The Star Of New Freestyle Bike Movie ‘Frames Of Mind’ Reveals How He Uses Visualisation To Create His Next-Level Tricks In His Head

When one of the world’s top freestyle bike riders broke his wrist ahead of filming his break-through Red Bull movie ‘Frames Of Mind’, he had to dream up and learn the never-seen before tricks entirely in his head – fortunately he’s a master of visualisation, as he reveals to RISING…

RISING Riding freestyle mountain bikes is a lot about style and developing a signature way of riding – how important has visualisation become to you? MATT JONES, FREESTYLE MOUNTAIN BIKER ‘I’ve been doing this long enough now to know what I am capable of and what I enjoy, but the visualisation side of it has been super-important. It’s a technique that I have been taught by a sports psychologist. It’s not a secret but the way I work on it is literally another form of practice. Things feel so familiar in my head that I can go up a ramp, do a trick that I haven’t done before and fine-tune it in my head before actually trying it. Then when you come down to doing it for real it almost feels familiar.’

RISING Some of your trick repertoire includes risky jumps like double backflips – how does visualisation beforehand affect how dangerous some of these tricks are? MJ ‘I’ve got the main foundation flips, like backflips, front flips, 360s both ways and it’s pure muscle memory now – you can just ride up to a jump and do them. Building on that and exploring new combinations, or spinning on a different axis, you can just work through in your head. In a way it brings that risk factor down a lot because if you are thinking about something long and hard enough and you realise that it’s not possible, then you have saved yourself a trip to A&E when you might have tried it.’

RISING What about the preparation for Frames Of Mind where you land never-seen before tricks – how much did you rely on visualisation? MJ ‘A lot of the new tricks in this film were just ideas that were formulated and fine-tuned in my head, where I worked out which are possible and what needs to be changed to make it happen. The other thing that made it so valuable was that the first half of the build up I had my wrist in plaster after I broke it at the start of the year, so I couldn’t actually practice on anything that was there or ride it. A lot of the things that I did in the video on the first day of filming was the first day I’d even ridden stuff.’

It took 60 attempts for a 3-second part of the video, and I was battered and bruised

RISING Can you give us an example from the film? MJ ‘The bum slide [see the image, ED] was not really building on anything I’ve done before – it was completely new. You never ride a bike, basically deliberately crash and then get up again [in one move], which is kind of what I was doing. Even choosing what size to make the drop off the end and the jump onto the platform was quite difficult. I had to just imagine doing it and basically guesstimate, so it was sick that that worked. It took a lot of goes, 60 attempts for a 3-second part of the video and I was battered and bruised but it was down to trial and error. It took so long – it was tough but so worth it.’

RISING How determined do you have to be to make a filming project this like successful? MJ ‘A lot of the shots took an entire day – one of them was over two days to get. If you want to break new ground doing things that haven’t been done before, then you’re going to have to put the time in, which is something I experienced more so with this video than ever before. You’ve really got to commit to these ideas and if you say it’s going to be possible then you need to make it happen.’

RISING How confident were you that you’d be able to even ride all of the features, which included a 5m-wide loop the loop? MJ ‘I was always pretty optimistic but there were days getting close to filming where I was struggling with one thing and then looking around me at all the other features we hadn't started filming yet and saw that as a massive mountain in front of me. With the loop the loop that had a lot of resources and time going into building it. It’s quite a unique shaped one, like a big corkscrew that goes 5m across. All my experiences of filming videos before had been three takes and if you land it, it’s in the video, if not then you find something new. But because everything was so concrete and there had been budget spent around my idea there wasn’t an alternative – I had to do what I had to do.’

RISING So, you must have taken a few hard slams during filming? MJ ‘Anyone in action and freestyle sports is used to taking the slams and broken bones but weirdly you can be quite good at crashing. You do gain quite a lot understanding of how to crash, in which direction to bail off your bike, even though you’ve got a split second to make a decision. You do notice as you progress that you get better at dealing with crashes. It’s almost a reflex now – if I take off a jump wrong, say I’m doing a spin or a trick, I’ve probably jumped off the bike before I’ve even realised it’s gone wrong. As soon as something doesn’t feel like muscle memory, or what you know, then you just eject off the bike.’

RISING Do you train in the gym to build up injury resilience too? MJ ‘I go to the gym a few times a week, just to keep building myself up especially in winter but I don’t push any particular type of training too hard. I’m not trying to be super-muscular or as fit as a triathlete, I just think the bike time is important. Having quite sturdy shoulders brings the chance of injury down quite a lot – you can get ready for a big slam if you’ve got a bit of muscle on your bones!’

RISING Another part of your process is to watch back slo-mo videos of you doing tricks – why is that? MJ ‘If I was doing quite a big jump with a combination trick, lots of things going on – I really want to throw a bar spin almost as I am coming into land. And in my head sometimes I feel like there’s absolutely no way that there’s time to do that, but if you watch a video back you realise you’re still ten foot in the air and you’ve got all the time in the world. Sometimes it’s a bit of a revelation watching things back and realising that things look different.’

In a foam pit you can crash 100 times in a day and learn, rather than the first one taking you out

RISING There’s a foam pit at your local skate park where you also ride – how important was that to your progression? MJ ‘I don’t think I would have ever overcome the fear or the pressure or the danger of doing a backflip without a foam pit, so that was super-valuable. Anyone who has got a foam pit not too far from them is super-lucky and that’s something that was a massive part of my progression early on, that’s for sure. There’s no way I would have tried a double-backflip without a foam pit because it’s a high risk one that has taken people out of the sport completely.’

‘In a foam pit you can crash 100 times in a day and learn from it rather than the first one taking you out for a few months. Now I’ll use it less because I find it better trying on a real jump even though there’s quite a high chance of crashing, there’s also a chance of landing it whereas you never actually land anything in a foam pit. It’s a bit of a ‘pick a door’ scenario; crash or land it. But in a foam pit it’s always: “Would I have landed that or wouldn’t I?”

RISING What would your top tips be for people wanting to learn how to jump mountain bikes? MJ ‘‘There are riders who want to get straight into tricks on day one but it almost inhibits their progression, so try to ride as many different places and styles of jumps is important so that nothing can surprise you – even going from a BMX track to a pump track, to some dirt jumps. You can really build and round your abilities to the level where someone who is constantly jumping into a foam pit would never get – that level of bike control will take you further.’

RISING What about bike selection – what should we ride? MJ ‘A lot of people think that they need full suspension bikes but actually just a hardtail with only front suspension is absolutely perfect. It almost teaches you better technique for riding. I rode a hardtail for ten years before I ever rode a full suspension bike and I think it’s a much better way of learning. One thing people often forget is for jumping put your saddle really low – a lot of guys will have their seat up from riding ten miles and then go over a jump and it really bucks you over the handlebars. It’s such a simple thing that’s often overlooked!’

RISING There’s a big element of self-expression and points for style in freestyle mountain biking – how important was that part of the sport to your mindset? MJ ‘It’s down to the fact that I never had outside pressure or pressure from myself to progress – it was all actually for the love of it – that I’ve got to where I have. If there was a sport where you had to do certain routines with a strict protocol to get where you need to be I don’t think I would have coped. There have been loads of times where I really want to learn a new trick, have a dreadful time learning, can’t do it, so you just try something else. There’s nothing hinging on learning certain things. Everyone brings something different to the table. That’s why everyone has got their different styles of riding, which is really cool.’

WHAT NEXT? Watch Matt Jones in action, riding the features and tricks he talks about here in the full Frames Of Mind film…

Follow the writer @mattfitnessray

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