Mountain bike lessons from Astounding Adventures
When asked if I would be interested in mountain biking lessons I wasn't sure if I should be grateful or insulted. Since my girlfriend had been chasing at my heels during our last ride round Glentress I decided it didn't matter - I need all the help I could get! The course was mountain bike fundamental skills from Astounding Adventures, a specialist mtb training company that has recently opened a new training centre in North Yorkshire.
We arrived at our rendevous point on the edge of Yearsley Moor (although it was noted that forest would be a more accurate description), which forms the base for the new training centre. Yeasley is around a 30 minute drive from York and from the routes we saw, looks to be made up mainly of single track woodland trails that pose a different kind of challenge to those of the rocky trails around Dalby Forest, which is another location used by the team. The woodland is part of a private estate and the training center is proposed to include a cafe and bike cleaning facilities, which on a typical wet Yorkshire day are the two most important things any self respecting mountain biker thinks about.
The day started with a bang – literally – as my inner tube exploded from some over-zealous pumping. Once everyone was done laughing at me we quickly moved on to introductions and pyramid talk!? No, this was not some 'get rich quick' tactic from channel five but the core elements that encompass mountain biking broken down into building blocks that neatly formed an egyptian style tomb. Don't worry, I didn't get it either. From our introductions it was clear the group had a wide range of abilities from the novice rider, new to mountain biking, to the pie eating 20 year veterans of the sport. Not what you'd typically expect for a course of this type.
Once the pleasantries were over we quickly moved on to pre-ride bike checks and from everyone's response, I wasn't the only one that this was news to. Previously my pre-ride checks were; do I have my bike and where are we going to stop for food. I think we all picked up at least one useful tip and I noticed Amanda using the 'M-check' we had learned before we started our next ride.
As this was a fundamentals course, the first lesson was in body position. You might think that the more experienced of riders would sail through this part without any problems but that wasn't the case. With a professional British Cycling instructor watching your every move, it's surprising how many faults they can find in what you think is the perfect position. With some minor tweaks it wasn't long before we were all coasting down the track no-handed whilst standing, in the perfect balanced position. Moving on from basic body position was breaking and non-lateral (forward-back) movement on the bike. To demonstrate the possible range of movement the challenge was on to see who could get their chin on the seat whilst riding down the fire road. The progression of braking skill was evident as we gradually reduced the breaking area to not much more than a bikes width.
With body position and breaking covered we departed from the normal fundamental skills course to cover manualing, the act of inertia to achieve a desired affect of raising the front wheel. This was a little trickier than the ascending and descending skills that would normally be covered and was meant to be a taster of the skills covered on the more advanced courses.
The last exercise of the day, and the most beneficial for me, was to cover cornering. High speed cornering is something I've struggled with ever since I built my current bike. I had explained this away with some technical trigonometry relating to the bike set-up – nothing to do with my riding. I should explain at this point that before I started mountain biking I used to ride motorbikes. The cornering principles for both sports, I'd assumed, should be the same. After all, both have two wheels and a rider. The difference, however, is that my motorbike weighed almost the same as Simon's Lapierre and leaning into corners, whilst required on the heavy motorbike, looses traction on a bike that weighs less than the rider. Armed with this knowledge and some practice under the ever watchful eyes of the Jessica and Danielle, it wasn't long before we were ripping up the course, literally!
Finally, it was time to put all that we'd learn't into a ride around the Forest. With some slippery descent and opportunities to practice manualing, I really noticed the difference in my riding. And that's it. Jessica, the instructor, said the course would make us faster riders if we gradually built up the right skills but for me it wasn't about just going faster, it was the feeling of nailing a corner and linking with the next and the next...
The Fundamental Skills course costs £60 for a four hour season. That would be the same cost as my Hope BB, stem, or half the price of my carbon seatpost. All this bike-bling is nice to have and I wouldn't be without it but spending £60 on something that will make a noticeable difference to my riding sounds Astoundingly sensible! As an honorary Yorkshireman most will vouch for my monetary tightness and I would never have considered a mtb training course when I could just read a magazine and go put the ideas into practice around my favorite trails. However, this doesn't give you the chance to repeat and hone the skills under the supervision of an instructor who can identify what you're doing wrong.
If you are serious about wanting to improve your riding or have a weakness in your riding that you want to move past I would recommend a training course, even a fundamentals course, for any and all riders.
Thanks to Danielle, Jessica and Simon.