Hey everyone! My name is Rafe, I have been riding bikes since I was 10 years old, I started racing at 15 with Pedal Hounds, then Southern Enduro, British and Welsh National enduros and the Megavalanche in 2019. I love coaching and getting people out on their bikes to explore the great outdoors. I love being up in the mountains and my favourite place to ride is Cwmcarn in South Wales.
What’s your one mountain bike top tip?
Keep your eyes looking up and down the trail – you go where you look.
What’s your favourite bike part and why?
My brakes because they don’t hold me back or slow me down!
There are times in UK winters when you think, could this get any colder/wetter/more miserable? Will the trails ever be anything other than slop again? Ok, riding in the wet can be fun and sliding around or just getting down some tracks may be an achievement. But there comes a point when all the kit cleaning (and bike maintenance) starts to wear thin, and the motivation to focus on your riding drains away…
So what can you do about it?
1. Goals – Name it & Nail it!
Everything else stems from this. If your goal for MTB riding is to maintain health and fitness then it’s simple enough to switch out riding for indoor training when you’ve had enough of bad weather. There are plenty of guides and plans to help you with this, which should basically amount to ‘Get Fit, Get Strong’. When you get back on the bike your skills will be a bit rusty, but it won’t take long to get to where you were before.
If you have specific goals, such as preparing for events or races, or achieving a certain skill level, then it’s important to think creatively and get intentional. Your goals need to be directly related to your event. For example, I have two goals for next year. One is to get improve my speed on faster slick downhill tracks, something I struggled with last year. The other is to get a top 3 result in my category at the Kirroughtree PMBA race; a race which suited me and I enjoyed.
If you have competitive or specific mountain biking goals then skill progression is essential.
In skill development, there are four key concepts to consider:
Variation – Taking different approaches to the same learning task can improve flexible thinking and problem solving. When external factors become a problem, you need to find ways around maintaining a schedule .
Specificity – If your training is not specific to your goal, then you could end up making zero measureable progress. This means training needs to be both rider and event specific. On a psychological level, specificity can be seen as meaningful and purposeful practice.
Frequency & Intensity – Skills are not acquired linearly, and can happen in jumps and steps. If training is not frequent or intense enough, then progression through these steps could be so slow that you don’t progress at all.
Simple vs Complex Skills– Simple skills can often be practiced out of context in a predictable environment, whereas complex skills are much closer to the environment your goal is focused on. For example, learning to jump by bunnyhopping over a stick, is a simple skill or technique. Clearing an unfamiliar jump, on a wet downhill track, with a technical steep run in, is a complex skill. While these two actions have aspects in common, there are some key technical differences.
You also need a way of measuring progress. My focus is on racing, so the key outcome to measure is speed. But it’s also important to have a variety of different measurements, both quantitative and qualitative. So, I also want to improve at jumping, which I can measure by comparing videos of me jumping with a better rider. Or simply noticing how comfortably I ride jumps on a particular trail.
3. Fill Up the Willpower Tank
Your training should be rewarding and enjoyable. Everyday, we have limited willpower and mental energy. So when you are running low on motivation it’s important to decide whether what you are doing will spend reserves or replenish them. The most specific sessions you do should require the most from you. There is little point putting all your energy into sessions that don’t give you measureable progress. On the flip side, sessions that are not very specific but are fun, will keep you motivated and interested in your riding.
Confidence is also an important factor. Training that focuses on your weaknesses can be demotivating and progress can be slow. So make sure to mix up your training with aspects you enjoy.
4. Creative & Purposeful Practices
If you are want to see real progress towards your goals you need creative and purposeful training exercises. They need to be challenging and specific, and cover both simple and complex skills.
The key thing to getting this right is properly understanding the demands of your event and being intentional about how you will improve. This is where outside input can be really helpful. An expert rider or coach, who is able to help you identify what the key areas of improvement are for you.
Have something solid to work towards. A number. But make sure its specific. Its tempting to gravitate towards the easiest thing to measure. So for an intermediate level downhill rider i think it’d be more helpful to measure time gains on splits on a variety of features and track sections, than improvement in bench press 1 rep max test. It might seem like a lot of effort you will be measuring fractions of a second. But with a video analysis App and practice, its not that hard.
Or for an XC racer, it maybe tempting to set your primary goal as improving your FTP in a Wattbike test. But it may be better to measure your pace on specific sections of a climb and descend lap over multiple consecutive repetitions. Not only will this give an indication of endurance, but also technical/tactical ability.
You can still measure those other things, upper body strength & aerobic endurance, but making it your primary focus may draw away from the key area for improvement.
These two examples, are very specific exercises, largely focused complex skills. You can also do a simpler exercise working on a specific technique, such as a slalom on flat ground to work on cornering, or some trials skills to work on balance and weight shift.
5. Embrace the Slop
Bad weather tends to come with an unpredictable environment: dark, wind, rain, wet mud, slippery roots, maybe even snow and ice. Riding in challenging conditions will help you to be more responsive to your surroundings and better at interpreting what’s coming up in the trail ahead.
Much of our vision is created by our brain guessing what’s in front of us, as we are not capable of processing all the visual information that enters the eyes. A key skill in both Enduro and Downhill is reading the track intuitively and responding with action. Reduced visibility due to rain and mud means your brain has to work harder and rely on intuition and feel. Feel, being the physical sensations through contact points and balance (or proprioception). Think about your own experience of riding wet off-camber roots compared to dry conditions. Your line wavers as the bike slides underneath you, so you have to be loose gently adjusting where your weight is on the bike, looking ahead focusing on your exit. The more you ride in these conditions the more in tune you will be with the bike.
Maybe it’s time to embrace the slop?
I’d love to hear comments on winter riding. What helps you keep motivated?
There are barely a handful of sporting activities which come as close to mountain biking for physical demand. Since mountain biking joined the Olympics in 1996, riders have since chosen to specialise in either cross-country or downhill disciplines.
Both downhill and cross-country disciplines include high impact and require sharp reflexes. Fuelling both brain and body right is essential.
To stay at peak performance, the following five foods are absolutely essential for a mountain biker’s diet.
Whole Grain Breads
A hearty nutrient-dense carbohydrate, whole grain bread tastes great and is incredibly versatile. Like other carbohydrates, whole grain bread offers slow release energy throughout the day to compliment your calorie rich snacks.
It’s not so much the bread itself but the whole grains which offer the best nutrients. These nutrients include:
Protein – great for muscle recovery, particularly after an intense ride.
Fibre – essential for smooth bowel movement, keeping you feeling light and comfortable.
B vitamins – great for energy levels and brain function, helping you think sharp.
Commonly considered a superfood, yet often left out in a western diet – whole grain.
Carbs really are king, and your body can consume around 60g per hour so pack a sandwich for a mid-ride break to aid recovery and support muscle growth.
Or alternatively eggs for vegetarians. Lean meats which include beef, lamb, veal, chicken and most seafoods offer the best post-ride recovery nutrients. Particularly chicken and fish offer a low-fat / high protein mix which aids muscle recovery and will digest easily.
The western diet has moved towards stocking up on lean meats in the evening. However a regular serving of lean meat throughout the day is highly recommended particularly if you train daily either on the bike or in the gym.
For the best combination of fats and oils whilst keeping the environment in mind, I would recommend eggs for breakfast, fish or nuts and seeds during lunch and chicken in the evening.
With any luck, you have slept a solid 8 hours prior to competition day with plenty of deep REM sleep. Even if you haven’t slept, don’t worry as a porridge breakfast will put things straight. Or even better – porridge with banana provides the ultimate slow release energy throughout the day. If it’s a competition day, make sure you’re eating no less than 2 hours before you start riding.
Gone are the days of boring breakfast – try adding banana and honey to suit that sweet tooth and increase your energy.
Finally, to aid digestion make sure you drink at least a pint of water with breakfast. This combination will keep you feeling light and agile whilst providing slow-release energy throughout the day.
Particularly on a 2 to 3 hour cross-country ride, even the biggest bowl of porridge won’t keep you fully energised during your ride. Jelly sweets (which have gelatin-free vegetarian alternatives in most supermarkets) offer a lightweight yet dense source of quick release energy which is high in calories.
My recommendation would be to pack these sweets without a bag in a handlebar bag or small back pocket in your shorts. A decent handful will do the trick and can be accessed without having to stop for long and lose time.
Raisins prove particularly effective if, like me, your stomach doesn’t agree with energy gels or similar products. Similarly to jelly sweets, raisins are easy to access and are calorie dense, however what makes them unique is that they are stacked with carbohydrates.
Raisins are easy to eat on the go and packed with nutrients.
My recommendation would be to wrap up individual portions of raisins, nuts and seeds in foil and eat one portion every 20 to 30 minutes. This way, you’ll never feel hungry and you will assist that slow-release energy from your hearty breakfast earlier in the day.
A high performance diet is achievable by any kind of rider with any diet requirements. The key then is to plan your food into pre, during and post ride with two goals in mind: to offer slow release energy throughout your ride, avoid hunger at any point and aid recovery following your ride.
In this video, Coach, Scott Bugden from Swiss Cycling Track Team explains to Michael how you can use nutrition and recovery to optimise your cycling performance.
Michael is a Level 3 British Cycling coach who works with cyclists across a range of disciplines, developing fitness, skills and competitive performance. He is a keen bike racer, currently focusing on Downhill and Enduro MTB. He has a strong endurance background, having raced at a National Level in XC, Road, and Cyclocross.
To get in touch with Michael about performance coaching please head to his website RideAbout.
The idea of mountain biking amongst snowy landscapes may seem very attractive in your mind. Why wouldn’t it? It looks like something out of a film!
But the realities of mountain biking in the winter are less than cinematic. In reality, it can be very dangerous. Whether it’s snow, sleet, ice, or simply the freezing temperatures, there are plenty of ways you can get into trouble when biking in the winter.
However, you don’t want to stop biking over the winter just because of some cold weather. When you look out at the below-freezing temperatures, it can feel tempting to stay in and catch up on the latest rugby union scores, but you know you’ll love it when you’re out on the roads.
For that reason, ensuring you know the dangers and take preventative measures to avoid trouble is essential to keep biking no matter the season.
Check your roads beforehand
When it’s icy out, you need to check the roads you are going to take before you set off. It is imperative that you only stick to roads that have been treated already. This should ensure your safety when biking in icy conditions.
Even when following these routes, you need to stay alert. Large, exposed sections of the road can become icy again as the wind chill affects them. When you see icy patches, you should always try to go around them – that’s only if you have time to manoeuvre it and if the route around the patch is safe.
If you find yourself in an icy patch, the best course of action is to ride it out. But, whatever you do, don’t make any sudden movements.
In the winter, it gets light later in the morning and gets darker earlier at night. Even during daylight hours, it can get pretty dingy and dark on a cloudy day. Because of this, keeping on top of your lights is essential. Both so you can see, and so you can be seen by others.
The best way to keep your lights safe is to ensure your lights are USB chargeable, not battery chargeable. With battery chargeable lights, you’d have to stop to switch out batteries if your lights go. Plus, if you find yourself caught out with no replacement batteries, you won’t have any lights at all. This is simply too dangerous during the winter months.
Goggles or Glasses
Wearing goggles might make you feel a little silly, but they are a necessity during winter. The rainier season means the tracks you’ll be biking are much muddier. Keeping your eyes protected from the splatter is key to keeping your vision clear (and your face clean!). Goggles will also keep the wind out of your eyes – and keep your eyes moist. However, ensure your goggles are clear so you can see your route perfectly.