Match your body to your bike
Now it gets really interesting. I’ve been a “mountain biker” at different levels of suck for 28 years. The past few years on the RipRow™ have opened my mind in a profound way. There are so many variables on a moving bike, even on a perfect pump track, I needed the RipRow™ to feel, understand and perfect the way my body moves with my bike.
I also have to thank my doctors at REVO Physiotherapy and Sports Performance for teaching me more about biomechanics.
Now that we’ve dialed in your cockpit to match your body and riding style, let’s position your body within that framework. I think it makes sense to build from the feet up.
On your pedals of course. When you’re barefoot and you jump into the air, feel the part of your foot you launch from, then put that part of your foot (usually the ball of your foot) on the middle of the pedal.
Create a Triangle of Awesome between your pedals and knees. In a perfect world, your knees will spend most of their time directly above your bottom bracket. The Triangle of Awesome is isosceles, which makes wonderful geometric sense. It forms the unbreakable foundation of all great shred.
This alignment is very hard! To make it easier, improve your hip and ankle mobility, and get the shortest cranks you can. You can cheat by dropping your front heel and raising your rear heel.
In our universe your knees are stationary, so your hips can only exist along the Arc of Awesome: above your knees, behind your knees or anywhere on the 90-degree arc between those points.
On a mountain bike your hips use about 45° of range.
When you squat, which 99 percent of riders do, you’re moving your knees forward and dropping your butt off the arc. You feel your quads burning on long descents, and your entire chain is compromised.
We don’t squat on the bike. We hinge. Become an absolute master of hinging. First, master these movements off the bike.
For our purposes your torso is everything but your head, neck, arms and legs. It includes your shoulders, hips and everything in between. The common term is “core,” but “torso” is more inclusive and accurate.
Your pelvis and spine are one thing. Keep them connected. No bending your lower back. No arching. No twisting.
Think of your torso as a lever. When it’s straight and engaged, you can generate big forces between your handlebars and pedals, and your back is less likely to hurt.
Get great at 1) engaging your core and 2) packing your shoulders. Unless you do this, your torso is a noodle. You’ll ride weakly, and your lower back will eventually hurt. How to lock your core.
Your deepest core muscles are called the “inner unit.”
I sincerely hope your shoulders are connected, via your torso, to your hips. Since your torso is a strong lever, whenever you swing your hips along the Arc of Awesome, your shoulders move too.
More specifically, as your hips swing down and back, your shoulders swing down and forward. For our purposes your hips and shoulders must exist on their respective Arcs of Awesome.
This butt-back/shoulders-forward dynamic keeps you balanced on your feet. It’s also the key to lifting heavy things and shredding every kind of bike.
Get very, very good at this!
I used to preach “elbows out.” Here’s that graphic again:
“Elbows out” was wrong, and I apologize. That position is weak, encourages you to pull and push in the wrong directions, and, it turns out, is very bad for your shoulders. I really am sorry.
Now that I know more, I suggest your elbows spend most of their time behind your grips. As you might expect, your handlebar width determines your elbow position. The RideLogic™ Sweet Spot Handlebar Width Calculator will help you find your ideal handlebar width.
Doctor Dane DeLozier from REVO Physiotherapy and Sports Performance shows perfect elbow position (and handlebar width). Notice how his elbows are relaxed by his sides — not sticking way out! — and they’re behind his grips. This is strong, effective and safe.
When you pull hard, your elbows will draw inward toward your torso. When you push hard, they flare outward. This is normal. Let it happen. But your median, ready elbow position should be directly behind your hands.
You might be thinking, “This is wrong. I see lots of great riders with their elbows out.” You are correct! There are moments when their elbows are out, but these are integrated moments. Top riders like Brian Lopes and Aaron Gwin are not trying to maintain a static elbows-out position — but they’ll flare their elbows in some moments. One example: Tucking low. Another example: Preparing for a big push into a turn or off a ledge.
Also, the wider your handlebar is, the wider your elbows will be.
Are you ready for another Arc of Awesome? Your elbows follow an arc around your shoulders. While your arm and shoulder muscles are part of the chain, try to do must of the work by pulling your elbows backward or pushing them forward. This helps you do more work, more easily, with bigger muscles.
Kinda like in this animation. Back when I thought we should pull and push the bars up and down on bumps, it made sense that our elbows were above the grips. Now that I know we push and pull along this arc — and that the motion is mostly forward — I realize our elbows should be behind the bars.
Your hands express the intention of your core. The more your core does, the less your hands have to do.
Keep your feet heavy and your hands light. You know this.
Keep your wrists as straight as possible. See the animation above.
Never put weight on your hands. Weight is your body either resting forward on the bars or hanging back off them. We never put weight on the bars, but we drive lots of power into them.
What’s the difference between weight and power? Weight is like leaning on someone. If he steps away, you fall down. Power is like punching him. You ground your body and accelerate your fist at him. He takes the hit, and you stay balanced. When it comes to crazy riding situations, you want to punch, not lean.
In the above animation, do you see how my body is moving back a forth a little bit? I’m not shifting my center of balance. Instead, I’m creating extra pull and push power by opposing the handlebar force with my body. That’s a big part of aggressive riding.
A good bike fit can also help prevent overuse injuries that result from an improper position. The correct position will vary from person to person, depending on factors like age, style of riding, and physical attributes like flexibility.