Monday, 28 November 2011

Beginners course 271111

Time for one more course before the end of this years mountain biking season. The delightful and enthusiastic participants turned out to be Anna, Helen and Sarah who sometimes ride together and Mike who recently bought himself a lovely full-suspension bike as a treat not having done much off road riding since being a kid.

The weather didn't look promising with gale force winds and rain but just in time for the start of the course the sun came out and despite a chill to the air it was quite pleasant to be outside.

Things progressed very nicely with harder and harder terrain being ridden and it was nice to hear comments such as "That looked much harder than it was!" as we progressed to bigger drop-offs. Anna's spinning classes had given her the edge on the climbs as she was making good use of the new found technique of power assisted front wheel lifts. Towards the end we popped in at mine for a cup of tea and brownies, giving my husband the task to fix Sarah's brakes which had completely stopped working at this point.

All that remained was the last blast down the hill stopping for the last obstacle of the day. It was a delight to see all four of them riding the last rooty drop really comfortably, especially Sarah who after quite a few aborted attempt finally went for it and rode it extremely well and controlled. I would be very surprised if any of them had to walk a tricky section in the Peak District ever again!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Intermediate course 021111

It was a great day with David coming from near York attending the intermediate course given to him as a birthday present from his wife. He quickly picked up on little tips and tricks to take his already very good skills set even further, this made easier by his nonexistent fear of throwing himself off anything presented in front of him. We worked especially on his manual front wheel lifts as this was something he hadn't managed to perfect by himself. With fitness not being a limiting factor (he not only cycles but also runs several marathons a year!) we progressed very quickly through the day which of course necessitated harder obstacles!

As people who have been on the courses know, I always spend along time explaining why it is wise to move your weight far behind the saddle for large steps and drops! I must have had my mind on other things as today it was my turn to go over the handlebars! The moment of balancing on the front wheel with the forks slowly and unavoidably compressing beneath me until the center of gravity passed the front wheel hub and I tumbled very ungracefully down the remaining steep wooden steps will certainly come to mind next time the intermediate courses requires a visit to this particular section and trust me I'll certainly emphasize the importance of moving your weight really far backwards before anyone including myself get on the bike to ride this bit!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Beginners course 311011

I always try to tailor the skills day to the participants and when the level of experience is good as it was in the case of Marc and Mark it was clear that what started as a pure beginners course was going to finish up as more of an intermediate course. Everything was mastered so quickly so instead of just doing manual front wheel lifts we ended up practicing bunny hops to give them something harder to do.

Descending on rocky terrain was also covered and as usual it was trying to look a bit further ahead and relax more that saw them turning from slightly cautious riders to riding faster and more confidently. The highlight of the day was watching them have a go at track standing. After I demonstrated it and explained how to do it they had a go and the look on their faces of mixed surprise and delight after over 10 seconds of balancing still on the bike on their very first attempt was priceless!

The day was not all pleasure though as Marc slipped of his pedal on the hardest obstacle and not only tore the top of his sock clean off but also put a very deep gash in his shin. One of the drawbacks of flat spiky pedals I must confess as I normally speak only of the advantages of flat pedals for the courses. After a bit of first aid he was back on the bike and we moved on to jumping as we still had plenty of time left. The injury didn't hold him back and he did some really good jumps off a drop. Mark wasn't far behind having initially taken it a little more cautiously but once persuaded to lower his seat post he felt the confidence to use more speed and also experience the fun of jumping rather than rolling stuff.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Intermediate course 271011

Great day yet again when John and Tim came both from down south somewhere (sorry for being largely ignorant of anything south of Birmingham, although lots of names of places to ride down south sounds very interesting so might venture south at some point!) to build on their skills. John had done the beginners course last year but was now ready for more challenges and it was clear nothing would stop him as he flung himself off everything I showed them. Tim was slightly more cautious needing a few attempts before being able to override the feeling that maybe the bike wasn't up to all these strange, steep and occasionally scary obstacles, but I knew early on that he wasn't giving up. He always rode stuff eventually and when he did, he did so perfectly, making it look very easy.

For Tim it was largely to encourage him to look further forwards that improved his riding the most and to make him realize just how capable mountain bikes are at even the roughest stuff.  John, who had all the basics already in place, just needed to build on the repertoire regarding bunny hopping, wheeling and jumping, this to encourage him to move his weight more on the bike to more stylishly negotiate very rough stuff by unweighting the front resp back wheel at the right times.

It all made for a good day with only the odd hilarious dismount to occasionally break the never-ending demonstrations of perfect riding!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Beginners course 151011

It is such a pleasure to watch the progress of riders coming on the courses and this Saturday was a perfect example. Carina and Jennifer had come on the course to learn how to ride technical terrain such as drops, steps and rocky descents as up until now their riding had been more cross country based and allowed them to avoid obstacles rather than embrace them. Despite being slightly hesitant with each new challenge they more or less perfected the techniques on the first attempt which boosted their confidence and kept them progressing easily to harder and harder terrain. There wasn't a moment during the day when I was worried about either of them as they were riding with such control and composure showing how easy it can be to start riding fairly scary stuff with just a little tuition! I was also impressed by them after a full day of tuition riding the 12 miles home to Macclesfield, but I suspect that the Middlewood way would have seemed very tame in comparison with the riding they had done previously in the day!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Intermediate course 091011

David and David (another easy day for me in respect of names!) had known each other for a long time and had come down from Yorkshire for some fun on the bikes. One of the Davids had grown up on a BMX which showed as wheelies, track standing and not at least bunny hopping was pretty much already perfected. Messing about on a BMX as a kid is easily the best way of learning what to do on a bike. The other David had not had the same opportunity when it came to cycling since he had instead spend his childhood doing other things like canoeing etc and this showed as a lot of the techniques were very new to him. It didn't take him long to learn and just within a few minutes there were big improvements in anything he attempted. His best asset was lack of fear and the ability to go at things at speed which kept him going with a good flow. However the course has plenty of things that need for one reason or another to be ridden quite slowly and this tested their balance and ability to shift their weight about on the bike at the correct time. This wasn't always easy as the rain in the afternoon made the quite heavily rooted sections quite tricky. It was great to see their appetite not only for descending but also techy uphill sections as they spurred each other on but also were relentless at taking the piss. Hugely enjoyable day and we managed to complete all the fun and difficult sections and apart from a simultaneous toppling over into some bushes due to SPD issues we had no real crashes today despite the wet and slippery terrain.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Private skills day 290911

Dave managed to pick the hottest day of the year (!) to come and have a day of skills. He was a good rider already, particularly when it came to climbing (both with and without bike!) but felt that his descending needed a little work. Throughout the day we did various descents and drops and by moving his weight with better timing and also with more controlled braking he seemed to master everything with ease. Drops offs featured highly during the day. This included rooty, rocky and man-made ones and even the very steep nearly vertical drop towards the end he had to ride three times as I repeatedly messed up with the camera. Jumping off drops was also quickly mastered and I'm sure he will get some good use out of his adjustable seat post! Very enjoyable day with almost tropical climate!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Intermediate course 260911

It is extremely rare that I feel I should have even harder terrain available to push people's limits but today was one of those days. Alex, Andy and George ride together in Rugby and had booked to come to concentrate on skills. Enjoying messing about on bikes throughout their lives, they had already built up a huge arsenal of talents (as demonstrated straight away by George wheeling up the hill after having performed an effortless power assisted front wheel lift over a step). This made for an extremely fast paced day where to some extent only their fitness was the limiting factor. Wheelies, bunny hops, track standing, drops and jumps were already in place (and to great extent better than my own!) and anything remotely scary was ridden in seconds! Courtney who came on the previous days beginner's course also got swept up in the fast tempo and continued to build on the skills from the previous day.

Once the we had covered everything that was part of the course it was clear that the remaining time should be spent just riding cool stuff and in the same furious pace as earlier we set off to the other side of the valley and added more rocks, roots and massive steps to give the lads an opportunity to use all their capabilities and have some fun. As it turned out, the skills were already there (and I think they knew that already...) but the day provided them with the opportunity to ride new type of terrain at a challenging but fun level of difficulty and the day was made even better by the glorious and warming sunshine!

Beginners course 250911

It wouldn't have been accurate to label today's course as a beginners course, yes, we did take it from the basics to start with but it was immediately obvious that both Courtney and Robert had both done a lot of riding before. To make sure they didn't get bored we quickly progressed on to harder terrain, making sure that the smaller details were in place which involved the usual culprits of looking too close to the front wheel and not quite being relaxed enough to move well with the bike. Steps, drops and rocky descending were all dealt with and included a few extra bits that time and skills allowed for which made it a lovely day out. We finished ahead of schedule just as the sun came out!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Beginners course 200911

Dave and Robert were booked on this very drizzly and grey day to receive a thorough introduction to mountain biking. I am glad to say that the day ran so smoothly there is almost nothing to blog about! Both were good bike riders but neither had been off road much other than easy level paths and Robert didn't even own a mountain bike. The fairly easy morning session was quickly completed and the scariest thing up to that point were the geese at the cafe wanting to steal our sandwiches!

The afternoon showed me the determination of these two chaps as they demonstrated very good climbing technique using all the skills showed to them earlier to make it up one of the rockiest tracks in the area. All other techniques were also put in place quickly and the highlight of the day was showing them the big rooty drop! Usually there is some hesitation when people are confronted by it (especially in the wet!) but I had hardly finished demonstrating it before Robert had leapt up on it with his bike and before I knew it he had been down it twice! Dave didn't take long to follow and it seemed like they would have gone on riding the drop forever until eventually we had to move on to finish the last descent down to the end of the course.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Intermediate course 180911

Today was easy, not only because both participants were called Alex, but also they were very quick to learn. This was fortunate as we had to change the order of events of the day as the little quarry I use for some of the riding contained a camera crew filming two singers performing what sounded like folk songs (it was hard tell as Alex's disc brakes were louder than anything else as we not so quietly left to have an early lunch).

After lunch we started the bunny hopping, something that they had never tried before. It was amazing how quickly they picked it up, not only improving their manual front wheel lifts by using their body rather than arms but also quickly including very good back wheel lifts. It is always interesting to then put the two together in to one movement as for some people it takes quite a long time to get right but for both Alex and Alex this happened on their very first attempt!

We then moved on to do more drops and jumping and the pattern throughout the afternoon was for me to tell Alex, the lad, to move further back behind the saddle and to tell the other Alex, the lass, to not go too far back!

Roots, drops, chutes and bends, all were ridden very well and it was great to see Aleksandra ride the last drop of doom right at the end of the day!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Intermediate course 080911

Andy came for the beginners course earlier in the summer and was now ready for more skills. Having quickly adopted all the beginners skills and used them to full effect in places like the Forest of Dean and Coed Llandegla, one of the main things he now wanted to achieve was jumping.

To achieve this we needed to build up a repertoire of skills useful for being in the air. Starting off we did wheelies was good practice for putting down your front wheel straight and getting used to it being in the air and later we added bunny hopping to promote moving your weight on the bike, not only important for the take off when jumping but also important for nicely balanced landings.

Initially Andy struggled with lifting the back wheel, but  we tried different techniques to get his timing and movement right so that by the end he was doing wonderful front and back wheel lifts. I am a great fan of flat spiky pedals but after a slip on his pedal Andy pierced his shin properly (I nearly felt sick looking at the injury!) and I had to get the first aid kit out. I can now see why some people prefer SPDs in this respect. By encouraging him to move his foot forward to have the pedal more under the middle part of the shoe he will hopefully avoid further injuries.
Even though we lack some of the pumptrack style jumps we do have a good drop to start jumping off with enough height to make sure you get a feeling of being in the air. It took Andy a few goes to get his weight far enough back to stop the front wheel dropping too soon but once he managed it, there was no turning back and he did one great jump one after the other.

I like to push the boundaries on the course and take people out of their comfort zone and with the weather having turned the ground into a mess of mud and slippery roots the last challenge wasn't easy, but that didn't put Andy off. As usual the camera doesn't show how steep it actually is, but trust me you don't see what is coming until you are actually riding it, it is that steep. And Andy didn't have any problems riding it what so ever!

Beginners course 070911

It was definitely an autumnal feel to the day when Chris came to the beginners course. He was a keen road cyclist but felt mountain biking could be a better option for the winter time. It was immediately obvious that he had done a lot of cycling previously. Despite not having been off-road much he looked very comfortable on his mountain bike that he got only 6 weeks earlier.
Every instruction was put in place immediately and once we went past the stage where before the course he would have got off and walked rather than cycled, such as steep steps, it was a delight to see the smile on his face after finding out that it was relatively easy to ride. As he was the only one on the course and he was making such great progress we also did a few intermediate skills such as track standing and jumping off drops and even with these additions we finished well ahead of schedule.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Beginners course 040911

Today was an example of two participants with very similar ability but on  two very different bikes. Emma on her budget Apollo hardtail and Cath on her brand new lightweight long travel suspension bike that she had only used twice before the course. So how did they get on? The answer is that both did very well indeed but not entirely without incidents!
Both managed the climbs very well, although Emma had to work very hard as she lacked the spockets on the rear cassette that would have provided her with easier gears for climbing with. She made up for this with shear determination! They were both very good at listening and immediately putting into place the techniques on the course, which was demonstrated in very quickly learning to set off on climbs, negotiating tight turns, drop-offs and front wheel lifts.

So did this make them immune to crashing?... well no. Grabbing of the brakes is a reflex which a lot of beginners suffer from and for Cath, whose brakes were the most efficient brakes I've ever come across on a mountain bike (and I'm not exaggerating here), this caused a couple of very impressive over the bar incidents. I am glad to say that it is a stage that passes quite quickly as not only will her brakes loose some of that immediate "bite" with time, but she will also be more able to fine tune her finger action with a bit of practice. Her ability to get back on the bike straight away for more riding was very impressive! 

Brakes that worked well wasn't a problem for Emma as not even the strongest squeeze of the back brake could provide a skid of the back wheel even on a loose gravel descent, which was hugely disappointing for her, although at least it saved her from going over the bars!
At the end after comparing the bruises and scratches we finished the day in the late summer sun and judging by the enthusiasm I'm sure they both will be out riding the trails very soon regardless if it is on a budget hard tail with rim brakes or a top of the range full suspension bike.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Beginners course 270811

After a nice summer break it was good to be back in the saddle. Today turned out by chance to be a ladies-only day, with Cate, Maureen and Paula coming to learn off-road cycling. During the chat in the carpark I found out that all three of them were quite new to mountain biking and afterwards I had to confess to Maureen that I had been slightly worried about quite how new to cycling she was when she asked how to get on the bike and get it rolling. However it was a very legitimate question and with a few hints (stand on the pedal and push off with the other foot on the ground) she started to be able to set off much more graciously. And one thing was certain, once Maureen got rolling she really got rolling and set a great example of how to use speed as your friend!

During the day there were a few crashes (some more comical than others!) but it didn't put any of the participants off. A few details, small but important, such as foot and leg positions were tweaked and the confidence grew for all the participants as the course progressed on to rockier terrain. Cate who had a couple of quite big crashes earlier in the day due to being too tense managed to relax enough to ride down all the other obstacles including the rocky track very successfully and it was great to see her confidence returning as she found out she could ride quite technical terrain.

At the end when tiredness was setting in Paula still hadn't quite reached her limit of scary obstacles and was presented with the "rooty drop". Most people I know have expressed amazement that it it part of the beginners course but Paula proved again that by showing people the right techniques it is perfectly possible for a beginner to ride even some quite challenging drops.

It was a lovely day with lovely people and was great fun. I believe the girls who didn't know each other before this day might have plans to meet up again for some riding together.

Hi Emmy,

Thank you so much for the photos and your witty narrative of the day. I just wanted to thank you for your input on Sat and to let you know that I cycled the entire blue route at Llandegla today without stopping and with some speed! went around berms and handled corners well. Was on and off the bike  much more elegantly and my confidence level was high.

I very much enjoyed my day with you and I have learnt loads and am putting it all into practice.

So thank you,

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Intermediate course 030811

Normally I have a little moan about the weather being too cold, too wet or too windy and today it was too hot! Being warm was nice for a change, but it certainly made it much harder especially on the climbs. It was nice to see Peter again who came on the beginner's course last October as a complete novice. He did exceptionally well that day so it was no surprise he had developed into a very good rider since seeing him last. He was ready to build more on his jumping skills having had a taste of it during a skills session at Cannock where he regularly rides.

David had come for similar reasons wanting to move on from riding mostly red routes to feel confident about tackling black graded routes, especially since he had booked a trip up to Fort William with his mountain biking sons.

Apart from getting the wheels off the ground and bunny hopping, we also spent some time on riding slowly. It is absolutely true that speed is your friend and both riders were great at speed so it made sense to increase their range off skills to improving their ability to negotiate stuff slower.  The track standing came in handy to increase their ability to balance and they were already better than average at this, while bunny hopping and independently unweighting the front and the rear wheel was applied to tackle some nice wheel hugging roots.

Both David and Peter weren't hanging about when it came to riding even quite scary looking features which made for quick progress through out the day. Even the "drop off doom" was ridden 3 times each until it had lost its scariness factor and both participants had re-evaluated what was actually possible to ride down.

Very enjoyable day which was finished off with an ice cream back at the cafe!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

One-to-one skills day 210711

What a wonderful day! Sun shining, warm weather, pub lunch and a cheerful participant! What more could you ask for! When Brian contacted me about doing a one to one session to come to grips with certain types of descents that repeatedly had defeated him, he particularly mentioned very steep and  narrow ones. Naturally I planned the day to take in the narrowest and steepest slopes in the area but also included other skills such as power assisted front wheel lifts, track standing, bunny hopping and jumps along the way.

It was immediately obvious that Brian needed to look further ahead to not only keep a straighter line but also to be able to relax more while descending. You could tell he didn't enjoy the terrain but kept a brave face as he repeatedly had to go up and down the slopes. He quickly got encouraged by the improvement as each time he had another go he rode better and more confidently. Same kind of improvements were seen on the drop offs. Once we lowered the saddle he was able to find the balanced low center of gravity slightly behind the saddle position that he had struggled to find before in his riding and once he was following me he would ride anything. It was harder for me to make him have a go at some of the very scary looking obstacles at the end as the longer he hesitated the more he managed to persuade himself that having a go wasn't a good idea. I was really pleased when right at the end he rode one of the quite tricky series of drops despite initial hesitation!

Monday, 18 July 2011

Intermediate course 170711

The torrential rain didn't abandon us for Sunday's intermediate course either. This time I was joined by an undeterred Helen who wanted to get the most out of her lovely Orange 5 that she recently had acquired. I also had arranged for my friend Julian to come along to potentially provide some demos of stuff in case my wrist which I injured a couple of weeks ago decided to flare up.

Together we fought through rain and mist climbing to the top of the hill  while Julian managed to learn to wheelie remarkably well and Helen was improving on her power assisted wheel lifts. Once up at the top we used the little quarry for various types of descending. Helen's confidence grew once she started to look further ahead and able to let go of the brakes. The rocky and loose terrain was a very different surface from what Helen usually rides at trail centers and gradually she was able to trust her bike's ability to roll over the big boulders. Slow speed drops was no problem for her as she already was moving about on the bike perfectly.

Part of the afternoon was spent practicing bunny hopping. This was something Julian also wanted to be able to do as he mostly up until now had relied on speed hops. Both Helen and Julian (and Julian's wife Jane who also happened to join us!) very quickly were able to lift both front wheel and then rear wheel over the obstacles. This practiced the sequence of weight shifting on the bike necessary for performing the bunny hops. By approaching the obstacles slightly faster they were forced to use only a single "pump" of the bike for both movements. While Helen and Jane will need a little more practice to get some height into their bunny hops Julian impressed us all by bouncing over the obstacles making it look easy! Helen was able to "pump" the bike extremely well and since using SPDs it was only fair to teach her speed hops, something she put to immediate good use by bombing every puddle with her rear wheel splashing everyone in the vicinity!

The pumping action was put to further use by getting some nice air while jumping of a small drop and we finished the day off nicely with a slippery singletrack descent down to the bottom of the valley.

Beginners course 160711

They say that statistically fewer passengers book on flights that crash. Well there must have been similar premonitions regarding the courses this weekend as only one person had booked on each day which saved a few people from having to experience underwater mountain biking. Not so fortunate was Beccy who came to brush up on her skills in preparation for a mountain biking holiday in Slovenia, where apparently you can even go mountain biking in caves! (Sounds a great deal nicer than the underwater option on offer here!) However a bit of water didn't deter Beccy as she progressed quickly learning all the little tricks and techniques that makes mountain biking more fun and exciting and trying the skills out under the hardest of conditions! I think the photo kind of says it all!