Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Intermediate course 240511

I very rarely drive to the start of the course as I live only 5 minutes of lovely descending away from Roman Lakes Cafe, but today I had brought the car due to other commitments. Well, I wish I hadn't! During the trip down the end nut on the skewer holding the back wheel in place had fallen off and disappeared as it later turned out down the multiple folding seats at the back of the boot. Poor Anthony probably wondered what he had signed up for with me running behind him on the first climb up the hillside carrying my bike. We quickly passed my house for a bike swap and was back on track continuing with the skills. Things went very well with most things nailed on the first few attempts while others just needed a little tweeking.

It was clear that pumping the bike was something quite new to Anthony as his front wheel lift were mainly based on just pumping the front of the bike not involving the legs. With some practise we managed to unlock the pumping action of the whole of the bike which in turn let him start lifting his back wheel as part of the bunny hop. While doing nice smooth bunny hops might take a little practise he managed to put both front wheel lift and back wheel lifts in place over obstacles by learning to shift his body weight at the right time.

The pumping was put to further use by starting to jump off stuff and nothing beats the smile of someone just having had some air of a jump! A great day made even better by the lovely and sunny weather by the end!

Friday, 20 May 2011

Beginners course 200511

These days mountain bikes tend to come with really wide handlebars, shortish stems and beefy wide tyres compared to a few years ago, this to make handling as easy as possible. Ruth didn't need any of those features as she showed that by using the right technique and being able to relax and not tense up, even with the narrowest of bars and tyres she elegantly and skillfully rode everything I threw at her during the skills course. She had not been riding off road for many many years instead concentrating on road cycling for her triathlon training but quickly developed a really relaxed and controlled way of descending even the rockiest tracks. Everything was quickly learnt and put to good use and there wasn't a moment during the entire time that I felt nervous about Ruth's ability and basically all I had to do once the core skills were in place was to point her the way to harder and harder terrain, finishing with the nice big rooty drop which she rode extremely well. I was very happy to hear she has a trip planned to Sherwood pines tomorrow and I just hope she doesn't find it too easy there after having been thoroughly baptised on proper rocky Peak District terrain!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Private day 190511

Alan and Andrew, two brothers, had been given a skills training day as a Christmas present and booked for today to get a tailor-made day to suit their skills levels. Alan immediately claimed to be rubbish at climbing and Andrew, who loved climbing said he didn't enjoy the descents. Working our way through the core skills I was very impressed by both of their climbing abilities as they used a mix of skills and sheer determination to make it up even the hardest and rockiest climbs! The descending and drop offs went really well too and together with lots of good questions throughout the day and some very much longed for sunshine it was a very enjoyable day!

Hi Emmy,

Thanks for your email with the pictures, and once again for your time on Thursday - both Andrew and I had a great time.
You'll be happy to know that I've already put your instruction to good use, knocking 15 mins off a climb that usually takes 1 hour and transitioning through berms with much more control.
I look forward to further instruction in the future.
Kind regards

Intermediate course 180511

Busy days! Another intermediate course today with Nigel and Steve, who both had previously done the beginners course. As expected the core skills were in place and it was easy to start adding new stuff as well as letting them have a go at technically harder challenges.

It was obvious after the first few descents that both Steve and Nigel were able to relax much more than on the previous occasion and because of this things felt easy. When revisiting some of the old drops and difficult sections they couldn't believe how easy they were.

The challenges on the intermediate course are more complex than on the beginners, so instead of being just a drop it will be a drop with a tight bend after it, or a very tricky run up to a steep section, all to encourage the participants to be able to control the bike and anticipate what is coming. Among all the other things such as jumping off drops etc, I added a rooty challenge to the course, especially challenging as they were all quite slippery in the rainy weather. Both Steve and Nigel rode the roots very well having previously in the day learnt to control the weight of the front and back wheels during bunny hopping practise.  Wonderful day with wonderful people, what more could I ask for....(apart from that it would stop raining for once...)

Hi Emmy,

just wanted to say a big THANK YOU for today, I really enjoyed it and feel that my confidence has shot up again, although if you had told me at the start I would be going down that huge drop I would never have thought it possible. Spoke to Nigel tonight and the shop have replaced his back wheel foc, mine's off to my local shop tomorrow to see if it can be sorted out. Just been watching some Danny Macaskill stuff absolutely ****ing amazing. When are you going to teach us to do that??????
Probably bump into you sometime (not literally I hope) around Roman Lakes sometime, thanks once again.
Best Regards

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Intermediate course 160511

Every so often I get a little nervous when someone come on the course that clearly has done so much more riding than myself. And yesterday was such a day when I met Andrew, who for the world of mountain biking and outdoor sports clothing is what Richard Branson is for everything else. Not only had he mountain biked since the sports was invented and cycled across the Sahara desert, but also organised the first Polaris race 20 years ago which then was the first mountain bike orienteering event in the world.

Although first quite worried why on earth he had decided to come for a course here, I relaxed quite quickly as it was clear that not only was he a really nice chap but also he was more than happy to listen and ask questions and work on the little things that could be improved on to make him an even better rider. Instead of just running through the standard intermediate course route, I decided to skip a lot of the easier stuff to concentrate mainly on two things, bunny hopping and scary stuff, although advise on power assisted front wheel lifts and trackstanding was also proved to be helpful and quickly absorbed. The advantage of learning to bunny hop is that you start using the movement of you body to tilt the bike in the air. This will make you able to relax when dealing with jumps as you feel you are still in control of the bike despite it being airborne. Andrew managed to involve his body more and did beautiful front and back wheel lifts, although some more practise will be needed for turning the movements into reliable bunny hops.

The other part of the day was spent on doing very technical challenges, such as rooty drops, really tight bends on steep steps and wet rooty turns. Many of them illustrated the need to force yourself to look where you want to go and to do it as early as you can to make the bike follow in time and Andrew didn't take long to put this into practise. Having a big Iron Man event coming up in Germany in six weeks time he opted out of the last couple of big drops as he was worried about getting injured and instead demonstrated how to take photos that actually make the terrain look as steep as it feels in reality instead of making it look flat. Below you can see he really knew what he was doing taking one of me doing the last drop of doom!

Monday, 16 May 2011

Beginners course 150511

Apart from the rubbish weather everything about Sunday's beginners course went really well. Jenny and Keith were both fairly new to mountain biking although had enough experience of off-road riding to quickly learn to ride very technical terrain. The day was pretty much a long session of doing things in threes. First go at stuff they both managed ok but felt nervous and a little tense. On the second go the remaining little changes needed to perfect the technique were implemented and they felt able to relax more and the third go they rode the terrain comfortably and judging by their smiles with great enjoyment!

Despite things being a bit wet and slippery they both felt confident enough to do the last big drop over some wet roots. Obviously this being the hardest obstacle on the course, it took a couple of goes to get right, but should prove to the two off them how much their ability and confindence have improved just by knowing how to move their bodies on the bike and look in the right places. 

Great day, great atmosphere and great participants --- just shame about the weather!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Private day 130511

Husband and wife, Alan and Frankie, came to jointly learn new mountain bike skills, but on two different levels. Frankie being a complete beginner had to start from scratch putting in place all the core skills and getting used to the rocks etc, while Alan was already at a very good level. For him we concentrated mainly on either very technical climbs or scary looking drops and downhills. He was very quick at putting in place the tiny changes in body position and mental strategy required to be able to really push the limit of his riding. This was even more evident when he was learning to bunny hop as for each attempt he was just jumping higher and higher which forced me to improvise making higher and higher obstacles!

Frankie was slowly buiding her confidence in the bike and herself riding terrain rockier than stuff you would normally find at trail centres, but being still at the panic braking stage (a reflex to suddenly grab the brakes) she had a fall right at the end. Showing great attitude she despite being quite sore and shaken up she got back on the bike for the last rocky descent back to the cafe, which told me she has got a bright future on two wheels! Great effort from both of them and it was a pleasure spending a day with such a lovely couple.

Hi Emmy,
thank you for your e-mail and for the links to the photos and your

blog. If you could make the videos available to view that would be good.
We both had a fabulous day with you and learnt a great deal about core MTB
skills and for me some of the more intermediate skills of bunny hopping and
how to tackle those scary drop offs! I'm certainly mor confident about how
to tackle that sort of thing now and how important body position is.
Frankie was a bit sore on Friday night as she turned her ankle in the
morning and it didn't really flare up until teatime, but it came on very
quick and painful. She's much better now so no lasting damage to it (a bag
of ice looks to have done the trick!), although she still has a few big
bruises as a reminder of her tumbles! It hasn't put her off though and
she's already talking about a day out at Llandegla soon.

Thanks again for a great day out and for all your help and advice. It must
have been quite tricky for you to cope with the two of us and our different
skill levels/needs, but we both benefitted and learnt a lot. Thank you for
your patience!
Kind regards

Monday, 9 May 2011

Flat pedals or SPDs????

In many clubs/groups the policy seem to be that as soon as you can ride a bike you should switch to being clipped in as it is so much better for you. It is one of the questions debated on the mountain biking chat forums on a regular basis: flat pedals versus SPD (clipless pedals). In my opinion it is very simple, get a good pair of big flat pedals with grippy shoes (not SPD shoes!) and first learn to ride so well that you very rarely have to put your foot down, then decide whether you would like to try SPDs or not. Personally I have SPD on my road bike but never found the need to be clipped in on a mountain bike where I much prefer the flexibility of flat pedals.

By learning to ride using flat pedals you will relax more and relaxing more makes you ride better. Being clipped in while still being nervous about technical riding will make your riding worse as you will be tense, but the consequence of this is masked by the fact that you are artificially stuck to your pedals so you won't bounce off them. With flat pedals on the other hand you HAVE TO be more relaxed as otherwise you risk bouncing off. Once you feel that you ride well enough to relax (or relax well enough to ride well!!)  try using SPDs if you like the idea of getting slightly better pedalling efficiency. But don't get lazy! And don't forget how to ride your bike and not just be a passenger! And if you don't like the SPDs don't persevere with them for more than a couple of months and just invest in a pair of nice flat pedals and grippy shoes and have fun!

So for the courses then? Which pedals to use? If you normally ride using SPDs and you are not a nervous rider then stick to the SPDs. If you are using flat pedals then don't change to SPDs for the course it will not benefit you in any way. If you very recently have switched to SPDs or tend to unclip for obstacles when you are out riding because you get nervous then I would recommend using your flat pedals for the course.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Intermediate course 080511

A big group is definitely a challenge but on the positive side there always seems to be a great atmosphere and lots and lots of fun! And today was no exception.

Philip and Rebecca had the most experience in the group having done quite a lot of riding before such as trail centres in Wales so it was no surprise that they both picked up skills fairly quickly. Jo and Michael had the advantage of having done the beginners course in the months before and both still remember everything they had learnt despite only having had the opportunity to practise on the odd occasion. Poor Will was unfortunately thrown in at the deep end as descending skills were concerned (no lack of fitness that was for sure!) but despite this made fantastic progress although at a slightly slower pace. I often find that it takes a little while to get experienced road riders to leave the comfort of the saddle and start moving their weight on the bike.

The first part of the morning was spent mostly going uphill which wasn't particularly popular with Jo from Lincolnshire even though she struggled far less than most people that come on the courses! But once we got up to the top the fun began with doing different types of descents, from loose rocky ones, to drops and steep narrow descents. After a nice lunch in the sunshine at the local pub we spent the afternoon introducing "pumping" the bike as part of doing bunny hopping and built on this to start jumping off drops instead of rolling them. I was witness initially to both severe front wheel landings as well as big back wheel landings but straight away they adopted the correct changes and soon there were some beautiful jumps  to be had, with Michael in particular just smiling with joy at the wonderful feeling of having had "air".

Once this section was completed there were the final challenges of steep drops and very difficult rooty bits to clear. It was clear that the group had by now a very good idea of where and when to change their weight distribution on the bike although some extreme positions at times meant that Phil provided us with a beautiful endo (stopping with the back wheel up in the air!) and Rebecca with a manual (riding with the front wheel in the air!) that could have had a happier ending in respect of Rebecca's cycling shorts! But most importantly they proved to themselves that they could ride harder stuff than they normally would attempt.

Great day with plenty of laughs and smiles despite some bruises, cuts and nettle stings!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Beginner's course 070511

It was a pleasure meeting Lynne who had ridden regularly for a long time but never found the courage to use the trial and error approach to riding technical terrain. It was a steep but very successful learning curve for Lynne who had previously not stood out of her saddle while descending. Showing her the right techniques and tweeking things like pedal position and weight distribution her confidence grew very quickly. It was a set pattern that evolved with me demostrating, her looking slightly terrified but having a go and then looking somewhat surprised at her achievement. By the second and third go the surprised look was replaced with a huge smile as she became more and more confident. She now knows the feeling of being balanced on the bike and what to think about while riding rocky and technical terrain and I'm sure she won't be doing much walking down hills (or up them, as her climbing also improved immensely, making especially good use of the technique I showed her for setting off on steep slopes!). Great day and good fun!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Beginner's course 050511

After a nice Easter break (although the weather in the UK seems to have been a lot better than the Italian weather judging by everyone's suntan and the dusty trails!) it is nice to be back doing courses again. Today I met Steve who made my day very easy and enjoyable indeed. He had done a lot of road cycling and was a sky diving instructor which seems to be an excellent base on which to build some mountain biking skills. Everything was picked up very quickly and confidently and rocks, drops and climbs were easily managed. Even his puncture half way around was conveniently placed just outside the pub where refreshments were had as the weather was getting rather warm and sunny! At the end he had a sneak preview of some intermediate course stuff which didn't put him off in the slightest so I look forward to him coming back for more skills in the near future!