Last week I finally did a long overdue skills course. As anyone who has read this blog knows, I’m more than aware of my riding shortcomings, with some fairly major gaps in my core skills such as “the ability to go around corners” and “breathing whilst attempting anything remotely technical”.
My previous skills course some ten years back didn’t really help much. There was a section on jumping. I never managed to jump. There was a section on manuals. I never managed to lift the wheel. There was cornering on tricky corners. I had to be caught as I nearly went over the handlebars on Devil’s Staircase. There was drops. I kept bottling it on Werewolf Drop.
This time I went with SkillsLoop. I’d long accepted that jumping and manuals are off the table, but could Adam at least get me cornering better?
The course first started with an assessment of my basic skills, at which point I didn’t cover myself in glory. Adam quickly identified one issue with my bike set up – my brake levers were angled too far down, which tended to pull my body position too far forward and made braking more jerky. This small change alone made a massive difference to my bike handling.
Then there was body positioning, which had a few tweaks required. Firstly, I tended to keep my body a bit too straight, and my arms almost locked out. Secondly, my left hand has a tendency to drift inwards on the handlebar.
And then there was breathing. As an adult human who has made it to 41 years of age, you’d think that I wouldn’t need to be reminded to breathe, but…
Let’s take a closer look at that, shall we?
Now, to be honest, I did know that I had a tendency to stop breathing when concentrating. Generally, I realise when I make a noise like a balloon having its air let out, and finally start breathing again. Adam pointed out that I literally puff out my cheeks. What I didn’t realise it that I was also completely changing the rest of my posture – my hands slide in on my grips, my elbows drop down, and my knees start hugging the frame.
I am basically a hedgehog.
We did a few basic drills to improve my body positioning, and then it was decided that I was going to learn how to lift the front wheel.
I have never intentionally lifted the front wheel. I’ve tried, but it’s always stayed firmly stuck to the ground. I’ve always just accepted it as one of those things I can’t do.
Well, it turned out that I can do it, I’d just never been told how to do it properly. Adam broke it down into steps, and…
IT’S A MIRACLE, MOTHERFUCKERS!
Words cannot express how happy this made me. How happy it still makes me. I can even apply the technique and lift the front wheel on my hardtail. I’ve been riding around the local roads lifting the front wheel, giggling like a small child.
High from my lifting the front wheel, it was onto cornering. This was where I had to conquer my hedgehog tendencies, and I actually made a fair improvement.
Soon it was time to put that into practice on the trail. One of the things that Adam had told me was not to go too far back off the bike – back when I started mountain biking, I was always told to put my weight back as much as possible when pointing downhill. However, with changes in bike geometry, this meant that my arms were pretty much locked out, and the front of my bike was very twitch and floaty. With my new found advice, I immediately felt a lot more stable and in control.
Then came my nemesis – the Werewolf Drop… bypass. Yes, it’s fairly tragic that I can’t handle the chicken run to a feature. I think I’ve ridden it once or twice, in the first year or so of it being built, but over the last eight years (at least), I’ve always just hopped off the bike and walked down.
So, did I make it? After a couple of less than textbook attempts and a lot of heavy breathing, I managed the first chicane. Huzzah! Another first. You can behold my awesome skills in the video below (just ignore the face…)
The subsequent turns were a bit tougher, but I managed to get around them, albeit with a bit of dabbing. I made the last turn fine, and all of the uphill switchbacks (which I don’t usually), so all in all, I’m in a much better position than I started in, and hope to apply all that I’ve learned at Glentress in just over a week! I finished the day by going off and riding parts of Follow the Dog and all of the new blue, and found that even on the Bombhole, which I’ve been finding a bit more sketchy recently, I was a lot more solid.
I have developed an unfortunate habit of singing, “I’m a funky chicken” whilst riding though, in order to remind myself to lift my elbows up…