Category Archives: 29ers

mtb skills refresher day

MTB skills refresher day

James’ thoughts on his recent MTB skills refresher day

Following on from my previous blog about my experience of skills coaching way back in 2011, I returned to Dalby Forest a few weeks ago and joined Steve from Chasing Trails for a refresher session.

The main aim this time was to focus more on skills that would benefit me in my cross country races, so gnarly jumpy stuff wasn’t on the agenda and neither were we going to be looking at Peter Sagan style no-handed wheelies…

Flow through the trail, free speed, cornering techniques and negotiating technical features were the key areas. And although much of this was covered in detail in my original session, Steve soon noticed once we were out on the trail that I had developed a few bad habits here and there.

I tend to do a lot of road cycling for fitness and sometimes can be off the mountain bike for a good few weeks at a time, living in East Anglia also means that I rarely encounter many technical trail features on my MTB rides unless I’ve travelled at least 100 miles towards some hills. As a result, my position on the mountain bike had morphed to closely reflect that of my road bike; weight well forward over the bars and the saddle height set somewhere near my shoulder blades.

Although I somehow managed to stay on the bike through technical sections, it was probably more through luck rather than skill. So we made a few minor alterations and tried to ride the same sections again. I now had much more freedom to move around the bike and could distribute my weight more accordingly to the conditions faced on the trail. There is a compromise between manoeuvrability and being able to actually get the best power from your legs for speed, so there needs to be a trade-off between the two. It’s still frowned upon to use a dropper post in XC, but it would really give the best of both worlds and the weight of such components is dropping (no pun intended) all the time.

I was also keeping my body too rigid when I approached rocky drops or other technical features and this demonstrated perfectly when I was unable to soak up the landing from a drop-off and ended up on the floor with my legs in the air. I’d consciously gone through the motions in my mind, but failed to execute it quickly enough. A second attempt with a more relaxed body and I was able to clear the drop faster and much more comfortably.

We covered cornering until I was a dab hand negotiating the multiple twisting corners leading up to Medusa’s Drop, a twisty downhill section on the Dalby red route, and also looked at how the most ridden line of a trail may not always be the fastest. A lot of the skill involved in maintaining speed isn’t just about power, but constantly reading the trail ahead of you and thinking where you can conserve energy rather than pedalling through sections like a runaway freight train.

Much of the training needs to be stored in the memory banks and practiced frequently over the following weeks to ensure you don’t forget and can apply it to your regular riding. I found the refresher course was a lot more beneficial than I expected it to be and it instilled new confidence in my riding and gave me a chance to find the answer to questions that have floated around my head when negotiating certain obstacles.

I went away from the session and entered a local XC race at Thetford Forest. Not quite the tech-fest you’d expect to be able to put those new found skills into action, but you’d be surprised…

The course was pretty much devoid of any serious climbing apart from one large pit that we rolled in and out of and a sandy incline through some tight trees near the end of the lap. Everything else was classic Thetford singletrack; tight, twisty and lots of rolling bumps between the rows of trees. Straight away I spotted how I could use the bumps to my advantage by ‘pumping’ through them and conserve my energy for later in the race. Sighting the fastest line through corners also meant I didn’t have to brake off my speed only to pedal hard to regain it again. And reading the trail way ahead rather than directly in front meant that I was ready to select the right gear to pass another rider on a sweeping corner.

As I’m more of a long distance rider than a race whippet, I usually struggle to keep up the pace in these shorter course events and tend to finish in or around the top 10. So I was surprised to roll over the line in 5th place. I think a lot of this was down to applying the skills training during the race to maintain my speed and conserve energy rather than just thrashing legs and burning out early like I always used to.

Next up are a couple of endurance races, a 6 followed by a 12 hour. Again an opportunity to look at ways of conserving energy and making free speed by pumping the bumps and railing the berms!


Also see James’ blogspot post for more info on the race itself

1 sponsored place is still available for a female racer. If you race XC, Endurance or Enduro & your riding skill needs to improve, get in touch!

The great MTB wheel size debate

the past is the future...Which MTB wheel size? A brief summary of pros & cons…

I should say to start off that I don’t have any massively strong opinions on wheel size, but I prefer 26ers. #26aintdead and all that… main reason is they’re stiffer & stronger

So, here goes:

29er enthusiasts have long held that they roll faster. This is kinda true & importantly for MTBers, it’s only true off-road & not all the time. What they definitely don’t do is accelerate as fast as a smaller wheel, but you might be surprised to know that the smoother the surface the slower they roll compared to a smaller wheel. I know this because I’ve been on tarmac with a sticky 26er tyre, set off at the same speed as a similar weight 29er rider with a faster rubber compound tyre & still freewheeled down the hill faster. The mechanics behind this is the fact that on a smoother surface the bigger contact patch of a bigger wheel creates more drag. As the famous Mr Moulton has known for a long time, the fastest wheel on tarmac is a small one with a high pressure tyre on it. Why? Smaller contact patch = less drag. It’s also uncomfy, hence the suspension on his classic bikes

So when is a 29er faster? Once the bumps/rocks are big enough that the bigger wheel rolls over them smoothly when the smaller wheel is bouncing over them, the 29er will be quicker. When is a 26er faster? On the bits of trail where the give in the tyre is enough to keep the bike rolling straight the smaller wheel is quicker. Also, if weight is the same & wheels & tyres are the same models, a 26er is faster accelerating. This will be more noticeable if you have to overtake lots of people & if there’s lots of tight bends to accelerate out of. 29ers can also make drops feel smaller which can give a rider more confidence to go over it faster. This isn’t necessarily the bike being quicker, it may be that another rider on a 26 will be just as quick if their skill level is sorted

It’s obviously not totally straightforward and things like suspension quality play a part as well. On a route with medium size bumps a 29er will give a more noticeable advantage if the suspension on the compared 26er is poor

In my experience, over a ride different bikes are faster in some places & slower in others. In the end, if you want to prove that one size is best you have to pick a route that suits it!