In the past month or so, I’ve managed to go riding with guys 25-40 years younger than me. Yeah, that’s a bit of bragging as they’re all very good riders and I’m able to more or less keep up with them, which makes me feel younger.
But putting that ego stuff aside, it’s one of the things I really like about mountain biking as a geezer: I get to meet and participate in a recreational activity with a younger crowd that I don’t normally have much contact with.
Update October 28: I’ve added several more riders, with photos and videos. The list now includes AJ Peterson, Chris Knight, David Starrs, John Gaddo, Manny Paulino, Marty Larson, Michael Guinee, and Miguel Masberg.
In a MORC forum discussion thread this week, I commented to Lebanon Hills Dirt Boss Dave Tait about the height of the big log skinny in the intermediate out section of Leb. He had told me that when the tree originally fell, they had to lower it a bit to comply with Dakota County’s height limit of 30 inches. I used the phrase "dumbed down."
Battle Creek Dirt Boss Tom Gehring wrote:
This touched a bit of a sore point with me. I may be in the minority, but I fail to see how "lowering it" is dumbing it down. It still takes just as much skill to ride without dabing it just reduces the consequences of a fall.
Dave Tait wrote:
I agree. There was never an issue of feeling like we were dumbing down that tree ride. We peeled the bark off, prepared the ride surface to a minimum and then measured up the height. It was a little high so we put a saddle beneath it and dropped the height to our allowed limit. The end result is actually tougher than the original with bark because you slip off easier. The only resistance to lowering it was that we needed to figure out a few details and do a little extra work.
Chance Glasford, chief designer of the Eagan and Cottage Grove bike parks, wrote:
I see no issue with keeping skinnies low, the skill is in the balancing act…
A big part of any sport is managing performance anxiety. That can be danger-related or it can be stage-related.
Learning the balance beam in gymnastics can start with a harness and the beam on the ground. And then it’s doing it without the harness. And then with the beam higher. And then in front of parents or at a competition.
We all know the experience of choking, knowing that we can perform a skill when it’s practice but screw it up when it’s performance time.
Out on the trails in the Twin Cities area, there are man-made skinnies with some height if you want to try them: some wide but higher up; others narrower and higher up. They freak some people out and others love the challenge and see them as a way to try to put those skills learned in the skills park into use on the trail "For Real." The man-made skinny at Carver Lake Park is a great example of a high skinny with options: variable widths and an exit before the most difficult narrow part.
Likewise, the man-made ’61 skinny’ at Murphy-Hanrehan: wide, then very narrow, back to wide, then a dirt ramp out-option before it starts curving and gets higher.
Most intermediate riders could clean it if it was flat on the ground but its height adds the element of danger. The athletic challenge is managing one’s anxiety.
As you can see in this 30-second video, I can easily clean it but if I made a $10,000 bet on it and had to do it in front of a crowd, I’d probably choke.
The stockade skinny at Hillside (the ‘Browner’, named after the first—and thus far, only person to have cleaned, Ray Brown; video here) is the most challenging skinny in the metro area and possibly the entire state. It’s all or nothing. As designer/dirt boss Rich Omdahl wrote:
The Browner is in its own class of evil. I’ve never even made it half way across it. I designed that thing to have 8 layers of difficulty. The first one you contend with is that I built it at the top of a climb on an uphill slope with an off camber entry. Then it gets harder.
Most local expert riders could probably clean the Browner if was a foot off the ground but the danger of not making it at its current height is a big psychological barrier for most of us. Danny MacAskill and Ryan Leech would be bored with it, but they have their psychological barriers, too.
Somewhat related: A friend of mine remarked recently that he thought the arguments to legalize exploding fireworks (eg, firecrackers, cherry bombs, etc) were off-base. "Why not just enjoy the explosions that are set off by the professionals?" he asked. I said to him: "Because a big part of the fun is in managing the danger."
They started the clinic by asking everyone to state what they hoped to gain from it. I said that I wanted a refresher on the basics. I didn’t really expect to learn anything new.
But I did.
1. The day after the clinic I rode the intermediate loop at Elm Creek. It was much more fun (I could go a lot faster) due to my more consistent use of A) the attack position; and B) proper cornering technique, especially looking ahead in the turn while rotating my hips. I’d gotten lazy and developed bad habits without realizing it. Watching Chance demonstrate this several ways and then doing those drills at the clinic on a flat grassy field immediately carried over to my riding.
2. The individual coaching I got from Jed on doing a bunny hop resolved a dilemma that I blogged about recently: Why am I able to able to ride over a big rock (lifting the front wheel with a manual, then unweighting) yet I’m not able to bunny hop over a small object like a pop can?
My interpretation of Jed’s answer: when my unweighted rear wheel strikes the rock (or if I hit it with my chain ring bash guard), the impact forces the front wheel down. My unweighting still gets me over it.
But since one purpose of a bunny hop is to clear an object without touching it, I need to push the front wheel down with the handlebars after the peak of the manual, while simultaneously unweighting or even ‘scooping’ the rear wheel. That pushing motion is important. Jed demoed it several times (alas, no photo) and it’s imprinted in my brain. Now I’ve got to go out and do it.
Those two items alone were worth the cost of the clinic for me.
It was great to see the strong turnout for the clinic (19 paid registrations, maximum 20). I hope MORC keeps offering these, maybe offering short clinics devoted to a single skill/technique, eg, a two-hour clinic on jumping table tops, a two-hour clinic on pumping, etc.