I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been taught how to ride my bike. I just ride….sometimes it goes well, sometimes not so much, and I have no real idea why!
Hanging out a bit on the SingleTrackWorld forum, I’ve seen rave reviews for the mountain bike skills courses run by a guy going by the name of Jedi. Mark and I thought some training would be good thing for our TransRockies trip, so went ahead and booked a day at Jedi’s UK Bike Skills. We arrived in deepest, darkest Hertfordshire (well, sunny actually!) to be confronted by fields covered with an array of trails, berms, ramps, dropoffs, and the most intimidating northshore (Herts Shore!) you could imagine!!
I have to confess, seeing all this, I was getting pretty apprehensive about what I’d let myself in for. But after 5 minutes chatting to Jedi (aka Tony Doyle), I relaxed a bit. Following a few bike tweaks and a quick skills check (I’m not going to describe it all in detail…but suffice to say you don’t have to demonstrate that you can ride along a 3 inch wide plank 30ft up!), it was off to build on our skill set!
Slightly scarily for me, we started off with dropoffs! Tony started off by showing us how to ride the them…from kerb-height up to a 3ft drop. He doesn’t show off, he just gives a really clear demo and makes it look so simple, effortless and drama free. We proceeded to have a go, and you know what? It is simple! It is effortless and it is drama free!! We could fly!! Tony photos or videos every go and talks you through it…showing what was good, what was not so good and just lets you think it through. Mark moved onto the bigger drop more quickly than me, but much to my surprise, I got up to the biggest one pretty soon (to be honest, I was surprised I got there at all!!).
Next we moved onto the singletrack course – but not before Tony had dropped our seatposts right down (but we’re cross country riders! We have to sit down!!!). We rode each short section a few times, learning (or re-discovering?) the skills we needed to ride faster and with more control. Gradually adding sections together, we finally got to the last section….and I’ve got to say, walking this bit scared the pants off me…what looked like a 3ft drop straight into a steep, banked curve. Even Mark looked apprehensive and I just couldn’t see myself riding it.
Mark went first…I couldn’t see what was happening and just heard a dreadful scrabbling and scraping and thought he must have crashed….turned out he’d jumped far into the braking zone and was desperately slowing down before the berm! (That’ll be Mark with his super-effective “push”…Tony kindly described mine as “subtle”!!). Well, I guess by now you won’t be surprised to hear me say that a few minutes later I was riding it…..and really enjoying it!
We finished off the trail session by linking everything together…trying to put into practice all the skills Tony had given us….it wasn’t perfect, but you know what practice makes, right?
I thought the day was pretty much ending, and then Tony asked if we wanted to learn to jump. I have to confess, my immediate thought was “no, let’s just go home…we’ve had a good day and I haven’t broken anything”! The jump Tony had in mind was the big bank next to the drop offs we’d been doing before, one side of which had a 4 foot gap in it….I could comfortably park my bike in that gap! We started on the side without the gap, and following Tony’s clear instructions, within 4 runs we were both pretty much clearing the middle of the bank. A couple more goes and we were both doing clean, two wheel landings in just the right place. As I walked up past Tony, he just said quietly “You haven’t touched that middle bit for a while, have you”, and the seed was sown…I knew I could clear that gap. Sure enough, next go, I did..one more go and it felt perfect!! That was it….huge grins and high fives all around!!
And you know what? It wasn’t just Mark and I grinning like idiots…Tony was clearly getting as much of a buzz out of it as us!! The guy clearly loves bikes and biking and is just a natural at passing on the skills he so clearly has – to finish the day, he gave us a quick demo of the kind of riding he does….flying up on to that oh so scary Herts Shore….and boy can he ride!!
We’re both agreed it was some of the best fun we’ve had on bikes for a long time! I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend UK Bike Skills if you were thinking of getting some skills training – money very well spent!
(All the photos on this post are taken by Tony…sent through on the same evening, and all part of the great service.)