I started mountain biking and riding the Sope Creek trails in late 2013 and have been progressively getting better. My rides used to be filled with full-on panic braking going into drops and hard corners, falling off after getting stalled going through a rock garden and whacking my shoulders or handlebars on trees. Over time my riding skills improved; I was reading MTBR and watching some youtube videos and taking notes. I felt pretty good for most flat riding or climbing but was embarrassed by my descending and would usually not go downhill very aggressively.
So for most of 2014, 2015 and 2016 I was just kinda blundering about. Randomly getting better but not really improving in a focused direction. In late 2016 Georgia was in a pretty heavy drought and I went back to riding Sope Creek almost everyday but what changed was that I was riding it on three different types of bikes. I was riding a 700c rigid steel cross bike with 40mm tires (monstercross bike), a 26″ drop bar mountain hardtail and a regular 29″ mountain hardtail.
What I noticed was that every time I rode my monstercross bike, the next time I was on my regular mountain bike was like my skills had improved ten-fold. Riding a monstercross bike is so much harder and everything happens so much faster that when I went back to a flat bar hardtail it was like the world had slowed down. Everything was slower and easier and I could find the lines quicker and more consistently. With a monstercross bike to go really fast you need to find the golden path through all the rocks, ruts and roots. It’s still a chain-rattling, tooth-jarring ride but it’s fast. When you try to take the same path on a hardtail it’s like hitting warp speed. I was flying through the woods.
I went from just meandering around to getting much faster and riding much cleaner really quick. I was hitting descents like a dive bomber, flicking the bike around obstacles and just going really fast all the time with high efficiency.
It wasn’t just monstercross that helped so much it was also paying attention to the two big skills – trail braking and bike lean. These two things were hugely responsible for the improvement but they were spurned by riding different types of bikes. If you can take a technical turn at speed over rocks and roots on a monstercross bike, you can do it significantly faster on a mountain bike. Well no shit, but what I mean is that monstercross forces you to ride well and when you get back on your mountain bike you bring those skills back to the forefront of your mind. It’s easy to get lazy riding the same trails on the same bike, changing to a vastly different bike is a great way to stay fresh and develop skills that often atrophy with suspension and huge tires.