Wednesday, July 18, 2012

US National MTB Championships Camps by Power On!

I can't tell you how excited I am that MTB Nats are finally coming back to the Right Coast.   It has been a long time since the East hosted Nats and an even longer time since pro XC racing visited PA.  I remember watching Kris (my wife) race the NORBA Championship races at Seven Springs more than a decade ago and that was the last time PA played host to the top level national XC series.  Better yet, this time around it is the US National Championships and the race is coming to Pennsylvania to a course that exemplifies the technicality and challenge of Pennsylvania mountain biking.

Bear Creek Ski Resort in Macungie, PA is hosting the championships in 2013 and 2014 at their beautiful facility not far from Allentown and Philadelphia.  The resort is top notch and they've been running Mid-Atlantic Series Championship events as well as regional USAC series races for years so they are well practiced and will be pulling together a great show.

A few months ago I received a call from Bear Creek's Events Director Gary Kline asking Power On to put together some camps and training plans for the Championships.  We are very excited that Power On is the official coaching organization for the Bear Creek Nationals!

As such we are working on a series of camps and clinics along with some Nationals focused training plans we will roll out in the fall.

Mid-October will bring the camps to life and a series of spring, summer and fall camps at the Bear Creek resort and on the Nationals' courses will offer those racers focused on the best possible Nationals preparation a chance to learn the courses and the training methods to take them to their maximal potential on race day!

US National Mountain Bike Championship Camps at Bear Creek (exact dates will be posted soon!):


Mid to Late March
Late June

Mid to Late March
Late June

Each camp will have a slightly different focus depending upon the time of year though all will include a healthy dose of course preview riding!

Addtionally, professional riders with a wealth of experience on the Bear Creek course will be joining us for these camps as will specialists in other aspects of proper prepation - diet, mental training, massage therapy, cross training and more depending upon the camp.  Camp participants will learn from some of the best coaches and ride with some of Bear Creek's most successful racers over the course the weekends.

Lodging is available through Bear Creek and we strongly recommend staying on site as it will make your experience that much more enjoyable!  However, Bear Creek is a very popular place and we do recommend that you book your rooms early.

Camp registration will be on BikeReg - links coming soon.

Camps will be 2-3 days long depending upon the time of year.

Check out Power On's other camps including February's South Carolina Base Training camp and April's Mountain Bike Camp on the Trans-Sylvania Epic Trails!  Of course, the TSEpic is fantastic training for nationals too and there may be no better way to prepare for the technical rocky nature of Bear Creek's course than a week long dose of PA riding at the Trans-Sylvania Epic!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Bike Handling Skills

Dirt. That’s what I eat as Pro Triathlete and Xterra racer Gered Dunne escorts me on my first mountain bike ride near White River Junction, VT. Sporting a top end Giant Mountain bike and a pair of bike gloves, I think to myself that ‘I’ll figure this out—whatever “it” is.’ Adjusting my shocks and seat height, Dunne promises to buy me lunch after we finish. Needless to say, lunch wasn’t necessary: the dirt filled me up.

Riding on fat tires though the woods is like screaming through a mogul field, switching back and down a double black diamond with increasing speed. Riding up over rocks, carving down packed trails, and angling the handlebars through trees to avoid “The Handlebar Straddle”—accompanied  by that unpleasant jolt where the bike stops and the rider continues head first into the dirt—requires concentration, agility, and technical perfection. Unlike road time-trialing where there may be room for a loose corner, a tree branch bludgers your face when you don’t hit the correct line on a mountain trail. It didn’t take long to get use to the woods: exhilaration replaced my fear of the trail as I maneuvered through a series of obstacles without losing momentum. After only one ride, mountain biking has became a sport I want to pursue in the future.

With that said, my brief trail experience translates directly to my road riding and time trialing. The technical nature of mountain biking highlighted the level of my bike handling skills. It isolated places where I might improve—speed control, maintaining momentum, and cornering—to become a faster road rider. Of course, not everyone has the opportunity to ride a mountain bike to highlight areas of improvement, but we can all practice technique on our road bikes. The more comfortable you feel on your bike, the more you can concentrate on your race approach, and the faster you will ride. Could practicing these skills help you become a faster rider?     

Ideas and Skills for Road Riders/Triathletes to Consider-

Riding in a Straight Line: Riding in a straight line is the first skill riders must master. Riders do this by pushing down on the crank to get up to speed—the faster one rides in a straight line, the more stable the bike is—while simultaneously keeping the front wheel straight through a firm, but comfortable grip on the handlebars. As the rider keeps his/her elbows in an athletic flex, his/her upper body remains relaxed and only a little weight is placed on the handle bars. The body naturally follows the head and eyes. The rider wishing to ride in a straight line looks straight ahead about 20-30 meters, and the bike follows suit.

Braking and Speed Control: Effective braking takes both brakes into account. The front brake has significantly more braking power than the back brake; however, the rider has significantly less control over the steering column—the bike naturally straightens out—when he/she engages the front brake. Technically skilled cyclists employ the back brake first, fluttering the front brake when they wish to slow more quickly. The fastest cyclists are not afraid to use their brakes but they use them to effectively control their speed rather than braking to stop. These cyclists primarily control their speed using the back brake. They avoid sudden stops whenever possible, especially while riding in a group.   

Emergency Stopping and Body Position while Braking: There are times when riders must stop quickly, using both brakes. Body position becomes imperative when these situations arise. While leveling the crank so that it parallels the ground, the rider shifts his/her weight towards the back of the saddle. The rider’s hands maintain a firm grip on the bars with his/her fingers placing pressure on the brakes. The rider’s elbows remain flexed but not locked, allowing them to absorb any shock from the road. A skidding rear wheel indicates that the rider’s weight is coming forward. To prevent this uncomfortable situation, the rider flutters the front brakek while pushing his/her weight back to stabilize the bike.  

Cornering: The next few skills are more advanced and almost every cyclist can benefit practicing them. Like carving on alpine skis, cornering depends on body position and timing. As an elite cyclist approaches a corner, his/her arms are relaxed, his/her fingers are touching the brake leavers, and he/she slows to a speed in which it is safe to corner. The cyclist begins the turn as wide as possible and focuses his/her eyes on the place he/she wishes to go. Just before the cyclist reaches the corner, he/she begins to lean the bike towards the corner’s apex while keeping his/her body straight up and down. The rider stops peddling while straightening his/her outside leg and inside arm. He/she may wish to place pressure on this leg and arm. This is called counter steering. The inside leg and outside arm relax. The rider does his/her best to reduce speed before the corner as not to hit the brakes through corner. Braking through a corner jeopardizes a rider’s steering ability and impedes his/her ability to carry momentum through the turn. After riding past the apex, the rider resumes peddling and accelerates out of the turn. Note: cornering uphill may require the rider to increase speed before cornering.

Descending: Fast descenders ride in the most aerodynamic position possible. They do this by laying down on the aero bars or putting their hands on the drop bars. They note the wind resistance hitting their body and attempt to limit this opposing force by crouching forward on their bike and limiting the surface area of the front of their body. When these riders approach a corner, they often use wind resistance to slow to the desired speed. They may switch their hand position, allowing for optimal steering/braking. They follow the cornering technique discussed above. When descenders feel less comfortable, they situate their hands on the hoods, stand with flexed knees on the peddles, shift their weight back, place their chest low and level to the top tube, and push the bike in front of them slightly. These modifications ensure optimal steering/braking control while increasing stability and shock absorption.        

Climbing: Great climbers get comfortable ASAP. On steep climbs, seated riders shift their body weight forward to keep the front wheel on the ground. Perched on their seat with little weight on their handlebars, they tighten their core and hover over their bars. The potential energy, created as the upper body hangs over the legs, turns kinetic as these athletes employ it to turn their legs. These riders look for a smooth peddle stroke and do their best to maintain a constant effort. They often concentrate on relaxing their throat and breathing deeply during a tough climb.  
Technique out of the saddle tends to be more personal. Many riders keep their upper body stable while shifting the bike from side to side. It’s natural to lift perceived effort while out of the saddle. For long climbs, it may be best to maintain the effort felt when seated depending on the distance left to the finish line.

Momentum: Remember that time-trialing is about speed. If you find yourself pushing an enormous amount of power and only increasing your speed by .2 mph, it may be advantageous to back off and save your energy. Look to maintain and increase momentum wherever possible. Putting a little power at the right time—over the crest of a hill or on a false flat—may help save energy over the duration of a race. If you are riding with a group, however; it may be best to stick with them. Groups usually ride faster than individual riders.

I hope this overview helps you become a more comfortable, faster rider. Please make sure that your bike is well tuned (brakes!!!) and that your bike fits properly before you practice these techniques. Don’t forget to practice in a safe place!

If you’re a beginner/intermediate rider who wants to become a more comfortable, faster rider and needs some individual attention, give me a call.

Jon Fecik
USAT Coach
Mt. Bike fall: Google "Utah Travel Photos"
Cornering: Google "Perfect Cornering" Photo