How to get more out of every ride.

A trick to getting the most out of the time you have is to multi-task. We do it at work and home all the time but few riders realize that you can multi-task on the trail. By following a few simple tips you can get more fitness and skills work out of every ride.

I know that some riders will wonder why you would want to be so serious and try to turn everything into a training ride, yet I wonder why you wouldn’t want to improve and see what the trail reveals to you when you have achieved the next level of skills and fitness. You think you’re having fun now but you don’t even realize what kind of fun you’re missing out on because you don’t have the skills and fitness to “see” it.

Here is a quick story to illustrate this point – a few days back I saw a cool opportunity to use a flat rock as a lip in order to gap a 6 foot section of trail and use the backside of another rock as a landing. I’ve ridden that trail dozens of times and never realized that was there because I was never going fast enough for my brain to realize I could make the gap. My skills and fitness were not at a level that let me “see” the move that was now readily apparent to me. A super fun trail just got a bit more fun because the trail revealed something new to me thanks to my increased skills and fitness.

Obviously you may not be looking for sections of trail to jump over but the same thing will happen on climbs and descents. You’ll suddenly start to see the trail differently because your increased skills and fitness will make you see it through different eyes.

And far from sucking the fun out of a ride (I don’t monitor heart rate or go out with as pre-set number of miles I have to cover) the tips I am about to share with you will keep you more engaged on the trail. These tips are about how to turn any ride into the type of deliberate practice you need to really improve. They help you make small incremental improvements every ride which, over time, will help you take your riding to levels few get to.

Here are my Top 3 Tips for Getting More Out of Every Ride:

1. Stand and attack as much as possible. No one has ever told me that they feel strong on hard, standing pedaling efforts but they feel like they are going to blow up when sitting down and spinning the flats. If you want to use your regular rides as training rides the best thing you can do is face your weakness and force yourself to stand more so you can get strong and comfortable in that position. Once you do this then you will be able to stand up at will and lay down extra power.

2. Practice your skills. First, you need to know what you are working on but once you have done some research or taken a clinic you should be practicing something every ride. Whether it is body position, vision, cornering or some other skill, be conscious of what you want to do, what you did do and what you need to correct. This will turn a regular ride into the type of deliberate practice needed to really improve.

3. Ride like you’re doing intervals. There is no award for having the most constant pace so hammer the trail hard in some areas and spin and recover in others. It is too easy to get into the habit of going just hard enough to make it through a trail section instead of going as hard as you can. As you work on pushing yourself harder you’ll find that you can push longer and your average effort will go up as well – what used to seem like a hard pace won’t feel as hard.

One of my favorite things to do is go on a 30-60 minute ride with my seat post set halfway down (that way it sucks to sit so I want to stand) and hammer out the trail as hard as I can that day. I try to stand and attack as much as possible, sitting only when I need to in order to recover for my next hard effort. I also go out with a specific skill I am going to practice. Lately I have been working on leaning my bike and not my body in corners and it has been helping a lot.

These rides have helped me improve a lot as a rider over the last few years. Yet, when I’m out on the trail I rarely see riders doing the same thing. There is little thought put into what they are doing and how they might be using that ride to improve. Instead they are usually on autopilot, riding the same trail in the same way as they have for the last several years.

Hope fully these tips can help you turn more rides into opportunities to grow and improve. Having more fun on the trail is what it is all about and by being more engaged and working on improving your skills and fitness when riding you’ll give yourself more chances to do just that.

-James Wilson-

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  1. Alan says:

    Great points James. On my slicked MTB commutes (aka training rides 🙂 ) I can certainly attest to what you’re saying. I do a lot of out of the saddle riding, even on the flats, and mix up the cadences – plus some intervals thrown in for good measure. I used to think staying in the saddle with constant cadence and power was most efficient but I plateaued. I started doing my homework and integrated off-the-bike strength and conditioning into my training.

    Since integrating such training I’m able to get out of the saddle with much higher muscular power and endurance. The “body only knows what it knows.” Mixing things up in training helps the body learn, adapt and progress, so when I hit the trail I don’t have a WTH moment. You got to leave the familiar and get uncomfortable. My XC trail riding is now a different world for the better! I too “see” things from another perspective now.

    Reply • May 5 at 10:44 am
  2. Randy says:

    Hey this is the second time I have heard you mention leaning the bike not your body of turns. I have only been at this for a year but the guys I ride with have told me to try to keep the bike as upright as possible and lean my body into the turn. I have trouble getting too wide on switchbacks and quick turns. Can you clarify what exactly you do? Thanks!

    Reply • May 5 at 12:57 pm
    • bikejames says:

      @ Randy – When you are going slow, like in a switchback, you do want to turn your handlebars more and not lean the bike as much. However, you still want to steer with the hips.

      When going at normal speeds and faster you want to lean the bike over and steer with your hips. Staying balanced over the bottom bracket is the key and you can’t do that if you lean over and try to keep the bike upright. I’ve spoken to at least 6 different skills coaches and they all say “lean the bike, not your body”.

      Lastly, I second the recommendation to invest in your skills. Gene’s camps are top notch (I’ve done one and learned a ton) and you will be shocked at how little you really know about riding your bike. Lee McCormack’s book Mastering Mountain Bike Skills does a great job of breaking down different skills and drills and the website has some great video demos, giving you a place to start if you don’t have a good skills camp near you.

      Reply • May 8 at 8:20 am
  3. Ned says:

    This is definitely something I need to do more. It’s hard to go all out coaching kids but I always try to rally when I ride on my own. Randy leaning the bike is the way to go. The best way to improve you riding is to take one Gene Hamilton’s Better Ride camps. I’ve been racing DH for 7 years and learned SOOOOO much in his camp this spring. They’re a bit spendy but 100% worth every penny. Take his camp, do your drills, and CRUSH your buddies!

    Reply • May 5 at 8:27 pm
  4. Rob says:

    Been there done that! And it all workers great.

    The seat thing down works great. I do that with my dmr sidekick hardtail every ohter week. It works the poop out of me and makes me smoother for when I ride my FS.

    The interval thing is great for me as time is difficult, especially with two young kids at home (4 and 2).

    Jamies you have redefined my riding style and training and made riding a bike for me alot more enjoyable. THANKS!!!!!!


    Reply • May 6 at 6:17 am
  5. tony marker says:

    Thanks for the training tips over the last 4 months, it has given me more strength over all my favorate trails.I have been training for the Anoconda red center mountain bike race. Unfortunatly i came of the bike last weekend and snaped my ACL in my knee thanks to the strength training and a great pysiotherapist i am still riding monday in the event. Not in it to win it but to finish strong and have fun

    Reply • May 6 at 4:10 pm
  6. Karmen says:

    Ned is totally right – go to one of Gene’s camps and you will get what it means to lean the bike and keep yourself neutral. It’s all about keeping your weight centered over the bottom bracket so you maintain control and maximum traction. As far as the price goes, I thought the price was great for what I got out of the camp! Check it our

    Reply • May 7 at 6:58 pm
  7. decimate says:

    ive been riding single speed bike for 2 years now. its made me a stronger rider, i cant get enough.

    Reply • May 9 at 5:47 pm
  8. Randy says:

    So is it like cornering on my Harley? I push the handlebar into the turn and the bike leans.

    Reply • May 12 at 10:16 pm
    • bikejames says:

      @ Randy – similar concept but you have to use your hips more when turning a bike.

      Reply • May 15 at 8:39 am
  9. si says:

    Randy, here’s a video I recently watched which helped a lot: (cornering is 11:20min in)
    Another video with lots of good info:

    James’ tip about using your hips is a great one; I’ve been practising that and leaning the bike, and definitely noticed improvement, still a long way to go though 🙂 I’ve been on flats for a while and struggle with keeping my feet on the pedals, especially on jump landings. No doubt it’s my past reliance on being clipped in and the need to set myself up better (pre-load and reeeeelax:)

    Here’s a great photo of why I always ride flats now: (ouch!)

    Reply • March 27 at 6:24 pm
  10. Alan Shelton says:

    James, great tips as always. What advice do you have to train for endurance mountain bike events like the Barn Burner 104? My goal is to earn a “Big Buckle” with a sub 9 hour time for the 104 miles. I have never ridden that many miles in one day so I have a long way to go.

    Reply • March 11 at 12:51 pm

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