Back To School

December 6, 2016

Take a look in your shed. Maybe in your dining room overflow bike store too. How much do you think you’ve spent on bikes, better bikes, bigger bikes, knee pads that don’t fit, knee pads that do fit, lighter this, blinger that? How much time have you spent adjusting the angle of this, the reach of that, swapping for a shorter stem, a wider bar, a colour coordinated thingummy? Sure, there’s pleasure to be had in having a bike you love so much you could stroke it, that has a colour scheme you could lick, and is fit to travel down any trail. But are you fit to take this pride and joy down any trail? Are you getting the most pleasure out of the ride, or is it more happy relief that the hope and hang on approach got you home without a trip vie A&E? Should you now spend time working on improving your skills?

Maybe you have already been on a skills course. Did you learn everything there is to learn? Probably not. Whatever your riding experience or skill level, there’s almost always a benefit to be had from getting some professional input – either to tweak and hone your existing skills, or learn some completely new ones.

Vic and Hannah do plenty of riding but both had specific skills they wanted to work on – drops, because this is handy on the trail; and jumps, because they look cool. Neither are young twenty-somethings, but these old dogs felt they still had some new tricks in them. Both had been on skills courses before and had some idea of what you’re supposed to do, but felt they needed more help to turn theory into practice, and ‘this might work’ into ‘this will work’ out on the trail. Riding with friends had taken them so far, but it was time for professional help – from Andrew Mee, from Ride With Mee. An experienced enduro racer, he started Ride With Mee after going on a Dirt School training course himself and realising that anyone can benefit from going back to school…

Assessing initial abilities.
Initial assessment of abilities.

Meeting up at Lee Quarry, Bacup – it is still open, despite the landslide in December 2016 – we check over our bikes before heading up to ride a short loop so Andrew could assess our abilities. There’s nothing quite like knowing someone is watching you ride to make you feel like a giraffe on a bike, and on the first couple of runs I found myself getting in a tangle on the twisting berms. Cue the first teaching point: stop trying to get your outside pedal down, keep them level instead.

Pre-cornering improvements.
Pre-cornering improvements.

Instantly finding that with less fancy footwork to think about there was more time to think about other things, both of us found ourselves swooping along with more confidence and more speed. So much so that Vic lost it on a berm and had a small off – it’s a good idea to wear knee pads on a skills course, as you’ll find you push yourself and will probably tumble at some point. A few more pointers on line choice and body position follow, one pointer at a time, with a short loop to practice each thing each time.

Andrew explaining correct body positioning.

Andrew focuses on getting us to switch between standing tall, loose and ready, and bending elbows into an attack position – all aimed at keeping weight over the front wheel to maintain grip and control. Once upon a time, riders were told to get ‘off the back’ in order to maintain control and stop themselves going over the bars. Perhaps that was good advice back in the day when bikes were steep and short, but with modern geometry being long and slack, there’s no need for this. Get off the back, and you’ve lost control of the front. ‘Keep your chin over your stem’ says Andrew.

Starting to swoop
Starting to swoop

Body positions improved, we ride off to work on front wheel lifts. I am dreading this. I’ve been coached on this at least three times before, and still feel pretty useless at it. Sure enough, the first go results in zero lift and just a feeling of useless stupidity. Vic’s not having much more success. But Andrew pushes us on, telling us we’ve nearly got it, our body positions are good, we just need to shift our weight back even more. He doesn’t tell us we’re ‘not far back enough’, instead he tells us to ‘shift further back’. It’s a subtle difference, but being to what you want to be doing is a lot more encouraging than being told what you’re not doing, and it keeps us focussed on trying again, rather than giving up. He reminds us to cover our rear brakes so we don’t go too far – this seems like a far off possibility, but sure enough, after a few more runs our wheels are lifting, and then lifting higher. Timing and movement start to come together, although getting it right and getting decent height does tend to make both of us shriek with horror, convinced we’re about to fall off.

Armed with our front wheel lifts, we head to a series of drops. The sign at the top grades them black, and they’re big but rollable. I have ridden them before, but Vic has always taken the red route B-line round them. Off we go, and Vic clears all three without trouble, first time. I cock up the GoPro, so she has to do it again. Knowing we can do the section, we ride it again, and again. Whoop!

Hannah Andy Mee course drop
Dropping off

There’s more whooping as we head off in search of some more drops, and we rediscover the cornering improvements we made at the start of the day. Riding a trail both of us have ridden plenty of times before, we swoop round corners and arrive at the bottom feeling like we’ve already made significant progress – and we hadn’t even intended to work on our cornering technique on this course!

There's always room for new tricks.
Victory smile.

After some sessioning of some more drops, we’re both managing to drop them rather than roll them. Video evidence proves that we are technically flying, albeit briefly. On the way back to the car for lunch, Andrew shows us a steep trail. It gives me vertigo looking at it, and my reaction is a flat no. Andrew has other ideas. ‘It’s the same skills you’ve been doing already – start high and ready, then bend those elbows, get low, and roll through it’. I look at it again. It’s about two degrees off vertical, and my stomach goes a bit wobbly. Maybe it needs a sandwich. The shortest route to the sandwiches is down that slope, and Andrew’s explanation of how to do it does seem perfectly sensible. Off I go.

As I crest the top of the slope I’m thinking ‘What the hell are you doing?’, but moments later I’m rolling down this near vertical slope and realising that the wheels are still turning and I feel in control. Good grief. I turn and watch as Vic takes the slope with no problems either – which is a relief as she says ‘Hannah did it, so then I thought I had to try it too’. I look back at the slope, just to check it was as big and steep as my head was telling me. It is, and I head to lunch feeling, to use the technical term, stoked.

Post lunch, my stoke levels drop, as we move on to bunny hops. Every single time I have ever tried to do bunny hops I have ended up removing chunks of flesh from my shins. Off we go though and soon both Vic and I are managing something more like a hop and a skip than a bunny hop – extra practice is going to be needed to get the height and smoothness needed for a true bunnyhop. However my shins are still intact as Andrew tells us it’s time to look at the jumps. By this point I feel like I’ve taken so many steps forward that jumping might be tempting fate, but it’s what we set out to do, so we’d better give it a go.

Hannah Jump worrid face
First flight, slight worried face!

It turns out that Andrew has assessed our abilities just right. All the little improvements we’ve made through the day add up to both of us managing to get both wheels off the ground. We are definitely jumping. Road gaps might be a way off yet, but we are in the air – deliberately, and under control. Before either of us has a ‘last run’ cursed crash, we head back down to the cars. Both of us feel that we’ve improved on the day, and that we’re equipped to practice some more by ourselves.

Vic jumping
Air! Actual Air!

Andrew reckons on a skills day, you can learn about three things. You’ll take away some key messages, but there are other little tweaks that you’ll forget, or not realise you’re not actually doing out on the trail. He suggests we should meet up again in a month or two and see how we’ve got on, see what we’ve managed to embed into our riding, and what we need to work on. Vic and I agree to the rematch. Buoyed up what we’ve learnt today, we’re looking forward to what three things we can learn next time.

A day’s course with Andrew at Ride With Mee costs £75 for a half day one to one, or £55 for a full day group session. 
As a special offer for gift vouchers bought before 25th December 2016, Andrew is offering a half day one to one at £49, or bring a friend to join you for a one to two session for £49 each.

Andrew showing us where we'll get to with a bit more practice...
Andrew showing us where we’ll get to with a bit more practice…

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