If your wanting to ride fast on your mountain bike you have to learn how to do it. The majority of mountain bikers will top out at a maximum speed of 15-20 mph (24-32 km/h) on trails as the challenge of negotiating obstacles (while keeping tyre side down) gets more difficult as the obstacles come toward you more quickly. In the EMC clip, sports psychologist Doug Barba explains part of how John McGuinness manages to out pace others “….he’s a more efficient information processor. He knows what to look at and where the important information is….his mind is a lot clearer and a lot more focused on task relevant information….”. Learning to process information at higher speeds, or more importantly, learning what information is important to you at higher speeds so you can ignore the irrelevant stuff needs to be worked at. When you first start riding a bike, or driving a car, or playing a musical instrument, or start a new job, initially it feels like there’s too much to think about in order for you to be good at what you’re doing. As you spend more time doing this new task ie practicing it, it gets easier though. Part of this is the result of you learning to pay attention to what’s important ie the task relevant information.
Most riders will try to ride faster by whole task practicing ie just repeatedly riding trails, but this blog’s dedicated to raising your riding to above the average and the way to do that is to part task practice before you whole task practice. In my post ‘Bounce – a key message for mountain bikers’ I wrote about how elite performers practice by lending knowledge from Matthew Syed’s Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice. Brandon Semenuk doesn’t just practice bunny hops and jumps while meandering down his local trails, he practices bunny hops and jumps in isolation. He also doesn’t just practice bunny hops and jumps in isolation though, he raises the bar until he can’t bunny hop over it and tries anyway, and he makes his run ups so short he can’t make the jump then tries anyway. What can we learn from this? If you want to learn to ride faster more quickly you need to push your limits and do this through part task practicing, or in other words, find a big hill and ride down it with the aim simply being to go as fast as you can. By repeating this over a period of time you will learn how it feels to travel at 30, 40 or even 50 mph (48 – 80 km/h) on a bike and ‘condition yourself’ to be relaxed riding at these speeds. Once you have this you can add in extra layers of complexity ie trail features, safe in the knowledge you are open to process the information in this new layer of complexity as efficiently as you can.
If you’re going to the effort of practicing, make sure you practice like the elite.