By Jim McIlvain
of Stephen Ettinger, Todd Wells or Jeff
Sanders (one of my riding buddies). So,
what’s the point of suffering?
This is not to say I don’t want to
continually improve my riding skills
and ability. Every time I get in the
saddle and spin the cranks, I try to
apply skill and technique tips that
Mountain Bike Action has passed along.
Call it practicing what we preach.
It wasn’t until downloading footage
from my GoPro, however, that I
realized I was overlooking a really great
skills coach. I call it my one-eyed coach,
and here are just a few ways you can
learn from this fisheye trail vision.
Ask a world champion or local hero
what one skill he feels he needs to
work on and he will most likely reply,
MY NEW ONE-EYED COACH
Hollywood movie producers
can reach me at
If staying in some type of decent
shape is a fringe benefit of mountain
biking, that’s fine. Still, I refuse to
train for mountain biking. That turns
something I love into work. Even when
I rode the Leadville 100 a few years
ago, I can’t say I “trained” for it. I was
“coached” to do long road rides and
camp out at high elevations, but I just
kept riding my normal loops, showed
up and finished minutes before the cutoff time. Check that one off the bucket
I know intervals would improve my
performance, but there is no way you
are going to catch me regurgitating my
breakfast for the sake of getting faster.
It is not like intervals are going to up
my game enough to hang on the wheels
“Looking further down the trail.” It
is a universal weakness, but how far
down the trail is far enough? The foot-
age from any personal video-recording
device makes it crystal clear.
Shooting from the handlebar, helmet
or chest strap should provide you with
footage that proves the importance of
long-range vision. As the video plays,
move your eyes closer to the handlebar.
The ground is so blurred that it will
make you dizzy. Now, start to move
your focus 10, 20 and 30 feet farther
down the trail. As you increase the
distance, the action slows down, which
has a calming effect. You have gone
from what looks like hyper speed to
slow motion. This is great motivation
to look farther ahead.
When John Tomac was asked
about his secret to winning so many
Mammoth Mountain Kamikazes, he
responded, “Stay off the brakes.” He
wasn’t being flippant. He was serious.
Feathering the brakes is a bad habit. I
wear my camera on a chest strap and
angle the case so the brake levers are
visible to the camera. Watching the
playback, I concentrate on the terrain
and my use of the brakes. This makes
you more conscious of when you
should and shouldn’t be applying them.
Next up is picking lines. Riders on
26-inch-wheeled hardtails established
many trail-widening lines years ago.
If you are riding those lines on a dual-suspension bike, a 29er or a 27.5er, you
are taking the long way home. Check
out your footage and stop avoiding stuff
in the trail that you can effortlessly roll
over. You paid for those wheels and all
that suspension. Use them.
Finally, follow and film a friend
down the trail. You can learn so much
watching footage of buddies, good and
bad. Do they take lines you didn’t
consider? Are they too heavy on the
brakes? Do they assume a low attack
position that lets the bike do its thing?
Why did they crash? How did they ride
away from you? Watching the footage
is way better than depending on your
So, I’m going to become a better rider
without the pain of intervals. I’ll do it
by pushing a button and watching the
results. I bet it could help you too. ❏