Written by Christopher Kelly
Oct. 31, 2014
Christopher: Hello and welcome to the Nourish Balance Thrive podcast. My name is Christopher Kelly and I'm joined today by Lee McCormack. Hi, Lee.
Lee: Hey, Christopher.
Christopher: Lee is a writer and mountain bike coach and an all-around superstar on the bike and he's here today to talk to me about how to improve your skills. So why don't you tell me about yourself, Lee. How did you get started on the bike?
Lee: Well, that's an awesome question, Chris. I'll try to make it succinct, but as a little kid I was just like every other kid to have a Schwinn Sting-Ray and we all rode you know. I loved it. But I also had a weight problem as a kid. I was always heavy and I was from a Weight Watchers family, the kind of family where you go with your mom to the Weight Watchers meeting and then you go out to dinner and have a chocolate shake afterward you know.
You had totally mixed messages and so I got away from the bike through my teams and everything and after I did a little bit of ditch digging. I did enough of ditch digging to understand that I wanted to go to college. So when I went I started in journalism and at the exact time I bought my first mountain bike because I've been doing some motor cross and I was in really bad shape and back then they had 18 gears, dude, 18.
And it seemed like you could just ride up any hill. There's no problem, right. So I spent 300 bucks on this bike and my parents told me it was a total waste of money. And I was never going to ride it which was probably awesome motivation for a young man and the thing is I just started riding the thing and I was over 200 pounds at the time.
So nothing was easy, but something about riding that bike resonated with me and I started riding it to school and the first time I rode it to school was 47 minutes and about killed me and I'll never forget how awful I felt physically, but how proud I was of myself mentally and emotionally, right.
So basically, I started doing it every day and it kind of became my religion. I think a lot of cyclists can totally relate to that and within a year or two my body started to change. I saw muscles I'd never seen before and that ride was 12 minutes from 47 to 12 you know and I discovered that I had something in there. And it was cool because I started getting fit so I could do other sports. It became a gateway and I felt more confident and it was funny because the friends I had always had kind of liked me being kind of the pudgy, funny kid, right, but not the athlete.
But what was funny, Chris, is that the bike opened something up in me in my soul and it let become I think who I'm supposed to be and I'll never forget the day. Like I just stopped letting them pick on me, you know what I mean? I just didn't feel like picked on anymore and I wasn't who I was anymore and I'll never forget one time. They said, "You know, man, we liked the old Lee better." And I was like, "Screw that. I'm done with you guys, you know."
Christopher: Well, I'm glad you didn't go back to the old Lee. I'm not sure you'd be the same person today if you did.
Lee: No. And you know how it is. If you're a mountain biker you can go anywhere in the world and you can ride with people and we're all part of a tribe here, you know.
Christopher: Yeah. I should explain a little bit of background actually. So Lee has coached me several times and he is an extraordinary talent on a bicycle and I don't really care whether you're riding a road bike or maybe even like a tri-bike like you're doing time trials. There's something you can learn from this guy and he's the only person.
Maybe I've just not seen enough mountain bikers, but he's the only person I've ever seen go uphill on a mountain bike without pedaling like in a car park pumping, generating momentum somehow going up a hill without having -- he's an extraordinary talent. And so what were you like back then? We're you always kind of talented or did that come with time?
Lee: Hell, no, dude. You know like a guy like Curtis Keene he woke up one day and he got a bike and he was the national champion seriously. I'm serious. It was like one -- it took like one season for him to become an expert and the next season, I'm not kidding, he was the semi-pro national champion and he was putting in times faster than all the pros.
So he -- I'm not that guy. I'm not. I came in. I was heavy. I didn't know what to do. I just liked it and I started to pay attention to it you know. And it's funny like now because the fitness came on way before the skills did. So there was a time when Brian Lopes and I would ride and I would actually beat him uphill if you can believe that. That's a long time ago.
And but I don't know how to say it like the skills were really awkward and it took a long time and I became a downhill racer and I started to really associate myself worth with winning races. So dude, I applied my body and soul to that pursuit and I hurt myself. I didn't know what the hell I was doing, but I was loving it, right.
And at the same time I was also kind of experiencing success in journalism as an informational graphics guy, and basically like I had success there. I won a Pulitzer Prize, which is cool, you know. It's like winning the World Championship if you're [0:05:28] [Indiscernible]. And over the years I got to the point where I was realizing that I was destined for something a lot more unique, something special.
And I quit the newspaper business and went to the dot-com business which was insane. I was making lots of money and I don't know if you ever seen the movie Whale Rider.
Christopher: I haven't actually.
Lee: It's a good one, dude. It's about fate and it won every award independent film can win and it's about this Maori tribe and a girl. It's her destiny to become the king of the tribe. So it's a really hard story for her and as we're watching her life play out, I'm in the Palo Alto Theater with a bunch of 25-year-old millionaires during the dot-com deal and something hit me, dude.
Like I really felt and I'm not a religious guy, but I really felt like God was tapping me on the shoulder going, "Dude, are you following your fate? Are you honoring your purpose?" And I was like, "Nope." And I started to cry and by the end of that movie, Chris, I was bawling openly. I couldn't control it. I went to work the next day and I quit, period. I quit.
And I do not recommend this from money managing standpoint because I had a six figure salary that went to zero and I left three weeks before the stock options were coming in. So maybe I could have waited three weeks, right. But that was it, dude. I realized that like I had this vision that I was going to use my passion for bike riding and my professional skills. By then I've been trained to like research any topic on earth, write about it, illustrate it, express it, you know what I'm saying.
And I've done it with a thousand topics in the newspaper business with designing software and I felt like, "Okay, it's time for me to bring my two branches in together." And I had this vision that I was going to write the definite mountain bike skills book. I was going to do it in a way that had never done before. So I started you know and --
Christopher: Yeah. Sorry. I was going to say we've got a really powerful combination of things coming together here. So with Curtis Keene I would question -- it might be that he's a really good coach, but I find that the people that had to work really hard for it are the best coaches just because it didn't come to them naturally, right. You had to work really hard at the skills and so that process you went through of learning you're really familiar with it and you can perhaps communicate it to someone else perhaps if you're a good communicator which you also happen to be obviously an amazing writer.
And the diagrams in the book are extraordinary which is what originally drew me to it. And so now we've got something really amazing package coming together now.
Lee: Yeah, thanks, man. Looking back I think this is just my purpose and my fate you know what I mean. And Curtis who I know well and he teaches with me he happens to be a pretty good teacher and he's a good guy. And I think that's a huge part of being a good teacher, but like you said like when I quit the job I opened up a word document and I'm like you know like the blinking cursor of death.
It's like okay, I've been riding and at that time I've been winning national downhills in CAT 1. I think I was like the age group national champion. I got to go to world and I was top ten. I was riding pretty well, you know. And but that was the first time I ever sat down and tried to codify like how do you ride a bicycle? Like what are the dynamics? Like how can you express to somebody because I've been trained, dude. I've done thousands of infographics in my career and hundreds and hundreds of articles on any subject in the world.
So it's like you go in and you're like, okay, assume someone knows nothing. How do you teach him, remember, you know. And it was an incredibly challenging process and that was the first time I actually really analyzed what goes into riding a bike and what's funny is that's when I personally began to master the craft really for real. That's when I started. And so that first book was ten years ago and now I'm just leaps and bounds beyond that as a teacher and as a writer both.
Christopher: Wow. So are there some things you can look at? So I know you know I found an old picture of myself on a mountain bike recently and it would appear at that time I thought going faster on a mountain bike was all about making everything as light as possible. So there's various parts on this bike that I sat on probably come from a road bike.
It's kind of funny, but I just was all about the fitness and thought that nothing else is important and now I realize that's maybe only half the equation. So is there something that you look at? So when you see someone riding can you tell that they are really good rider just from certain visual cues?
Lee: Yeah, it's funny. I can see someone on a bike for like a 100 meters and I can pretty much tell where they are and the cues that I see relate to my teaching methods. So number one how they balance on the bike you know. And I'm going to guess that back in the day you were. You were either too far forward or if you're afraid you're too far back. Is the rider low enough to create range of motion and most people are too high.
They're too high and too far back because they want they want their brain to be away from the perceived danger, right. So it's like you can tell like a lopes no matter what crazy situation is going on, right, drifting sideways on a kamikaze treading like a trail near his house. He's in the middle of his bike and he's pretty low and then that allows him to operate.
And another thing too is that there's a decisiveness of movement that you can see in a skilled athlete and it's funny because it doesn't matter like, Chris, whether you're going off a curve or hulk in like a red bull drop you know. It doesn't matter. It's just like whatever we do in our lives and on the bike I feel like we should do it. We should be decisive, right.
So I can tell just like the way a person gets on his or her bike, the way they turn the pedals, the way they are in the bike whether they're at home, they're balanced, whether they've created range of motion themselves and whether they're decisive. Does that make sense?
Christopher: It does, yeah. I mean you're decisive all the time when you ride your bike because I find that I have moments where I'm thinking about the things that you've taught me and I am decisive and I'm feeling energetic and I'm excited. This ties in with the conditions quite often. So we've just had a little bit of rain in northern California or in [0:12:13] [Indiscernible], right? And suddenly I'm like really excited and I find myself making all kinds of sine waves I wouldn't normally.
So do you ride like that all the time? Like every time you go out is that important?
Lee: You know what, I really try to, yeah. I'm not perfect and this is the thing, Chris. Like excuse me. How do I say this? I'm getting all emotional. So like I don't care how fast you go. I don't care how big you go. I don't care whether you go over the rock, around the rock or use that rock to double another rock. I don't care. You know what I mean?
But what I care is do you understand the situation? Do you want to do the thing whatever it is? Climbing a hill, going down a drop, whatever it is, do you want to do it? If you want to do it, awesome. Do you know how to, right? Do you know what to do exactly? And my method is all about teaching you the specific movement patterns that lets you tread.
Once you want to do it can you visualize it? And then can you do it right now? And if all those answers are yes then I say freaking do it. There's no guessing. There's no halfway. You just do it. And so like for example I have really, really unhealthy shoulders. They're really bad right now and so if I'm warmed up and I feel good and we're out in trail and there's like I say a six or eight foot drop into kind of a rocky section. If I feel good I know what to do I'll do it, right.
It's decisive. If I don't feel it and there a lot of days when I don't trust my shoulder I just will not do it. I won't do it. Does that make sense?
Christopher: Okay. Yeah, it does make sense.
Lee: And so then there's a decisiveness in my decision not to do it. Is that fair to say?
Christopher: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.
Lee: But the whole thing where you pray and go for it anyway that's insanity. You're going to get hurt. You're teaching yourself how to be afraid. You're creating negative associations and improper skills. Does that make sense? So I hope that makes sense. Like I believe that we should be decisive. If you feel like crap ride the trainer in your office. If you feel good go out and tread it, right.
Christopher: Yeah, I understand that. That's an interesting thought. And so all these different traits that you see in someone that's really good at riding their bike can you break it down at all? Is it to do with strength or is it mostly skill or is it ability or all of these things equally important?
Lee: I think they all fit together and a lot of it depends on your goal like I think the healthiest goal on earth for any rider. I'm talking about people who don't make a living, right, like Cam Zink has a whole different risk ratio than we do, right. I mean the big thing is imagine a chart where challenge is vertical and skill is horizontal.
Like the sweet spot where those meet is fun. So I think that for most people even if you're a racer like you want to always kind of grow and stay in that for most people even if you're a racer like you want to always kind of grow and stay in that sweet spot, that fun area, the flow area.
And so what's interesting is it doesn't matter if you're skinny or fat. Like you happen to be a really good climber, that's how you're made and that's awesome. Good for you. That's great. I'm not. That's not how I'm made. I'm a sprinter. So but it doesn't matter what body you have. It doesn't even matter ultimately, Chris, how brave you are, how afraid you are, how injured you are.
Like and my thought would teach you the tools for you to reach the next level and the way I teach is completely scalable. So whatever I teach you on the first day when you're a CAT 3 beginner is the same skill you're going to use when you're on the world cup. It's just we're going to use it with more power. I hope that makes sense.
And so I believe that anybody who wants to ride a bicycle can do it and they can have a long and really satisfied career on the bicycle. Does that make sense? Now, if you want to go and be a top, top pro, all right, like Curtis for example is just freakishly strong you know.
Christopher: Yes. His legs are ridiculous. His calves are bigger than my thigh.
Lee: I know and he's skinny right now for Enduro racing, but I've known him a long time and that guy is fundamentally a brute. He's just strong. Like I think his dad is Frankenstein and his mom is Wonder Woman you know I don't know. But that he has that going for him and then I think what's interesting too is like the way I see it skills is your ability to make your body and bike do what you want to do.
Fitness is your ability to make your bike and body do it longer, faster, harder, bigger. Is that fair? And confidence if your ability to execute whatever it is you have in that moment. And so those are three legs of the stool and I think they're all completely related to each other and it's fascinating because if you're Curtis and I love that guy.
I used to train and travel together all the time. He's handsome. He's a freaking stud --
Christopher: You sound like you got a bit of crush on him.
Lee: Well, yeah. We used to travel, but he's an admiral guy because on top of everything else he's just a nice guy and I've been in situations where I've needed his help and he's literally saved my life. There's a whole story about him plucking me and my dog out of a river one day you now. He's a good guy, but it's interesting like you grew up being that guy where you at succeeded every sport and girls think you're hot. Like your confidence comes in at higher level. Does that make sense than maybe if you came in as like a brainy fat kid.
And so I think that's one reason that Curtis is able to come in and just access his full athletic ability, bam right away. Where for me as an example I have a lot of confidence in my intellectual ability, right. So that's how I came through the bike and then through dedicated practice over the years. Now, I like to think I'm a pretty decent bike rider.
Christopher: Oh, yeah. I would confirm that wholeheartedly.
Lee: Oh, thanks, man.
Christopher: So which of the traits are trainable? So which are things I'm to stuck with like if I'm always going to be a kind of skinny, slow twitch guy. Which are the things I can actually train? So should I be training to my weaknesses or strengths or both or how does that work?
Lee: I love it. Well, I don't look at you as a weakness. I'm like I wish I was a skinny good climber. That would be awesome because your power to weight ratio is like the bread and butter of a mountain biker, right. So that's genetic. I mean we know that. It's genetic. So if you have it you can develop it and you should. You should develop it. That's awesome.
My trainer, a guy named Lester Pardoe. He was an Olympic level speed skater and he's an elite trainer here in Boulder. He always told me that I should train my weaknesses and raise my strengths. So when he tested me I'm a decent sprinter. I was okay, but I was terrible at endurance. So he kind of gave me the tools to improve my endurance.
So I'll never be elite ever, but I'm better. And you know what's funny too, Chris, is the process of training my endurance and by the way I also really studies how to pedal. So learning how to pedal better, my endurance is better, but so is my sprint. Like compared about three years ago all of my numbers are more than 50% higher, all of them.
Christopher: That's crazy. What is your -- I tried -- I think I saw some of your numbers the other day. What's your five minute power now?
Lee: I don't have a number for five.
Christopher: Oh, really? What about two?
Lee: I have a three minute. Let me pull it up real fast, okay. I'm on in the internet right now.
Christopher: So I did a workout the other day and I was really disappointed that I could only get 425 watts for two minutes and that was I nearly puked.
Lee: Well, that's pretty good I think and also you know this time of year if you've been riding and racing you're tired. So the last time I tested this was about a month ago. This is the end of the season so my numbers are down. My three minute power -- so my 20 minute power is about 300 watts. It was 290 the other day which is pretty average of my body weight. It's very average.
My three minutes is 400 watts, but my sprint power the other day was 1,774 watts.
Christopher: So that's the difference right there. It's like I --
Lee: That's the timing, the timing.
Christopher: Yeah. So I did a sprint workout yesterday trying to -- so I've been doing cycle cross and really it looks like a time trial on paper, but actually it's a series of short sprints because there are so many freaking corners. And I can hear 1,000 watts just about, but that's it. So --
Lee: But that's really good though because I know that your threshold power is really good.
Christopher: Yes, it's not bad. In the past it's been well over 300, but right now not so much. But so --
Lee: But 300 at your body weight is good. So like I think that that like your inherent like your aerobic capacity I think we're born with that. I mean it is what it is. So we can optimize it and we can, but you should always work on your sprint power and I should always focus on my endurance.
Christopher: So join two weaknesses. So then what can I do for strength and stability and mobility? What kind of exercises do you like for that?
Lee: I do a mix and I actually studied a bit in college, but I like to use the best of everybody. So I work with a guy named Dee Tidwell here in Colorado and his business is Enduro MTB training. What I do every day is a mix of stability, mobility and strength work every single day. I just did it before I called you and it takes me about 25 minutes and then it's funny because I did 15 minutes of sprinting while doing figure eight in my driveway. That's my workout today. So I get skill and strength kind of thing.
But like and I'm 45 now and so I'm at the age where the body's starting to change, brother. And I think it's super important for us as riders, everybody, younger the better to get heavy duty hard core on your stability work. I think it's super important and I think we need to all learn how to stabilize our spine from the inside out and get strong in the ways that count.
Christopher: Yeah, absolutely. I mean back injury can be devastating and completely end your life let alone your career on the bike racing or anything like that.
Lee: Totally. Like at this time last year I was miserable, man. I was barely making it and it turned out that just from all the years of abuse to my body some of the stabilizer muscles stopped working. They just were not there. So it was funny I could go coach downhill all day. I could lift weights. I could dig a hole, build a pump track as long as I was paying attention.
But at the end of the day I would just reach for a toilet paper and my back would go out, bam, done. And so Dee has helped me understand that really deep muscles that we've never heard of and learn to fire them. And so I'm proud to say I've not had a back blowout all year which is awesome. And you know it's funny like that last sprint workout I did the only difference is I've been doing more core work this year and I just found another 30% in my sprint power, 30%.
Christopher: Wow. So it's not about the legs. It's about whether you can stabilize your core in order to deliver that power.
Lee: Exactly. For me, yeah and I think for most of us. It's like are your shoulders floating around? You got to stabilize them and what are your hips and spine doing? And more and more I understand how important this is and I understand because I've personally have worked hands on with something like 4,000 riders over the years.
And I'm talking about everybody from some who's never in a bike before to like top, top pros who we've all heard of. And it's like I'm telling you right now. If you're not stable and mobile in the ways that matter you can't ride a bike well. You just can't do it.
Christopher: I think this is even true for say a triathlete that's riding a time trial star bike. If they don't have stable core like I've heard the commentators talk about this on the TV as I watching the tour of Britain and they were talking about how you know this habit that riders do where they just rest their forearms on the bars and they're not holding on to anything.
So it's like they're holding on to an imaginary arrow bar. It's quite aerodynamically efficient, but it's very difficult to stabilize your core in that position because you're not holding on to anything anymore.
Lee: I agree. And so this is the thing. I like to -- I would like to look at them closely, right. And so if you can tell like basically if someone is on the road bike, right, or on their mountain bike and their triceps are flexed that means just weight on the handle bars, right. And if there's weight on the handle bars that's a sign that their core is not stable and their core is not stabilizing them. Does that make sense?
Christopher: It does, yeah.
Lee: Now, now, if you have a traditional cross-country fit where you're in your drops on road bike or even the tops it takes a lot of core strength, a lot to keep your hands weightless, you know a lot and so back to the idea of decisiveness like I can't maintain that position for two hours on a road bike. I can't, but so when I'm on my road bike I generally am on trainer or on my hill where I live doing intervals and while I'm doing the intervals I'm absolutely focusing on perfect core, perfect.
And you know what's funny, Chris, it's like if your legs are tired, but your core is okay all you are is slow and there's nothing wrong with that. But if your core blows out or your core is unstable you're miserable. You got nothing you know.
Christopher: Yeah, definitely hold you back. So talk to me about the mechanics of the bike like range of motion and that type of stuff. Do you find people that just cannot get into the positions that you need them to be in in order to be as skillful as they could?
Lee: Yeah, I see it all the time and one issue is bike set up and I'm not going to use the word "fit" because the word "fit" apparently is a very loaded word. So I'm going to say because the fitters of the world are kind of uniting against me right now. I like to think about cockpit optimization we'll call it and this is the thing. Like if you have an issue with your knees or your hips for when it comes to pedaling go see any qualified fitter and wherever they tell you to put your sit, dude, listen to them like period.
I have nothing to say about that. But get a dropper see post. You can drop it when you're downhill. And then my thing and if you take a class with me we'll do this. I like to put the bar someplace where you can actually manage your bicycle where you have range of motion where the various four force lines, the vectors, line up correctly.
And so in general that means a shorter step most of the time like 90% of riders are prescribed a shorter stem. And so by bringing the bars closer to you, you have a fighting chance and then the big thing is can you stand on your feet, keep your knees on top of your feet and hinge your butt back and get your torso level. They call it a hip hinge.
And a lot of people can't and a lot of dudes just cannot do it and I'm here to tell you that the only way to simultaneously be balanced in the middle of your bike which is the only place to be and create range of motion from your shoulders is to push your butt way the hell back and bring your face forward. And if you don't have that mobility in your hamstrings and that core strength you can't ride well. You just can't.
Christopher: Right. And this is really to test as well. You can put your toes up against the wall and then just see if you can lower your body weight and if you can't do it then yeah that's exactly what we're talking about.
Lee: Yeah, there's a million tests, and so I just like last year I published a program on my site called F6, six moves to build your foundation and it's focused on that stuff. It takes ten minutes. You could do it anywhere, but I see it all the time and a guy like Curtis has that mobility. And you know, Chris, you know I've taught -- we're together where I tried to get you to lean your bike as much as possible you know in turns.
So Curtis and I were out teaching a group of coaches for a North Cal high school league and I call it the death spiral where you start with a wide radius turn and you just get tighter and tighter and tighter and tighter and you see how far you can lean your bike, right. And for me I'll lean the bike until like my back tire is hitting my butt you know. It's pretty low.
And so that day I'm like, "Hey, Curtis, let's see what you have. Let's see what you can do." So he's on flat pedals and he went around and around and around and around and he went all the way until his handle bar was on the ground.
Christopher: Yeah, extraordinary.
Lee: Yeah. And so and he was still on his pedal somehow and I'm like, "That's the kind of strength that a world cup dude has, you know."
Christopher: So we should probably explain here. He's not doing like some kind of do you know like one of those motorcycle things the wheel of death where they ride harder, but still like that 90 degrees completely perpendicular to the ground. So he's leaning his bike way more than his body, right. So his body is still pretty upright, but the bike is cranked right over it and that's how you're cornering all the time, right.
Lee: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And in that situation his body is almost straight up and his bike is literally touching the ground, but most of the time it's safest for us I believe to lead with the bike angle and if you ski you understand that the more you lean in ski the tighter the turn is. The same thing -- it's the same exact geometry on the bicycle.
So like the actual cornering force just come from leaning your bike and again my logic is okay, you got to be in the middle of your bike with your hands weightless. From there, get low and lean in your bike and if you can do that then you can corner.
Christopher: And then talk to me about trail flow. This is something I'm still like grappling with to an extent. So it seems like you're looking ahead on a trail and visualizing things and making decisions ahead of time that most people are probably are not. How does that work?
Lee: Yeah, that's an interesting one and that's something that I've been paying a lot of attention to this year for myself. I think it comes down to like the full -- the whole system, right. You have the bike. You have your fitness, your skills and your confidence, okay. And then as you know when you're a beginner or you're afraid you're going to look pretty close. You're not going to look very far ahead and you end up in a reactive position.
So we'd like to build all the legs of the stool and as much as we can we want to look as far forward as we can. And what I think happens is whatever your body -- I think the brain is pretty dang amazing. I really do and I think it's always monitoring everything that's between it and the ground if that makes any sense.
Christopher: It does.
Lee: So it's checking your spine, your hips. It's checking my shoulders. It's checking your suspension, your tires, everything and the quality of the dirt like everything. And I believe that once you get to a certain level of competency that you know what you can do. You know what you're capable of. Does that make sense? You do know. You understand.
And so by the way if you look at an option like say a jump from rock to rock and your stomach gets tight or you feel afraid then you're not ready. Don't do it, period, that's it, right. Like listen to your body, but if you're nervous and you want to go for it, do it. So my advice to everybody is look as far forward as you can and look for shapes that fit your current riding level. I hope that makes sense.
So for example, if I am on my rigid hard tail and my shoulder is hurt, right, and I'm going along and there's a bunch or rocks. I might not want to hit them and I might not feel like jumping them. So I might just go ahead and corner around them. I can corner pretty well. Does that make sense?
Christopher: It does, yeah.
Lee: If I'm on my Camber which is a four inch travel 29 trail bike I might kind of pump right straight to the rocks. If I'm on my Enduro which is 29er completely amazing bike and this happens all the time. I will come into that section faster because the bike is more capable and my brain will make the connection of like, "Oh, I could hit the first rock and jump the last rock and I'll jump the whole section." Does that make sense?
Christopher: It does, yeah.
Lee: And so what's cool is like each of those lines is a totally awesome, fun, viable line. It's just like in the moment what am I choosing to do? Like what is the system capable of in that moment? And I think that it's important and awesome for people to get in touch with that for themselves.
Christopher: So is that still a conscious decision for you? Does that just happen without you thinking about it now or…?
Lee: More and more it happens without me thinking about it and I've had the luxury or the you know I spent a lot of time working on the absolute basics, the absolute fundamentals and thinking about and teaching and I teach it every day. So on that rare occasion when I get to ride for myself, right, number one I don't race anymore which is actually very freeing. It's awesome because there's no pressure.
Number two, I don't have to prove anything to anybody like I'm just some guy. No one cares how fast I am, right. It doesn't matter. So I'm able to come into this in an organic way and I'm noticing my body doing incredible things, absolutely incredible things if I can let it go. It's absolutely phenomenal and so fun and that's kind of when you know you're into the state of flow with a capital F, the magic.
Christopher: So this is I think an important part of this trail flow thing, the thing that's making it working is I mentioned earlier that you're able to propel the bicycle without pedaling in this thing that we call pumping and I think the easiest way to describe it that everybody will understand is if you've ever ridden a skateboard in kind of any sort of half pipe. So you can take basically anyone and have them roll backwards and forwards in a smooth half pipe and eventually they'll start to pump and start to gain momentum.
And you're doing the same thing on the bicycle and then that's fitting into the trail flow. So you're using those opportunities in the trail to gain momentum without pedaling. So how does that work? How do you do that? How do I get started with that on the bike?
Lee: You're getting me so excited. Yeah. That's the magic, right. And so in the beginning and I started riding a mountain bike in 1988. Things were kind of different then, you know. In the beginning every bump is an obstacle, right, and you're just trying to avoid them or just manage them and you're just hitting things and waiting for bad things to happen to you.
Like ultimately, I want everybody -- I always talked about the sine wave of love, right. I want everybody to look at any train they ride. It could be a road. It could be a cross country trail, a pump track, dirt jumps, a DH track whatever you ride I don't care, a cycle cross track. I want you to perceive the wave like there is a sine wave there.
Now, it might be like gross looking. It might be a pile of rocks or something, but like at whatever level you're at today I want you to perceive that every turn is a wave that happens to be sideways and any kind of undulation or bump is a vertical wave. And so in the beginning it might be just kind of smooth things that you see as waves like a smooth roller like on a pump track.
So what I say is like understand and practice pumping a smooth roller like an isolated situation like a pump track's the best place ever, right. And then once that neuromuscular connection, once that habit is formed there comes a day when you're on trail and you come into a water bar that used to buck you over the handle bars and all of a sudden you're pumping like you have it. You know what I mean?
And so I'm a big fan it's like Karate Kid like practice the skills and isolations as much as you can. So you really get it dialed in and then let your brain apply them on trail and what happens is as you get better at making big angles with your bike and as you become more powerful, essentially like I weigh 180 pounds. I can make my bike weigh 800 pounds if I wanted to and I can make it weigh zero, right.
So like as you get more powerful you allow yourself to get way heavier and way lighter. Does that make sense? And so your wave, your amplitude of the wave, the height of the wave gets higher, okay. Right around then like a big pile of rocks you start to perceive it as one shape. So you're going to bunny hop or pump the whole pile and what happens then as your speed starts to increase, so not only your wave, your amplitude bigger, is taller, but your wavelength is longer. Does that make sense?
Christopher: It does.
Lee: And so what happens and I believe that we should all stay within our comfort zone is you start to naturally look farther forward. You start to look for these shapes and you start to ride the sine wave of love is what I call it. And you instead of -- and so basically it's like mogul skiing where you're in phase with the train and as long as you're in phase with the train the speed feels easy. It feels comfortable. It's flowing and that's the sweet spot.
I don't care how fast you're going, but the fact is if you do this you will go fast. Speed will come and so and then as you get stronger, as you get more balanced, as your bikes get better you start to make bigger waves and then like I teach like a skills tree approach. So we teach you how to corner. We teach you how to handle bumps separately.
There comes a time when you're pretty damn good at cornering and doing bumps and your brain is amazing at combining skills. That's how you learn music and math. And so you'll get to the point where you see it as a tight corner and a pile of rocks after that and then another tight corner. You get to the point where you drill that corner and you pump that corner and accelerate.
You're really heavy in the corner and you use the lightness out of the corner to hop over the rocks and you land on the back of the last rock and get more pump and you're heavy on the next corner. I hope you can visualize that. So it's always a wave and ultimately you're always turning and you're always doing bumps all simultaneously.
Christopher: And then how do I get started with this? How do I get started with pumping? Is it possible to read one of your books and start to understand how to do this and what should I then start on the tarmac or find a pump track or which is best?
Lee: Well, the books seem to work. A lot of people get a lot out of the books for sure. So the books are the cheapest way. My favorite way is if you take a class with me or one of my coaches of course, right. And if you have access to a pump track that's fantastic because that's ideal because it's repeatable, it's a literal wave. A BMX track is cool.
If you have anywhere in your area where there's just like some rollers that are kind of consecutive you can use them and by the way like if there's any land in your area sometimes it's hard to get permission to build stuff. But if like a bunch of rollers happen to appear overnight you know magically you could use some for training.
So that's ideal, but you know what it's interesting is once you've kind of and I teach this all the time. Like once I teach you the basics of cornering just on flat ground I can then teach you how to pump turns and if we're like -- if I'm doing a class where all we have is a parking lot say or flat train I'll teach you how to pump turns. And so what's cool about pumping corners is you're combining a lot of vectors.
Like you're staying balanced in the middle of the bike, you're leaning the bike. You're rotating your body and you're loading the ground. So once you can pump flat ground like on a car park, parking lot that's a really hard degree of bike control and that for more and more clients that's the drill I teach them because that way you can essentially transcend the pump track and you can pump anywhere you are, period.
Christopher: So that's great. There are two things there. In fact, there's lots of things here you've talked about which you don't need a whole bunch of fancy equipment or world class trails to do. So and then the same is true with the strength training, right. You don't need an amazing world class gym and all that kind of stuff. The stuff that you can do in ten minutes in your home which is I think really cool.
Lee: I think that's the way to go especially if you have kids.
Christopher: Yeah. Who has time to go to the gym? It sucks.
Lee: And if you're a cyclist why would you ever drive somewhere to work out? Like that's just not who we are. That's madness. So I keep my exercise bands and my dumbbell and my stability board and a yoga mat in my van. I have a sprinter van that I teach out of. And so every day before I teach I do my work out done and it's perfect.
Yeah, it doesn't take -- it's funny like trail riding is the best. That's my favorite, but I look at that as the place where you execute all your skills. If you are busy and feel human being and you want to get good at bike riding you can damn good at it in front of your house in the driveway. I'm serious. You can learn a lot.
Christopher: Yeah, it's amazing.
Lee: You can learn a lot.
Christopher: Yeah, it's funny it's like you watch little kids and that's exactly what they do and it's kind of -- you know I just got a new kid. She's only one and it's really interesting to see her move perfectly and it's really interesting to see the kids playing on their bikes in the street. You know that's how you got good in the first place not spending three hours driving to some trails or something.
Lee: I know, right. You turn Strava and you chase your buddy and all you really get better at is whatever you know and please forgive me, Chris, but most people are pretty terrible. They don't know what to do. How would they know? And they're pretty awful and the more you ride the more awful you get. That's why like the hardest clients are the guys who've been riding 20 or 30 years and who think they're amazing. It's tough to untangle those habits, really tough.
Christopher: And then so what happened in between -- so Mastering Mountain Bike Skills is an incredible book. It's an extraordinary visual aid. Like I'm not sure many other people in the planet could have created that and then you created a second revision that was I think significantly better and so what happens in between those? At what point did you realize that you could do better and write that second revision?
Lee: Well, one thing that happened was Mastering Mountain Bike Skills was that publisher's bestselling trade book, period. So they drove the second edition. They wanted to do it and honestly I wasn't that excited about it because the financial arrangement with that publisher isn't so great. Like if you buy a book from Barnes & Noble I get like 50 cents you know.
So all my current books I publish myself, but what changed a lot is when I did the first book I was a racer. I was a racer and I was a journalist and I partners with Brian Lopes who of course knows something about bike riding. I interviewed Steve Peat and Mark Weir and all these awesome people, right. And so I kind of did it as a racer, but mostly as a journalist if that makes any sense. I researched it. I used to do infographics about stem cells on deadline.
It's the same idea. You research it. You figure it out and you express it. So it was that, but fueled by my personal passion, right. When the second edition was done, it was about five years later and what was different was I've been coaching for five years.
Like when I did the first book, Chris, I never ever thought I was going to a bike coach. I had no interest at all and I had no concept to that at all. It was never a thought and, but when the book came out I started thinking, you know real sports have curricula like skiing has a curricula. When you take your kids to swim lessons there's a curriculum you know.
They know how to teach kids how to play soccer and I was like, "Darn, this is a real sport. It's time for someone to make it a curriculum." So I gave myself the assignment, right, to create this thing. And by so doing I started to teach it to test it out, you know. And what happened was I realized that I think I'm a born teacher. I mean it just resonated with me and when you're a journalist in newspaper you have words and pictures.
Now, I have words. I have my gestures. I have my body, my soul, my heart, my mind, my whole everything to convey information to people. Does that make sense?
Christopher: It does, yeah. I never picked up on that originally because I never knew you as a journalist or a designer. The first time I met you was for a skills clinic, right. And --
Lee: Yeah. So you knew me as a coach.
Christopher: Yeah, I knew you as a coach and I'd already had the book for quite a long time I think and so it just never really even occurred to me that you might have changed in some way over that time.
Lee: Yeah, that was my background. So bottom line like when I did the second book I had been teaching those stuffs for five years and I was getting to a point where I was committing to doing that for my livelihood too. So it's very, very different book. It's a lot more effective when it comes to teaching and learning. It's a lot simpler and it's funny because when I wrote book I was still like trying to win national downhills.
So I talked about like if you're scared just fist the breaks. Don't touch the brakes. Just fist the grips you know. I took that out in the second edition. Now, my philosophy is like if you think you're going too fast slow down. But that's like the 45 year old data for and coach talking now, right. Like but yes, it's different and now compared to that book it's been another five years and I've taught so many people. It's really accelerated.
So the stuff I teach now is way more elegant, way more scalable, way more dialed in. Just it's a whole new thing.
Christopher: That's super cool and then how did that develop into the strength and fitness programs?
Lee: So I kind of I came in like I have a background in exercise physiology, but there are a lot of other guys doing that work and I respect them so I stayed away from it. But like I said, like I've worked with so many people. Like number one for the mobility, that's the F6 program, like it's just like if you can't move well off the bike you can't move well on the bike.
And I realized like I want something that people can use that's specifically helps them ride a bike better and it also happens to be better like on moving day and airport day. And my opinion is those are the two tests of real fitness is when you're moving and when you're at the airport with all your kid's stuff. Like how strong are you, you know.
So I just did that to kind of -- I wanted it to be simple. I wanted it to be something you can do at home. I want to be founded on really sound exercise science that's why I partnered with Erin Carson here at Rally Sports in Boulder. And I wanted it to be something that people could do. So ten minutes most people can do, right.
So that's that and then there are the two fitness programs and I mean there's a lot of fitness training out there. There are lots and lots of great coaches out there, but I wanted something that was simple, something that was bone effective, just absolutely will not beat you up and will give you maximum benefit. And I also wanted for the first time to really bring an understanding of pedaling skill and what it means to be a mountain biker.
Like we don't just sit down and pedal at a 100 RMP. You do other things. So that first program pump up the base is designed to build -- I do and it's made a huge difference for me. It builds your aerobic capacity and your sprint power. So both ends of the spectrum and while you're doing it you're building technique and it's been massively beneficial for me and for the people I know who use it.
And then the other program prepare to pin it as a more intense program that you'd use during the season. But I just the reason I did them was because I realized that there's a need for them you know. And I wanted to come in as a guy who's busy, got multiple jobs, kids. I'm a grown up and who wants to be able to ride effectively you know and who wants to like only subject myself to enough punishment to get the adaptation and ride better. Does that make sense?
Christopher: So it's a minimalist program, right?
Lee: Yeah, it's pretty efficient. It's pretty effective and if you can just do these things you see massive benefit, massive.
Christopher: Right. Yeah, I'm starting to realize this you know as I get older and I do more research that you think you're doing the right thing by doing these super long workouts. So I must be so in such good shape because I ride my bike for hours of the weekend, but when you look more carefully at the research you see that especially the changes that happens to heart muscle is it grows thicker is actually a pathology and the heart pump actually stops working so well.
Lee: Right, like they see that in marathon runners.
Christopher: Yeah, exactly. They all start dropping dead of heart attacks for and it's nothing to do with atherosclerosis. It's quite scary.
Lee: It is nutty and so the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine is right here in town. So I work with those guys. So I partnered with Lester Pardoe, my trainer to do these programs and it's the same protocol as they use there pretty much, but with a real focus on a busy mountain biker's real life. And pump up the base especially it gets heavily into pedaling technique and I realized --
Christopher: Yeah, you should tell me about that. We've mentioned pedaling technique a couple of times or you have and I think I know what you're talking about and I think I can actually remember a moment in which I saw quite significant increase in power for the same heart rate when I started using your technique. So maybe you could describe that for me.
Lee: Well, I don't want to describe all of them because I'm going to sell them. But I see that we have the body we have. This is -- you're a great climber. I'm not, right on. And so I mean we spend so much freaking time pedaling as bike riders like let's just pay attention, you know. And so the approach that I have and Lester got me started on it and I flushed it out. It's all about making the power phase as long as possible.
We don't pull up. We don't scrape mud, none of that anymore. We basically use the big muscles and I'll give you the best drill ever for free is this. It's simple. As your pedal approach the top of the stroke drop your hill. Like start dropping at right past 9:00 and try to start pushing forward by 12:00 and that's it. Like and there's more to it, but that's basics and if you can do that you make your power phase longer. You kind of minimize the opposite dead phase and as you know because I think you spend time on flat pedals. You can learn this technique with flat pedals.
Like it's pedal agnostic and I think that's when you started showing your massive benefit is when you learn to ride class. It's just like learning how to downhill on flat. It's like if you learn how to ride downhill on flats your feet are being taught exactly what to do, right. So if you learn how to pedal at flats you're teaching your feet exactly what to do and my thought is all right more and more of clients never go back to clears. They never do.
But when you do clip in you have a neurological neuromuscular pattern and that way your feet already know what to do. It's handled and you make more power. And so we see massive amounts of -- I think you said 8%?
Christopher: Yeah, that's exactly right. I just looked it up and it was. It was 8% power after learning. I mean it took me a while to kind of figure out. It didn't happen overnight from you telling me. It's not that simple a trick. So yeah, you need to go do the class and have Lee show you and then practice it some. But yes, 8% power increase at threshold which is huge. That's like the difference between -- I mean this is going back a couple of years now 2012 I think it was.
But I mean certainly now if you put 8% on my power threshold I probably could ride my bike for a living.
Lee: Yeah, it's pretty -- that's huge and you came in really fit and I saw the same exact number from another professional rider here in Colorado. Same drill, same classes and he spent the winter on flat pedals and in the spring he showed 8% and that's for -- you guys are both considered to be pretty elite. Like I'm not elite and so my number is like I said over the past few years are up 50% plus.
It's awesome and you know the bigger thing is it's like this like I'm not miserable climbing anymore. Like I got to the point where I was just like I was just like I was a downhill, I didn't pay attention to climbing. I would do it, but I didn't like it. But now I mean I'm not as fast as some people, but at least I'm competent and it feels good and it makes riding way more fun and I suck less. That's like I'm on a never ending quest, Chris, to suck less.
Christopher: Yeah, I think I am too. The flat pedals though had definitely been instrumental I think in my progress and really good thing. Everyone thought I'm nuts -- I was nuts and I think they still think I'm nuts when I turn up for a ride ring with flat pedals, but--
Lee: That's awesome.
Christopher: Yeah, I think I don't know. It's good for a number of reasons. It just gets me out. You develop bad habits with the clips. Like you stop putting your weight on the pedals and you don't even know it's happening and it seems like having the weight on the pedals is instrumental to success.
Lee: I think so and I think the culture is coming around, but the cross country people are still pretty dogmatic about it.
Christopher: Yeah. I know that James Wilson has been campaigning for this quite strongly.
Lee: Yeah. He's heavy duty on that you know. It's been a huge benefit and it's funny. Like I most of the time right now I clip in because I just like it and I hold out hope that I can go race some Enduros. So when I do I'll be clipped in, but if I'm on the road or the trainer I'm almost always on flats. So I ride the pump track on flats and I jump sometimes in flats, but my road bike has flats on it.
Christopher: Oh, wow. Yeah. I mean I still race with clipped in, but I mean if you're just riding then if you're not racing then the flat pedals make a lot of sense. But apart from anything else, they're really comfortable like they're super [0:56:24] [Indiscernible] and then like a really big platform to put your foot on. It's incredibly comfortable.
Lee: Yeah. It just feels -- it feels good, right?
Lee: Yeah and that's the other thing. We are supposed to do this for fun most of us and I like the feeling. If I'm on the trainer or the road and I'm not doing something specifically horrifying where I have to clip in I want to feel decent. So I run flats and my favorite set up right now is I have a pair of the new Saint flat pedal which is fantastic. It will last for 50 years and I have a pair of Keene sandals and I live at the top of a -- I live at 6,700 feet and I ride up this hill always on time. Seventeen percent grade for two miles with sandals and it feels great. I love it.
Christopher: That's awesome.
Lee: I love it.
Christopher: So my final question for you is what makes a great coach? What do you think -- what have you strived for in yourself personally to become a better coach?
Lee: Yeah, that's a good one, man. I like to think that I'm a pretty good coach.
Christopher: You are an excellent coach I think.
Lee: Well, thank you. And people say and I work with people who have seen the other guys and they come to me, but I'm not aware of people going the other direction so much. So I feel like I provide a good product. I mean yeah, it's complicated. I think -- well, I think a good coach needs to be a good enough rider to demonstrate the techniques that they're showing, right. That's important.
I don't have to go hulk off a 50 foot cliff, but I could show you perfect technique on a ten foot cliff. It's applicable, right. You got to be competent. I think you have to have a really deep understanding of the actual physical dynamics of what it takes to ride a bike well and I don't think very many people have that in a way that they can express.
And thank goodness for my experience as a designer. You know I design infographic software systems, all kinds of things like I've been able to use that skill to dial in my teaching approach more and more over the years. It's getting simpler and I use it like if we're designing software I use the same exact terms like we talk about scalability. We talk about simplicity like it's just I'll teach you something really basic that you'll get the first day and feel awesome about it.
And someday we'll just scale it up to make it crazier. So I think having that structure is super important and I happen to have one. I happen to have designed one that I've used and that my coaches that work for me use. I think that's a good one. I think that a good coach can reach anybody, you know, can reach any ladder.
And I've been privy to some other sessions where the coach was a pro, right. And then he was a, say, a bartender and he hates being a bartender and so he decided to be a coach, right. That's fine. That's cool. But I've seen these guys. They have a really unique perspective on life because they've been a bike racer and they spend time talking about how awesome they are and how they did it worlds and stuff.
But I feel like if you can't associate and identify and reach your client then you're useless. Does that make sense?
Christopher: It does make a lot of sense, yeah.
Lee: And so I feel like one thing I have going for me and maybe when I was a racer I thought it was against me, but now I understand it's a power I have is that I really am a normal dude athletically.
Christopher: So you know what the client is going through, the guy in your class.
Lee: Oh, my god! I know what you're going through and I understand too like Christopher Kelly might be kind of a type A guy. I'm that guy too. I understand where you're coming from, brother. I get it. And I've been there and I have a family and I have injuries and I have fear that I have worked through and I've also had been able to achieve some pretty cool things on a bike and competed at high level too.
So like if you're a pro I think I can help you understand and trust me to help you get better. And if you're a total beginner and you're coming in totally nervous I think I can really reach you and come to where you need. Does that make sense?
Christopher: It does, yeah.
Lee: And I think that's a big, big part. It's not about me, Chris. If you hire me to teach you, right. I will understand to the best I can and I'll give you everything. I'll do everything I can to help you get better. It has nothing to do with me. I'm just a vessel. I'm a conduit for this thing.
Christopher: Yeah, it comes -- your humility comes across in this interview I think as well as it does in the classes and it's extremely compelling. It's a really nice thing.
Lee: Thanks, man.
Christopher: The problem is though there's not many people like you, is there? Like if I live not in Colorado then I'm kind of in trouble, right? Who else is doing this kind of stuff that is comparable?
Lee: Well, there are other coaches out there and if you find a coach who meets your needs then I say go for it. That's awesome. What we're doing over here at Lee Likes Bikes is we're starting to scale up. So we have a small team of coaches now. There are four of us total. There's me, there's Kevin Stiffler. He's here in Colorado, but he travels.
There's Andy Somerville. He's in Southern California. He's brilliant too and there's Judd Zimmerman. He's also exceptional and he's in Utah. So I'm always looking for the right people. I'm looking for a very special person, Chris, to add to the team. I'm always looking for that and then we're starting to scale out and teach elsewhere.
So like for example this fall I can pull up on my site right now. Internet's never fast enough, is it? In the next month or so I'll be in Southern California, Peoria, Illinois and Northern California. And Kevin will be teaching in New York State. So we're starting to get around and if any of your listeners wants us to come out what I'll do is we basically set up a day. That's how I got to Peoria last month.
A client hired me for the day and then I tried to fill some other days and they sold out and it turns out there's an amazing community there so I'm going back. So we can go pretty much anywhere. Just reach out to us and we can organize a trip around it.
Christopher: Oh, that's good. That's scale quite a lot actually. I didn't know that -- I mean I know that's the way to do it when you get someone that's really good at something then you need to have them training other people to do what you do.
Lee: Totally and I'm just being careful with it and you know what I'm doing now too is I'm starting -- I have two beta customers right now. I'm starting a remote coaching program because I know that not everybody can come and meet me, right. So and if someone wants to come to the site, email me. We can get started on it now, but basically what we do is I give you drills and then you do them and you send me video and then I give you feedback and we kind of go back and forth, you know.
Christopher: Oh, wow. That's a really interesting idea.
Lee: So that's kind of the future for me is to take all the coaching experience I have and the systems I have and basically make them available to anybody, anyone in the world and that's my next big mission. And like I said I've started already. So if someone wants to get after it like at some point when you come to my site, leelikesbikes.com, there will be a tab for remote coaching. But right now you can just email me at leelikesbikes.com if you want to do it and we can start to work it out.
Christopher: Brilliant. That sounds excellent. One final question, so the medical doctor that we're partnered with, Jamie Bush has also done some coaching with you. What was she like? Is she any good?
Lee: She's a heck of an athlete, man.
Christopher: I mean she goes fast up the hill, but we're talking about done. What do you think she should be working on?
Lee: She came in with getting a course and she drives with Jeff Kendall-Weed.
Christopher: Yeah, he's just ninja. He's ridiculous.
Lee: Yeah, he's -- that guy is full ninja. I've admired him for years. She came in with like the normal bad habits that you would have, right. And I think that she's really sharp and she knows her body. And so for her it's just a matter of working on that position that we've been doing, be more in the middle of a bike and then learning to be more active and more decisive.
Like most riders are kind of passive and they let things happen. We want you -- it's like a Tony Robbins tape. I want you to do things. I want you to be decisive and I want her to do the same thing. Like if her bike is going to do something I don't want her to wait for it to do it. I want her to make it do it. Put her in charge.
Christopher: Brilliant. I'm sure she'll get to hear this and she'll take that on.
Christopher: So yeah, thank you so much for your time today, Lee. I really appreciate it. This has been great. And so Lee Likes Bikes is the place to find you if you want to book some clinics and you can find your programs there too and the book. Is that the best place to buy the book now?
Lee: Yeah. I appreciate you buying it there because I make a little bit more money on it, but if you want to find the books on Amazon or anywhere in the world wherever you are go for it. It's awesome.
Christopher: Brilliant. Okay. Thanks then, Lee.
Lee: You're very welcome, sir. Have a good day.
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