Muddymoles mountain biking in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

Astounding Adventures Fundamentals

Posted by Paul901 | July 13, 2010 | 15 comments so far

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!


About the author

Paul set foot (or pedal) on a trail for the first time in May 2010 with zero experience and zero skills awareness and a fear that his Whyte901 would be a very expensive whim. Whilst a convert to the trails he still rides 10 times as many miles on average on his beloved tarmac as a darksideaholic. Paul actually turned up to a Leith Hill evening ride and pulled a Viner road bike out of the car, waved, rode off and wasn't seen again until the pub later that evening.

He also confesses to having owned 3 coffee roasters, 2 expensive grinders, several elite coffee machines and a rotating stock of 10+ green bean coffee varieties at any one time. He spent 2 years developing a coffee grind reference table, has an RO water filter system for absurdly pure water, casually drops words like backflush, spritzing and Euro curve into a conversation, has compiled his own coffee roasting handbook based on 5 years of roasting and still denies obsession. Er, right.

There are 15 comments on ‘Astounding Adventures Fundamentals’

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  1. DaveW says:

    An enjoyable read Paul and good to hear that you benefited so much from the course.

    I know what you mean about the road bike – when I look out of the window at the weather and think about the trails, I very rarely decide to take the road bike out.

    The road bike is generally reserved for longer commutes and quick 1-1.5 hour winter rides to save on cleaning time, or for relative safety when riding solo after dark.

    When riding for pleasure there is no substitute for a mountain bike :o)

  2. Matt says:

    That’s a good reminder of all we covered back in the winter Paul. Completely agree that money spent on courses is probably more beneficial than a new bit of kit but the bling is hard to resist!

    I’m still trying to embed these techniques, I’ve stepped away from the dreaded ‘gorilla hops’ but still need to master the techniques we covered on the day.

    I must set some time aside for a park-based ‘session’ session to practice wheel lifts and disconnected bunny-hops in relative safety.

    Once I’ve got all that I’d eventually like to try their next course that covers the energy management and flow techniques you mention.

  3. Andrew says:

    I feel compelled to sign up now – I had been thinking about these guys but after all these glowing reviews on this site I will have to change my mind:

  4. DaveW says:

    Well I expect you would have a similar experience with them, as Danielle and Jessica of AA used to work for them!

    My personal recommendation is to book a session with Tony Doyle of ukbikeskills. You can see my review of several mtb schools/coaches here:

  5. james pro says:

    Great write up. Looks like it was a good day. I would love to get some coaching. I feel I have improved by just riding every week for the past 9 months. Cant beat practice, practice makes perfect!

  6. paul901 says:

    DaveW, just to be clear on the different coaching as it will no doubt help me in the future. You have tried a similar level of coaching from 3 different companies now, no doubt at a similar price (£240 or so for 4 hours 1 to 1) and your pick of those is Tony?

  7. DaveW says:

    Paul – yes. By a long way.

    But don’t just take my word for it. Also ask Keith and Dandy who have both had 1:1s with him lately.

    (I think half a day with Tony 1:1 is £180)

  8. StevenD says:

    Or 75 for a group of 4 – I am willing to make up a group of 4 if that helps.


  9. Hi Paul

    Thanks for the lovely review. Great to hear you got a lot out of it. Hope to see you again soon. 🙂

    DaveW – I think if would be fair to point out that the coaching day you did with us was a free taster session with a group of approximately 12 people from Muddy Moles, Diary of a Mountain Biker and Brighton MTB.

    Just a little unfair to compare this with paid 1-2-1 sessions you have had elsewhere without trying a 1-2-1 session with us for a direct comparison.

    Obviously 1-2-1 coaching is far better than group coaching if you have the budget. Areas covered can be wider, feedback is more focused and the course can be tailored to individual needs.

    Details of our 1-2-1 coaching sessions are available here:

    Cheers again! 🙂


  10. DaveW says:

    That was pointed out in the post I provided a link to Danielle, but you are right that it should be made clear. From recollection there were two coaches for 11 people on my day with Astounding Adventures.

    My comments and recommendations do take that into account and I am not comparing what can be learnt in an all day group session, with what can be learnt in a half day 1:1 session.

    There are pluses and minuses in training with a group versus 1:1. It is useful seeing what others in a group are doing wrong, but of course there is greater danger of key problems going uncorrected. In either case, being coached by an expert rider who can demonstrate the skills they are trying to teach perfectly is very important.

    Whatever level of rider you are, I would say that 1:1 is better though.

    In my comments on this site and in the forum I have been comparing the impression I have gained of the riding and coaching abilities of the instructors and the potential value that can be gained from each one, regardless of the group versus 1:1 element.

    Just to be clear I have gained immense value from every school and if you have not had formal MTB training, I would highly recommend doing group or 1:1 coaching with Astounding Adventures, Firecrest or UKBikeSkills.

    I consider Tony to be the best coach though.

  11. Matt says:

    Dave there’s no doubt that cumulatively you’ve gained a lot this year from the various coaching experiences you’ve had and I think it’s fair to say you’ve got something from each one you’ve attended (as you say yourself). I don’t think anyone would argue that Jedi/Tony’s coaching skills are not of a high calibre but you certainly pay for that!

    For me, Astounding Adventures is the only course I’ve sampled and they were kind enough to offer us a free group session at the beginning of the year. Their normal course costs are much less than Jedi’s, and the price of £60 for 4 hours tuition in a group up to 6 people is pretty competitive. You will still gain a lot of knowledge that Jedi and co. can build upon later.

    After an Astounding Adventures Fundamentals course you won’t be a freeride God but you will walk away with a much better understanding of how to ride well and safely off-road, which for a relative beginner is key. This can then be built on over time, practice and further courses with the many providers out there.

    I’ve been riding for years, am still learning and I came away with some useful knowledge!

    A final point – we all learn differently, some like theory, some like doing, some like reassurance, plus we all have our own expectations of any particular course. In a way I’m glad that different people have different views of various coaches as that goes to show we all respond differently to instruction. In your case Jedi/Tony is the one for you!

    My experience of Astounding Adventures was that Jess and Danielle struck a fine balance with an unusually large group and provided a useful toolbox of skills to hone in the future.

    They do help support this website but that aside I think my comments on their service (back up by Paul here) have not been unnecessarily rose-tinted.

  12. DaveW says:

    I agree with most of what you say Matt, except for the implication that ukbikeskills are expensive and AA cheap (You said “I don’t think anyone would argue that Jedi/Tony’s coaching skills are not of a high calibre but you certainly pay for that!”)

    Looking at the sites, AA charge £60 per hour for 1:1 tuition. ukbikeskills (Tony Doyle / Jedi, etc) charge 180 for 4 hours. I make that £45 per hour and therefore cheaper. Maybe AA do it cheaper for longer sessions, but that isn’t stated on their site.

    ukbikeskills scheduled group sessions are £75pp for half a day. AA charge £60pp, so granted, that is a bit cheaper.

    For private tuition of a group, the different tariff structures get a bit hard to compare without resorting to a spreadsheet, which I cannot be ar5ed to do, but one worked example is:

    AA charge £20pp ph for a group of 4, which comes to £80 ph for the group whilst ukbikeskills would charge £75 pp for the whole session, working out at £75 per hour for the group – again slightly cheaper.

    So the costs seem pretty comparable.

  13. PIJ says:

    Wife’s just put me up for two days of training with them in July ;¬) 46 years old, been riding mountain bikes for 20 years and now I finally get some training. Oddly nervous about it, but looking forward all the same. Watch the blog for a review.

    • Dandy says:

      You’re never too old too learn, as they say. They also say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, so what do ‘they’ know?

      There’s no doubt that tuition has improved my ability at an age that is … err … not too far removed from yours. I’m sure you will enjoy it immensely, and benefit from it.

      Let us know how you get on.

  14. pij says:

    Will do. Oddly my advancing years aren’t the motivator, and neither is riding with younger people. It just seems that as the years progress, mountain biking is moving towards a more technical nature – guess making use of increased suspension travel, better grip from the tyres and brakes that can pop your eyeballs out. I think I’ve kept pace somewhere, but my bike is now way better than I will ever be, so I hope to make up some of the balance through a bit of training. Somehow I don’t want to be an “all the gear, no idea” oldie hanging around some trail centre car park.

    As for calling me a dog, I’ll let that one pass ;¬)

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