Everyone has heard the saying "practice makes perfect". Famous musicians and golfers, like Wolfgang Mozart and Tiger Woods, reached the pinnacles of their profession in part by deliberate practice. Should we then be surprised to learn that most high-level mountain bike athletes started with adjacent two-wheeled sports, like motocross, BMX racing or trials, where their actions are played on repeat? The practice cycle loops over and over; starts, laps, sections. They have trained by essentially "sessioning" the same feature or one hundred meters of track countless times, so when they arrive at a familiar, but unique-looking obstacle on an unseen trail they know exactly how to apply their skills like it's second nature.
You're a product of your environment too. You can often tell a rider's background based on their strengths on the trail. From a young age, I can remember attempting all sorts of goofy maneuvers in a tiny garage, like no-handed track stands, riding backwards, and hopping around in circles while winter whistled away outside. When the snow eventually melted enough I'd take to the streets with friends and practice riding sidewalk curbs, concrete ledges, banked lawns, eagerly waiting for the trails thaw. I wouldn't even consider that mountain biking. "Urban assault", is what the cool kids used to call it. Although, it taught me balance and brake control by way of deliberate practice. Maybe that's where my hidden affection for riding skinny ladder bridges comes from.
While sessioning a few turns or a feature with mates, you can quickly learn from mistakes by observing. It's something that Sarah Moore brought up in Pinkbike Podcast #99
. Motorcycle trials is a relatively new sport to her and she was surprised to learn that during her rides, the group would spend more time on features instead of trying to get from point "A" to point "B", like how most of her mountain bike rides unfold. There she could witness the pros and cons to each line and apply them to her attempts.
Sarah also mentioned one of her goals for 2022 was to clear all the jumps on A-Line. Like a BMX track in many ways, A-Line is the perfect place to those skills. One by one, you can conquer each gap, growing your confidence with each lap.
On the other hand, there is a polar opposite side to mountain biking. Fitness, stats, thresholds - those that are chasing the carrot at the end of the stick, never wanting to stop until they're back the lights are out.
And there's always that feeling of excitement and surprise when you're riding an exciting new trail. Your senses are on high alert, like you're riding at a blistering pace, but chances are you're not reaching your full potential. No chance you're stopping, though. You're in the moment and can't wait to see what's around the next corner.
That's just the way I felt about a recent tour of Galbraith I did with Mike Kazimer, never lapping the same piece of trail - just flowing the downhills and keeping a solid pace. Normally, he'll truck right along on his route when riding solo, but loves to find something funky to session on a group ride. And so there was this one jump, which needed some scoping first. After tagging the landing on the initial go, I had to push back up to rectify my mistake. Under a sweaty helmet, buried deep under a pile of geometry charts, I dug up the memory of a jump similar in size and nature. The second go resulted in a much cleaner exit and updated my memory for that style of jump.
One of the best things about our sport is that there's no right or wrong way to ride - we aren't always bound by the race tape and a start time. We can pick the playground or choose our own adventure.
The next time you're out on a ride and you mess up a corner or case a gap jump, will you stop to analyze what went wrong and then correct the mistake? What about more than once?