Contrary to the onslaught of bike industry advertising, the most surefire way to mountain bike faster, more safely, and with maximal enjoyment is to upgrade your skills, not your bike. Books, articles, and ads targeting cross country mountain bikers and off-road triathletes that emphasize aerobic conditioning, nutrition, strength training, gadgets and equipment over actual mountain biking skills are putting the cart before the horse.As a kid hitting the trails, and later as a weekend warrior and amateur racer, I viewed mountain biking as an escape and an adrenaline rush, not an art to hone over time. It only takes one Danny Macaskill video or World Cup Downhill run, however, to see just how far skill can take you on a mountain bike.
In my first few races as a professional off-road triathlete, I lost big chunks of time to some great technical riders on long mountainous descents and gnarly trail segments with names like “blood rock” and “the gauntlet.” More importantly, it became clear that improving my skills would make high speed passes through such segments less risky and far more pleasant.
Fortuitously, a friend in Richmond recommended I look into Ride Kore skills instruction. Rike Kore is run by two local Richmond rippers, Ryan Thompson and David Kern. Ryan and David are both IMBA-certified mountain bike instructors with exceptional skill across the full spectrum of mountain biking disciplines. More importantly, they are expert teachers and passionate about giving back to the Richmond cycling community and cultivating the next generation of cyclists.
Their coaching atmosphere is very approachable, relaxed, and personalized. Under their watchful eyes, I enhanced at my own pace with iterations of progressive and purposeful practice, book ended with demonstration and technical feedback.
For my first session, we started out with the essentials of balance, vision, and control. We worked through all of the elements of “steady state” riding on tame segments of trail, the “attack position” for when things get hairy, and fore/aft and side-to-side body position adjustments to maintain center of gravity over the bottom bracket on all types of terrain.
After progressing through all the fine details—balance, vision, and control for riding in relatively straight lines—we turned to the dark art of changing directions, better know as cornering.
Most cross country races feature dozens if not hundreds of corners and each in turn offers the opportunity to save a few seconds if navigated optimally or to lose several more seconds if ridden with less skill. Add it all up and cornering skill can save or cost several minutes in over the race. The kicker is you don’t have to put yourself in the hurt locker doing threshold intervals to improve cornering technique; practice is low-key and enjoyable.
On my follow-up session, we built on the more fundamental skills of balance, vision, and control to focus on proper timing and execution of wheel lifts and flowing on technical terrain. Once again, I was presented with a very well thought out and progressive series of drills and segments to practice under two pairs of watchful eyes with insightful feedback. I came away from my work with Dave and Ryan with a season’s worth of homework to practice and elated with a newfound sense of potential and possibility on my bike.
I highly recommend them to everyone I don’t have to race against.