Posted April 5, 2005
Whatever you do, master the basics

A couple weeks ago I was watching a show about various martial arts on Fit TV, and they were showing this Aikido master. He was huge -- fat, really -- and he stood solidly in the middle of his dojo. His top students attacked him from all angles, and as they neared him he seemed to swipe his hands across their paths, and they flew five to 10 feet away, as if in The Matrix. I watched the virtual collisions frame by frame, and I couldn't see him physically touch these guys.

"Everything I do comes from the basics," the master said. "The interesting thing about the basics is, you can explore them infinitely deeply."

The same applies to bike riding, motocross and pretty much everything worth doing. Lately I've been drilling some very fundamental aspects of my riding -- position, leaning, weighting -- and enjoying noticeable improvements in my riding. I've been standing on pedals for 30 years, but I am just now learning how to really stand on pedals.

I've been devising a way to break riding into its core components and teach them one at a time. A beginning rider will start at the bottom and work his way up, and an expert will enter at any level that serves his goals. Fundamentals will be key. As coach Gene Hamilton says, the limiting factor for most riders is their mastery (or lack of mastery) of the basics.

Gene demonstrates some cornering action. It's hard to demonstrate perfect form while you talk; maybe that's why he's looking at the ground instead of two cones ahead.
Last weekend I joined Gene for a women's clinic he taught in Fruita, CO. Gene and I are working together to create the curriculum for a new association of bike skills instructors, and he let me shadow his class and watch some of these ideas in action. It was pretty amazing to see the students, who had never lifted their front wheels, learn to balance on their pedals, then lean forward, then lean back, then put it all together and wheelie over curbs. They improved dramatically, and as I did the same drills with them, I felt my balance and awareness increase.

After the clinic Gene and I hammered out a couple fast sections, and it was amazing how easily we railed while we focused on the very basics. We focused our weight on the pedals, kept our hands light and looked ahead. I freaking railed Mary's Loop the first time I ever rode it, and my fastest time down Kestle Run would rival the Millennium Falcon's.

As a break from all that mountain biking (poor us), we took motorcycles to the Book Cliffs area outside Grand Junction. I'm borrowing a KDX200, which is a solid 2-stroke trail bike. I've done a fair amount of motocross riding and racing over the years, but I never considered myself good moto rider. As a matter of fact, I tend to feel tiny and helpless, and fighting the big bike quickly destroys my upper body.

This time I focused on the same basics we covered in the clinic. Stand on the pegs. Keep the hands light. Look beyond the corners. When I pinned the throttle I leaned way forward to stay balanced on my feet. I hit the powerband on an uphill whoop section, bars dancing in my loose grip, legs absorbing and pumping, eyes tracking, everything feeling oh so easy.

We road 30 miles of narrow, exposed, steep trails. I've never felt so comfortable, and a motorcycle never felt so flickable. I slalomed through a five-foot-wide, 10-foot-deep wash: finessing between rocks, hipping off banks, letting the engine pull and my balance and vision do the rest. At the end of the ride I felt warm and stoked, but hardly tired. It was like I'd finally found the way of the peaceful moto warrior.

Remember: Whatever you're doing, it's all about the basics. The more deeply you understand them, the greater your mastery.

The arsenal ready to go. Sorry there are no photos of the ride -- it was too engrossing to stop for photos. That green beast fits inside my Safari van! Thanks again to Alan from Fate Clothing for the loaner.
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