Improve on your bike without spending a ton

We all really want to improve and challenge ourselves.

To improve, a central part of the cycling life and mantra to every so often push yourself outside the comfort zone. Whether it’s just a hair above that comfort line or way out there. Pushing it and making it makes us feel big, good, improved, leveled up. Clearing that nasty rock garden, that leg exploding climb or that set of jumps and knowing there’s improvement adds to the enjoyment of the ride.

So how have I been working on improving myself? Simple, I mix these in during my regular riding.

Wrench It

My living room doubles as a bike work station
My living room doubles as a bike work station

This is a big “huh?” How can fixing your bike help you ride it? The more I work on my bike, the more I figure out how to fix things. The more I figure out how things work, the better I set up my bike. Having a better personal setup helps you feel when something’s not working ok. A well set up bike translates to improved riding. Knowing the ins and outs of your bike means you know how it reacts. Youtube is a great source of how to’s on maintaining and setting up a bike. I try to do most of my wrenching and only take it once a year for fork/shock service and pivot check, and that’s mainly because I don’t have tools to do those jobs. Big pluses for wrenching: you can fix things on the trail faster and you save money on less maintenance shop visits.

Build It

2 cyclists atop Cerro San Miguel improve berms for a race
Doing trail work helps with line scouting

I volunteered to help out with trail building for this past race. And I do plan on doing a whole post on that, but for now a quick recap. Building berms, switchbacks, doing track walks, redrawing turns, it makes you learn how to read and interpret a trail. The better we can read terrain, the better we can ride it. The mantra “No dig, no ride” works on this level to, when we dig, we learn to ride better.

Ride With Someone Better Than You

Improve by riding down a volcano with a bunch of DH guys teach you how to handle steep
Riding down a volcano with a bunch of DH guys teaches you how to handle steep

This one’s pretty self explanatory, ride with someone (solo or group) that’s better than you. It’s not just about keeping up and being fast enough that you catch up. That causes crashes and broken bones. At least that’s how I broke my collar bone. No, it’s more about learning body mechanics, riding posture, line choice. The goal is to sponge off as much knowledge as possible. 

Coach Someone Who’s Just Starting

A personal favorite of mine, that’s how I started dating the missus so I can’t complain. But in all seriousness, watching someone go through the paces and helping them out helps you figure out where your shortcomings were and where you need to improve. You are confident that you are better than your student so you push yourself to do things you wouldn’t do normally and you’re constantly learning in order to teach. I know that this way I’ve improved and enjoyed riding the most. Heck I know I have the best student, even if the missus isn’t always sold on either.

Join a Local Race

I was once a firm believers of no races, never, ever. Felt that I competed enough in my job and other sports, that cycling was my just get out and don’t stress about it sport. There was no way I wanted to add stress when riding bikes, so for years I avoided races like the plague. My first enduro race was organized by a friend and it was a very small group deal. So it was just buddy riding with a number plate. Several years later my second enduro race, was a mud hell fest. Greasy tough muddy climbs, slick wet rock and sloppy mud descents. So bad that some pro riders quit during the transitions. I hated that race. But afterwards, my handling was much better, I was less skittish in mud and muck. Still, I’ve done a couple more after that mud fest, each one improving my riding.

Me and my girlfriend at the finish line of the Mazamitla enduro MTB race
A local race and coaching someone else, best way to improve!

The biggest lesson I’ve learned with racing: it’s a challenge and a race against yourself first and foremost. Knowing that, I focus on just ridding my best. Pushing myself and not caring what my final place is. I’ve actually come to enjoy races, I feel they are rides with camaraderie, lessons, water  and food along the way and with beer, a party and a number plate to hang at the end.

Go Somewhere Else

Improve by riding down a rock garden with a full face helmet on a steep track.
Somewhere else does not have to be far, but it does have to be different

Riding the same trails gets stale and old, yeah you have a sweet KOM saying you’re the fastest. But are you improving or just have the trail memorized? Different terrain, inclination, altitude, weather, can humble you quickly and get you working on improving different areas. Where I ride, we have a lot of hills, but not a lot of long steep sections. First time I rode an old school DH course down the side of a volcano, I was petrified at how steep it was. Probably fell around 18-20 times on that ride. Follow up trips  I’ve been steadily improving and notice that on local trials I ride the shorter steeps with a less brakes and lot more control and commitment.

Practice Makes Perfect

It can be as little as 10 minutes a day, an hour or a couple of days a week. And I don’t mean heading to the trails or hitting the road and doing cardio. I mean, the little things, go to a park nearby and go nuts bunny hopping until you get it right. Go ride off curbs until you are able to drop down. That’s how we improved so much as kids, we had the stubbornness and will to do it over and over until we mastered it. As adults we want to go to a course or seminar and boom, one weekend master cyclists. But that’s not how it works, its constant work and finding a little spot of time here and there we can improve.

Let’s binge a little less on streaming and find a little time here and there to fine tune abilities we have wanted to master for a while. Move out of our comfort zone and improve with new trails, challenges, races experiences. A bike can only balance itself in motion, and we can only improve on a bike while it’s in motion. If every ride you do, you do one thing that you couldn’t do previously then, that’s it, simple improvement and the way to go!

One thought on “Improve on your bike without spending a ton

  1. Way to go!! Loved it. For me, best one so far, you talked a lot about your own experience, you talked from your heart.

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