This weekend has seen me attend 2 mornings of Mountain Bike training with the fantastic Ed Oxley of Great Rock in an attempt to get ProjectSnail off the ground which I talked about here. The basic premise is to get to be more confident on my bike so that I can have more fun, not live in fear and end up at the end of the year having had lots of adventures, stories to tell, be a better rider and to have a go at cyclocross racing. 3 of my main issues are fitness, skills and courage. I’ve started the year well on the fitness level, couple of rides in, rides to work and I’ve started running as I thought that this would be the easiest additional exercise I could fit into my life. I’ve got one of the couch to 5 k things up on the fridge and have completed week 1 and aim to run one of the park 5k’s in 6 weeks and then keep this up over the year. This added to more riding, a bit of swimming if I can squeeze it in (done it once so far) and stretching to help my back should really help on the fitness side of things. So alongside this I need to tackle my skills on a bike (or rather my lack of skills on a bike).
Al in Garagebikes summed it up nicely for me when I was chatting to him – you wouldn’t buy a pair of skis and go to the top of a mountain without lessons on how to ski so why should a mountain bike be any different. I guess that once you learn to ride without stabilisers as a kid you just then get on and ride after all we are all familiar with the expression “it’s just like riding a bike”. However I know that I’m basically rubbish so have been thinking for a while of getting some lessons, starting at the start and working through to hopefully make me a better rider and allowing me to have more fun. I also really like the idea in general of learning things, long gone are the days when I thought I knew everything as some cocky kid, now the older I get the more I realise I don’t know enough about anything to fill a postage stamp so the thought of learning and thinking about how to ride my bike off road really excited me. However in order to learn anything you need a good teacher so who to choose.
I first saw Ed (not knowing who he was) at Gisburn once leading a course and the person who I was riding with commented “he’s an interesting looking cove” and then when I started doing a bit of research and asking round his name cropped up again and again. I also very much like the idea of supporting small independent businesses who have a passion for what they do so I booked onto Ed’s beginners Stop Crashing courses. Ideally I wanted to do the 2 full days but timings did not fit so I went for the 2 half days as soon as I could fit them in as wanted to get this project off the ground as soon as possible. In hindsight, for me this was the right approach as I had a lot to take in and process and having the afternoons thinking about what we’d done I found helpful. I was really pleased I’d chosen the courses as Ed put me at ease straight away and throughout the day his skill as a rider was evident. There is however no use being skillful as a rider if, as a tutor, you cannot impart that skill, assess the different skill levels in front of you and help each person to progress. Now over the years I’ve had lots of sports skills training and seen others train my kids and have been a tutor myself (not in sport) so it was interesting to watch how Ed did things. He has a relaxed but informative style and used a combination of demonstrating skills, walking you through them, talking you through them, using video, riding behind you, holding a static spot and getting you to ride past him. The whole experience was excellent but of course did the Snail learn anything.
Well I learnt what I already knew which is that I’m not very good but I also found it fascinating and the things that I really took from the weekend were as follows.
Morning 1 – Hurstwood
I’d not ridden at Hurstwood before but it is a perfect little run through the woods to practice on and I can see myself returning to do just that, ride down thinking and looking to improve then ride back up. As it was quiet we could just pick one particular corner, roller or berm and look at how to ride it and practice. The overall thing across the two days was thinking about moving and position on the bike and to ride the bike rather than letting it take you for a ride. There were many moments when I looked across at the hill of windmills and could not help but relate to Don Quixote as I tilted fruitlessly away on my trusty stead. Steadily though there were little bits where things felt different and better as I tried to absorb the following:-
- Chin up – I’ve been shouting this at myself constantly. I’ve always known that my vision is looking much too close to my front wheel but keeping my chip up forcing me to look further ahead was a key point.
- Look where you want to go / end up – linked to Chin up but things are much easier if you look much further ahead than I did previously.
- Chest forward. This was a big one for me my body position on the bike was too far back and so moving further forward, although somewhat disconcerting enabled me to have more control over the front wheel and therefore where I was going.
- Arms/elbows out. Again provided greater stability and enabled me to try and move through corners more effectively. Originally my arms were too close to my sides and with my inability to pump my legs effectively meant I ended up looking like I was riding a pony – much to Ed’s mirth as he bellowed “You’re not riding a pony”
- “Drop your eels” (!) in comic french accent. I struggled with the concept of moving the angle of my feet and it’s something (like everything else) I’m going to have to work on.
- Point your belly button where you want to go. We spent lots of time looking at physically moving on the bike and when you watch Ed ride he is constantly shifting and turning. The idea of pointing your belly button and thereby turning your hips into the corner made me much more active on the bike. I couldn’t help but think of the force in Donnie Darko that flows out from people’s chests and tried to vision this flowing down the trail.
- Relax and move. I find trying to relax hard but I think that I got better at it as we went along and tried to make myself much more active on the bike.
One thing I really struggled with was the concept of pumping the trail and trying to weight and unweight the bike and when to do it. More of that to come. Also even though the section is flowing not technical I still had to battle back fear even at my snail pace but as the morning progressed I did feel that progress was being made. I got home tired, both physically as the changed position on the bike was putting a different strain on the muscles and mentally as I was constantly thinking about all that we had gone through.
Morning 2 – Lee Quarry
Day 2 saw me at another new venue in Lee Quarry and I must admit that much as I enjoyed the previous day’s riding Quarry to me means rocks – my nemesis – but it gave me the ideal chance to face some fears with Ed and of course see if I could remember anything from the previous day and put it into practice. The Quarry itself is a bizarre place of all sorts of trails and skills areas that I can imagine if you are a good rider (see video clip) must be an amazing place to ride and play. Intimidatingly the car park nearby was packed full of serious machines, body armour and full face helmets – yikes.
Ed picked out a good first trail that we would return to throughout the morning, harder than yesterday for me but I was trying to concentrate hard on body position and relax at the same time. One of the things I really liked about the training was that we would ride a section then break that down in to mini sections then go off somewhere practice a skill then re-ride. One of the key skills I was trying to get to grips with was this pumping the trail, so off we went to the pump track to practice. The aim being to ride round it without pedalling (see top picture) and I find this maddeningly frustrating as I can’t quite get it. However when we returned to the trail I could feel myself moving much better and with the odd bit of weighting and unweighting going on. I think I was getting quicker (but with control) as well. This is not the end product for me – smoothness I want but it felt good to be carrying a bit more speed and enjoying myself and to feel like I was actively riding.
We then went to look at riding rocks and steps. Rocks arrragh! Ed picked out a lovely(!) section where you had to ride over some slabs (with freezing water on either side) and then up over 4 or 5 slabs. This is everything I fear and I genuinely thought there is not a hope in hell of me riding this but I also had to do some fear conquering and try and commit. Ed showed us how to ride it and things to think about and after a few attempts I got across and up and over all of it. I cannot tell you how proud I felt. Of course we then had to ride down the things but again despite a couple of spills I managed to do it. Progress was being made. We then looked at some simple steps which I think I rode well before doing a very small drop off all the time thinking chip up, body position, move etc.
We ended by doing the run back down we had been riding in sections during the morning and I definitely felt I was riding better than I probably ever have done.
I’m so glad that I decided to embark on these training courses, Ed, together with colleagues Rich and Matt who were assisting, were skillful, knowledgeable, encouraging and thoroughly nice people and I felt that I made good strides but have huge amounts to think about but at least I now know what I need to think about. No matter what level of rider you are I would hugely recommend getting in contact with Ed as he will be able to improve your riding. For me now I’m going to try to ride as much as I can and will return to Ed in April for some more coaching as I look to try to end up a vaguely proficient rider. Lots to do but small steps made in the right direction this weekend. Huge thanks to Ed, Rich and Matt.