The Snail goes through the Doors of Perception

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After my first foray into some mountain bike training as part of my Project Snail project I’ve decided that as well as riding as much as I can with different people and in different places I was so taken by the initial training that I realised this will be very much an ongoing thing for me – ride then check progress with some more training. As a result I decided that this year I’ll look to do one training session a quarter, 2 group sessions and 2 one to ones. Luckily it’s been my birthday recently so my family chipped in to help fund the first one to one. It’s interesting in that each bit of cash I spend on training is money that I can’t put towards buying my first ‘proper’ mountain bike (more on that later) but I figure there’s not much point in having a kick ass bike if you don’t have much clue on how to ride it.

Having done my first bit of training with Ed and feeling very comfortable with it I was really looking forward to having a day’s one to one session, although this was of course tinged with some trepidation as Ed likes to take you out of your comfort zone but he does it in the nicest possible way. The day was going to be spent working on basic skills and confidence in the real world riding environment of Hebden Bridge which I’ve learnt from my participation in Clifcross is steep ! However right from the first climb I realised that one thing has definitely changed since the start of the year – I’m slowly getting fitter. This feeling continued throughout the day and Ed consistently said both from a fitness and technical point of view “I wouldn’t have brought you up/down here when I first saw you ride”

After the initial climbing we rattled into a gorgeous bendy downward section (Ali’s Z’ds ?) which started with some single track and flowed into and over some lumps and bumps. I felt I rode it OK and realised as I was riding it that my position felt better on the bike but that also I would not have ridden it or attempted it a few months ago. Ed followed me down and at the bottom simply said that was great you now look like you are riding the bike as opposed to the bike taking you for a ride and rightly recognising that I would have struggled with the trail when I first met him. Having completed the first section OK it was off to find something to try and improve my skills on – The Blue Pig ! Before we could get there it was up a searingly steep tarmac climb past the house once shared by Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, next to which Ed pointed out one of the trails he uses on his Alpine prep course, Gulp. I’d love to think that one day over the next couple of years I might be able to ride it but long long way to go before then.

Once at the top of the climb we rolled down through Heptonstall (doesn’t Calderdale love a cobblestone) to the start of the Blue Pig, the top of which has been criminally ‘improved’ with some loose stones that will surely wash down into Hebden in the next flood waters. The top part of the trail has a number of steps with lips or roots in front of them and we spent a good period looking at line and how you might ride these. Ed had me concentrating on the concept of weight distribution and trying to unweight the front of the bike, and trying to get me off the brakes, so that I could roll naturally over the obstacle. Each time I attempted a section Ed would film it and then ask me what I thought – I was generally critical of myself but Ed showed me the clip and said “Your perception of what you are doing and what’s actually happening are two different things” and it was clear from the video and photos that Ed was taking that things were not too bad. This was when things started to change for me, as I realised that yes I’m not very good and am working at the basics but that I’m also having a huge amount of fun, am improving and maybe am not quite as bad as I think I am.

The good thing of doing one to one work and building up a relationship with a coach/ trainer is that they get to know you, what you want, how to stretch you and to discuss in detail parts of your riding. I’m slow and heavy on the braking, Ed was clear that he’s never going to have to get me to slow down but it’s also not about speed but about the concept of momentum on a tricky section and momentum and letting the bike roll is something different than speed. We looked a lot at how I can adapt my braking and worked on braking before something, rolling through a section and then braking after it as well as what happens if you use your front brake in a rough section (it’s not good !).

Without getting too Zen about things Ed was working with me to try and look through a section and just try to feel the ground and moving your body and weight accordingly. Imagine spreading butter with a large knife over the ground your body needs to flow along that line but keeping your head still and looking foward and using the legs and arms more to adjust the torso or to compress and acting as additional suspension. I struggle with this but definitely began to get it a bit more as we worked on it.

We then headed further down the trail to look at some loose rocks and roots walking the trail and discussind lines. Fascinatingly Ed would ask me what line I would take and then his would be totally different and it was great to chat why that was. At this point some speed merchant came flying down the trail, Ed commented that he’s not riding the trail he’s riding around it. This was part of the perception change, trying to accept the trail as it was and ride over it or through it not around it. This was a big confidence shift for me. We repeatedly looked at a little section as shown in the video below. Remember that I’m trying to grasp the baiscs here but this felt like a big step for me and again I’d have never have attempted this previously I’d have walked down most of the blue pig but as Ed reminded me at the bottom you have ridden the whole trail – respect.

Project Snail from Ed Oxley on Vimeo.

After a great pie back in Hebden we then headed up to Peckett Well, this again reminded me that my fitness is getting better as it’s a fairly long climb and I was chatting with Ed most of the way up, instead of puffing and wheezing. At the top Ed said right you’re riding my bike this afternoon and promptly swapped the pedals over. I’d been thinking of switching to flats but Ed said to stick with what I’m doing and stay clipped in for the time being. Now I’ve never ridden a full suspension bike, nor a 29er, nor one with all the bells and whistles that this prototype On One Codeine had on it.

Wow, what a machine – now appreciate that I have no experience nor anything to compare it with but I felt like I was in the bike as opposed to being on a bike, the suspension felt amazing – solid as opposed to pinging me about all over the show. I’ve never really understood all the hoohar about wheel sizes, dropper posts, wide bars etc but the wide bars and short stem just felt right and helped me feel more as though I was in the right position; the dropper post was a total revelation not something I’d have ever thought about but a brilliant and simple innovation. Ed was running a single chain ring as well which also just seemed right, I might go for a double but with the right combination out back then this again seems the way to go. 29er wheels after the initial shock of the sheer size of the beasts again just seemed right. The voodoo of tubeless tyres, sold on that as well as I managed to somehow ping the rubber off the rim (I’d like to say through speed but obviously that was not the case I think I just hit something) but bit of air and watching the whole thing self seal was magic indeed. God damm I want one of these bikes which made me think, bike companies use brilliant riders (like Ed) to test and showcase their products which makes total sense. However there are lots of people who aren’t brilliant surely they also need accounts from basic riders as well after all if the Codeine is great for me and Ed then that’s some bike. So if On One fancy supplying me I’m happy to ride and write about it 🙂

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I rode the bike all afternoon down Peckett Well 1 and 2 and as Ed said the bike will not make you a better rider but it can help your confidence and will help you to ride some sections with momentum and control. The second trail was steep, rocky and rooty and I was now way out of my comfort zone but Ed again quietly eased me through the doors of perception changing my whole notion not just of what could be ridden but what I could ride. We practised a section repeatedly before riding the whole trail and heading back to Hebden for a well earned pint.

The picture at the top of the page is of me on the afternoon trails on the Codeine and for me, if you did not know that I’m a basic rider, I look good there. Position looks right on the bike, chin up, eyes looking ahead not down at the rocks I’m riding over it all just looks right and it felt fantastic. Don’t get me wrong I’m still the snail but I’m having fun and learning stuff. Aldous Huxley famously took some drugs and wrote about his experiences and how they opened the Doors of Perception (Jim Morrison’s band took their name from the book) but on this one to one sessions I didn’t need the drugs but Ed opened the door and changed the perceptions of myself and what might be possible in the future. Cheers Ed.

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3 thoughts on “The Snail goes through the Doors of Perception

  1. Some great comments there Ian. I’ll be heading out for the second time on my new 29er this weekend – I didn’t particularly enjoy the first time but that’s probably because I spent all my time looking down at every rock and twig – probably should have learnt to ride properly before buying the bike. Chin up and eyes ahead!

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