The RipRow Will Make You a Better Mountain Biker
This machine isn't just the latest entry into the pantheon of strange exercise equipment. It's also the best thing to happen to mountain bike–specific training, perhaps ever.
“One day,” says inventor and company founder Lee McCormack. “Just one day of RipRowing is all it takes to improve your riding.”
Right. I’ve tried many new training methods and remained as relatively sucky the next day as when I started. CrossFit? Six or so weeks to feel real progress (and I never did embrace kipping). Hangboard training? Weeks, not days. Perfecting my back cast? A lifelong project.
Compared to a lot of shredders out there, I’m a pretty casual rider. That said, I love riding and have pushed pedals for 20 years. I’ve participated in a bunch of 24-hour races, including 24 hours of Moab when that was a thing, and I enter at least one race a year. (Last year, it was the inaugural Estes Epic.) I’ve bikepacked thousands of miles on my hardtail and chose the town I live in partly due to its proximity to my favorite local MTB trails (Hall Ranch). But my skills plateaued long ago, and I figured that continually smooth and fast descents and cleaning the most technical climbs were simply beyond my ability. Then I hopped on a RipRow.
Creating the RipRow
This 40-pound device is an unstable platform outfitted with a set of MTB handlebars atop a frame that you push and pull between your feet, like you’re on a mountain bike riding through bumps. Resistance is provided by adjustable shocks: one for pulling and one for pushing. RipRow’s inventor—Lee McCormack, a mountain bike skills expert based in Boulder, Colorado—describes it as a great strength- and agility-training device for many things, including but not limited to: “Mountain biking, BMX, cyclocross, motocross, skiing, horseback riding, furniture carrying, and baby making.”
I first met Lee when he and I were on adjacent tables at Revo Physiotherapy and Sports Performance in Boulder. I was working through an arduous shoulder surgery recovery, and Lee was trying to avoid one. We were like-minded junkies when it came to boosting fitness and learning to use our shoulders better. Lee had been mountain biking for 25 years and teaching MTB skills for ten, and he’s written a bunch of books on the subject. To make a living teaching and coaching mountain biking, you’ve got to be pretty damn good and draw from a deep well of experience—but, Lee says, he gradually had three troubling thoughts.
“My shoulders were being destroyed by imperfect riding,” Lee says.
He was also second-guessing some basic ideas about riding. “I always thought we should pull up and push down [over obstacles], but what’s actually happening is much more nuanced.” Look at a bike’s profile, and picture a circle with the bike’s bottom bracket at its center—Lee’s epiphany was that riders balance on their feet near that center, while the bike’s handlebars move along a radius from that center point, not simply up and down like a floor pump.
Plus, he hadn’t quite nailed his bike fit. What Lee learned was that when you find your ideal distance from the deck to your grips on the RipRow (the point where you have optimal range of motion and strength), you should set the same exact distance from the bottom bracket to your grips on your mountain bike. Lee dubbed this the Rider Area Distance (or RAD) and says that for most riders this will equal your knuckle height while standing upright and holding the grips on the RipRow.
The RipRow is the creation that remedied all of Lee’s concerns. “It showed me precisely how to set up a mountain bike for optimal handling and taught me how to move more perfectly, while improving my strength and confidence.”
Over the past five years, Lee’s device has been through eight iterations, with thousands of riders giving feedback, before arriving at the slick and sturdy production model I tested for two months.
Here’s how it works: the unstable platform improves your balance and core strength over the course of the workouts. The upright frame’s push-pull resistance mimics a bike’s motion, enabling you to build strength for railing corners, hopping boulders, pumping, and more confidently landing drops.
It’s easy to argue that simply adding rowing and deadlifts to your training program would suffice, but the RipRow mimics mountain biking in a way that nothing else does. There is no other machine that gives you push-pull in rapid succession, which is, I’ve learned, a key to great riding.
Testing the RipRow
At $999, the RipRow is expensive. Ever a passable journalist, I asked: Why would I buy this instead of just getting outside and riding more? Lee told me to use it for ten minutes daily for four weeks and see what I thought. After a quick lesson on fit and form, I headed home to check it out. Like the Shake Weight and Thighmaster before it, the RipRow puts you in some, let’s say, evocative poses. One in particular. Repeatedly. Mechanically. Thrustingly. On an elevated stage of sorts, no less. So, after I picked one up to test, I dragged it into my home office so I could RipRow in privacy. Then I called up some beginner training videos on the brand’s website. There are several moves, both suggestive and non.
“Wow,” my wife deadpanned when she peeked in. “What’s all this pumping and grinding doing for you?”
“It’s making me a better mountain biker,” I said. “I’m gonna shred.”
“Good luck with that.”
I began by learning the nine RipRow-specific movements, such as the high hinge, low hinge, and crazy-low hinge. “The primary ones come straight from the fundamental movements of mountain biking, which happen to be the fundamental movements of most activities,” Lee says. “All use proven biomechanics principles, and they’ve been OKed by real doctors who are also shredders.”
With the RipRow, you balance on your feet, engage your core, row and push (anti-row or “rip,” in RipRow parlance) in a variety of positions: upright, bent at the waist and knees, feet next to each other, feet in bike stance, one arm and two legs, one leg and two arms, one arm and leg (same side), one arm and leg (opposite side)—you get the picture.
After I nailed the movements, I branched out to the “Quick-Start Workouts” featured on the product’s website. Some were slightly longer with more intense exercises, and there were even a couple race simulations. Segments of trail for these were filmed by pro mountain bikers and “RipRow Factory Pilots,” like Syd Schulz and Macky Franklin. This POV footage is great for learning to read trails at high speed and mimicking moves for that terrain on the RipRow. In the bottom right corner of the race simulation is a person doing the move on the RipRow so you can copy them. In the bottom left corner is a stopwatch counting down how many seconds remain in that movement. These are fun—and hard.
Although Lee suggested I give the machine a month, I ended up testing it for two. I used it regularly on its own and as a warmup before rides—at my house, not the trailhead. (Still not sure how I feel about RipRowing in public.)
Grading the RipRow
The results were kind of mind-blowing, especially considering what little time commitment the workouts required (most are ten to 40 minutes). No matter how great a mountain bike rider you are, it’s really hard to feel and dial in perfect mechanics on a moving bike. There’s just too much going on. The RipRow distills MTB movements to their most basic form.
For me, the biggest gains were in descending. After testing the machine for one day, skeptical as I was at first, my descents felt smoother and faster. By the end of the two-month test, I felt comfortable riding lower and a bit farther back. I was better equipped to absorb impact or fight obstacles to maintain momentum, which grew into increased confidence and decreased lap times on my favorite local rides. I found the RipRow particularly helpful as a warmup. I didn’t gain an elite level of aerobic fitness—this thing doesn’t come with a bag of EPO—but I felt a greater awareness and control of body position and therefore better authority over my bike on chaotic (read: speedy, rock-laden) trails. I also had greater control on technical climbs. Put simply, I just felt more comfortable in the cockpit. I gained strength, endurance, and, most important, neuromuscular intelligence. Tons of reps allow you to hack the cheat codes of great riding into your subconscious. Gym work does not do that.
Professional coaches are taking note as well. Aldon Baker, an elite motocross trainer, is using the RipRow with his factory Husqvarna and KTM racers. At the last Supercross, four of the top five premier racers trained on one.
Todd Schumlick, owner and manager of Norco Factory Racing, has been using a RipRow for the past few months and says the device has proven to reveal a handful of weaknesses in his riders. “For one, hip hinge, potentially due to a lack of hamstring and glute flexibility, or simply incorrect biomechanics,” he says. “Secondly, shoulder mobility. RipRow can assist in addressing these weaknesses, along with complementary strength training and yoga.” This fall, Schumlick plans to test the machine on Aaron Gwin (current and multiple downhill mountain bike UCI World Cup champion) and Richie Rude (multiple Enduro World Series champion).
Lee has his sights on the RipRow going mainstream in gyms and CrossFit boxes across the country. He’s shown it to Denver Broncos strength coaches (“who dig it,” he says), and he has an app in development, so RipRowers can track and share workouts—it even boasts a new stat called the RipWatt. While I’m not sure I’d buy one (I’m somewhat minimalist and very cheap), I’d absolutely choose a gym that had a RipRow over one that didn’t. And I’d keep my giggles to a minimum.