at the Eagan Pump and Jump Park last Wednesday for the first time in many weeks. I went straight to the beginner jumps and couldn’t do anything. I spent the next 20 minutes on the beginner pump track, got the hang of it again, THEN went back to the jumps and VOILA! I actually got close to clearing a couple of the table tops. Nothing that would be visible to anyone else but the difference in how I felt going over them was huge.
When I got home, I grabbed the book Mastering Mountain Bike Skills by Brian Lopes and Lee McCormack (first recommended to me by Chance Glasford) and re-read Chapter 9: Jump With the Greatest of Ease.
When I first read that chapter (months ago, before I had any real interest in learning to jump), this sentence stood out (page 144):
If you can’t hop a curb, you have no business jumping.
But on pages 140-141 of the book, there is a section titled Prerequisite Skills (“Before you take to the air, you must be smooth and consistent with these skills:”) and they list these five: 1) Attack position; 2) Hopping; 3) Dropping to flat and downslopes; 4) Pumping; and 5) Doing all this with flat pedals.
The blurb on hopping:
Hopping teaches you to load and unload your bike. The higher you can hop, the more boost you can get off jumps. It also teaches you flight skills.
The blurb on pumping:
Pumping is perhaps the holy grail of all riding skills. It teaches you to load and unload in time with the terrain, and it trains you to let your bike follow an arc while you stay centered over your pedals.
For some reason, it never got through my thick skull that hopping, pumping, and jumping were all connected via the ‘load and unload’ motion. But looking at my photos of Chance riding the pump tracks (more here), I can see it now.
The connection between pumping and jumping got permanently embedded into my brain/muscle memory last week. I’m now psyched to work at bringing bunny hopping into the mix.
Props to Chance (follow his blog here) for all the work he’s done on the Eagan Pump and Jump Park and for pestering me to buy the book, Mastering Mountain Bike Skills. FYI, that link to the book happens to have these three image excerpts of pages 143-145 from Chapter 9: Jump With the Greatest of Ease.
Three weeks ago I was practicing manuals in a grassy field near my house, something I’ve done dozens of times this year. I was wearing all my equipment, as I nearly always do when I’m practicing in the neighborhood. (I still feel a little awkward doing this but I crash enough that it’s worth it. Besides, I’m a geezer who doesn’t have to worry too much about this, remember?)
As often happens when learning to do a manual (non-pedaling wheelie), the front end of the bike came up too high, requiring a tap on the rear brake to bring it back down. This time, however, I tapped a little too hard and with the bike listing slightly to the right, the front tire grabbed the grass when it hit and stopped the bike dead, pitching me over the bars. I’ve gone over the bars many times in my first year of riding and never have gotten hurt. This time, however, I landed squarely on the top of my shoulder. It felt exactly like the time four years ago when I was snowboarding and landed on the same shoulder in the same manner and tore my rotator cuff, requiring surgery to fix it. I was pretty sure the same thing happened again.
I managed to see a physician’s assistant the next day who got me in to see Scott Koehler, a sports medicine physician, a week later. He inspired my confidence, as he’s both a snowboarder and a mountain biker and, among his many duties, is a team physician for the US Snowboarding Team. His best guess was that I bruised a bone and strained the rotator but didn’t tear it. He prescribed another two weeks of rest, at which point if it wasn’t significantly better, he’d have me get an MRI.
After a week of camping (three weeks total rest on the shoulder), I think I’m good to go. I’ve got some shoulder exercises to do so I’ll probably go easy on the technical stuff for a while until I’m confident I’ve got my strength back.
We’re all going to crash – it is just a fact of life for mountain bikers. Practicing basic tumbling drills is something I recommend for mountain bikers to help them understand how to crash better.
Getting good at these basic drills will save your a** some day. It can be the difference between walking away from a crash and lying there in a bloody, wimpering heap. Trust me on this one, I’ve had these drills save me more than once!
I thought I was crashing correctly by not extending my arms but I can see now that I’ve not been using my arms and hands while tucking correctly. Time to get a tumbling pad and practice this, as I’ve got a lot of crashing in my future. Thanks in advance, James.
The idea of a pump track is to ride it around and around without pedaling. As I wrote back then, on my first stint, I was able to eventually get around the beginner track on my 29er hardtail. Hard work but fun, once I got the hang it.
When I rode Lebanon Hills a few days later, I noticed that I was able to transfer my newly acquired and modest pumping skills to the rollers there. I was pleased. I did a couple of more sessions on the beginner pump track before I went to Cuyuna Lakes MBT Festival in June. I was ecstatic. I could not believe how much more fun it was to ride Cuyuna’s roller-infested flow trails. Every little rise and dip in the trail became an opportunity to accelerate without pedaling.
In late June, I took some photos of Chance Glasford as he zipped around the intermediate and advanced Lexington pump tracks on a 24 inch BMX bike.
Chance could get going so fast that he could manual over two rollers at a time and fly over the table-top jump (right photo above) on the advanced pump track.
I haven’t figured out how to pump the berm to keep my speed up. Chance is doing this in the left photo above where you can see he’s coming out of the berm with enough speed to manual over the two rollers that follow it.
Earlier this month I put my new pump skills to the test on the 21 rollers at Lebanon Hills (left side of the open field on the beginners loop). After a couple of runs of flying down them without braking, I decided to try to manual over a couple of the rollers. I picked a couple of spots where the rollers were closer together, scrubbed off some of my speed, and voila! Too fun.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to completely pump my way around the intermediate track at Lexington, as my 29′er is not the best pump park bike. The big wheels are a lot to pump. I might get a 24-inch BMX or trials bike. But in the meantime, I can see how regular stints at the pump track will improve my riding.
Another surprise: pump tracks need to be swept regularly (loose sand and pebbles accumulate) and then watered down. Chance showed me how to do the maintenance of the beginner’s track last Friday eve.
There are many ‘how to pump’ videos out there, but so far, I like these two:
There was just enough daylight left to get a ride in on some of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails, so I took Switchback from the campground over to the Mahnomen Unit and rode Crusher, Miner’s Mountain, Chute, Ferrous Wheel, Trammer, and Rocky Flats.
Early this morning, I took Drag Line from Portsmouth over to the Yawkey Unit, riding Man High Hill and Haul Road on the way and then Bobsled a couple of times.
Cool discovery #1: I had assumed both Switchback and Drag Line were just plain old connecting trails. Wrong. They’re both hugely fun intermediate level trails. Lots of rollers and a surprising number of berms for two-way trails. Non-stop pleasure riding, both directions.
Cool discovery #2: I took it a little easy on all the trails, as I was by myself, but it was so much more fun riding these trails than last year, I couldn’t stop grinning. Why? I’m in better shape, of course. But my skills are better, due mainly to A) what I learned about braking, turning, and ‘the attack’ position at the Leaders’ Summit skills class; and B) spending about an hour at Eagan’s Lexington Pump & Jump Park where I learned (thanks to Chance Glasford), how to pump, ie, accelerate without pedaling.
By 8 am this morning I was starving so I headed over to the Heartland Kitchen & Café, my favorite breakfast spot in Crosby. I lucked out, as some of the IMBA guys were there: Hansi Johnson, Midwest Regional Director; Andy Williamson, Great Lakes Region Director; and Aaron Rogers, Trail Specialist.
I coaxed the café’s proprietor, Maureen Christopher, into posing with them for a photo, since Maureen is such a fan of the mountain bikers who’ve helped her business thrive since the park opened last summer.
Earlier this week, after Dan gave me a tour of the fabulous trails at Red Wing’s Memorial Park, I got to play in his back yard. What a hoot. Like having a bit of Ray’s MTB Indoor Park right out your back door. A double teeter-totter even.
I had no trouble riding this narrow round log (left photo, above) when using the little cheater ramp. But going the other direction (center) was a quite a bit tougher because of the abrupt edge to the log. It’s definitely a plus to have soft green grass to land on when crashing (right).
After more than a few tries, I finally nailed it and Dan happened to capture it in this photo sequence. A small manual is required to get the front wheel up on the log, then a little unweighting of the rear wheel to help it gently roll up the face of the log. If the rear wheel hits the log too hard, it makes more difficult to keep your balance once you get up on the log. Then it’s a matter of pedaling the rest of the way with a singular focus on leaning the bike to stay straight, keeping your eyes way ahead. If you succumb to steering instead of leaning, you’re hosed.
If a skinny is any higher than 1 foot or so off the ground, don’t try it if you can’t bunny hop or wheelie drop. Learn those two things first so when you do feel you will slip or fall off the side, just bunnyhop or wheelie drop and ride away. If you can’t do this, you will endo (go over the bars) if your front wheel comes off…..and endoing is about the most unsafe thing to do.
Once I learn that, I’ll feel more confident riding the 3-4 ft high skinny at Murphy-Hanrehan.
The Minnesota High School Cycling League held their first Leaders’ Summit over the weekend. Northfielder Sue Welch and I attended both days (Head and Assistant Coach licensing) as we’re planning to be coaches for the soon-to-be-formed Cannon Valley Mountain Bike Team (“Mountain Bike Racing for High School Students in Minnesota’s Cannon River Valley“). Hopefully, we’ll have others join us as coaches and Ride Leaders.
Austin and Michael were impressive instructors: very thorough, great storytellers, well-organized, interesting, and funny. Gary treated us royally with breakfast, lunch and even dinner on Saturday, with ample snacks throughout each day and happy hours at day’s end. The only disappointment: it rained all day Saturday and on and off on Sunday so the end-of-the-day-rides had to be cancelled.
I’m pretty enthused about all this. Sue and I will soon host a community info night in Northfield for interested student athletes and parents.