Over the past year we've seen a few articles on Pinkbike about skills - from Scott Sharples, a few from James Wilson, and some pros' vids of cornering skills. Each article has created much discussion and induced requests for the beta on other skills, so I thought I would review a product that may answer those questions - a book called Mastering Mountain Bike Skills by Brian Lopes and Lee McCormack. I do realise as do many of you that the book was released some time ago, but hey, learning how to ride faster will never go out of style.Content
Mastering Mountain Bike Skills (MMBS) is a comprehensive, well-presented, value-for-money step-by-step guide to riding that can make you a faster and more confident rider who spends more time on the podium and less time in the emergency room.
MMBS starts out discussing which bike is right for your style of riding (including the pros and cons of 29ers: we learn Brian hates them and Lee's jury is still out, though since the book was published Lee has purchased a brace of 26ers so he has voted with his wallet). It then looks at set-up, including suspension, components and how variances in those components such as stem length and tire pressure will affect the ride - only then do we get into skills. Skills chapters cover: body position, pedalling, braking, cornering (this chapter alone is worth the price of the book), hopping onto and over things, pumping terrain, dropping, jumping, flowing (looking, line choice, speed choice), handling gnarly conditions, and it finishes with one chapter on avoiding injuries and one on racing tips. All up it's 240 US letter/A4ish sized pages of information. I reckon ninety per cent of you will start by flicking to the chapter on jumping.
Go high for show and low for dough. These sequences are examples of how techniques are illustrated. Brian applies different techniques before and on the lip to change his trajectory and hence ground-speed. Note that in MMBS these two images are separated by discussion on the two techniques. The low-res scan is my doing.
I think the communication of skills to the reader is very good. Some people like words, some people like photos, some people like charts and diagrams - MMBS has them all. I really like the photo sequences like the one above because they freeze what would normally take fractions of a second and the reader can study the dynamics at their leisure. Lee is a graphics dude and has done a great job of illustrating the techniques and physics involved in riding. He is a respected skills instructor with a talent for teaching and explaining concepts in a simple and effective manner. I think he would agree with me in saying that he is not one of those freaky gifted riders - his wonderful race results have come from lots of hard work. I think this helps the book because he knows what the rest of us mortals are going through and there's an empathy there that may not come from riders for whom things came naturally. The other author IS one of those freaky gifted riders - Brian Lopes. He is one of the best examples of a born rider who was fast the moment he straddled a saddle - his talent, training and racing experience is invaluable content. His smooth style and amazing skills also make for great photo sequences for us to try to emulate. The combination of both authors' complementary talents creates a well-rounded manual.
MMBS is not just a one-off read – it is a reference book that will be re-read and flipped through over and over again. It took me a year before I stopped regularly consulting the book. I still pick it up now and then and read it for the sheer enjoyment or to take a refresher. It is also a perfect book to read when you are on the throne - take two minutes... take ten minutes - its got you covered.
There are surprising little tidbits here and there and photos of and input from a whole bunch of famous and not-so famous people. There's a quote from psychologist Dr Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi that brings me to a halt every time I read it. There's a great inset called 'Listen to Judy' which is a highlight for an endurance racer like me who has to make social and family sacrifices to get the required hours on the bike. There are some great tables and diagrams showing such things as the relationships of G-force with corner radius and speed. These examples of the wide-ranging research and major thought that has gone into this book is what makes it superior to the other skills books I've seen. I even think it is superior to instructional DVDs which are generally all over in an hour - a DVD version of MMBS would be a box set whose size would rival a season of Buffy. Saying that, it is still up to you to apply and practice the learning; it is not like buying a new set of tires where you can feel the 'good' instantly.
For those of who loved the first edition, I think you would do well to buy the second - the entire book has been revisited; each chapter expanded and updated, and photos have been re-shot (though Brian is still on a GT in many) and there are two new chapters. I read the first edition in the bath one night. Even though I was a prune when I finished, the second edition took FAR longer to read as there is just so much more in it. It is not all beer and skittles though: for a start there seems to be less quirky humor. The kung fu test has also gone which I found handy in keeping track of what I needed to improve on. Brian's race anecdotes have all but disappeared. Perhaps, like Tom Bombadil in Jackson's LOTR, if it wasn't essential to the story, it was cut for lack of space. In my opinion this expurgation improves LOTR, but makes MMBS a little less personable, though this really is quibbling.This sample page shows the typical text, photo and diagram approach. Audience
From my own perspective I had been riding MTB for fifteen years when I purchased the first edition of MMBS, so I knew most of what was in it, but there is a big difference in knowing how do do something and actually doing it well. MMBS helped improve my riding in several ways. Firstly, it showed me how to refine my technique. Secondly, it helped me remember in simple words and diagrams those refinements so that I could go ride and concentrate on a refinement until I had it down. Thirdly, it made me do drills – I would go out at night and do countless turns on basketball courts and gravel parking lots, practising body positions, weighting tires and drifting. And finally, it highlighted some of my bad habits like feathering the brakes in corners and not looking far enough ahead. Of course I knew these things were bad before I read MMBS, but the techniques are broken down into simple points that don’t include the bad habits – I went back to basics, I did the drills, I got rid of bad habits. I progressed more in one year than I had progressed in the previous three or four years. My pro-level friends really noticed the difference in my speed. I was better, stronger, faster.
I think this book will benefit all newcomers to the sport, most junior riders, weekend warriors, and anyone that has been riding a while that has a decent bucket of skills but still eager to progress. Enduro and XC riders coming from road or triathlon who have the fitness but find themselves struggling in the singletrack or walking down (or up) terrain that other racers are handling easily will appreciate it. If you steer a wiggly path through a rock garden, this book is for you. If you skid on every turn trying to keep up with a faster rider, this book is definitely for you. On the other hand, if you race DH on the World Cup circuit and just got a phone call from Troy Lee asking how you want your D4 painted, well, you may not get much from the chapters on skills, but there is some good advice on the mental aspects of racing every discipline, plus tactics, training and pre-race preparation. Saying that, one of the smoothest, most talented and fastest riders I know could not put this book down. MMBS is right on target for Pinkbike readers as it has plenty of info on the gravity and stunt side of MTB. Of course, XC racers need to corner and float through rock gardens too: they'll be your new overtaking zones when everyone else hits the line of least resistance - you'll also go faster with less energy as you float through the terrain that's balling everyone else up, leaving you plenty in the tank to overtake 'em when you hit the fireroad.
Another group who would get great value out of this book are those thinking about going on an MTB skills course or camp - these can be very expensive. I think you would get more value-for-money if your instructors don’t have to waste an hour telling you where your cranks should be in corners. I suggest you use MMBS to build on or improve your set of skills, and then use instructors to polish them.
For me, mountain biking is a social sport. When I think about mountain biking, I think about my riding buddies and adventures and epics as much as I think about the riding itself. There are few things in life as fun as chasing or being chased by a buddy through the woods, ripping turns and popping out of the singletrack with a feeling that no words and only big grins can describe. Mastering Mountain Bike Skills can help you make those grins even bigger. It costs less than a decent tire and you'll go faster on the tires you already have.Okay, you've convinced me, so where do I buy a copy?
I bought Mastering Mountain Bike Skills Second Edition directly from leelikesbikes.com. There you can see more sample pages and the index of chapters that will give you more idea of the content. As of writing it cost $23.95 + $5 shipping in the United States, $15 shipping outside the United States. MMBS is also available from barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com.
I also highly recommend Lee’s other book, Pro BMX Skills - fourcross, dual and BMX racers would get a great deal from it. I sure wish I had it when I raced BMX. The photo sequences of new-school moves (well, new to this old crackpot) through rhythm sections are incredible.
If you own MMBS, please let us know what you think of it and how (or if) it helped you. For the rest of you, if you have questions I'll try and answer them - just note that I am in a different timezone to most of you.