Since Matt wrote about the Astounding Adventures Core Skills course in February of this year I probably don’t have much to interest the seasoned riders. For the beginners amongst us (or those who have developed bad habits consciously or otherwise) I can’t praise the lessons you should come away with from the Core Skills course highly enough.
The 4 hour coaching session inevitably goes rather quickly but I was able to stay on for the afternoon ride and this proved invaluable. I would recommend doing both together if you are able to extend your day.
Frankly, I had a blast. This is the first cycling coaching I have paid for although I have had coaching of some sort during a lot of my life and I have also coached sport too in younger life. This won’t be my last coaching with Astounding Adventures. I got a good chance to chat with Danielle (who took this particular session) as and when questions arose or riding along during the afternoon and so I picked up snippets that flow from conversation when the syllabus is out of the way. This was very helpful and is a benefit of adding the afternoon.
Every course is different because the variable is you and me (season and weather notwithstanding) and it’s worth remembering that. Your fellow attendees could be at different levels.
My group consisted of a Dad wanting to keep up with his teenage sons, a couple just wanting to know how to tackle the trails, a lady who had lost many stones of weight (fantastic achievement) and wanting to learn bike skills for fitness and another lady who was fun, determined, screamed whenever a trail went downwards and shouted “duck” quite a lot (or something similar sounding…). Duck Lady walked by and sometimes down the trails I will mention later, understandably so.
On the other hand I wanted to cope with those Mole moments a newcomer faces sitting at the top of a frankly frightening trail wondering whether to get off and walk or man up and go for it. Drop-offs make me pale, logs on the trail mean I get off and lift the bike over by which time the Moles are way up the trail. I hadn’t really thought about “core skills” having ridden a bike for many years on the road and in total for nearly 40 years until I started mountain biking eight weeks ago.
One of the other chaps queried that despite my relative new-ness to it all and heavy build I clearly rode a lot and was I really getting much value out of it?
Yes, I said. If one piece of technical advice means I don’t come off and break bones, shred a pair of shorts, top, helmet, rear derailleur, pedal or any of the myriad of bike things the marketing experts make us pay handsomely for then the course has paid for itself.
The course fee was £60 by the way and another £30 for the afternoon ride. If I get technical skills that make me faster, better or just enjoy it more then the value is higher. I did.
Incidentally, Danielle also made a valuable point during the afternoon that if you always ride with others who are better than you it can lead to mistakes (just as riding with those slower won’t get you fitter). It’s great to ride into a group but you have to balance the riding as developing skills means practise, repetition, giving yourself time on the trail and building from the foundation. She encouraged driving to areas of personal challenge to repetitively work on those. Good advice.
The day started with some rudimentary checks over people’s bikes. Mine was conspicuously the most expensive/specified hardtail there (so a Full Suspension with the remote operated trombone saddle, automatic glasses wipe and cappuccino maker I see on the trails can wait, lots of laughs). Then came the M check I suspect all Moles already know.
A quick diversion at this point to say that when I set off on the next mini-Mole ride the following day (the ‘Home Guard’ who stayed to protect the trails whilst the Moles were at Swinley) I was mentally rushed at the start off. So, despite vowing to carry out the M check before every ride I had not done it and I made a mental note to do so at our first stop. This was up on the Gallop and when running through it my front wheel had slight sideways play. It needed a quick tighten of the quick release despite being fine at the Core Skills course the previous day before and showed the importance of simple, quick but nevertheless essential checks.
Once our group were away onto the bridleways of Holmbury Hill the various course challenges began. Each person will have picked up different things and in my case these were:
- Position on the bike. Being balanced, keeping feet level, staying out of the saddle much more than one would first expect, the ‘cone’ of workspace you move around in, staying balanced on descents, re-setting at the bottom to get your centre back up (unlike my going off the back of the bike the first time I went down ‘Personal Hygiene’);
- The importance of looking. Everyone says it, we all do and (at times) don’t do it, learning how it helps you go over obstacles, helps you turn, helps you steer where you want to go and also avoid steering where you definitely don’t want to go;
- keeping our head up and level. The effect of this on our balance compared with head down partly due to the workings of our inner ear;
- Rolling over logs. Including the fantastic technique of lifting the front wheel by pushing through the 2:00 to 5:00 turn of the crank and particularly setting yourself for this so your pedal stroke is not at the wrong point at the wrong time. An uphill skill I understand although I found it helpful on the flat anyway(If you contrast me stopping at the log on Collarbone on my first Mole ride to get off and lift the bike over with me using this technique on the Home Guard ride to comfortably ride over the two logs on China Pig you will know what I mean, no I did not tackle the triple stacked log by the way, that can wait!)
- I have a feeling this technique is called a powered lift as opposed to the one I see on the internet called manualling, the latter described as leaning back and lifting the front wheel (I haven‘t learned that yet);
- The smoothness of turning. Very helpful when on singletrack and berms (relative to my level) without that front wheel wobble and frequent stalling by using the techniques of looking, turning the head (and torso if necessary), putting the weight through the outside foot (still on the pedal and not off it) for the downwards force on the outside of the bike and grip it sends down to the tyres. What a difference these sections of the trail suddenly feel as a result;
- Rolling over steps (or drop offs as I think they are called), Danielle would ask if we were comfortable to tackle the upcoming obstacle, in my case I explained that I was having to get used to (and better at) descending despite the brain saying no at places like Personal Hygiene (or Crown Jewels as I prefer to call it), I added that the sight of steps were a personal mental block, a nasty test stretch on Holmbury Hill broke my duck and I was away after that on all subsequent steps during the afternoon;
- Weight distribution out of the saddle when braking, getting behind the saddle, getting the wrists and forearms behind the grips, stopping smoothly (skids are for kids!) and using brakes in the right proportion.
There will be more tucked away in my mind but it gives you a flavour and as I mentioned earlier, it was only really apparent in the afternoon when I discovered delights only known by name thus far from some of the Mole ride reports. Our afternoon ride took in the delights of Yogurt Pots, Barrie Knows Best and Telegraph Hill. Those of us that tackled them had a big grin on our faces.
These trails brought home that I was suddenly much smoother in my riding and more confident and relaxed as a result rather than manning up and riding on determination and testosterone. Steering, weight balance, looking and rolling over obstacles whether dropping off them or powering the front wheel over them were all playing a part. I also found this again on the Home Guard ride report you saw from John.
It’s worth mentioning that Danielle touched on energy management, timing, heels down and anticipation as important factors but in our session largely secondary in the context of the skill and riding experience of this particular group. I got the impression that Astounding Adventures are able to focus on these more with experienced riders, if you are paying 1 to 1 or perhaps on the Singletrack courses. I shall take the next course up after letting the Core Skills start to sink in for a few rides.
When I joined the Moles only a few weeks ago I quickly realised mountain biking is one of those pastimes where you can be in serious physical trouble when you get it wrong. The trail bites and it is smart to get to understand it (and respect it) with proper premeditated techniques. So, whilst coaching on the road was never personally relevant for me the daily realities of work, health, family commitments and cost of injuries or equipment damage meant I took notice of the coaching other Moles wrote or spoke about. Given a choice of £2000 bike and no coaching or £500 bike and £1000 of coaching I would choose the latter.
I couldn’t end without saying the professionalism and humour of Danielle make for an enjoyable experience, the mood of the group was good and relaxed, a Volunteer burger lived up to its reputation (and finally stopped weighing me down 3 hours later!), we all had another sociable drink at the Volunteer at the end and then to hell with it, those of us remaining had supper there as well.
I think I left Holmbury (sober) at 9pm. Personally I went through 2 x 3 litre Camelbak of water during the hot July day (so 6 litres in all). Somewhat different weather to Matt’s February report. If you attend a course do hydrate well, try and take in the whole day and then appreciate the confidence you feel when you get out and ride afterwards.
So, as I said I had a blast. After a full day off-road I was intending to go out on the road the following day but the course, the fabulous Surrey Hills and the Moles have all combined to get me hooked and I now get it. Hence I was on the trails for the best part of 4 hours with John and Erick instead on the Home Guard ride. My poor carbon thoroughbred Italian road bike was left behind in prime July Tour de France time. Don’t tell it!