I just spent the last 3 days working with my friend and colleague Gene Hamilton or Better Ride (www.betterride.net) to become a certified Better Ride skills coach. I took a camp with Gene a few years ago and it made a huge impact on not only my riding but how I look at creating training programs to enhance technical skills. When he sent out an email telling his former students he was offering a chance to become a coach for him I jumped on it.

Besides learning how to teach basic and advanced skills I also learned some great things about bike set up. Here are the top 4 things that Gene says will instantly help improve anyone’s ride (yes, even an XC rider):

1) Shorter Stemlong stems (90+ mm stems) are a left over from road bikes and beach cruisers. A shorter stem will actually give you more control and help you stay in a more balanced position. In fact, Gene feels so strongly about it that he offers his students a “buy back” guarantee – if one of them buys a shorter stem and doesn’t love it he’ll buy it back from them. To date no one has took him up on the offer.

2) Wider Handle Bars – Gene recommends a 27-30 inch bar. Wider bars give you better leverage for steering and standing pedaling. Wider bars also help you keep your elbows out which aid in breathing and steering. While some of it depends on your body size, wider bars equal better control.

3) Droppable Seatpost – Getting your seatpost down will help you get into a better position when descending and let you make better use of your legs to help absorb shock. I personally have a friend who refused to lower his seatpost on descents – two broken wrists later (thanks to getting launched over his handlebars) he is the proud owner of a droppable seatpost.

4) Wider Tires – Wider tires offer a bigger contact patch. This gives you more traction which equals more control. Plus, Schwalbe tires have produced a study that shows that wider tires actually roll faster (given the same tread pattern). Aggressive tread patterns offer more control and confidence so if those are important to you then avoid semi-slicks.

Gene also said to be wary of bike fitters. He feels that they are good for helping you find a good seat height and position but overall they do not understand how fit effects control. They often suggest a longer stem which compromises control and balance.

Check out www.betterride.net for more info on his camps and if any of you are heading to the Grand Junction area this summer and want to set up a private lesson with myself or get in on a clinic I’m teaching let me know, I’d be happy to help you learn more about how to gain more control and have more fun.

-James Wilson-

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