Tag Archives: Dave Tait

The height of a skinny: managing the danger is part of the fun

Leb skinny intermediate outIn 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.

I see skinnies this way. The variety of skinnies in Leb’s skills park is perfect, IMHO: some are smooth, straight and low. Others are crooked and bumpy and a bit higher off the ground. Likewise,  the skinnies at Ray’s Indoor Bike Park. Both parks offer lots of progression options.

Carver raised bridge skinnyOut 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.

61 skinny Murphy-HanrehanLikewise, 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.

Stockade skinny HillsideThe 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."

See all my blog posts tagged with the word ‘skinnies.’

Sessioning: my favorite way to practice mountain bike skills and more fun in a group

The first time I noticed the words ‘session’ and ‘sessioning’ was in the All Mountain Mondays at Leb message thread in the MORC forum a couple weeks ago.

AJ Peterson wrote:

Just wondering what makes this ride “All Mountain” vs any other ride at Leb? Do you guys stop and session jumps etc?

Dave Tait wrote:

Well, for me, the difference from the “Leb Mafia” group I normally ride with is it’s less of a pace driven ride and a more “hit stuff” attitude toward all the options and jump opportunities. It means hitting a log ride doesn’t require beating a$$ to catch back up and sessioning stuff is an option. Turns out, it’s pretty much the type of ride I do when I ride solo. The pace is still pretty quick but not borderline XC race pace.

Zach Monack wrote:

Doesn’t matter how much travel your bike has, its more how you want to ride it. The pace and style of the ride changes depending on who shows up and what everyone in is in the mood for. Sometimes we’ll stop and session, other times we might just keep rolling. One thing is for sure though, no one is racing to the top of any of the climbs!

I had an idea what they meant but I found a long description by someone named ‘Robb’ posted to Bike198 titled How To Become A Better Mountain Biker; Part 2 – Sessioning: The MTB Art of “Practice Makes Perfect”. Here‘s an excerpt:

sessioning… picking out a small section of trail and doing it over and over again until you get it right. As the saying goes, “practice makes perfect” and how are you going to become a better rider if you don’t practice? No one expects you to be perfect the first time out, so take your time and get it right. The more you do this kind of “redo”, the better rider you will become. Sessioning is the art of practicing and developing your skills in areas that you are not as proficient in. It is simple as that. These skills that you pick up through practicing hard sections of trail carry on into every aspect of riding. This is…by far…the #1 tip that has improved my riding ability and skills. Nothing else I have done has jump started my ability to become a better rider than sessioning.

Clay Haglund at Hillside Park in Elk River Griff Wigley, Clay Haglund Ken Barker at Lebanon Hills

I did sessioning twice in the past week, first with Clay Haglund of MAMB a week ago Saturday at Hillside Park in Elk River and then last Thursday with Ken Barker of LAMBA at Lebanon Hills in Eagan.

Like Dave Tait, I do this often when I ride solo. But like I did over the years practicing my mototrials skills with fellow members of the UMTA, it’s so much more fun to do it with someone else or a group.  And in one of the mototrials schools I attended at the Trials Training Center, the advice was to keep at it until you could clean it three times in a row, as consistency is a pretty good indicator of an acquired skill. Nailing something once might be just dumb luck.

I’ve not yet done the All Mountain Mondays at Leb but I’ll report back when I do, hopefully with better photos than my sessioning with Clay and Ken.

Video update: do the big rocks at Lebanon Hills require a full bunny hop?

Last week I blogged about how to get up and over the bridge rock at Lebanon Hills. In a comment thread on Facebook about the video, Dan Haglund noted that my chain ring bashguard made contact with the rock. I wrote:

I think this was because I placed the front wheel a little too high on the rock, almost clearing the front edge. I think it’s best if it bounces off the rock a bit about 3/4 of the way up because when the compressed forks rebound, the steeper angle of the bike gives you more clearance for the bottom bracket.

I poked around and found this old video called Going Up Obstacles (Getting up objects) featuring Hans Rey and pals in which they show how to avoid having the chain ring bash the rock. It’s a trials video but it has application here. I can see that I need to learn how to use my leg/foot to lift the rear wheel with that scooping motion. At the 2:20 mark:

Before your chain ring or your back wheel hits the object, you have to throw your weight forward a certain way over the handle bar and at the same time you lift with your feet pushing down, back and up and unweight the back wheel enough to lift it behind you and onto the object. An advanced technique you can learn to hop up high objects is to ram the front wheel into the top of the object. The wheel bounces upward, giving you added lift.

MORC member Clay Haglund reported on his attempt and Dave Tait’s method:

I manualed into it and as soon as my front tire hit the top of the rock, my bash ring "BASHED" hard into the face of the rock. Dave Tait showed me how the pro’s do it. He pedaled in with some good speed and within the last six inches of the wood bridge, he pulled off a bunny hop that cleared that two and a half foot gap and had his BACK tire landing on top of the rock…. AMAZING! His bike has got to be pushing 40# too as it’s heavier than mine which is 35#.

After holding my bike in position on that rock, I definitely think the 29" wheels are a big help with conquering this without a clean bunnyhop. With my front tire on top of the rock, my back tire was right at the base and bash guard was in contact with the face. I think I’d have better luck coming up slow and trying to trials hop it.

I told Clay that I thought the bashing could be avoided without having to do the full rear wheel leg/foot lift of a bunny hop, just unweighting so last night I went back to Lebanon Hills to see.

I started by attempting a more extreme angle to the Leb skills park rock that I’d mentioned in my earlier blog post as a good training rock. Ray Brown took the video:

 Leb rock1 Leb rock2 Leb rock3
I got over it clean but as you’ll hear in this video, not without bashing:

So I wasn’t confident that I could do it on the bridge rock without bashing. Here’s my attempt, first at normal speed, then a slo-mo version, then stop motion:

As you can see in the final frame, I was able to clear the rock without my bash ring making contact. Front wheel placement didn’t seem to be a big issue as I originally thought.

But you can also see that the rear wheel does make significant contact with the rock. I’m able to absorb it without too much bounce back but ideally, a well-executed bunny hop with full rear wheel leg/foot lift would be best. I need a lesson from Dave Tait.

07/13 update:

Last night I reread Chapter 6, Wheelie and Hop Over Anything in the book Mastering Mountain Bike Skills by Brian Lopes and Lee McCormack.  Some quotes:

… push explosively into your pedals and propel your body forward. After you push, lighten your feet to allow the pedals to come up.

… At the moment your weight presses into rear wheel, press explosively down into the pedals and spring upward. If you get light on your pedals… the rear wheel will levitate.

… The harder you push your pedals down, the harder the earth returns the force, and the higher you go. It’s just like hopping on your feet.

He uses the label "lift your rear wheel" in several places but nowhere does he define this as a scooping motion where your foot/leg actually lifts the wheel like Hans Rey described in the video I cited.

Most of the how-to-bunny-hop videos that I’ve pinned to my Pinterest board on the subject recommend the scooping/lifting motion.

bunny hop pushing down

But look at the one titled Bunnyhop for Beginners which has no narrative, with text captions that appear to be in Japanese and/or Chinese.  The slow motion sequences, especially the practice exercises starting at the 37-second mark (screen capture above), seem to show what Lee McCormack recommends: an explosive pushing down into the pedals and not a scooping/deliberate lifting up of the rear wheel. My inclination is to learn the pushing down technique first.

Preview photos and video of the Lebanon Hills skills park, opening Friday, Aug. 10, 3 pm

The entire Lebanon Hills MTB Park will be closed most of the day on Friday August 10 until 3 PM as the Leb Dirt Bosses and Dakota County Parks staff prep for the opening of the new trailhead and skills/terrain park.  The current parking lot will be closed and the new one (paved) opened for the first time. Access to all the trails at Leb will then be behind the new trailhead building.

South/adjacent to the trailhead building is the new skills/terrain park.  I got a chance to pre-ride it a bit on Monday with the guy who constructed it, Tim Wegner, owner of Trail Source.  (Last fall, I blogged about Tim and his contributions to mountain biking, as did Chance Glasford in his blog.) Dave Tait, one of the Leb Dirt Bosses, joined us for the photo/video shoot.

Dave Tait, Lebanon Hills MTB skills park DSC02373 copy Dave Tait, Lebanon Hills MTB skills park DSC02381 copy Tim Wegner, Lebanon Hills MTB skills park
Above: Dave and Tim riding some of the separate beginner and intermediate level skinnies, rock sections, and logs.

 

Tim Wegner, Lebanon Hills MTB skills park Dave Tait, Lebanon Hills MTB skills park Griff Wigley, Lebanon Hills MTB skills park
All of the advanced rock sections have multiple lines. The series of photos above shows Tim (left) riding an intermediate line down the one side of the rock pile, Dave (center) riding an advanced line down the middle of the same pile, and me (right) riding up the pile.

 

Dave Tait, Lebanon Hills MTB skills park Dave Tait, Lebanon Hills MTB skills park Dave Tait, Lebanon Hills MTB skills park
Riding down these three rocks (above) is challenging because of the gaps between them. Weight back, wheelie, unweight, repeat. Dave made it look easy. Ride up the rocks for a bit less of a challenge.

 

Griff Wigley, Lebanon Hills MTB skills park Griff Wigley, Lebanon Hills MTB skills park Griff Wigley, Lebanon Hills MTB skills park
The same rocks (above) can be criss-crossed in a variety of ways, intermediate-to-advanced. I predict they’ll be popular with intermediate level riders looking to advance their skills as the rocks 1) have round edges and 2) are surrounded by strategically-placed wood chips to soften the, um, unplanned landings.

 

Dave Tait, Lebanon Hills MTB skills park Dave Tait, Lebanon Hills MTB skills park Dave Tait, Lebanon Hills MTB skills park
This rock section (above) is considerably more difficult when ridden this direction because of the slight downward approach to the extremely narrow skinny of rocks in the middle. Dave was able to clean it a couple of times. The video (see below) of him riding it the other direction (easier) also shows the right-turn, then left-turn narrow wooden skinny approaching the rocks section.

 

Griff Wigley, Lebanon Hills MTB skills park Griff Wigley, Lebanon Hills MTB skills park Griff Wigley, Lebanon Hills MTB skills park Griff Wigley, crashing at Lebanon Hills MTB skills park
Two other tough obstacles: 1) the skinny made of uneven upright logs (left photo above) has a couple of slight bends in it; and 2) the large round bolder in the middle of the field can be tackled from all directions, not all of them successfully (right photo) I discovered.

 

Tim Wegner, Lebanon Hills MTB skills park Tim Wegner, Lebanon Hills MTB skills park
There are two connected bermed turns in the NW corner of the park. Beginners can take them slow but there’s room to get a good run at them if you want to go fast.

Tim Wegner, Lebanon Hills MTB skills park Tim Wegner, Lebanon Hills MTB skills park
The south end of the park has three lines of rollers and jumps. Tim shows that you can have fun just riding down the them  at various speeds; riders can pump and manual over them, too, of course.  The back two runs end with two large berms.

Dave Tait, Lebanon Hills MTB skills park DSC02493 DSC02494 DSC02495

DSC02497 DSC02500 DSC02501 DSC02502
Dave shows (photos above in the 50-second video below) that you have fun jumping there, too.

 

See a large slideshow of all the above photos.

Progress on the skinnies, Part 2

IMG_20110828_155536 DSC07874 DSC07875
In my Progress on the skinnies blog post from last November, I reported that I’d been able to clean the sloped narrow log (left photo from last year) that’s about a third of the way on the intermediate loop at Lebanon Hills.

But I hadn’t been able to get up the larger log that’s towards the end of the intermediate trail (center and right photos) just after the pond. It’s higher, steeper, and curved in a couple of places. When I got to this log yesterday, Dave Tait, one of the MORC dirt bosses, was working on another log (the log is in the background, right photo) with his chainsaw, as he’s got a plan for connecting the two.

Dave had already shaved the a few feet of the lower portion of the log (I didn’t take a photo) since the log is round and small at that point, making it hard to stay on it.  Even  with that modification, I wasn’t able to get very far. After watching several of my failed attempts, Dave put on his coaching hat.

He suggested 1) that I select a taller gear than my lowest granny gear, as a little more speed can help; and 2) that I pick three different points to focus my eyes as I progressed up the log, as the tendency is do it just once at the start and then revert to looking right in front of one’s front wheel. Voila! My next attempt I got past the tree at the 3/4 point.  And a couple of attempts later, I cleaned it. Thank you, coach Tate!

Photo by Ryan LieskeI’ve been reluctant to attempt the high man-made skinny at Murphy-Hanrehan. While I’m confident riding skinnies at the widths it uses, I know that a momentary lapse is possible and I could easily crash. Since it’s about 4 -feet high at its peak and surrounded by small trees, I couldn’t picture how to crash in a way that would minimize injury.

I found a 2010 message thread in the MORC forums titled How to ride a skinny raised platform/bridge in which someone named guest_s wrote:

If a skinny is any higher than 1 foot or so off the ground, don’t try it if you can’t bunny hop or wheelie drop. Learn those two things first so when you do feel you will slip or fall off the side, just bunnyhop or wheelie drop and ride away. If you can’t do this, you will endo (go over the bars) if your front wheel comes off…..and endoing is about the most unsafe thing to do.

I’ve got homework to do.