...on an innocuous hillside in Hertfordshire with the esteemed Tony 'Jedi' Doyle!
The shorter version: Spent the day having revelation after revelation, muttering ****ing genius as I pushed back up to have another go at each stage, ended up riding WAY better than I've ever done before and confident that those improvements will stay with me.
The longer version:
I'm like the thousandth person to rave about Tony but honestly, all the hyperbole is true. I've had a couple of skills days elsewhere and this was on another planet, a positively utopian planet of superlative biking joy. I won't make any comparative points about other coaching other than suggesting the following two questions are considered:
1. Is the coach a good enough rider to demonstrate everything you need/want to cover with perfect technique?
2. Are the skills/techniques/methods they're teaching you exactly what they use to ride those same features - do they really understand HOW they're riding and how that translates into instructional methods?
From what I've previously experienced I'd say that too many instructors fall down on both points, which is both bizarre and disappointing.
Now I'd say that for someone that only got into MTBing relatively recently (and isn't a natural sportsman) I'm not a bad rider. I like to think that when I'm on my game I flow pretty well and that I don't hang about. And that although I'm not very brave I think what I do do I don't do too badly. I now know that I had even more flaws than I thought and can be so much better!
Somehow in the space of one glorious day (even the weather was perfect!) we sorted out my cornering (changed feet positions, hand weighting, leaning, looking), dropping (body position, pushing), jumping (everything!), pumping and then linking up all those moves. We even managed to start on manualling in the pump manualling manner thanks to Tony's eyes of a hawk spotting something I was doing wrong, and reapplying it in the right context.
Lots of pictures and some videos here:
Throughout the day we reviewed the photos and video so I could see what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong. How I look down a trail, especially around corners that turn through many degrees, was a real weak spot of mine. I've never railed a berm properly, I've always known there's a ton more speed there and my technique's been holding me back. I've also never cleared a gap, I have a real mental problem despite being ok (much much better now) on tabletops.
Popping over the 6' table here, just letting the bike come up and about to let the front wheel head down to the backside landing, rear to follow:
Getting the fear of the 6' gap and trying to stand up on the bike (bad!):
That's more like it, front and back wheels following the arc to the downslope.
Still a bit scary but correct technique wins out. Much more time is going to be spent on the local dirt jumps henceforth.
This is neat though - having spotted my fearful attempt to stand up in mid-air over a gap jump, the Jedi master had me reapply that technique to a tabletop on the pump sequence:
I'm not pulling a wheelie or conventional manual as I ride along the tabletop, I've launched from the upslope and then tapped the rear wheel down from mid-air. Awesome! My brain was pretty frazzled by this point so we didn't go any further but I just need to practice this on more tabletops and then start applying it to rollers. There's a nice tabletop I ride quite often which has two doubles before it which require a lot of speed/push to clear and this pump manual technique will allow me to ride them faster but on the ground and have enough speed to clear the tabletop. I tell you, the man is a ****ing genius!
That was it for the coaching but not for the riding. After a lengthy break chilling out under the official gazebo in the MTB eden that is Herts Shore with Tony, Jedi-in-training Nathan (school holidays!) and Science (sickday! ;)), Tony had to go and do his homework (i.e. that blog linked up there) so Science and I went to ride some more.
I had another run down the skills trail to test/ingrain my new good habits (the speed! the control!), then we spent some time going over the 6' table and gap (still a bit scared of the gap despite never casing it hard), chasing each other down the pump trail (where I properly RAILED the final berm) and over the big tabletops (sadly not backsiding them but they are quite big). Science then led me down one of the other bit of singletrack which was v cool but some of the features (him: "it's easier than it looks, you can practically just roll down it" me: "it's 12' high and near vertical") were out of my mental league.
Then a final run down the pump and tabletop trail where I got a bit carried away in the front and hit the last table too fast and blew my feet off the pedals for the first time in years but survived it. Once more down the skills trails for some mental/physical consolidation, then we had cake and Science showed me round the woodwork (OMFG ridiculous awesomeness, way way way out of my league). I got scared walking it, let alone riding it! Am thankful I didn't break the only rule of the woodwork: You are not allowed to fall off.
If you love riding mountain bikes (even if at the moment you're a 'wheels on the ground' rider) you will love this place and its people. Tony, high5!
P.S. FJI I timed the skills run those last two times - about 31 or 32 seconds. W00t!