Muddymoles mountain biking in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

Beware Well Meaning Advice

Posted by Colin | December 8, 2010 | 13 comments so far

Like this I suppose. Best read it, think about it but don’t take it as gospel. I am a Sunday warrior, not a coach.

Many moons back I started playing golf and received lots of ‘helpful’ advice. So helpful in fact that I wasted a few months hacking away swathes of Surrey golf course turf and not making any progress. A few private lessons later sorted me out, removing all the elements of the advice I had been given and developing some semblance of proper technique.

Other sports are much the same and I want to share my experience with mountain biking. Again, wind back a few years and once I had worked out the basics and started tackling technical stuff like Abba Zabba, I was given lots of helpful advice, all of which very well-meant and almost exclusively revolved around “just get off the back of the bike”.

The theory behind comes from moving your centre of gravity rewards so qweight distribution is correct for the gradient you are tackling. Having watched other riders apply this, I added it to my ‘skills’ cabinet and started throwing myself down things. I also did a drops course at Swinley where they taught the same technique.

However, I found that when applying this, I’d sometimes struggle to get back over the seat or, in the most extreme positions, would almost end up giving myself some kind of rectal exfoliation with the knobblies on my Minions – ouch!

Also, on hitting the bottom of the descent, my front end would be all flappy and I’d have no grip or direction, as demonstrated by some very dodgy moments on runs down Blind Terror. I had known for some time I still had ‘issues’ but couldn’t work it out so I started to reign in what I’d tackle for fear of personal injury!

Wind back to the early summer and a conversation with Dave Dubbya, fresh from his ukbikeskills experience with Tony (aka Jedi). He commented that Tony’s training focussed much more on heels and wrists down, rather than this fixation with weight off the back. I also read an article in MBUK (I think) where Tony mentioned the same principles.

This made sense to me and applying it has almost completely resolved my issue. The way I see it is that by just moving your weight back, you are actually compensating for the fact that your heels are not in the correct position. My feet were wrong so I was getting much further back than I needed. This was enough to just-about ‘get by’ on the gradients but as soon as it flattened out, my weight distribution was utter cack, meaning my front end was completely unweighted and hence I felt out of control.

Applying the correct technique sees you still needing to get your weight back, but this should be a natural movement created as a by-product of getting your heels down. Heels down first, body movement second.

So I’m no longer hanging off the back like an orang-utan and feel much more in control both on the descent and the aftermath. I’ve worked a lot on this and the experience on Sunday’s ride motivated me to write this.

I rode Blind Terror for the first time this year and what a massive difference-I felt in complete control (unusually). I also watched one of our riders stuff it twice on the same drop and on both occasions, he approached with flat fleet and his arse rubbing the back tyre.

As above, I’m not a coach so don’t take my words as gospel. Try it and see. If you are really sceptical try this simple and safe test. Find a large root on a flat trail that is a big enough obstacle to stop you if you just roll into it. Approach it slowly with your pedals level and feet flat and just ride into it. You should notice that your weight will be thrown forward.

Now do the same again, same speed etc but this time, drop your heels and your wrists. You should find instead of stopping, the bike still wants to push forward when you hit the root and your weight doesn’t get thrown to the front.

So perhaps no more shouts off ‘get off the back’. When the paternal instinct kicks in for fellow riders, best shout ‘heels down’ if you’re compelled to offer help.

My next mtb investment will surely be a half day with Jedi to see what else I’m doing wrong. I’ve reflected it takes a brave man to try and give advice on technique as it will no doubt result in me landing on my arse next time out. However, the fact that I am now a FORMER Moles crash test dummy may not be a simple coincidence! If it works, why not share it?

Comments most welcome, particularly from those better qualified to preach. Jedi?

Filed under Tips in December 2010


About the author

There are 13 comments on ‘Beware Well Meaning Advice’

We love to get comments from our readers - if you've spent a few moments to comment, thank-you.

If you haven't had a chance yet, jump to our comments form if you have something to say.

  1. Andyw says:

    Stumbled accross this a while back, it mentions Tony’s site as well. Somethings on it I know Tony won’t agree with but worth a read:

  2. Matt says:

    Long may you continue to be a former crash tester Colin!

    Actually, I’ve rather taken this advice to heart after reading it in draft last weekend. Some of the sketchy bits in the slush on Sunday had me thinking ‘heels down, heels down, HEELS DOWN!’ as I tried my best to cope.

    For me, aside from poor technique now and again, I just seem to lack bottle for some of the more rugged stuff.

    But good technique is important at any speed really.

  3. Dave says:

    Imteresting thoughts.

    The weight back idea is probably taken a bit too literally by some. Especially with a section like Abba Zabba it’s about keeping weight “mobile” and that’s probably where a dropper post helps, just by getting the seat out of the way.

    Whilst none of us a Danny Mac., a lot of the riding we do is miles away from the pure XC genre. Even last Sunday’s skating on ice ride, that was about keeping your weight mobile!!

  4. Dandy says:

    Beware – as you yourself recognise the contradiction in the warning, then proceed to offer well-meaning advice etc 😉

    Like golfing or ski-ing, mtb’ing benefits from learning at the hands of a professional. I do agree with your sentiments though, and know that my over the bars moment in the snow when out on Pitch Hill last Sat was because I allowed myself to over-rotate around the bike rather than using my hands and heels to push the bike forward and through the obstacle (though in this case the ‘obstacle’ was a wheel that had slid sideways in the snow).

    I believe the answer for me is to have regular sessions with a skills coach that I trust. This will allow me to work on what I’ve been taught, and I hope to have the skills at the subsequent sessions to tackle bigger or more technical obstacles. Repeat, etc.

    Others may have the natural skills and/or strong enough bones to learn by trial and error. Others may take the view that we can all ride a bike, why pay someone a whole heap of dosh to show us what we can do anyway?

    You pays yer money (or not) and takes yer choice!

  5. KevS says:

    Heels down works, fact!

    Went out twice this week for a lunchtime thrash from Fetcham, up over Norbury Park, down to Mickleham and up ZigZag road to Boxhill. (road closed) Hairy and scary to put it mildly!!

    Sheet ice, hard packed snow ice, Zigzag road like glass in places but managed to cycle up it with lots of sideways action and death grip handlebar moments!

    No way I was riding down Boxhill on the road so went down Juniper bottom, slowly, remembering Heels down, heels down and it worked.

    Bike felt totally different and more planted on the pack ice and frozen rutted snow.

    All I need to do now is remember during those moments of Buttock clenching terror to get my ‘effin heels down! It works.

  6. Dave says:

    So, the mantra is, “heels down, chin up”

    Got it.

  7. Paul says:

    Yep, certainly up there amongst the most useful instructions I’ve heard shouted, but I’ve still managed to bin it! It’s worth leaving some attention span for those other riding skills you may need to deploy at the same time, so they don’t get ya 🙂

  8. Mr Tumble says:

    Looking at my videos Colin, I can see exactly what you are saying. Whereas I was taught to get my heals down, the “blind fear” overwhelmed my training and, sitting off the back of the bike, with the back brake on, was only ever going to end one way!

    I am going out with Richard at Surrey Hills MTB for a guided ride to do some more work on exactly those things.

  9. james pro h says:

    heals down and luck. I also picked up keeping your pedal down on turns helps cornering i.e. right down on a left turn although i think we all do this.

  10. TurnerGuy says:

    Tony also puts your brake levers higher than most people would normally do so that it encourages a wrists down approach even when normally riding as he reckons that your arms better absorb shock this way rather than firing it all back through your arms to your torso – and putting your brake levers in a ‘normal’ position is just preparing you to launch off the front of the bike more easily as the slightest obstacle.

    As well as pedal down it appears that there should often be a slight slide of the hips out over to the outside hip to encourage weight down over the tyres and cutting the edge of the tyre into the ground.

    For Golf just read the Ben Hogan “Fundamentals” book and then find a pro that teaches that way, rather than ‘tempo’, ‘one piece takaway’ and stuff like that.

  11. Bored Jem says:

    All good advice.

    Just remember one thing though.

    Even with proper training you will still fall off.

    That’s one piece of advice I had from the Jedi and implanted in my brain.

    Use the force!

  12. jedi says:

    it’s because i teach the truth 🙂

  13. Tim says:

    he changed my riding and has opened things i never thought i would be able to go near on a bike.

Leave a comment…

Have your say – we'd love to hear what you think.

If you have something to add, just complete this comment form (we will not publish your email address).

*Required information.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.