Arkansas plays host to an amazing mountain bike race in the second weekend of July each year -- the Eureka Springs Fat Tire Festival. The first rate event takes place in Eureka Springs, an artsy community nestled in the Northwest Ozarks of Arkansas. The festival attracts great sponsors, hundreds of riders, and thousands of bike enthusiasts alike, competing and observing all disciplines from trials to downhill. It’s really the one time of year that big names in the sport make their way through Arkansas. And as we all know, opportunities to meet your heroes are rare. Even more rare is the opportunity to interact, ride with and learn from them. Thanks to our local Red Bull rep, Jim Taillon, and Fat Tire Festival promoter, David Renko, we had an invite to attend a special Fat Tire Festival edition of the Mad March Racing Camp put on by the infamous Shaums March and friends.
Upon arrival to the Mad March Racing training camp, we were greeted by Red Bull’s Shaums March, Kyle Ritchey and Kelli Sherbinin. The afternoon started with a half hour meet-and-greet with footage of the Red Bull Rampage flickering in the background. This provided a great opportunity to get to know a bit about the pros, and for them to get to know a bit about us and what we hoped to learn at the session. Kyle Ritchey and Shaums March then checked over each pupil’s bike and helped dial it in -- making adjustments mostly to brake lever placement and handlebar heights.
We then moved to the classroom -- an open field with orange pylons placed throughout. Shaums began with a fundamental concept: cornering, specifically your body position while doing so. As he carved through the cones with smooth, confident precision, he likened his cornering position to the game most of us remember -- the one in which you’d try to lean your bike over as far as you can, throwing your body weight in the opposite direction.
We rolled through concept after pointer and pointer after concept. After each demonstration, we’d practice the lessons learned:
1) Foot position -- on the steeps, keep your power foot forward with the heel dropped in a horizontal position, and the toes pointed down on your back foot with tension. This creates a very balanced position. They encouraged us to ‘steer’ the bike with our belly button, and the bike will follow. Sure enough, they were right.
2) Body position -- keep your body over the bike’s suspension, allowing you to activate the suspension in the most ‘fluid’ manner. This allows you to ‘pump’ the trail -- preloading and releasing the suspension to generate speed -- that’s right, speed without pedaling. Needless to say, it’s going to take some practice, but it’s incredible to watch in action, even for a big guy like Ritchey.
3) Elbow position -- keep ’em out like you’re doing a pushup. By doing so, you’re in a much more stable position and in control of the bike. Shaums had Ritchey get down on the ground and do a few pushups with his elbows in -- after doing a few, Shaums kicked him over with the lightest of kicks. He then repeated this demonstration, this time with his elbows out, and Ritchey was solid as a rock. Point made. Point taken.
4) Braking technique -- pull the lever, right? Not so fast, there are secrets to better braking. First, make sure you’ve got a quality brakeset -- modulation makes a major difference, by not grabbing your rotor with all the power in corners, you’ll be able to maintain your speed. And, to stop faster, use the suspension to your advantage -- if you need to stop in a hurry, preload the suspension, release and as your weight compresses the suspension, apply the brakes and you’ll stop in a fraction of the time.
And, 5) Look further down the trail -- much like skiing moguls, pick your line before you get to it, rather than simply reacting to what’s in front of you. ( I seem to remember my mother telling me something about planning in advance) This, while it was a bit of an adjustment, I found to be the most beneficial in the next morning’s race.
Watch and learn, baby. It’s amazing to ride a bike your whole life only to have a pro re-explain and execute the most fundamental aspects, and see instant results. Cornering? That’s about as basic as it gets aside from pedaling, or so I thought. We’ve all watched the videos, but until you see a pro ride a trail you know inside and out, it’s tough to really appreciate their smooth, seemingly effortless, unwavering approach -- I only thought I ripped the corners and floated the rock gardens of my local trails.
We quickly had to pick our collective jaws off the ground, as Shaums proceeded to have us each pre-ride the course, a section at a time. He worked with each of us to help pick the best possible line, applying the techniques he’d discussed. And, in an ironic twist, they pointed out the sections where slowing down would actually make us faster overall. All-in-all, we took an entire hour to dissect every nook-and-cranny of the course that we bombed down in just 2-3 minutes the following morning.
After watching and listening to Shaums detail the importance of properly leaning your body weight into a corner while keeping the bike upright as possible to gain maximum traction, I realized I could do better. And better I did -- when I applied the cornering technique to my DH race the following morning, I bettered my time by some 20% over the year before.
Major props to the each of the guys for taking time with us, and Red Bull and the Eureka Springs Fat Tire Festival for a great event. If you get the opportunity to attend a March March Racing clinic, we highly recommend you jump on it!