Today, it’s all about performance off-road. Yes, we’re talking mountain bikes. And we’ve recruited some of the most talented folks in the sport to help us decipher this niche of cycling, from race craft, to technique, to training, and everything in between.
What are the most critical elements of short track, cross-country, and marathon racing? Our guests take us inside the races.
What are the fundamentals to better bike handling on dirt? Our experts have the answers.
How can you tell if your fitness or your technique is what’s holding you back from making progress? We let you in on a simple trick.
Is the training for mountain bike racing any different from road racing? Listen in to find out more about the nuances of off-road performance.
We answer those questions and so many more with the help of some of the most recognizable names in the sport. We start our conversation with Payson McElveen, a two-time cross-country marathon national champion, who races for the Orange Seal Offroad Team. If you haven’t found it yet, check out Payson’s podcast, The Adventure Stache.
We’re also joined by two legends of the sport. Geoff Kabush is a three-time Olympian, a nine-time World Cup podium finisher, including his win at the Bromont World Cup in 2009, and a nine-time Canadian cross-country national champion. Joe Lawwill started racing motocross as a kid, then transitioned to the bike, racing professionally for 10 years before slotting into his current role as Shimano’s North American mountain bike marketing manager as well as an experienced mountain bike skills coach.
We also hear from Steve Neal, the former Ontario Provincial coach for nine years, onetime coach of many national team athletes. and current co-owner of The Cycling Gym in Toronto, to learn more about specific training needs and methods for mountain biking. Check out The Cycling Gym’s new website at online.thecyclinggym.com/ where you can ask Steve and his fellow coaches your training questions.
Let’s make you fast!
Chris Case 00:12
Hello, and welcome to Fast Talk your source for the science of cycling performance. I’m your host Chris Case. Today it’s all about performance off road. Yes, we’re talking mountain bikes, and we’ve recruited some of the most talented folks in the sport to help us decipher this niche of cycling, from race craft to technique to training, and everything in between. What are the most critical elements of short track, cross country, and marathon racing? Our guests take us inside the races. What are the fundamentals to better bike handling on dirt? Our experts have the answers. How can you tell if your fitness or your technique is what’s holding you back from making progress? We let you in on a simple trick. Is the training for mountain bike racing any different from road racing? listen in to find out more about the nuances of off road performance. We answer those questions in so many more with the help of some of the most recognizable names in the sport. Today on episode 115. We start our conversation with Payson McElveen to time cross country marathon national champion who races for the orange seal off road team. If you haven’t found it yet, check out Jason’s podcast, the adventure stash. We’re also joined today by two legends of the sport. Geoff Kabush is a three time Olympian, a nine time World Cup podium finisher, including his win at the Bromont World Cup in 2009. And a nine time Canadian cross country national champion, Joe Lawwill started racing motocross as a kid then transitioned to the bike racing professionally for 10 years before slotting into his current role as Shimano’s North American mountain bike marketing manager, and he’s also an experienced mountain bike skills coach. We also hear today from Steve Neal, the former Canadian National mountain bike coach and co-owner of the Cycling Gym in Toronto to learn more about specific training needs and methods for mountain biking. Check out the Cycling Gym’s new website at www.thecyclinggym.com where you can ask Steve and it’s fellow coaches, your training questions. Now get your full finger gloves. It’s time to hit the dirt. Let’s make it fast.
Chris Case 02:33
Payson McElveen, it’s great to have you back on the show. First time we’ve had you on as our main guest. Welcome to Fast Talk.
Payson McElveen 02:41
Thank you. Yeah, it’s a it’s an honor and a privilege to be on the full show. I’ve listened to this podcast for quite a while. I’ve been a fan of what you do. It definitely scratches the super nerd bike itch that I have that sometimes people are tired of hearing me talk about so I’m very happy to be amongst kindred spirits here today.
Chris Case 03:06
There’s probably a lot of people that listen to our show that don’t often do much mountain bike racing. I’d love for you to take us inside of the race itself, give us a feeling for how much different it is how it compares how it contrasts, to road racing. And I know that there’s short track and there’s in xe and there’s marathon races, but if you want to break it down quickly, and do it that way, that’s that would be, that’d be great.
Payson McElveen 03:37
Yeah, there are lots of different kinds of mountain biking within and even within each of the disciplines, there’s a lot of diversity depending on the terrain and the course and all that sort of thing. I was trying to think of an analogy, and I’ve done just enough road racing to I think, maybe come up with a decent analogy. I spent a lot of time racing on the road collegiately and that sort of it’s sort of like imagine you start a road race. And immediately everyone’s in the gutter and there’s insane cross winds, and it’s blown to smithereens, and you’re all in echelons. And that’s the race and you keep doing it until the finish line.
Chris Case 04:15
Payson McElveen 04:15
It’s, it’s, it’s flat out. It’s survival. And there’s a tiny sprinkling of tactics in there. But pretty much it’s just survival as fast as you can. It’s and that goes for every single type of racing. So at the at the very shortest duration, you have short track, which is basically an offered criterium, typically 20 to 30 minutes long, really, really high speed, often pretty open course typically, too. Unlike cyclocross, there are too many tight chicanes, lots of group racing. The start is absolutely make or break and incredibly hard to move up, especially at the professional level, the energy to go From 10th place to fifth place is basically a race winning effort. So if you’re in 10th place, and you have to move up to fifth place, you’re probably not going to win that day.
Chris Case 05:11
Payson McElveen 05:12
Almost no room for error. Pretty tactical, but also lots of different styles of courses. Sometimes it’s straight up a minute and a half climb. 45 seconds descent. Sometimes it’s dead flat and 80% pavement. It’s just all over the board. But the common theme is that almost no room for error wicked fast, and just deliriously hard, because it’s 20 to 30 minutes.
Trevor Connor 05:36
So something that caught my attention earlier, which Chris is, I think getting that here as well. Is this. You toyed a little bit with road cycling but you decided mountain biking was your thing. I know very few cyclists who do both pretty equally, it seems everybody. Most of us tried both. But either kind of go No, I’m a roadie, or no. I’m a mountain. biker and and wanted to dive a little more into what you think drives people in either direction?
Yeah, it’s a great question. I think some of it is probably cultural, honestly. The vibe at each of those types of races is very different. Also, I think people fall in love with the parkour to an extent. So, if you take some of these iconic mountian bike races like the Whiskey 50 or the Leadville 100 people fall in love with what it means to suffer up Columbine for an hour plus, and try to do your best on your way back to Leadville. With the Whiskey Offroad people fall in love with the 50 mile event and they fall in love with the seven mainstage concerts that happened at that event simultaneously in the big beer garden and the pros Fat Tire Car Criterium race on Friday which is a huge spectacle. A lot of these major mountain bike races are events. They’re, they’re more than a bike race. And I think that draws a certain kind of people. Also, there are mountain bikers who just really love to shred trail and want some pay off for all their suffering on the way up. I think there is some crossover, but you’re very right. Honestly, we see that in gravel to an extent, also. I’ve been curious to see how many folks start crossing over between the two. But if I go to a major gravel event, there aren’t too many familiar faces as compared to the mountain bike races I go to. I think some of it is, uh, you know, we’re tribal, to an extent, and you inevitably start to understand the nuances of what it takes to get better at something. When you start getting to those upper levels getting better at something really demands focusing on the details and to be a competitive mountain biker, you really have to be razor sharp in terms of bike handling stuff. It’s been interesting to see some of the road folks or even gravel folks take a swing at some of these big mountain bike races. And obviously, a lot of them have huge engines, whether it’s Peter Stettner or Travis McCabe did one wWhiskey Offroad a couple years ago, those 15 to 20 seconds that you lose on a descent in one of these major races is make or break. And so you’ve just got to focus 100% on all of the race craft, if you want to be the best at something I think that goes for all the disciplines.
Chris Case 08:40
Yeah, I think that’s a huge point. Well, I think we’ll get to that sort of the technical side of this, which is a huge component here later. It’s interesting to see people like Lachlan Morton and Alex Howes going to, they didn’t get a chance to do it, but they went down to South Africa for Cape Epic, and you’re seeing more of this, this crossover taking place. But point being those guys have great engines, they don’t really have the experience or technical skills to compete at a high level and you know after talking with them, I knew how nervous they were going down to a place like that, trying to compete at that level without the technical background.
Payson McElveen 09:28
For sure, and it goes both ways. I mean, I’ve I had an opportunity as well, in hindsight, it would have been canceled anyway, but I had an opportunity to guest ride with one of the biggest teams in the world this spring for some lower level, obviously, they weren’t classics, but road races, some of the insanely hard European road races that no one’s heard of. And I was pretty intrigued by it, it seemed like there was some energy behind it, but I also knew how off the back I was going to be in regards to the racecraft
Chris Case 10:01
Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Payson McElveen 10:02
On paper, my engine should stack up well enough to hang in there. But in terms of knowing how much before around about to move up, how much it’s okay to lean on someone else to get through a gap, like these are things that mountain bikers don’t really know. And only are learned by being in that sort of environment and rising to the occasion. So all of this stuff, you know, that I just mentioned, where, you know, Lachlan or Travis or whoever else when they jump into a mountain bike race, and they lose 20-30 seconds on a descent. The exact same phenomenon happens just in a slightly different way. If I were to try to go race a high level road race
Trevor Connor 10:44
I still remember when I moved to Victoria, British Columbia, like two weeks after I got there, I had the most awful experience I’ve ever had on a bike in my life when two very high level cyclists or mountain bikers, so I didn’t know really high level mountain bikers invited me to what’s called the Dump north of Victoria which is this incredibly technical all rocks mountain bike park. Like their trails there, I, I tried, I couldn’t even get off my bike and walk them. And I was watching these guys do 10 foot drops do all this insane stuff. And I commented to them later, I’m like, you guys are insane. You have no fear. They go, “what you’re talking about is like you guys on road bikes, I could never do that, like,you’re going,
Chris Case 11:32
Trevor Connor 11:33
kilometers an hour down a descent. And if a guy crashes in front of you, you’re dead. And it just, it’s the perspective. To them what they were doing was like, whatever, it’s just a 10-foot drop.
Chris Case 11:42
Trevor Connor 11:43
But what we do is insane, where I’m looking at them going, I wouldn’t even walk that.
Chris Case 11:47
Yeah, it’s very, it’s very true. And it’s very interesting that we get so used to specific types of danger and then it becomes second nature,right?
Payson McElveen 11:57
Absolutely. And it’s all relative. It’s all relative. I mean, I remember vividly when I went to Europe for the first time when I was 17 years old and did my first high level European mountain bike race like UCI mountian bike race. And I climbed up to the high point of the course and dropped into the descent, and must have stopped seven or eight times on the way down looking down these drops and shoots that I legitimately didn’t know a mountain bike was capable of going down, let alone let alone a cross country mountain bike, right and it just completely reset my understanding of what this racing is. And to be honest, that’s still one of the reasons that United States mountain bikers are a little bit hamstrung in regards to our ability to compete overseas is because the United States just does not make hard mountain bike courses technically, like it does not. It’s just not the same game. And these kids over in Europe are you know, they take their training wheels off And they’re sending World Cup courses basically. And we have so much catch up to do. And you see riders like Kate Courtney breakthrough at the very highest level and they did that because they went over to Europe and grounded out and dedicated themselves to learning and catching up. But every single United States mountain biker is working with a certain handicap in a way, because for whatever reason, you know, the folks that run UCI races here in the United States just have not made them as hard. To put it bluntly.
Trevor Connor 13:36
Chris sat down with two legends of mountain biking, Joe Lawwill, and Geoff Kabush, to learn about some of the necessary technical skills to take the go fast off road.
Chris Case 13:46
First question, I guess I would ask, if you’re sort of new to this sport, what are the basic skills that you need to be a decent mountain bike rider or racer everything from body position to you know, cornering skills, those types of things. Joe, let’s start with you.
Joe Lawwill 14:07
Wow, that is not a simple topic. There’s so many things to think about. Honestly. I mean your very first things is is your overall body positioning the basic elbows up and out in an attack position. But, but mountain bike is so different from a road bike because mountain bike you’re constantly moving. I would compare it to a boxer in in a boxing ring. If the boxer just stands there, they’re going to get you know, knocked out. So rode bike you can get away with a single position, you know, you move your hand position on your bars, but that’s about it. And mountain bikes just completely different. If you don’t move around and and follow the contours of the trail, you get in trouble really quickly. So So the first basic is find your comfortable neutral position on the bike and be ready to move. So as soon as the bike starts to go down a hill, you need to let your weight come backwards. I push people in some of my drills to, to, when we go down to the section, I want to see you push that front end out and get your butt and just basically get your butt aim it to get as low as possible to where you’re almost trying to touch your back tire with your butt. Because if you don’t force yourself to do that, you’re hitting this imaginary wall and you think you’re far back and low, but you’re really not and you’re putting yourself into a vulnerable position. So, so I really like to emphasize anybody when they start to go down to trail to just be constantly moving and don’t be afraid to get your weight really far back. constantly move that bike. If you’re not a passenger, you’re in charge of this ride. And and that’s the biggest thing I see is people just looking like a sack of potatoes on their bike.
Chris Case 16:00
Yeah, they have, you have to be much more active.
Joe Lawwill 16:03
Yeah, much more active
Chris Case 16:05
What I’m hearing from you. And what I know from experience is that you have to be a very active rider given given the terrain, and the trails that you’re riding and not just wait for the trail to do something to you, but anticipate it and actively address it with body position, braking bias, etc.
Joe Lawwill 16:25
Yeah, anticipating is a really good word, anticipate what’s coming and do something to compensate for that. But there’s, there’s a lot of putting weight into the tires. When you’re going down a hill and coming to a stop and you’re on the brakes. You want to have a stiff upper body with, you know, to to brace yourself, but you really want to dig your heels down. So a lot of times your heels will drop really, really far down. And and it’s basically you need to do that to brace yourself and to push pressure into the tire. So you need to always be focusing anytime you’re cornering or slowing down on how you’re putting pressure into the tires. And that’s another mistake that I see a lot of people doing is is, is they’re not waiting the tires and and that’s where that tire pressure comes in key where once you start having some technique and you’re and you’re putting pressure into your tires so that they can actually do something and grab that dirt, you’ll, you’ll find out that your low tire pressure might not work so much now that you’re putting some real input into the bike. So sometimes you have to bump that pressure up a little bit so that you don’t fold those tires over. But that’s a really important thing and not to be ignored at all.
Chris Case 17:40
Yeah, I think that’s one of those habits from If a If a road cyclist is coming over to mountain biking is a habit they have to break where on a road bike if you’re cornering sometimes, you know really driving your front end into the corner is actually going to lead you to lose traction, your your contact patch or whatever the there’s a breaking point where you will lose traction in the front end will go out from under you and that’s a bad very bad thing. But obviously that can happen on a mountain bike too, given the terrain, but there is an amount of pressure you need to apply to the front end to have the tire bite into the ground get traction so that you can carve through that corner.
Joe Lawwill 18:27
Yeah, you definitely can’t be timid and afraid to put some pressure into that front tire, because that’s definitely key. And as you get better and you start, you know, learning to read the terrain and follow the contours and putting pressure into the into the bike when you corner. You really I said it already a couple times, but you really need to have your mental game focused on the trail and you do have to spend some time to do some, some muscle learning basic techniques to make sure you’re you know in the right position But once you start kind of getting into that right position, you can’t over analyze all these things like, Am I dropping my heel enough? Am I putting enough pressure into it? They’ll start coming natural and you just want to focus on the ride. And, and just sometimes you have to remind yourself to do those little things. I still to this day, once in a while good like, geez, I’m really sliding around. I was getting lazy. It wasn’t really putting a lot of pressure to the tires. But the mental game is so important. Paul, the Punter does some really great YouTube videos. And he did a segment where he actually with the Downhill Racer told him, You need to just sing the point was to get your mind off of all the analyzing of what you’re doing, and just sing to get your mind. So you just ride natural. And so whatever it takes to ride natural and just be reacting because when you’re walking down the street, you don’t think about putting your foot in front of the next, you just do it. So you need to get to a point where you just ride your bike so you can enjoy it to the most.
Chris Case 20:11
Describe the fundamental principles of braking because I don’t think a lot of people get this either. I think they probably pull both levers simultaneously and that’s as much thought as they put into it. But that it’s, it’s not that easy. There’s a lot of nuance here and and maybe counter intuitively for a lot of people. The front brake is a really important thing here. It’s not just a secondary element to the back brake.
Geoff Kabush 20:38
For sure. I mean, there’s a lot more power in the front brake. If there’s traction, I mean, I think the biggest thing is making sure you you adjust your your controls first to get that comfortable. They can have your hands relaxed on the break so you can feather it because a lot of breaking on the mountain bike is kind of feathering the brake and it’s not like you’re on tarmac and a car was really good traction. So you have to feather the braking and adjust the front rear bias depending on the terrain and how much traction you have. For sure, if you’re going in a in a straight line on a steep, steep slab or something, you can really rely on the front brake. But if you’re somewhere like here last summer racing racing in Truckee northstar it’s just complete powder dust and the using the front brake too much just causes you to lose, lose traction washout, so you have to kind of read the terrain and figure out how much bite you’re going to be able to get that get in the tire and use the front end and brake bias, the brakes, bias depending on on how much traction and so that’s a lot of experience and just time on the trail to find that that sweet spot that kind of like the body position, find the balance front rear and how much force you can apply. Yeah, it’s really terrain dependent.
Joe Lawwill 22:07
You know, I like to do a little a little break check when I get on my bike and I start down a trail maybe a trail not too familiar with, or the dirts different, actually dirt changes daily, depending on the moisture in the air and those sorts of things. And I just like to do like a little slow down a couple times, maybe a couple little break checks, maybe kick the bike sideways a couple times just lightly on the trail, just to get a feel so that I can see what this dirt is doing.
Geoff Kabush 22:37
Yeah, I mean it’s kind of like when you’re driving in the snow or icy road it’s always good when you pull the driveway to match the brakes and see where the breaking point of your tires are kind of get a feel for how much traction there is and yeah, how comfortable you are. Just like your tires, you know, get used to. Same thing with the running some new tires, new pressures to kind of Do some kind of caddies on the trail that kind of fun find the limits and then you know how how hard you can push your, your tires or your brakes on the trail yesterday and the conditions
Chris Case 23:11
Yeah, that little throw in the back end out a little bit too and a little break test. I see that as equivalent to the, the golfer licking his finger and sticking it up in the air and testing the wind that’s kind of like the, you just do that. Would you say it’s fair, it’s a fair assessment to say that a lot of mountain biking when it comes to the the skills of mountain biking is about carrying your speed versus making that speed. So for example, it’s about learning how much you break going into a corner so that you can carry speed through that corner versus over breaking, slowing down, taking the corner and then having to accelerate more out of the corner. As an example.
Geoff Kabush 24:00
One of the most enjoyable things to learn is reading the trail. Now, I’ve done a lot of blind enduro, and it’s just a really fun experience. I mean, it’s the biggest thing I try to remind beginners is looking ahead scanning the trail so you can predict what’s coming up, see, you know, when you can let off the brakes earlier, or if there’s a switchback coming up, you can set up for the corner a little wider and carry speed. And it’s really a kind of subtle skill that’s really fun to learn when you can kind of read a trail and slow down and carry your speed and at something Yeah, you just got to keep I still at this point in my career, you know, racing for 25 years, is forcing myself to try to look look further ahead on the trail so I can read it and predict and carry my speed and, and flow through sections and yeah, I used to hate riding, trails blind but now I really enjoy riding a blind trail because it really forces me to try to look ahead read the trail and predict how it’s gonna develop.
Joe Lawwill 25:05
Yeah, I totally agree with that. The Trans Cascadia race series that is a once a year thing, multi days. That is really cool because it I mean, I’ve been riding for years, but going to that race alone, cuz it’s day after day of blind racing, and so many stages, you just, it sharpens your bike skills so much because like he says, It forces you to really look ahead and just be just absorbing this terrain as you’re going at speed. And it’s a it’s a really cool kind of a breakthrough for me in some ways to force myself to do that, that sometimes it takes a race situation to really get you to push those limits. But you know, something was also worth pointing out is with these bigger wheels that we’ve got like the 20 Niners It takes more energy to get them up to speed. So if you can focus your riding on carrying speed, you’re definitely going to be benefiting on using less energy, especially in Rolling Hills. I see people breaking on a section where you can clearly see it’s going to open up and then go up again. And so when you’re getting used to riding more, you always want to be looking really far ahead and think, okay, I can just let go and then start pedaling. So I’ve always said, you know, pedal those downhills as soon as you see that it’s clear. And and in a cornering situation. If, if you kind of see how it’s opening up, and it looks like it’s going to be good, get off this brakes as quickly as possible, just so that you can carry that speed. And to me, it’s actually more fun to be riding like that.
Chris Case 26:49
One thing that’s somewhat unique or different from from road cycling, about mountain biking is I think there’s just more There’s more chance that you might crash. And I think that that is almost not a necessity. But in order to progress in mountain biking, I think you have to expect some crashing, maybe it’s light, maybe it’s not so late, but to push the your abilities to get more comfortable pushing the envelope so to speak. Would you agree with that is is crashing almost a necessity to progress here? Or is that am I looking at it the wrong way?
Joe Lawwill 27:35
Well, I can definitely say that crashing on a mountain bike is not the same as crashing on a road bike. So on a road bike, like that’s one of your number one goals is to not crash. But on a mountain bike. You can get away with crashing and it’s not a big deal. You really do. It’s kind of like the Cadiz that Geoff referred to Like me when I said I kind of slide the bike around a little bit so I can get a feel for things. Yeah, don’t be so afraid of crashing, you do want to acknowledge, like, if you’re like, Oh, well I’m getting in trouble. Okay, I’m going down. You don’t want to just stiffen up and close your eyes. You know, think of like ride like a cat. And if you do get in trouble, you know, look for branches to hold on to or look for that soft spot, fight it to the bitter end. Don’t just wait for the crash to happen. And really don’t be too freaked out about crashing because then you’re going to be riding stiff and not, you know, letting loose a little bit. And because you you kind of do need to let loose but you want to pick and choose where you’re letting loose Pacific Northwest has lots of really nice, softer and, and so those are places I would be a little more inclined to maybe test the waters a little bit more, because if I do crash, I can just you know, smash into some soft loam or nice dirt and it’s like Wow, that was cool. And, you know, you do need to do a little bit of that. So, so don’t be embarrassed, don’t freak out. I do see people that they do a crash, and they just jump on their bike and they panic and try and get going again because they’re embarrassed. You know, I don’t do that. Take a second. Do a quick check. Make sure you’re cool. Look at your bike. Because if you’ve been to a cross country race, or even enduro race or downhill race, and you’ve seen somebody crash, the adrenaline’s pumping, they jump on their bike, they don’t know their chains off, and they go to pedal, and then they flip right over the front again,
Chris Case 29:34
Joe Lawwill 29:36
So give a second just assess the situation. You know, Oh, cool. laugh about it and try again.
Geoff Kabush 29:43
Yeah, I mean, I’d echo I’m, I’m way more scared of crashing on the road than the mountain bike. But I think I mean, the important thing is if you’re Yeah, pushing yourself is it’s great to progress but don’t try to take two biggest steps. The biggest thing for me when I’m Looking at a technical section, I have to be able to picture it in my head. And if I can’t picture in my head, then I’ll leave it for another day. The nice thing these days there’s like so many cool like train parks, where you can go and work on different skills, whether it’s drops and they go from small to large and you can kind of work your way up or if you’re working on jumping, you can go and try like a two foot tabletop a five foot or 10 foot and kind of work your way up until you’re comfortable so yeah, you don’t want to go out and then make a huge leap to like a 20 foot gap over a creek you
Chris Case 30:38
Geoff Kabush 30:40
work your comfort level up, but it’s I mean, that’s one of the funnest things about mountain biking is gradually pushing your your limit and progressing and you look back on what you used to think was hard and now it’s a you do without thinking and that’s a fun part of this sport. I mean, I’m still learning and pushing myself and there’s always something new to work on.
Chris Case 31:01
I’ll start with you, Joe, what do you think are the best ways to improve your skills as a mountain biker? Is it watching YouTube videos? Is it hitting the skills park? Or you know, riding with friends of yours or just people that are better than you and watching them learning from them? Or is it all of these things?
Joe Lawwill 31:22
Oh, I think it’s definitely all of these things. There’s progression for sure. So you need to definitely know some basics. So if you’re really green to mountain biking, it’s definitely worth watching some YouTube videos, take classes. There’s, there’s there’s a lot of great resources out there. And you know, it’s hard to to discount having an instructor there in person to kind of look at you, but like I know Ryan Leach, someone we’ve worked with for years and and he has a boat load of videos that that really do make a difference. But once you have the basic idea that then you just got to just keep trying, keep riding skills parks are great too. But it’s just as much as anything if you just need to keep trying and practicing. Sometimes I’ll even just go out into the street in front of my driveway, and just practice little manuals and, and, you know, balance and get tuned up once in a while. Just as much as I can be on the bike as possible. It all makes a difference. And you know, the one other thing that you mentioned about riding with people, they’re faster than you when you’re ready, and you’re starting to be kind of active. That is definitely one of the one of the greatest tools I kind of almost group that with with pushing yourself in a race situation or even racing blind like the trans Cascadia event. Where it really pushes you to just be like Ultra focused and when you’re riding with those faster people, you know, you see, well that guy did it, you know, I want to do that and that definitely helps. So I would definitely urge anybody once they kind of feel uncomfortable is to seek out those faster riders and and try and you know, Hang Hang with them and, and elevate your game a little bit.
Geoff Kabush 33:23
Ya know, it’s a tough question. I think everyone learns in different ways like myself, I learned a lot from like, watching other proficient people in different sports. But I think in the end, like it’s just, it just takes time to get that that feeling. There’s a lot of just subtle skills on the mountain bike and body position. And in the end, it just takes a lot of time, but it’s certainly great to do especially if you’re trying to progress and different skills in a train park where things are built, built really well and safely. It’s a great place to be kind of push yourself in progress, especially if you’re getting your wheels off the ground. But yeah, I mean, I think it’s it’s great to have a local bike shop and mentors in your community to go on rides and learn and push yourself. It’s just, yeah, I think. Don’t be afraid to make yourself a little uncomfortable because that’s how you kind of kind of progress. Keep pushing yourself.
Joe Lawwill 34:25
Yeah, definitely seek out those better riders. You know, almost every bike shop has group rides, and they’ve got those go to guys or seek out somebody who’s been racing, you can usually pick up a lot from those people that have all that experience. I think that’s a great, great thing to try and seek out.
Chris Case 34:49
Getting back to the race craft side here. It was interesting to me that you said in the shortest of the mountain bike disciplines short track There is sometimes some group bracing, there is a little bit of tactics involved, which makes sense to me. I’ve seen that. Let’s take like, take a look at xc how much group racing is going on there? How much tactics is going on there? how critical is the start there take us through an XC race and the elements.
Payson McElveen 35:22
Yeah. So in terms of just quickly in terms of group racing and short track, it’s almost just like you end up in groups, but you can’t do too much together because it’s so flat out that you’re basically it’s just like, dangling. It’s like the last two laps of a crit the whole time. But anyway, um, for XC, the start is absolutely very critical. And if you’re not, say top 10, maybe and I’m talking more at a professional level right now, if you’re not top top 10 Top 15 in that first lap the chances of winning or very low. What’s interesting though, is if you’re, if you’re 40th, or 50th, so you crash at the start or have a minor mechanical, whatever, if you’re 40th or 50th, we see all the time that riders are able to put in incredible rides and finish top 10, maybe even top five. But that difference between fifth and first is really significant because the the folks that didn’t have to sort through traffic and catch up, you know, we just weren’t expending that energy. The thing about XC I think that in modern XC that makes it so unique these days is in terms of group dynamics, there isn’t a whole lot of tactical stuff going on in the traditional sense, like drafting that sort of thing. But where tactics really do shine through is assessing where you have an edge on your competition. And using that like using the part of the course where you’re a little bit better, minimizing the damage on the part of the course where you’re not as good and really being in tune with Those dynamics. So for example, if you’re, if you’re recognizing that you’re pulling out a five second gap on a descent on a rider that you’re just locked in with lap after lap after lap, a good racer will attack on the climb before that and pull out, maybe three seconds. I mean, that’s how these things are at the highest level is it’s just it’s like cyclocross, it’s just a game of seconds, you pull out just a few seconds, and then you use that ensuing descent where you get five seconds to make it an eight second gap. And oftentimes, for the first time or two that you do that, that eight second gap is, is closed back down. But if you do that enough laps in a row, you do that on enough sections, eventually that other rider just can’t make up that small gap again, the real critical thing here is developing the skills to attack and completely redline yourself up that climb, and then somehow drive your bike effectively. Tell me I see Technical descent so that I think that’s where mountain biking gets really really unique. And I actually had this conversation with Neil Rogers at one point where he said he thinks really the the pinnacle of athleticism in cycling is XC mountain biking. because it requires this vast Bank of have skill sets and fitness types in a really compacted environment. And you got bodies flying around and and every course is different and you know, your your heart rate is at 180 on the climb, and on the descend it goes to 178 it’s, it’s just an insane pressure cooker. And if you make one sort of like Star Trek, if you make one significant error, it’s pretty much over. So it is a very unique, interesting style of racing in that regard.
Chris Case 38:51
And so the tactics here like you’re saying or playing to your strengths in a way and and identifying that after you You know, a lot of the courses that you’re racing on are known known entities known Quan, they’re, they’re something you’ve done before, and you have experience on and they probably don’t change year to year too much. So you already know, hey, I can outclimb this guy a little bit here if I attack, and then that descent plays to my strengths. So I’m gonna, that’s, you know, if I do that enough times in the race, I might break him psychologically, or I might make a mistake trying to catch back on or I can save it to the last lap, do what I’ve done time and again, and I know that there’s a really good chance that that’s going to pay off and I’m going to hold the gap to the line. So that’s sort of the tactical considerations at play and x rays oftentimes, is that what I’m hearing?
Payson McElveen 39:47
Yeah, in terms of pacing, there’s really no, there in my experience, there really aren’t. Tactics aren’t all that relevant. The rider that can ride the most consistent laps typically is going to come out on top and also saving something in the back pocket in terms of creativity. So a lot of times, especially the World Cup level, the the courses have sections that are very wide and have tons and tons of line choice. And I’ve seen many other riders and I’ve done this once or twice also where you might be practicing the course in the days beforehand. And you’re sort of keeping an eye on the other lines that your competition is taking in practice. And you might identify a line that takes five seconds out of a dissent, three seconds out of dissent. And maybe you ride it in secret one time, just to make sure you can do it.
Chris Case 40:43
Payson McElveen 40:43
And then you don’t do it at all during the race until the moment where you want to try to make the difference. And that five seconds can be the difference maker if timed correctly. And then also there’s the psychological element of your competition going Whoa, I did not know that that was a possible line and I’m thrown off. What else? Does my competition know that I don’t?
Chris Case 41:05
Payson McElveen 41:06
So stuff like that happens too. But in terms of tactical, like, you know, a lot of these teams have multiple riders, and there’s not a whole lot you can do. Teammate wise, you got to remember that these courses are so stupid hard that the absolute strongest riders in the world are doing like 400 plus average watts normalized for 90 minutes, and are averaging like nine miles per hour. So it’s it’s just, it’s heinous. It’s like an obstacle course where you’re just going flat out and trying to keep a relatively fragile bike in one piece, which is a whole other element.
Trevor Connor 41:49
One question I have about that the there’s no real team tactics that you can do. Just from the limited experience I’ve had racing mountain biking. It does seem like The shorter the event, the more ability there actually is to do something a bit as a team. So I look at an event like short track. I have seen actually team tactics pulled there, I certainly experienced myself and I was racing collegiate where they all figured out I had a big engine, but no skills. So one of the teams simply they three of them work together and they had their four teammates sit back with me and make sure I went through every line wrong. And when I tried to get around him, to his credit, he crashed both of us into a lawn. So yeah, it seems like when you’re in tight quarters, you can do I mean, it’s almost disruptive, but you can do a little bit as a team to guide one another through the course and also to interfere with your competition, or is that just not something new See?
Payson McElveen 42:55
No, for sure. For sure. Um, I think of it more In terms of the type, of course, then the duration. So for example, the Leadville 100, there are tons of tactics because there’s so much drafting. At short track nationals last year in Winter Park, there were a lot of tactics also, because it was 60 70% pavement and pretty open. And so despite the fact that you know, Leadville is six plus hours in short track nationals was 30 minutes, you could see some of the same tactical scenarios there. If you take a different mountain bike race, that is also six plus hours, maybe the Park City point to point for example, where there’s like 14,000 feet of climbing and it’s 100% single track, there are no tactics whatsoever. If you take or traditional tactics whatsoever, I should say, if you take a different short track race, I remember a couple of years ago, I can’t remember where Where the event was, but we had a short track national champs that was really tight and had a lot of single track and missed technical and had a steep climb. There wasn’t really an opportunity too much for for tactics there, either. Because even if there were a couple of teammates in the race together, the chances of them both being on the front line, and doing any sort of blocking or that sort of thing. They could maybe try to pull that off. But if you get too fancy, the race is so short that you’re just as likely to shoot yourself in the foot in my experience. One of the times that I witnessed some pretty hilarious tactics actually. And this was a very specific scenario. And this is one of the things that I think in going back to why I chose mountain biking. I love the tactics of road cycling, which is one of the reasons that I’m drawn to gravel these days. But I also love all of the different decisions that need to be made in mountain biking, whether it’s equipment wise, whether it’s reading the course like we’ve talked about reading your competition, just circumstantial stuff. I mean, either Even if you know that it’s going to rain halfway through a race, and making equipment choices that will benefit you in in that second half the race when it’s wet, and taking some some sacrifice the first half of the race when it’s dry stuff like that stuff that really veteran racers do that I think is cool. I mean, so I hadn’t I had a conversation with Jeff kaboosh. Not too long ago where we were talking about tire pressure. And a lot of these epic rides events that we do start early in the morning and and have these massive elevation differences. So we started as an example, in Carson City, Nevada at 4000 feet of elevation am in the morning. The top of the course, was just under 10,000 feet. So we spent the entire first hour and a half of the race climbing. And there’s just massive temperature difference. Like literally we’re hiking through snowbanks at the top of the race and at the bottom, it’s this desert arid, scorcher environment. He has so much experience and he’s such a veteran racer that he was thinking about his tire pressure. For those of y’all that know your gas laws, this right resume,
Payson McElveen 46:10
He was he was picking tire pressure, that that would be not ideal at the bottom of the course. But when the race was being made at the top of that course, where the where the everyone was tired and we’re dropping into the technical descents, that’s when his tire pressure would be correct. Stuff like that, that if you’re riding in the 20th to 30th place won’t really make a difference. But if the margins between first and second or 15 seconds, that literally could be what wins the race. And that’s the stuff that that I that I really love about mountain biking. Of all events. One of the places that I’ve seen tactics played most beautifully was at the single speed World Championships. I don’t know if y’all are familiar with that event, but it’s it’s this hilarious, semi underground cold real phenomenon that’s been going on since the mid 90s. Where it’s half party, half bike race. The winners get a mandatory tattoo. Huge underground bragging rights.
Chris Case 46:10
Chris Case 47:13
Not everybody gets that tattoos backed out on that poser.
Payson McElveen 47:18
Chris Case 47:19
Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Trevor Connor 47:20
Here’s my bragging rights. I still hold the largest losing margin at that rate.
Chris Case 47:28
What was that margin?
Trevor Connor 47:29
Ah, 40 minutes on the guy second last.
Chris Case 47:33
Trevor Connor 47:34
Here’s a little fact for you. I wasn’t even at the race.
Chris Case 47:37
Okay. This was not one of the days of Swift. So you weren’t on Swift.
Trevor Connor 47:43
So we drove down. That was three of us that drove down and one of my friends won the race. Where was it? This this is when it was important. Okay. And so you know how they had the time trial the day before to qualify?
Chris Case 47:56
Chris Case 47:57
Well, so my one of my friends came down with us. He was the one it’s like, we gotta go down, we got to go down down and do this event. He didn’t qualify. I qualified, my other friend qualified, and I felt really bad about that. I’m like, I just came down to party. He actually wants to do this. So I just handed him my number and said, Go have fun. So he’s in the race, the actual race the next day. He’s not doing well with my number. But there’s this very cute girl on the side of the course who keeps cat calling him every time he goes by. He’s a good looking guy. So he figures I’m not doing well. He pulls over in the middle of the race. talks with her for about 30-40 minutes
Chris Case 48:44
Like why wouldn’t you
Trevor Connor 48:46
And then goes and finishes the races. So you look at the results from 2008 I finished insanely down
Payson McElveen 48:56
That’s one of the most wonderful single speed world stories. I’ve heard I mean that is right on brand for that event.
Chris Case 49:03
Payson were you talking about single speed mountain bike worlds or
Payson McElveen 49:06
Chris Case 49:07
And you’re talking about cyclocross worlds right there are so there are two different things. So we’re actually mixing our stories up here but still
Trevor Connor 49:15
attached to everything.
Chris Case 49:16
Yeah, very similar vibe. I think at both of these things.
Payson McElveen 49:20
Yeah, for sure. Well, it’s funny you mentioned the girl thing too, because that wasn’t the story I was going to tell but I rolled up to pretty much the latest I’ve ever gotten to a start line by accident because I misinterpreted the the instructions or the start line was and that coupled with the multiple days beforehand of drinking
Chris Case 49:46
Payson McElveen 49:50
Anyway, point being I roll up to the start, literally as they’re saying go and just sort of roll in and I have my my phone on me, which wasn’t the plan. don’t usually race with my phone. I was a little afraid that it was going to bounce out. Yeah. So I just, I just hand it to this woman that’s watching the start of the race. And I said, Hey, this is my name. I hope we can find each other at the end of the race. She was just the first person I saw and I handed it to her, and ended up being a pretty cute girl and she took she took a bunch of photos of herself on my phone. And then and then left her number in my phone
Chris Case 50:29
There you go
Trevor Connor 50:30
Payson McElveen 50:31
I guess this is just a this is just a single speed rails thing. But anyway, quickly, tactical stuff and things.
Chris Case 50:37
Like we had this.
Payson McElveen 50:38
We had this awesome, awesome year in Bend 2018 for single speed worlds. And one of the local pros in Bend Oregon is Carl Decker and his teammates. Steven Davis, who’s a very good friend of mine also lives here in Durango was also racing. And the race developed and we ended up in this group of Three late in the race, Carl literally was putting on the race and designed the course. So I should have been on high alert. I was not as on high alert as I should have been. And so Steven is leading Carl second. I’m third. That’s my first mistake. Lots of single track. We’ve thought about maybe 10 miles to go. One thing I loved about this, of this single speed version of worlds, was that it was long. It was real bike racing. I think it was over 40 miles, which was really cool. It wasn’t a it wasn’t a an exhibition event by any means. And so we’re going through this tight single track and slowly but surely, Steven is opening a gap on Carl and my first thought is great. Carl’s at his limit. I know at very worst, I’m second strongest because I’m not on the limit right now. In the gap keeps opening keeps opening and then all of a sudden I realize Carl is one kg veteran racer. He is totally Blocking for Steven right now. And he’s hoping Stephen goes and gets this tattoo. And so I spend the next 15 minutes trying every trick in the book to get around Carl with this single track is so tight and he is knows the trail so well that it was almost impossible to get around him. I finally get around him and have a second really frustrating realization, which is that we are on single speeds, which means that on flat trail, there’s a major speed limit. Yes. And so all of a sudden, Steven and I are just in this who can spin the gear faster competition. And I’m pulling back just painfully slow time like one second every five minutes. It feels like fortunately for me, the end of the course got pretty challenging with some tough climbs, and I was able to bring them back but it was it was hilarious to me because of all of that single speed World Championships, you know, theoretically the most relaxed event. In mountain bike history had these tactics between two teammates. And at the end of the day, winning single speed worlds does matter. And especially for a brand like Giant who Steven and Carl ride for, you know, that’s a storyline that they can really promote and market and so at the end of the day, even though single speed worlds is a big party, they were out there to win the race and they were gonna, I think they sense that I was the strongest that day and so they were doing everything they could to win the race. Despite that,
Trevor Connor 53:30
You have the tattoo?
Payson McElveen 53:31
Yeah, I do have the tattoo. Yeah.
Chris Case 53:34
The people that didn’t get the tattoo or on the cyclocross side. I don’t I don’t know. If anybody’s on the mountain bike, single speed worlds has skipped out on it. It’s certainly on the other side. So
Payson McElveen 53:47
Sony would be shunned for the rest of time. Yeah, if you skipped out on that.
Trevor Connor 53:53
So the other side of my story is my other friend who drove down with us drew he was sitting down Third place the entire race behind the the tree trunks trevin and the other giants looks very weak. And the two of them got into this argument as they were coming to the finish line because neither than one of the tattoos, they’re actually, you know, you win. And while they’re arguing my friends catching them and he just goes, I’ll take a tattoo and blows by them into the race. Nice. That’s amazing. That is awesome.
Trevor Connor 54:29
I spoke to Steve Neil, the former Canadian National mountain bike coach and co owner of the cycling gym, which is going online at online dot cycling gym cpm. To learn more about the specific training methods for mountain bike racing. Let’s listen in. So any general thoughts to start with?
Steve Neil 54:46
I think one of the first things that I try to identify because there’s so much information out there that people are always trying to get fitter. And this might sound silly, but you know, people always focus on their fitness and there’s a couple things It were I think focusing solely on fitness people run into trouble. I guess to keep this simple one of them would be focusing on power based training without looking at the torque of the sport, so they just kind of focus on power, and they go do intervals and, and who cares what kind of program or philosophy you believe in, but they, they build a program, they base it on power. And then they just hit these power numbers to do intervals. And they, as an example, they might do vo to max intervals, but at higher RPM, because that’s often what you might read on the internet, keep the RPM high. And yet, when you’re pushing that power in a mountain bike race, it’s not going to be at 110 rpm. So I think the one problem people make with kind of training plans and using a power meter is they, they they don’t think about how the power is generated and what the torque is when they need to generate that power on a mountain bike versus a road bike. That’s one thing I really like to look at. The other is if we just use any kind of testing, if you want to do an M AP test or you want to do a 20 minute time trial or a 30 minute time trial or a lactate test, it doesn’t really matter. But if you have some fairly popular testing methodology, that’s usually done indoors or on a flatter road or a steady climb to get this number, I like people to do that to have a physiological test, whatever that might be. So they can be consistent. But then I also want them to build a mountain bike course and it should be have a good variety, right? So it should be 30% up 30% down 30% flat, kind of like the world of cross country skiing because that’s sort of how a mountain bike courses are. And it should have some double tracks some single track and some technical sections. And and then I usually like this course to be approved. proximately 10 to 15 minutes in length, and then I have them do a time trial on that course. So in the same period of time that you might do the physiological test, you would also then go do this mountain bike race time trial on your own, and you would have, you’d have a time. And so if a person’s whatever if the person’s lt two goes up, you know, 18%, but their time trial gets worse by 2%. Then you have to really take a step back and say, Okay, well, your physiological self is coming along nicely, but you’re not able to apply that fitness to go faster on a mountain bike. So then, if I have a person with this discrepancy, then I would take a block of time and work on skills and more mountain biking in the program and try to figure out how to improve the time on the mountain bike which is ultimate The goal and I would probably check in on the physiological side and see, okay, well, we lost 4% in the test, but we’ve gained 7% in the time trial. So now we’re ahead as a person, does that make sense?
Trevor Connor 58:15
That does and that’s actually a really great way to separate out how much of the how much of this is physiological versus how much of this is skills and technical and and mindset when you can look at the changes physiologically, but then compare that to how they’re doing out in the trail. That’s a great idea.
Steve Neil 58:34
Yes, that’s, that’s one of the first things I look at, I guess, is trying to create this physical side versus real world side because, you know, I’ve seen people get 20% better in testing and then get know the zero percent better on their bicycle. So I’ve seen that and then the, you know, you can see the other side where the person is extremely talented, technically, and and yet they just they can’t improve their fitness so therefore they could afford it. More time away from the mountain bike to improve their fitness to then apply back to that already awesome skill. The torque thing I think is important,
Trevor Connor 59:08
I was gonna ask you Do you have any particular workouts that you do to really focus on that?
Steve Neil 59:12
I like to do a lot of, I guess what I call progressive building endurance workouts. So let’s take a three hour mountain bike ride where the first hour, I might ask the athlete to stay on flat train and stay below, you know, 75% of their max heart rate, or if they have a power meter, I might ask for a certain normalized power. That’s not I would always say the first hour should not be muscular. But I want you to ride fast and have fun. And then the second hour, I would have them build that pace where they’re going to ride exactly the same on the flats and the descent, but they’re going to push the climbs a little bit more but you know, not race pace, but just below it where they could keep going if they wanted. And then I generally push that pretty late into the ride and then I might have them end it with a 20 minute time. trial. I use that a lot actually. But I want them to do it in like building in train so Hillier and Hillier train, or harder and harder pace in the hills. When I do that kind of a workout I usually I always want self selected RPM so I would never restrict them or tell them to make it really low or sit or stand I want them to just be very natural. So that’s one thing I use a lot is progressive building workouts but all off road and usually in harder terrain as the workout goes. Another one is tempo on the road. So if you can imagine if you had a forest with some really good single track trails and you had like a country loop around, usually they’re in the forest so there’s usually a block of country riding around that might be paved or gravel. So I also like doing 30 minutes of tempo but steady, steady tempo on the road on the mountain bike, of course, and then hit the trails but right at race pace, then back on the road, 30 minutes of tempo, then hit the trails and go race pace, and kind of flip flop between rode steady, and mountain bike racing, road steady mountain bike racing. And depending on the type of person you’re dealing with, it could be anywhere from two hours to four hours of that kind of training. That’s another sort of favorite that I really like.
Trevor Connor 1:01:18
It’s one thing to be able to do the skills work when you’re feeling fresh. But what you’re doing is you’re fatiguing the athletes and then say, now go hard now do it on trails, incorporate the skills, because that’s a whole different thing. Working skills when you’re fatigued when your tongues hanging out, is critical for races and often athletes don’t focus on that.
Steve Neil 1:01:38
Yeah, it’s funny to see how you get your tongue hanging it or I’ve heard people say, you know, you got to learn to ride when your eyes are black. The funny thing about mountain biking is people, even at a pretty high level in the races, like they never make mistakes in the first two thirds of the race. If they do, it’s like a fluke, but you will often see really good people, you know, make mistakes in the final third. And that’s just that’s focused You know, like fatigue and like you said all those things setting in so if you, I just find if they, they, they really learn to appreciate what fatigue is and how it affects their skills. And then they can also learn how to manage that and and you know, on and on in a really not a stressful situation understand that they might have to be more patient in a sandy corner because when they’re fresh, they might react a certain way but when they’re fatigued, they might slightly take a bad line in a sandy corner and that’s where their wheel what might wash out, they learn, they lose 35 seconds. It’s a mental training situation that they they learn to deal with their own fatigue and understand how far they can push their technical skills when they are tired.
Trevor Connor 1:02:44
Do you look for different physiological attributes for a mountain biker is a cyclist a cyclist is a cyclist you all need the same engine and then then we work on the skills you need for the particular sport.
Chris Case 1:02:57
I think the engine is always going to be different. I mean, you You could argue that there’s 90 minute bike mountain bike races, and there’s like six hour mountain bike races. And you know, I work with people that do those two durations, the person who’s very good at a long race is often quite good at a short race, but the person who’s good at a short race is not always good at a longer. So that’s sort of a general statement. But so I generally, I do like to make people better at tempo sweetspot type work, and, you know, doing this progressive type training, because I think if you can build a really solid, technical aerobic base on a mountain bike, you can sharpen that pretty quickly and in about three weeks of proper intensity training, but if you don’t have this, I think, you know, this conversation comes up a lot, especially with us and on your podcast a lot. If you don’t have a really good base and you can’t sharpen it. Someone’s only ever going to race for 90 minutes, then they can probably skip out on some things unless they’re at a very high level. And then they’re still going to need a base. If someone’s going to go long on a mountain bike, it’s got a lot of muscular endurance. And there’s times when you can’t, like you can’t really pace you can’t pace yourself up every climb because they can be steep. And so in order to stay on your bike, you’ve got to push a certain amount of watts. So there that’s where a really strong aerobic or tempo kind of background really helps them because then they can push harder without really digging into their stores in these longer mountain bike races.
Trevor Connor 1:04:31
Yeah, also point out, I mean, 90 minutes is still there is an endurance component. And if you have a really good aerobic engine, if you have great endurance, as you pointed out, people make mistakes when they get fatigued, so if you have a better endurance than your competition, I would turn it into an endurance fight, keep the pace really high, and see if you can’t wear them out and get them to make those mistakes.
Steve Neil 1:04:57
I agree. I have this one out. I was coaching a lot of elite riders, I always found that there’s this weird thing around 75 minutes. So if races are under 75 minutes, a lot of people can. A lot of people kind of fake their way through that duration. But when you got to like an hour and a half or an hour and 40 an hour and 45, do you needed a certain amount of fitness there was no more faking it past 75 minutes. And that’s where I think that the endurance base really helps. Like we know, Heck, even rowers, who raced for like four minutes, do four to five hours a day. So that’s, you know, maybe a whole other conversation. But I think under 75 minutes, you can probably get away without as much of an endurance base, say like, a Masters rider who only ever races for an hour with a really strong aerobic system helped that person racing for an hour, I think so. But when you’re pushing three, four or five hour mountain bike races, which could even flip over into gravel, but that’s not what This is about but longer races, they require a lot of tempo ability, and a lot of muscular endurance because you’re just going to be forced in a certain cadence ranges because of the terrain.
Trevor Connor 1:06:10
Is there anything else you feel that we need to let the listeners know, please,
Chris Case 1:06:14
You can look at power and you can look at quadrant analysis. And you can see what kind of torque is happening. But I think, to not get fancy, if everyone would run a cane center on their mountain bike, and if they have some event that they’re focusing on if they do that event even once and they understand what their where their cadence bins are, if they broke it up in you know, five RPM bands in some kind of software. I think you’d be surprised how low mountain biking can be. And so therefore, doing some training in the cadence rages of that event that they’re looking for probably will help them in the next time they do the event for sure.
Trevor Connor 1:06:51
Now let’s jump back to our conversation with Payson.
Chris Case 1:06:56
Hey, Payson, do you want to get nerdy talk about some physiology.
Payson McElveen 1:07:01
Chris Case 1:07:02
I want to sort of start off with a question that brings us back to one of the earlier points we were making about the I must choose between mountain biking and road I wonder if physiology plays a role oftentimes if there are different physiological attributes that make a good mountain biker and therefore people are drawn to it and and everything from what’s you know, going on inside the body to just build upper body strength that a mountain biker might want in a roadie if you’re into climbing, you know, wants to get rid of so are Are there any reasons why physiologically you’re built better for mountain biking than for other disciplines?
Payson McElveen 1:07:46
I think I’m actually built better for the road. I just like racing mountain bike more. The thing about road cycling one thing that’s so cool is that you have specialists different body types are good at different styles are different or aspects of road racing. In mountain biking, you have to be good at everything you got to be able to climb. You have to be able to win a sprint, you have to be able to have the punch to have a good start. On the World Cup side you see riders getting bulkier and bulkier. If you look at someone like Nino Shurter or on the road, he would be you know, he reminds me of a Thomas again, or a puncher sort of novel writer. Nino is never gonna win a Grand Tour. He’s He’s just too heavy, honestly, but he could probably blow the doors off time trial. And if he was going up, the more that we I bet he would do pretty damn well. What’s interesting too on the mountain bike is you’re getting more and more like as the sport continues to splinter, you’re seeing different styles of riders excel at different things. So on the marathon side, more of the climber type is doing well. We see lots and lots of Central and South Americans excelling in marathon, a lot of the crop of talent that we see on the road Like Egon Bernal, Nairo Kitana. Those style riders are those style riders that are picking the mountain bike are winning marathon World Championships. They’re winning la rue de they’re winning, doing really well at Leadville I think different different types of riders, sort of on the road, we’re seeing more opportunity for different body types to excel in mountain biking, as well, I think some of it is training to I’m really good friends with Kate Courtney and spend more and more time training with her each winter and it’s been interesting to talk to her about how she’s changed her body and tailor her training for that shorter UCI style racing. She was talking this winter about how she every year continues to put on weight, her weight is just going up and up and up and up. I mean, that’s relative. She’s a tiny girl. She’s probably gaining like two pounds a year max but point being she’s putting on more and more muscle and getting Faster and faster. And that’s both upper body and core and, and leg and spending more and more time in the gym if she wanted to focus on road cycling, she’s of the size, you know, height wise and everything but I bet she could be an absolutely incredible pure climber if she wanted to be. But because mountain biking is your discipline, she’s dedicating more time to developing that punch, developing that muscle mass and, and tailoring her training to more suit that UCI style racing.
Trevor Connor 1:10:33
Well, I think you just brought up one important physiological point there, which is if you’re a road cyclist, upper body really isn’t that important. Yeah, as a mountain biker, you need that strength, you need to put a bit of a focus into that upper body to be able to control the bike to be able to get it over some of the really nasty technical stuff.
Payson McElveen 1:10:52
Yeah, big time. Exactly. I mean, it’s it’s funny cuz you hear, hear some conjecture about you know, how would you Nino stack up, watts per kilogram against a Chris Froome or that sort of thing. And you got to remember that Nino is carrying around 10 extra pounds at all times. And so it’s not really apples to oranges or apples to apples. And you see, I mean, there are so many incredible examples of folks crossing over. Peter Sagan, Jacob Foolson, it just goes on and on in terms of major talents that that really accelerated the mountain bike, went to the road, change things slightly. And, and their engines really shown.
Chris Case 1:11:32
Yeah, it’ll be interesting, you know, and I like he’s the first to do it. But Matthew vanderpol obviously, an exceptional rider on pretty much any type of bike he touches. I wonder if if what he’s doing now will open the door for other people to try to do you know, a classic season and some mountain bike season because there’s some similarities in the attributes that you need for both of those types of events. We’ll see
Payson McElveen 1:12:00
Yeah, I mean, I’d like to think so. I think Matthews talent level is such that he just plays by completely different playbook in some ways. And he just can do whatever he wants. He has. He’s such an incredible bike handler, that he doesn’t have to dedicate as much time to staying sharp at that sort of thing and can really focus on the type of training and the type of hours to be an effective road racer and have the depth you know, an hour six hour seven of the classic to win a race. So I hope that he inspires kind of a new generation to not pigeonhole themselves in a certain discipline. I think that would be really, really cool. And add another level of intrigue for the sport. But also, I think it’s going to take some pretty special folks to be able to do both. Sure. I mean, you see, you see well, while doing it, also well done art. Yep. I have no doubt that he could throw mountain biking They’re also do really well to
Trevor Connor 1:13:02
have cases where people have done that, but you’ve never seen people be able to fully do both. Like I think, for example, more my time frame or my age, a guy like Roland green, who was world mountain bike champion while he was also writing for US Postal.
Chris Case 1:13:20
I will say you don’t see it too often. But you’ve seen it on the the women’s side. I mean, Pauline, she was world champion at both discipline simultaneously,
Payson McElveen 1:13:32
which is just also mind blowing. No, that’s a great point. You do see it. But again, it’s it’s pretty rare. Yeah. I mean, Yolanda, Yolanda Neff has done it. So I think she was actually pretty darn competitive in some of the road races. She did, but not to the extent of vanderpol where he’s literally like one weekend winning a mountain bike the next weekend winning a classic and it’s just like, What’s going on here?
Chris Case 1:13:59
Yeah. That’s an anomaly, a total anomaly, and an exciting one to watch, but an anomaly nonetheless. But getting back to the sort of the demands of mountain biking, it would seem that, you know, if you were to extract a given effort on a road bike, or road, race and a mountain bike race, and they averaged out to about the same power, the the composition of those segments would be, could be drastically different between the road race and the mountain bike race, because the road you’d think would be quite steady mountain bike ups and downs, hard accelerations, little bursts of power to get up and over things. Is that true? And if so, what does that do in terms of training those physiological attributes, specifically,
Payson McElveen 1:14:59
the is a really cool conversation, in part because we’re still learning so much about it. And in my ex and I should say now that on this subject, this is much more just anecdotal personal experience that I’m going to be speaking here. Because there aren’t too too many books or even coaches out there that are seem to really have a, have it totally nailed down because it’s so nuanced. In my own experience, if I do a four hour mountain bike ride, with 330 minute tempo efforts or something, and then I do the exact same ride on the road, four hours, 330 minutes tempo efforts. My TSS score for the road ride is invariably every time going to be higher the way I feel. After the mountain bike version of that I’m going to be way more exhausted. Both in terms of legs, core, upper body, everything, I’m just going to simply need more Recovery on the back end of the mountain bike version of that workout. And that’s something that my coach and I have, like sort of tried to work with, but it’s hard, hard to like the algorithm. And this isn’t a criticism of the TSS system by any means. The algorithm is just right now built for road cycling. And in my experience, does not give as accurate representation of workload for offroad.
Trevor Connor 1:16:28
It’s designed for steadier and so I’ll give a quick analogy and I wish I had the visuals here of what you’re talking about. I have a graph that I love in Wk Oh, that is completely stolen from Swift, where they take your different training ranges or zones and color code. So you can look at your, your your, your wattage, color coded and it’s like low intensity is blue. As you start getting into sweetspot it gets yellow As you get into that sweet spot mid range as Orange, Yellow is a threshold and then red is above threshold.
Chris Case 1:17:07
Yeah, these heat, we called them heat maps when we were doing them for climbing series. Yes.
Trevor Connor 1:17:12
And you look at a, somebody’s doing a workout on a road bike. Yeah, you have some variants, but you’ll have a nice steady yellow, and then a nice steady blue, and then maybe some green and then, you know, when they get to their next intervals, a nice steady yellow, but Well, there’s a little bit of variance because the colors are fairly consistent when I look at a mountain bike ride, even when a mountain biker is trying to do a steady workout. It’s red, blue, green, yellow, red. Yeah, it’s just all over the place. So as you said, when you add that up to a TSS score or an average wattage, it doesn’t look like much, but you’re actually doing some big hard kind of leg break and efforts.
Payson McElveen 1:17:56
For sure, for sure. And the other thing that I think about is, if you’re doing everyone out there who’s done an interval on the road will know. Just as an example, let’s say, let’s say you’re doing a 20 minute threshold interval. That’s hard. And at minute 17 if you accidentally blow a snot rocket that ends up on your glasses, you’re going to focus on bear with me here on this analogy, please,
Trevor Connor 1:18:28
The best analogy I’ve heard and I can’t tell you how many episodes please keep going.
Payson McElveen 1:18:32
I’ve everyone’s done it. everyone’s done it. You’ve got you’ve got some snot on your glasses lens. You’re probably gonna finish the interval and then clean your glasses. Even though you can only see out of one eye because it’s so damn hard and taking hands off the bars. Pulling off your glasses and cleaning your lens on your jersey makes your heart rate go up. It changes your biomechanics and it doesn’t feel good and probably your power is going to drop like you can When you’re fighting just to stay in a power zone, you can’t do that other stuff. When you’re mountain biking, you can be 17 minutes into a 20 minute interval. And you’re having to do this huge lunge up the ledge, you’re having to shut down a whole bunch of speed coming into a corner you’re having to, you know, your front tire slides out and you have to quickly unclip, dab, keep yourself from crashing, and you’re having to make these full body investments of energy constantly. And so when you’re redlined, if you want to stay on two wheels you have and move through the terrain fast, you have no option, but to engage a whole other group of muscles, a whole other level of focus. There’s so much more going on and quantifying that, like how do you get a TSS score for your forearms getting really tired? Right, you know, yeah, like how do you how do you put a TSS number on fighting with yourself to stay off the brakes through a chicane? Set of corners because you know, you’re going to save two seconds like all of that stuff adds up. And that’s some of the stuff that I think both physically and psychologically adds a lot more load than we really know how to quantify yet.
Trevor Connor 1:20:15
No, I agree. Now I’m going to ask you possibly the most important question is this entire podcast? Did that woman put her phone number in your phone before after the snot rocket on your glasses?
Payson McElveen 1:20:32
I don’t know because I finished the race. And I think I even got my tattoo before I before I even checked my phone.
Trevor Connor 1:20:38
You know, I actually experienced exactly what you’re talking about. Last week. I for fun ride. went out to Val Mont Park, which is this mountain bike, cyclocross type park here in Boulder. I did an hour 15 I came back and I was pretty tired.
Chris Case 1:20:56
I’m surprised you’re still walking. You didn’t break anything.
Trevor Connor 1:20:59
Payson McElveen 1:21:00
I mean, I crashed, trained with, he’s trained with Geoff Kabush and Max blacks to
Trevor Connor 1:21:06
No, I walked right behind them while they laughed about it. Yeah, silly – torontonian out to the dump. But I remember when I left Valmont I looked at the TSS in my computer, I was an hour into my ride and my TSS was 8
Chris Case 1:21:23
Yeah, tiny. Yeah, right. Relative to the effort,
Trevor Connor 1:21:26
the ride back to our office. From Belmont on the bike trail, I put on another 10 TSS. Yeah.
Chris Case 1:21:34
So how do you address this in your training, then? How do you say your coach and yourself you’ve been working on ways to address this? What specific to this theme that we’re talking about here? Are there? Are there things that you do? Are there higher torque raw workouts that you do or I would assume there’s gonna be a lot of off the bike stuff that you do.
Payson McElveen 1:22:00
Yeah, I mean, I mean, this is a huge conversation. There’s a lot to unpack here. But for one, durability is important it, I’m hitting off bike stuff right now. So durability is crucial. I would say when you know, just to give folks kind of a window here, when you’re when you’re trying to win a professional level mountain bike race, and it’s a, it’s a truly challenging mountain bike race, there’s probably a 30% chance that you’re going to crash. Like at any given race, that’s just how it is. So imagine, imagine this Queen stage of the Tour de France. Imagine that to win the Tour de France, you have to be able to have a very high likelihood of crashing and still win that stage. And that’s kind of how you have to prepare for mountain biking. You’re you’re on the razor’s edge in terms of going down these two sets, for you know almost half of the race and the chances of them making a mistake are really, really high. And so you have to be able to hit the ground, shake it off physically and psychologically and get back on the gas. So that’s that’s part of it.
Chris Case 1:23:11
Basically, you’re saying if you don’t do that if you’re not right, riding on that razor’s edge, you basically have no chance of winning because you’re off the back. Right? The risk risk is an absolute necessity.
Payson McElveen 1:23:23
Totally because if you another analogy, let’s take Milan sun remote, that descent off is at the center of the pole. geo the technical Yes, yeah. So you take the descent off, Poggio, you’ve got someone like nibbly, who is next level in terms of bike handling, it’s willing to take risks and can pull out 10 seconds. If you’re Peter Saigon, and you’ve got quite a koski with you. A few other guys, you’re okay with nibbly take taking those 10 seconds as long as the rest of the group sticks together in a mountain bike race. Every one is 10 seconds apart typically. And so you can’t afford To lose that 10 seconds. And so your option is lose or descend like nibbly is descending. Mm hmm. And there are athletes out there, whether it’s a nooner shooter, Yolanda Neff, whoever, whoever it is, who are the Nibbly’s of the mountain bike world, and they are in control, descending it that speed, and everyone else is trying to rise to the occasion and hang with them and minimize the damage on those descents. And so that is one of the ways that those racers are the best in the world is they put that pressure on each and every lap. And eventually, either the rest of the riders will will not have the energy to chase back those five second gaps, or they’ll overextend themselves slightly and crash. And I mean, not that those two don’t make mistakes either. Like they certainly crash too. But point being here is you got to have some durability. You also have to have some durability when it comes to just taking the hits. that are part of mountain biking without crashing. So when you go off of a six foot drop, what does that do to your body? How are you able to absorb that impact and then get back on the gas and do 450 watts for three minutes up the next climb. If you take, I mean not to pick on it, but if you send Chris Froome off of a six foot drop, and he rides it cleanly, his body’s probably gonna be less happy about it, he might break up, he might break in half. And there are plenty of road racers out there who are incredible on mountain bikes. I ride with Sepp coos in Durango pretty frequently in the winters and and even though he’s leaned out a lot, his skill set is crazy. And he he could do those six foot drops and ride technical rock gardens, no problem and they don’t really set him back at all, but have to have a certain level of strength and coordination to be able to do that. So that’s where a lot of the off bike training comes in. Also,
Trevor Connor 1:26:03
that sort of skill, that sort of confidence, that sort of willingness to crash. Is that something that you think anybody can learn at any point, or I’m going to just throw this out for discussion. I truly believe that’s what differentiates the people who get into mountain biking very early on, like versus people get into it later in life. And I’m part of that generation. They didn’t invent mountain biking until I was almost 20. And we didn’t have suspension until I was in my mid 20s. And so I never got I actually loved mountain biking when I when I was late teens, early 20s. But as that technology came around, all of a sudden, you could do this crazy stuff. I was just too old to ever feel. Yeah, to learn to be comfortable with that where I saw these kids gone. Yeah, we’re used to having 10 inches of play and dual suspension and going over insane rocks. What’s the issue? Yeah, what’s your notes in that?
Payson McElveen 1:27:03
It’s a great point. I do think there’s a generational element here. So I’ve seen by candling amongst my peers get better and better almost every year. And there’s this next wave of of Nike kids that are just insane bike handlers. I have a really good friend here in Durango. His name is Riley Amos, who has won a couple Junior national titles and is actually right now the number one ranked 18 year old in the world, and he’s unbelievably fit and strong. I mean, the depth of fitness that that kid has at 18 is mind blowing. But when we go out and ride, he’s throwing no handers in the middle of long mountain biking. He’s thrown a no hander. Did you know this is crazy. I forget what race it was, but there was a jump of some kind pretty nondescript jump. He’s racing, wearing a skin suit, just like XC to the nines. No baggies, no visor, helmet, XC racer. And he throws a no hander off this jump in the middle of a cross country race. And you know, five years ago people would go crazy when Nina would throw a whip on that jump Yeah, in the middle of a and there’s these epic photos of you know massive World Cup crowds and known as World Champs jersey throwing this crazy whip. In five years, there’s going to be kids throwing no handers. Yeah, it’ll have World Cup races, just to stoke the crowd. And so the the level of skill part of it is technological advancement, but also the bar is just being raised. And programs like Nika programs like Durango, Divo here in my hometown, are just creating these absolute monsters of bike handlers. And they are prioritizing that over the fitness stuff, because they know that when you’re in your teens, if you just ride with people that are better than you, the fitness component is going to come and you’d rather have this vast bank have, like situational ability, overall coordination and ability to save energy ride terrain efficiently. Like that’s the sort of stuff, Trevor that you’re alluding to. That comes so much more easily when you’re young. And in the scheme of things, I’m not that old. I’m 27 years old. I’ve got plenty of years left in the sport, but I can’t look back over my shoulder and think, Man, I wish I’d learned how to do no handers when I was 16 years old. And stay off the brakes one, you know, 10th of a second longer through it through a turn. Without a doubt, the next gen generation of mountain bikers that are coming up are just better bike handlers. And I think that will continue to be a trend.
Payson McElveen 1:29:43
As the roadie I figured out what a no hander is what’s thrown on the whip?
Chris Case 1:29:49
It’s the tail. It’s whipping out your back and after you launch off a jump.
Trevor Connor 1:29:55
Oh I do all the time. Never once intentionally. All the time.
Chris Case 1:30:04
No, every every time I pass by a group of Boulder Junior cycling kids, they’re all doing no handed wheelies up the road. Yeah. And I’m like how’s that? How do you do that? You’re 12 years old. How is your core that strong to do that stuff? It’s amazing.
Payson McElveen 1:30:22
Yeah, it’s awesome. We just stick. Can we stick with regular wheelies please like those? Those are plenty crowd pleasing.
Chris Case 1:30:30
Payson McElveen 1:30:32
Okay, so I’m gonna make a statement here that you’re either going to agree with or we’re going to have a good argument but I just want to throw this out since we’re talking about the training side in terms of the actual building the engine so let’s let’s get the skill sets, just building the engine you need for mountain bike and I’m just going to state it ain’t no different from road cycling.
Payson McElveen 1:30:55
Trevor Connor 1:30:56
Okay, that was a really diverse section
Payson McElveen 1:30:59
at the end at the professional level, I’d agree the difference where things get challenging when you’re racing a full mountain bike schedule. Imagine that you’re racing, a Belgian classic, every weekend all year, that’s a really hard thing to manage in terms of resting into the event and being ready to go to train again afterward. In in road cycling. I mean, we see all the time, the riders use week long stage races, individual events to train for future events. And so they may have 75 race days of the year, and 50 of them are quote unquote glorified training and 25 of them are races that they’re trying to be good for and potentially when you just can’t afford to do that on the mountain bike because every single race is flat out. Racing actually, to an extent makes you slower, like when you get to a professional level and you have to maintain a certain training volume to be fit. You can’t train 25 hours a week and race the whiskey offer of that weekend. You just can’t. And so it becomes a game of. And the other thing here is there are so many awesome races these days, that if I wanted to, I could race from the first week of March, especially doing gravel. Now I could race from the first week of March, through the end of April every single weekend and have it be a big race like Belgian waffle ride, whiskey off road, Seattle classic all races that you want to do well at. And if I want to do well at all of those races, I can maybe squeeze in a couple training weeks that are around 20 hours. But by and large, my CTL is going down, down, down, down down. And so you can’t use racing as training is my point here and that’s one major, major difference. People say, Oh, you know, how fit were you after doing bc bike race a day stage race. And I’m like, I had to completely reset and rebuild, like I was very unfit for three, four weeks after, after that race.
Chris Case 1:33:14
They’re just that much more abusive to the body and rest is is one of the primary goal versus coming out of that as if it were a training block like he might on a on a road stage race.
Payson McElveen 1:33:26
Absolutely. And to Trevor’s point about road training, being similar to to mountain bike training at the highest level. That’s exactly right. I mean, it’s at the end of the day, it’s again, all about volume sub threshold work. And then when you’re getting close to a race weekend, you sprinkle in just enough intensity to be sharp end of story.
Trevor Connor 1:33:47
I certainly remember at the center the the mountain bikers through the winter in March, they basically behave like road cyclists like we knew once a week, they might go off and hit the trails to keep their skills up, but otherwise they were training with us on the road, they weren’t even to your point. In March, when we were going to races, road races for training, they would go to some of those road races with us to get that race intensity. But like you said, it’s more training. It’s not as intense as a mountain bike race. And then some point in April, we just wouldn’t see him again.
Payson McElveen 1:34:19
Yeah, I mean, I think predominantly, what I just said, holds true for all kinds of mountain bike racing, but World Cup is getting so so short, that you have to start mixing in a little bit more vo two and AC style efforts earlier and focus on that a little bit more. I think training volume training volume is pretty much the same. Not pretty much it is the same. But for the events that I’m focusing a little bit more on where I’m trying to be good at, say Leadville 100, and there’s an hour long climb in the middle. When Keegan Swenson is doing an hour and a half effort are out and a half workout in the morning where he’s got, you know, a whole bunch of two minute vo two intervals and then an hour and a half endurance ride in the evening. He’s still doing a three hour day, four hour day, but he’s splitting it into two. And there’s a lot of intensity up front. Because of my big gravel events and that sort of thing. I’m probably just going to do a five hour ride. And my efforts are going to be 3 30 minutes sweet spots or 2 30 minute sweet spots. So volume is same, but sometimes the intervals within them get tweaked a little bit, I think is how I would describe that.
Chris Case 1:35:34
Can I have you guys back out of the pro world just a little bit and ask you a question about amateurs. If say I’m an amateur cyclist. I am a roadie, but I want to get into mountain biking and do some racing. So my skills maybe aren’t there, but my The engine is what would you suggest Just in that case, would you actually say, get off the road bike, get onto the mountain bike as much as possible and try to, you know, get the volume but also up the the technical skills, since that’s such a large component of what might be missing from the skill set overall, to get you to a place where you can compete at mountain biking.
Chris Case 1:36:21
So I’m going to throw out a very short answer and then let pace and take it but being in that place, did that and I did race mountain biking for a little bit. If you’re a roadie with a decent engine and you want to get into it, pace and said there’s a lot of different types of races out there. Mm hmm. I would say really pick your races, find a few that aren’t as technical, that are probably a little more of the you’re you’re essentially doing some road riding on a track or fire or single track or fire type road. Start there because one thing I will say about mountain biking Is you aren’t going to stay in it. If you don’t enjoy it,
Chris Case 1:37:03
you can get in over your head pretty quickly.
Trevor Connor 1:37:05
And if you go jump into some really technical mountain bike race where you crash five times, that might very well be your last mountain bike race.
Chris Case 1:37:13
Don’t start with Transylvania, right Payson.
Payson McElveen 1:37:17
Yeah, very true.
Chris Case 1:37:19
So would you agree get out on the mountain bike as much as possible and, and, and yeah, hit some mellower stuff and continue to progress and get better at the skill side and hit the races.
Payson McElveen 1:37:30
Yeah, absolutely. For two reasons. One for the skill set, obviously, and learning to ride terrain at speed. But also, riding trail fast in some ways is almost like motor pacing. I think it has a similar create similar adaptations. And so just in my own training, for example, if I’m going to do I’m doing very little UCI stuff at this point in my career, but I still do like going into cross country nationals and that sort of thing because I still can hang in there and have a shot at a result. And so when I’m preparing for those few UCI style, you know, 90 minute races in my season, I’ll do a lot more speed work on trail and get that get that pop. So to speak back in my legs, the ability to accelerate hard out of corners, the ability to push over the top of climbs and deal with being at 180 beats per minute as I’m descending. If I’m, you know, training more for the Leadville 100, sell stuff or epic rides, events, I’ll spend more time on the road bike just building a really, really big aerobic engine. But I absolutely agree with Trevor too, that picking your events is a good starting point. And the cool thing too is there’s such an enormous spectrum of offroad races out there. That if you are coming from a road background, starting with something like the Leadville 100 is awesome. And then you can step over to say the Carson City off road the epic rides event that is still in Incredibly fitness heavy, but has a little bit more of a technical element but isn’t overwhelming yet. And then you go to maybe the whiskey off road which is next in line. And then last is you go to the Grand Junction off road with where everybody runs hundred and 20 mil trail bikes and dropper posts. So it’s a it’s a spectrum. And I would agree with Trevor that starting on the the more fitness based side of the spectrum is probably a good call.
Trevor Connor 1:39:29
Let’s check back with Geoff Kabush and Joe Lawwil on the basics of bike setup from your cockpit to suspension tuning to tire pressure.
Chris Case 1:39:37
You both have so much experience, riding bikes working on bikes, setting up bikes, but if you could think back to a time when you were less experienced, walk me through and walk our listeners through the basics of mountain bike setup and I’m talking everything from seat height relative to A road bike, should it be higher lower level replacement, does that come down to personal preference? bar width, stem length, all those types of things. So, Joe, why don’t we start with you? What do you have any rules of thumb when it comes to basic bike setup?
Joe Lawwill 1:40:16
Oh, I have lots of lots of basic rules. Something worth pointing out though, is I’ve been riding bikes since the early 90s. And if you compare a bike from the 90s to a bike now, they’re so drastically different when the boom was starting. So many people were thinking this is a really cool thing and they jumped on these bikes, but they had really short top tubes, high stems, narrow bars, and people were just going over the bars left and right breaking collarbones that was like the go to broken bone is is a collarbone. Right. But so then, you know, we tried to figure out what we need to get our weight further back. Just to compensate for these fights that we just didn’t have figured out yet. But if you fast forward to now and 27, five wheels and 29 are wheels, it’s a lot different. So for anybody who’s listening that dabbled with mountain bikes 10-15 years ago, there’s some things will will translate over but you really are in a whole new ballpark. And for the younger generation coming up, you are so lucky.
Chris Case 1:41:27
Joe Lawwill 1:41:29
We really paid our dues with some horrible bike design and geometry, the basics now you can count on, the bigger wheels are going to help a lot but most of the frames are going to a longer cockpit positioning. So you have a shorter stem. And so your your overall weight, your goal is to get it pretty well centered over the bike. And you don’t necessarily want to be favored too far forward too far back. Obviously, if you’re really into cross country, you And that’s your focus, you’re going to put your position a little more forward on the bike, you’ll go with a little bit longer stab, and your saddle is going to be a little bit more forward. But some little things to think about is like lever angle, I tend to want to set up my levers for a comfortable position when I’m on the bike. But I want to think about when I’m going to be in a more dangerous situation, which is more steeper downhill. If I set my levers with a real comfortable with a kind of angled down maybe 45 degrees, and I’m just cruising on the flat, that’s fine. But as soon as I start going down a steep hill, all of a sudden, those levers are pointed really low. And the problem with that is you’ll go to reach for those levers and you’ll kind of rotate your elbows and your wrists to get to the lever and you start unnaturally putting your weight forward. And it can put you into a vulnerable position. So if you’re going to be doing a little bit more aggressive downhill stuff, you want to think about what that position on the bikes gonna be when you’re in those situations. So I just see a lot of people dropping their levers really low right off the get go and that’s something I hesitate to say that’s okay. It may feel good when you’re on the flats but think about what you’re going to be on the steeps. Seat Hieght, general rule of thumb is put it to where you think it’s the highest point put your heels on the spindle and pedal backwards while seated with you’re leaning against the wall or something or someone holding you up. And just make sure that your hips aren’t dipping. You want to make sure they stay nice and stable. And I keep bumping my seat height up until I get to a point where I can backpedal with my heels on the spindle and, and not rotate my my hips. And so that’s like the quick guideline, you know, stem length and saddle position is is a little bit more and just what you’re trying to do. If you’re just all around trail rider, you’ll probably want to migrate to a little bit shorter stem and your saddle a little bit further back. So it does depend on what your main goals are.
Chris Case 1:43:58
Maybe if one of you could chime in and talk about this evolution towards longer, longer top, but shorter stems and what that does in terms of control.
Geoff Kabush 1:44:13
Yeah, I mean, I’ve always been a guest an early adopter of the water bar and the kind of overall geometry, as Joe mentioned earlier has been pretty crazy evolution. But yeah, I mean, we started with a lot of the geometry brought over from the the roadside with skinnier bars and super long stems, which kind of put the weight really far over the the front front axle which was great for climbing, but the bikes have gotten more capable, the stability and control has really come a long way with those those longer, longer geometry really kind of centers the body or stability behind the front axle and the wider bar gives you a lot more control and power and the technical stuff. Just Yeah, putting your your body much more in the sweet spot and the balance between the front and rear axle for for technical riding. I think that the early bikes were much more centered about around efficiency and climbing and the handling of the bikes. Now with the modern geometries, it’s pretty incredible. Even the shorter travel bikes, what you can ride on them is is pretty incredible.
Chris Case 1:45:25
Do you have a rule of thumb for bar width?
Joe Lawwill 1:45:27
That again, depends a lot on where you’re riding, you got to think about the longer the wider the bar, the more leverage you’ve got. So you know, a little bit of inputs going to move the wheel more, I like to be out there to have lots of power because we got bigger wheels now. So there’s more centrifugal force. So if you have too narrow of a bar, the wheel can start putting a little too much feedback on you and it’s not feeling so comfortable. But if I’m riding a lot of open terrain, I’ll go for for pretty much Why bar is you know, an 800 millimeter wide bar I’m pretty darn comfortable on. But if I’m going to be riding in, say the Pacific Northwest where there’s a lot of trees and and narrow trails, I definitely will favor towards a little bit narrower bar. But as soon as you get too narrow, you lose a lot of stability and it doesn’t feel so comfortable. I think for cross country racing. There might be more clear things to look for as far as you know, you’re making sure it’s wide enough so you have good breathing with your lungs and things maybe Jeff could could touch on that but just the trail aspect. I pretty much go pretty, pretty wide. More travel longer, you know, bigger wheels. I like the the wider bars. But if you do feel like you’re stretching out, like it’s just like a really wide stance, it gets a little too awkward. So a smaller person, it will make a difference. So you know, a taller, bigger person is probably better fitted with the wider bar and is a little smaller person, you probably don’t want to go so wide because I’ve seen people with you know, the five, four or five, five with a really wide bar and to me they look a little little awkward,
Geoff Kabush 1:47:14
Like Joe said really terrain dependent, where you’re riding and how aggressively and how much leverage you need, like I’m in the Pacific Northwest so I’m more around a 760 bar 750 bar and I found on the trail bike that’s kind of a happy medium, and the tighter trails and I think if you’re if you’re more open terrain and more aggressive, bigger bikes and a little bit more leverage is nice. It’s definitely evolved. And something to take note for sure is as you go wider bar, it definitely kind of stretches your your body forward a bit more. So if you’re making a big jump and bar width, it’s typical. You want to shorten your stem a bit to keep your body centered. Definitely adjust your body position when You’re changing them. The bar width, something to think about the stem length as you kind of go back and forth on the bar width to.
Chris Case 1:48:07
Let’s jump into some questions specific to full suspension and tuning of that suspension. This I feel like for the average rider is a little bit of a black box, they see all these knobs, pressure sag damping, these terms are thrown around. They don’t know exactly what they’re doing when they add air. They might not know what they’re doing when they click that rebound from the little rabbits symbol to the little turtle symbol or whatever it might be. So let’s have a little basic instruction there if we could maybe Joe, do you want to take this one to start?
Joe Lawwill 1:48:46
Yeah, this is actually a really good topic, because after I finished my racing career, I wanted to stay involved in and I created a construction business called bike skills, which is still going today and I was amazed at when people would show up with their bikes, when we did our little bike checks at how off the mark they were with their suspension. And many times, I would be like, don’t you notice this, and they’re like, oh, I’ve just kind of adapted to it. And I was just too afraid to touch those knobs I strongly, strongly recommend, if you’re afraid of those knobs, the first thing you want to do is back all those knobs off, go completely open on all of them. Or if he’s, or you could even go the other way, doesn’t matter. screw him all the way in so you could feel the extreme end of it and then bounce your suspension. And you’ll see so if you put it really, really slow, you’ll push the shock down and it will just creep back up. And so so basically, it’s what you want to do start creeping that back out until you start feeling what what those knobs are doing. So like you mentioned, the rabbit and, and the turtle, go extreme. So you can really Feel it and then start fine tuning from there. Of course sag is super important. Each bike manufacturer has their own recommended sag. So that’s just when you’re sitting on the bike, how much the suspension naturally drops in with your, your body weight. So honestly, actually, that’s probably your very first thing you need to do is, is find out what the proper sag is for the bike and get on the bike. Maybe have somebody help you, you could do it yourself, but you know, bike shop, or at least start there, get your sag in the right zone, and then start messing with those dials and go extreme so that you can really feel the difference. But for me personally, it’s what I’m looking for is a balanced feel on the rebound. I tend to run my fork a little bit faster than my rear suspension. And my thoughts are when I’m going faster, I want to make sure that my rear suspension doesn’t buck me off the bike. So so I’ll tend to have the rear Little bit on the slower side. But I have the fork a little bit on the faster side so that it can rebound because you have more weight on that fork. And I want it to be absorbing as much as possible. So I don’t want it to what I call sack out where it’s rebounding so slow, that it hits the next bump and it doesn’t have a chance to recover. You can kind of get ballpark on just on a flat dirt road or whatever bounced on the suspension mess with it. So they feel pretty good. And if you’re doing a lot of heist, higher speed stuff where you’re coming across water bars, you know, that’s where I would lean towards slowing down that rear suspension just a tad. But that’s that’s a really great way to get you in the ballpark. Once you’re close for fine tuning. My recommendation is to not even think about the suspension, just ride your bike. Generally pushing yourself going a little harder and faster. And then when you get to the bottom of the trail go Hmm, I kind of felt like I got fucked a few times or gosh, that seemed a little bit harsh. Maybe I’m rebounds too slow, and then I adjust it. But if you just sit and focus thinking on your shock the whole way down, it’s not a good natural read. So you just want to focus on the trail and did anything stand out to you, and then address those things one at a time.
Chris Case 1:52:14
I like to think about this. Sometimes. If anybody’s gone to the eye doctor, and they’ve gone up, put their eye to the device that checks for your prescription, and they will go through this process of fine tuning what your prescription is by changing the lens back and forth. Do you like number one? Or do you like number two Do you like to or do you like number three. So going through a process where you’re not changing every dial and then making a run and then going to the top and changing every dial again, because there’s too many variables if you do it in a stepwise process, and you say was run number one better or was run number two better and then make a change and then Run number two, or run number three and so forth is that that’s sort of what you’re getting at here, I think.
Joe Lawwill 1:53:06
Yeah, definitely. You just have to get it in the right ballpark, but you can’t get it just right. In the parking lot, the parking lot, you can mess around with those dials, you know, extreme adjustments, but you just want to get as close as possible to where you’re balanced. And then yeah, then you do those fine tunes, one click at a time ride and you know, do some more. If you’re going to really vary, you know, places to ride. Sometimes you might want to creep the rebounds just a little bit or adjust the compressions if you have it on your suspension. But for the most part, I keep mine pretty consistent once I get to a spot so that I know what my bikes gonna feel like so that I can be mentally ready for what my bikes doing.
Geoff Kabush 1:53:52
Simple things go a long way you see a lot of mistakes and for sure, looking up the manufacturers recommendation for sag And get into shock pump as a good start we’re talking about simple things, mistakes It’s same thing with tire pressure make sure you got a you know a pressure gauge and and that can have a huge effect just the those contact points but yeah check the sag set up your suspension and use those. Use those rubber O rings you see on the stanchions of the fork and the shock as well get your setup how you know close to where you want it and do a ride and and take a look at those O rings and see the balance i think is a big thing and seeing that those are both using around a similar percentage of the travel if you see only getting 50% on the fork and full travel on the rear shock yeah maybe adjust and try to try to balance that out so they’re getting a similar amount of travel. I mean you can do a deep dive into all the compression and rebound settings but making sure you have a balance I think the biggest mistake I see is people setting up their fork really solid Feels nice is riding around the parking lot over small bumps but your forks really soft out on the trail it can really pitch you forward on a steep section and really throw off your body position. So make sure you get on the trail and check those O rings, see how much they’re moving? And, and yeah, like Joe said, it’s a bit of trial and error. Make sure you play around those those dials and figure out what they’re associated in what they do with the field on the trail.
Joe Lawwill 1:55:26
You know, I like that he brought up the O rings. I still to this day, reset my O rings constantly, just to just to make sure that I’m still in the right zone. They’re way more important than you think. And I always had this ballpark rule of thumb that if I bought him out my suspension two or three times in a ride, I probably pretty good. But if I’m never bottoming out, like Jeff says if that O rings, not, you know using up all your travel because really you’ve chosen a bike. It has a certain amount of travel you want to use That trout. So you want to make sure that that O ring does bottom out once in a while.
Chris Case 1:56:07
It’s kind of like the the rule of thumb and this Geoff being having some cyclocross experience or a lot of cyclocross experience. You hear the these people in the parking lot talking about tire pressure. They’re like, Oh, yeah, if you if you’re running tubulars, how much pressure should I run? Well, you know, if you if you bought them out once or twice on the lap, you’re probably running the right pressure. I don’t know if that’s a good analogy to bring up here because I don’t know if that’s the best advice, but it’s, it’s something that is a relatively blunt way, but a good way to understand taking advantage of what your bike has to offer.
Geoff Kabush 1:56:50
Yeah, I mean, for sure. I think it really depends on it. You’re not gonna get full travel on every trail. It’s kind of mellow, but definitely Something to think about to like that’s another thing like, especially more on the more like enduro racing, there’s a setup suspension I use for for general trail riding, but I go to somewhere like did the norstar AWS, where you’re going a lot faster and harder, you’re gonna have to adjust your suspension and pressures to bid higher to, for a race situation versus a riding situation as well.
Joe Lawwill 1:57:25
Yeah, it’s important to note too, that when you’re changing pressures like that, you need to readjust your rebounds also.
Geoff Kabush 1:57:32
And something like I for sure, for the listeners, like I have, in my phone, I have like a note section for my bikes to kind of track my pressures and dial settings. So it’s something to to reflect back on if I’m going somewhere different or just to have a reference point to remember, you know how many clicks you had. It’s good to have like a little note the reference and then you can mess around and adjust those notes and decide where you want to go from there.
Chris Case 1:57:59
Yeah. Great tire choice when it comes to everything from width to casing tread pattern. What are your general rules of thumb here?
Joe Lawwill 1:58:11
I’ve touched on it before it that mountain biking is it’s a lot mental. And it’s, it’s what you feel good about. And a lot of times, for me looking at a tire tread pattern and feeling good about it is almost the most important thing. Obviously, I have a fair amount of experience. So I, I’ve learned that a particular tread pattern will feel a certain way. And so I’m kind of to the point where I can just look at it and go, Oh, there’s no way I could never write that because you really have to trust your tires. If you don’t trust your tires, you’re going to be awkward and setting yourself up for for disaster. Really, I do think about the tire. I’m going to use basically Somewhere I’m going to be riding the most. And if I’m going to be in a place like in Southern California, it’s mostly dry and slippery. So I’m going to be searching for a hard pack tire. If I do get into some wet terrain, it won’t be perfect. But I’m setting myself up for what I’m doing the most. And, you know, dry conditions you want, you want more rubber on the ground, some sort of lug pattern in the tire that that you feel comfortable about. You know, as you get better, you can fine tune and decide what you like. And, and, and it’s another one of those things with the suspension, don’t focus on your tires, just ride. And if you notice, gosh, I keep sliding in these situations, you know, then you might want to start searching for another tire. But even before you do that, as long as you’ve got a tire that’s in the right ballpark. tire pressure, unfortunately is super important. And your pressure does not stay the same. So if you let your bike sit for a couple days, especially if you ride road, you know, you got to top off your tire, you know, almost daily. So in addition to that, your tire pressure changes a lot based on your elevation and the temperature right of the outside air. So like I do a ride from my house where I go up to the top of Saddleback, and it’s, it’s about a 6000 foot climb. And I’ve got a couple spots, well, I’ll take a breather. And some days my pressure will be have gone up three to four pounds, and other times as much as seven to eight pounds has gone up from where I started.
Chris Case 2:00:37
Yeah, and that’s a significant difference for roadies, maybe seven pounds doesn’t sound like much but for a mountain bike, you know, relative to the overall pressure seven to eight pounds could be close to a quarter 25% difference.
Joe Lawwill 2:00:54
Yeah, that’s a good point because I’m floating around 27 pounds of PSI And that totally changes depending on how thick of a tire you’ve got the volume, so you can’t just say every tire went 27 pounds, it’s not gonna work. Yeah, you do have to play with it with your body bodyweight, but I try and get it. I go as low as I can based on the tire I’m using. But if I get to the point where I’m pushing into a hardpack turn, and I feel it’s squishing out, or where I get into a rock section, and I need to put some weight on the tires to get to change direction and if I feel my tire starting to fold, I start putting my pressure back up. So that’s, that’s the biggest thing is I go as low as I can, until I feel it rolling. And then that’s, that’s where I draw the line.
Chris Case 2:01:46
Geoff, back to tire choice, and thinking to your XC race days. How important was the tread pattern and rolling resistance consideration during During a specific race on a given course,
Geoff Kabush 2:02:02
I went a lot of races by running pretty minimal tires. I mean, some of that was based on my experience growing up in BC and being able to handle that tire. But I think when it comes down to a lot of people fixate on the tread pattern, but there’s, like Joe was saying there’s so much more that goes into the tire selection besides just the tread on it, the the air volume, the pressure for sure, I think the biggest thing is figuring out what pressure works for the the course you’re running, like because I’d always recommend getting a digital tire pressure gauge and checking that I certainly check before head note on on every ride but there’s other factors for sure, like I work with Max’s tire, so the shape of a XC tire makes a huge difference. The Aspen’s a really popular one, it’s more of a rounded profile. So for XC that’s going to carry more speed in the corners compared to like a more square shaped tire like an icon but It’s a lot to do with kind of your your riding preference and comfortable comfortable with on the trail and condition but think Yeah, the most thing you want a setup is going to be predictable for you and your riding style. So you know how the bikes gonna react. And certainly for XC wanna pick the fastest tire your you’re comfortable with. But that just takes a lot of experimentation with the pressure and for sure, but yeah, I mean, the treads important but good rubber, and then the construction that gets you the durability you want and then playing with the pressure all go into which tire is going to be the best for in a race situation.
Chris Case 2:02:10
Mm hmm. What about something that we haven’t addressed yet at all is the sealant in your tires? Would you go pretty minimal when you were racing because of the weight that would add or did were you one that was more inclined to put enough in there to know that you were going to be welcome protected if there was a puncture cut,
Geoff Kabush 2:04:03
I mean, I never really cut corners with with that kind of thing. I mean, I mean, it’s crazy how much that just that situations change in my career conversation I started out racing XC with 50 to 55 psi m tube now I’m racing under probably 20 psi or right around 20 psi, but always kind of make sure things are gonna function on the bike. No point saving a couple grams, you just want to make sure that things are going to work in the race situation I think is the most important.
Chris Case 2:04:39
Anything else about bike setup generally that we haven’t talked about that you guys think we should
Geoff Kabush 2:04:46
one point as far as like basic setup, the brake levers is a big one. I mean, simple tip I have is like with my iPhone, I have the app that the measure app where it has the, the angle, so I use that to kind of set my brake lever angle, my run 35 degrees. But it’s a simple way kind of can check consistency and know for initial setup, but the the reach on the brake levers is another, I think mistake I see a lot with not having the brake levers really far out and causing a lot of strain and forearm pumps. So make sure you you look at your brakes and figure out how to adjust the reach on that. So there’s not too much much strain but it’s so simple contact points that you see a lot of errors, the the brakes and yeah, the tire pressure and the seat height. Make sure those are set and comfortable for a long day on the bike.
Joe Lawwill 2:05:40
Yeah, I could definitely add on the seat dropper. I thought it was a given at this point. But maybe there are people that that don’t think they need that. But I think that’s probably the single most important thing after suspension. Actually, it’s probably the most important. It is so hard to ride bike down anything technical with your seat all the way up. It just puts you in such a dangerous situation. Sure, inexperienced rider can do it, but it makes mountain biking, so much more enjoyable to get that seat out of the way when you’re riding down trails. So, if you’re coming from a road bike, or, you know, just you didn’t think that Well, I’m not gonna do anything extreme mountain biking. If you go down a hill at all, you should have a seat dropper is my opinion.
Chris Case 2:06:30
Even on your road bike, you’re saying?
Joe Lawwill 2:06:33
No, I’m talking about my mountain bike hitting.
Joe Lawwill 2:06:35
Joe Lawwill 2:06:36
But honestly, I did do a road ride recently to the top of Mount Baldy and My neck hurts so bad coming back down that I was just dying with my seat post up. I’m like, I literally want a seat dropper on my super cool road bike.
Chris Case 2:06:53
I bet it’ll be it’ll be in the future. I think they’re already there. already. Some, in fact, so
Joe Lawwill 2:07:02
especially the earlier guys, yeah,
Geoff Kabush 2:07:04
I’ve heard some of the pro tour teams have done Aero testing and I’ve they’ve noted how much more Aero it is to have a seat dropper so I’ve heard discussions of them swapping bikes in the Tour de France for the distance. Yeah. Arrow see dropper?
Chris Case 2:07:17
Trevor Connor 2:07:19
Now let’s finish up our conversation with Payson. Now, the thing I would throw out again, as a not very good mountain biker, somebody who went from road to try some mountain biking have some fun. The other thing I discovered, I came into mountain biking with this mindset of seeing really good mountain bikers and how saying they are and going, this is all about your ability to go after over absolutely insane stuff and have the skills to go over it. What I discovered as I did more and more mountain biking that actually what’s probably most important is learning the ability to see a line to come up. Part of a trail where you see a whole bunch of rocks. And instead of just hitting them and hoping you get over them seeing the line, that’s the easiest through it.
Chris Case 2:08:11
Yeah, and understanding body English a little bit and shifting your weight in different ways so that you’re not just smashing through stuff here. elegantly dancing over some of these technical sections and that in itself is an art form. Something something that takes a lot of practice and experience and and athleticism. Really.
Payson McElveen 2:08:35
Yeah, yeah. Again, that kind of goes back to what we were talking about earlier. And one of the things that I love so much about mountain biking, because when you become a proficient bike handler and able to read terrain like Trevor is describing, all of that becomes second nature. And you just go on autopilot and and descend as fast as you possibly can. And while you’re descending as fast as you please Possibly can you’re looking ahead or thinking ahead about the climb that you know, that’s coming up and you’re getting in the right gear. And then you’re also feeling the two people behind you, and assessing whether they’re, they’re thinking about making a pass based on how they rolled up on you how long they’ve been with you. And you’re thinking about the turn that’s at the bottom of this descent that leads into that next climb and making sure you’re in the right gear. And then remembering what that turn looks like. And deciding to take a line that might not be the fastest, but it’s going to shut the door on those two people behind you, so they can’t make their paths. And so you just have so many things going on. And people you know, think of road cycling as the thinking man and the thinking woman’s discipline. And from a tactical sense, that may be the case. But mountain bike racing requires every bit as much cerebral capacity and problem solving. It just kind of manifests In some different ways,
Trevor Connor 2:10:00
I would agree with that completely. I actually had a really interesting experiences a few days ago as Chris knows, apparently, there’s this really popular mountain bike trail, just west of Boulder on tossa. Yep, yep. Which I only just discovered this spring and I’ve been loving it. So I’ve been going out on my cross bike, doing these mountain bike trails and every other mountain bikers like, why are you on a cross bike? I don’t own a mountain bike. That’s why but having fun. And I did on Sunday, and it was about my sixth time doing it. And there’s this one corner where there’s a bunch of rocks. I have the first five times I’ve walked that every single time. And this Sunday was really cool because I got through and it wasn’t because I felt my skills were any better. This time, I just got there and I’m like, there’s a line. How did I never see that? Mm hmm. And it was just it’s like you said it was a mental thing. It wasn’t I got better at handling the bike. It was just my brain was starting to do that those that math and look at this and go oh no go up to the left and then cut through the right to the middle of it and you’re through and and was now able to see that yeah and do that calculus
Payson McElveen 2:11:16
and to kind of put a bow on that point one thing that I do still really really love about the UCI style of racing and one thing that I miss a little bit about miss about it. Because nowadays my races oftentimes are just one really big loop. When you’re in a race that has eight laps, nine laps, whatever it is a UCI style XC race. When you get to that seventh, eighth, ninth lap, you’re so dialed into the course. You’ve spent days getting your equipment, right. you’ve trained really hard for it, all of these elements coming together where you’re just riding the course on autopilot and you’re just absolutely ripping through these things. sections, you’re literally using a rock as a miniature berm to stay off the brakes a tiny bit more through a turn, like all of these really little things that you’re not thinking about. And you’re knowing exactly the gear you need to be in, and you’re just at full capacity. That is such a cool feeling. It is such a special feeling and is the most supreme version of the flow state that I’ve ever experienced. And then you add in the competition element where there’s someone you know, breathing down your neck, trying to pull like a high low pass on you. And it’s just so many things coming into play that you have to manage. And your brain only has the capacity to process so many things at once. And so, when you’re able to ride one of those really challenging courses completely on autopilot just a full flight. It’s such a cool feeling. Such a cool feeling.
Chris Case 2:12:59
It’s probably Worth backing up here. We’re talking a lot about the skills side. It’s very critical to being a good mountain biker. I wonder if you could walk back in time pace in to a time when you weren’t as skilled as you are now? What? What are the basic skills that you need to be a decent mountain bike racer? What are those primary skills, those fundamentals that are most important to have? And how do you get better at them? Is it just simply going out and riding your bike or pick a corner? ride at 50 times? Try to pick a better line each time try to go through it faster each time. How do you get better at this stuff?
Payson McElveen 2:13:45
Yeah, great question. I grew up in Central Texas, we have a very strong cycling culture there. Mountain Bike culture, and especially road road cycling community. But I grew up pretty rarely I spent most of my days after school. Either on a BMX bike or a mountain bike on these tiny little twisty flat trails, basically now nowadays, I’d call them like little Skinner trails, not real trails, just hitting one corner over and over and over and over as fast as I could, and pushing the limits until I crashed, because that was the really one of the only ways that I had to get better. And then slowly but surely, I was introduced to some of the local, some of the local pros, and some of them were on the bike shop club team that I wrote on and they were better bike handlers than I were. And that is when my progress really took off was when I rode with people that were better than me. That is the single best thing you can do is ride with people that are better than you. And then at a certain point, I was kind of the best in my area. And I think part of it was age, part of it was not knowing better. You know, I thought I’m I’m pretty damn good at this. And then I traveled a little bit and realized no I’m actually got a long way to go. And so that’s when I knew I needed to move to Durango, Colorado. And that next phase of my progress was not always smooth. Not always fun. I mean, I had such incredible deficiencies, stuff that I just really didn’t get exposed to living in Central Texas. We really don’t have any steep terrain. in Central Texas. We really don’t have any switchbacks. We don’t have any exposure. And so, even though I was very good at say Flat Rock gardens, like that’s still a major strength for me. I was dismal at tight switchbacks up or down. I was not comfortable when there was a lot of exposure. And I was only able to become a competitive racer by knuckling down swallowing my pride and riding with people that were a lot better than me. And just slowly but surely getting better. If I had to throw A few basic things that I think are really important that folks anywhere can practice. I think one thing that gets overlooked a lot is low speed bike control. Because so many technical sections require confidence at low speed, whether it’s getting up at ledge, whether it’s going around and tight switchback, How comfortable are you when you have to shut down all your speed, make some adjustments, and then continue forward, the high speed reading of the terrain, the, the, you know, gapping over rock gardens, that sort of thing. To me, that actually almost comes more easily, especially if you have that low speed competence. But that that’s one of the biggest things is get comfortable, kind of getting stuck up halfway up a ledge, adjust, make that lunge and continue moving forward.
Chris Case 2:16:54
One of the things that I’ve done in this this. Time have locked down shall we say is I got a street trials bike. So the bike that you know you see Danny MacAskill is most famous guy and there’s there’s plenty of others that do it really well. Fabio Vidmar is is getting very popular and does amazing things on bikes anyways, I got one of these things and I had no trial skills whatsoever. But you go out and and a bike like that is a little bit more maneuverable helps you understand how you and the bike, work together. Your weight can do interesting things. brake control, pivoting one way or another. And you ride that a little bit each week. And then you get on your mountain bike, and lo and behold, magically, you’re more technically skilled than you think you were. And it’s only been a couple weeks. And you can do, you can translate those skills from the street trials bike onto the mountain bike. And maybe that doesn’t directly apply to racing all the time. But some of those things when it comes to weight transfer and brake control and just balance do come in really handy at times anytime you’re on a mountain bike, so not everybody should probably run out and buy a street trials bike. But if you’re into that, or if you can get on your BMX bike, I think that being exposed to those bikes that are a stepping stone and a little bit more maneuverable can really go a long way to helping you apply those skills on a bigger bike.
Payson McElveen 2:18:38
Absolutely, I would agree with that. And then I would also kind of say the opposite in a way which doesn’t actually contradict being being sure to spend some time on a hardtail or even riding a gravel bike like Trevor was talking about off on trail goes such a long way because if you have a new mountain biker and they jump on 140 travel bike that has a dropper post and wide tires,
Chris Case 2:19:04
You can ride anything,
Payson McElveen 2:19:04
Yeah, they’re not going to going to pick up bad habits, but they’re also going to have to kind of skip some of the basic stuff that as terrain gets more challenging, are going to expose weaknesses. So I think one of the very best things and taking this to an extreme, I think riding a single speed off road can also be really good. because it requires you to problem solve on the fly, teaches you about carrying momentum. Kind of handicapping yourself in a way can be super, super beneficial.
Chris Case 2:19:34
Yeah, I call those rides riding with not enough bike, and you’ll you’ll go out there and you’ll do that you’ll take your cyclocross bike or your gravel bike and you’ll take it on single track trails where it might be a little rockier than you’d like to be or a little roomier or the descents are a little nastier than you would normally ride on that type of bike, but it helps you with identifying the right line and helps you learn how to float over stuff rather than mashing through it. If you just have a trail bike with a lot of travel and fat tires on it, you can smash through everything and you’re not going to blow a tire, you’re not going to be very delicate or elegant at any of that stuff. But doing it with quote, not enough, like helps you really understand what can be done what how you should do things and helps you progress.
Payson McElveen 2:20:30
Chris Case 2:20:31
Was there anything that we didn’t cover Payson that you think we should or
Payson McElveen 2:20:36
Maybe one last thing to, to clarify or let people know is that I still do train predominantly on the road, just because from a training volume standpoint, you can’t you can’t do a 25 hour week on the mountain bike and then do it the next week. Also, you can on the road. And mountain biking is what I love most and I still do it You know, at least a couple times a week, but it’s almost used as a as a training tool in a way when, you know, speaking of actually training the engine, it is almost like motor pacing sometimes. And as long as you’re keeping your skills up and developing your skills, because like we’ve talked about, we’ve got all these dang kids throwing no handers in the middle of XC races. Now, as long as you’re you’re taking care of those basics, where you really get fitter and stronger is on the road. Still, that’s where you build a really big aerobic engine. And you can do that on the mountain bike, but it just has a little bit different impact on your body and long story short, you got to do both.
Chris Case 2:21:38
Well, you haven’t been our main guest before but you are a fan of Fast Talk. So you know you we like to close out each episode with our take home messages, one minute on the clock. Sort of encapsulate everything we’ve talked about today. Bring in any new stuff that you’d prefer to bring in. As your take home message. Take it away pacing.
Payson McElveen 2:21:59
I think One of the main things is mountain biking does have something for everyone. There are lots of different disciplines out there. And within those disciplines, there’s lots of different types of courses. Although there seems to be a trend of folks picking one or the other, that really doesn’t have to be the case. I think they can complement each other big time. I think riding and racing your mountain bike can make you a better road racer, racing and riding your road bike will make you a better mountain biker. And if you really want to, to maximize your potential in one discipline or the other, there are some specific, you know, training modalities that you need to take on. That might take away vary slightly from the other discipline. But by and large, it’s still it’s still just pedaling a bike. And if you’re a road cyclist getting out on the mountain bike and enjoying some trail might be the sort of breath of fresh air now and then that keeps the motivation up and you never know you may feel fall in love with it. And maybe I’ll see on a start line at some point, hopefully later this year or next, please.
Chris Case 2:23:08
Trevor, what do you think?
Trevor Connor 2:23:09
So I’m going to start by saying, notice we didn’t talk a ton about training and part of that because all our previous episodes where we talked about training, and that really applied to rodeos and mountain bikers, matter of fact, I’m gonna say if you are a serious mountain biker and want to hit your highest level, I think you do need to do a lot of your training on the road. Mm hmm. To get that steadiness. So the second half of my one minute here is to talk to people like me who enjoy mountain biking but are not gifted in the skills or the fearlessness side of things is if you try this ease in, keep it fun. Try some easier races, go out on some easy trails and just enjoy it and learn the lines. That that mental calculus, I had the experience where as having not been on a mountain bike for a while that went out with some top pros, and it was one of the worst days of my life and I hated it so much it didn’t touch a mountain bike for years, right. Then I went and did a pretty non technical mountain bike race, and went, Wow, this is fun, and raced an entire season of mountain biking because I found the way to eat.
Chris Case 2:24:28
It’s like the Goldilocks principle you went, initially you went way too hot. And then you found that one that was just right.
Trevor Connor 2:24:34
Chris Case 2:24:35
I go back to Payson’s point which was mountain biking, and mountain bike racing mountain bike riding can help you on the road roadside as well. For two reasons. You pick up skills on a mountain bike that definitely apply only to mountain biking but you also pick up some things some innate qualities, some general sensations When it comes to handling a bike that can be applied and improve your your road handling skills as well. So I think that is a great thing to do to get out there to hone those skills that carry over onto any bike really. And then the other thing that, you know, since the assumption here is we’re talking to mostly roadies, getting out on a mountain bike is one of those fun things that you can do when you need a break from, you know, rigid or very structured road training and it’s still riding a bike but it can be so much more enjoyable, more relaxing, getting out on to nature. So that is the other benefit I see when it comes to mountain biking and just getting out more on that.
Chris Case 2:25:50
That was another episode of Fast Talk. As always, we love your feedback. Email us at Fast Talk at fastlabs comm or record a voice memo on your phone and send it Our way. Subscribe to Fast Talk wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcasts and be sure to leave us a rating and review. Find us on social media. We’re at real Fast Talk Labs. The thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk are those of the individual Payson McElveen, Geoff Kabush. Joe Lawwill, Steve Neil. Coach Trevor Connor. I’m Chris Case. Thanks for listening.