Mal Schulstad has been riding mountain bikes since the early 90’s, taking a break while starting his family and returning to the sport in his 40’s.
A certified Mountain Bike Coach, aeronautical engineer, business mentor and academic tutor, Mal combines his life experiences with his passion for helping riders improve their technical skills and break down their mental barriers to becoming a better rider.
Mal believes that the skills learned out on the trails not only translate to more fun off-road, but to a more enjoyable outlook on life too.
In this blog, Mal describes his journey of self-improvement and overcoming his ego, something we can all learn from.
While I rode mountain bikes in my youth, today's bikes and trails have changed so much from the 90s that when I started riding again just over 6 years ago, it was like starting from scratch. My first ride on Nerang's mountain bike trails located on the sunny Gold Coast was a complete disaster. It involved a lot of pushing my bike up hills and falling off coming down (a total of 3 times in less than 10km).
It was then I realised I had a long way to go to become competent on a mountain bike.
Three years after I first started turning the pedals again on single track - at the end of 2017, I actually thought I was a half decent rider. Decent enough, in fact, to start helping others to improve their riding. After all, my Strava times weren't too bad and when pointed downhill, I could leave all of my riding buddies in the dust.
But if I was going to start coaching others, I thought I'd better do a sanity check and make sure that what my ego was telling me about my riding skills was correct. And so, I joined an online coaching program created by trials rider Ryan Leach.
And realised just how many skills I actually lacked to ride well.
If I'm being honest, I already knew that I was lacking a lot of core skills and technique in my riding. After all, you don’t acquire a legendary reputation for crashing by being skilful and riding with technique.
But like many mountain bike riders out there, my ego prevented me from improving, simply because I wanted to believe and tell others that I was a better rider than I actually was.
And so like the masses out on the trails, I just rode as far and as fast as I could, impressing myself with ever improving Strava times while watching in silent awe as other riders did things that I wouldn't dream of attempting - but telling myself that one day I would just magically become as good as they were.
Since realising what I lacked to ride well I've actually begun to improve my riding significantly.
With my ego shut tightly away in the closet, I've been able to focus on learning and practicing the skills to become a better rider, rather than trying to prove to everyone else how good a rider I am (because I actually still have a very long way to go). Instead of envying another rider's abilities, I am instead inspired to see what is possible on two wheels.
When it comes to improving your riding, attitude is everything. You see, you can't fix something if you don't believe it's broken. You can't make something better if you believe it's already good enough. And if your ego is telling you that you're a good enough rider then you will simply believe your own hype and not seek to improve your skills.
If you really want to become a better rider and learn those skills that you see other riders performing on the trails, pack up that ego and stick it in the closet where it belongs.
Believe you can be a better rider and start taking the steps necessary to become one.