Muddymoles mountain biking in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

Cwmcarn Skills & DH Days

Posted by Dandy | May 18, 2010 | 10 comments so far

Andy wants to make clear this is Rowan Sorrel in the pic, not himself, as he would never wear white gloves for riding in, they are so last decade
With the excuse that I needed to use up 2 days holiday, carried over from last year or lose them, I found myself booked onto an ‘All Mountain Skills Day’ with Rowan Sorrel (see a profile article in the June 2010 MBR magazine) at Cwmcarn on the first Thursday in May.

On the Friday I had booked myself onto the Downhill ‘uplift’ service (known as ‘CwmDown’). We have had a few articles about MTB skills days on this site recently, so I won’t say too much about it, but we covered a lot of the topics on the Thursday that the ladies from Astounding Adventures covered earlier in the year (weight movement, cornering, lofting the front wheel etc.).

We also spent a bit of time sessioning parts of the DH course, and finished up with some secret singletrack that slalomed through the pine trees on a steep slope which eventually picked up the end of the cross-country ‘Twrch’ trail.

To gain the height on Thursday, we had to climb the 300m to the summit of the course. This time it was a darn sight easier in the back of a minibus, with the bikes loaded onto a purpose built bike trailer.

There was a varied collection of bikes, but my Pace looked distinctly underwhelming (150mm forks, 130mm rear travel) compared to the 200mm travel triple-clamped beasts that most riders were favouring. A couple of guys had more XC-oriented bikes (Lapierre Zesty & Yeti 575), and we three ‘novices’ found ourselves hanging around at the bike as the rest blasted off.

And blast-off they did. They were clearly regulars, and the conversation between them in the bus included questions like, “Are you racing the Nationals this year?” which served to make me feel even more like I was out of my depth. However, I’d paid good money (well, £25 for the day’s uplift; it’s £28.50 on week-ends) and it was time to go.

The left hand side of the course is the ‘black’ route, so I chose the right-hand ‘red’ option. A tabletop and a jump (which were rollable) lead into a couple of berms and the trees. A little pedalling was required (as I clearly wasn’t carrying enough speed) before the next technical section.

Again, there’s a few options to choose from, and they are ‘signed’ for difficulty to help you get down the course. The easier options were all rollable, though there was one corner in particular which I never managed to make without dabbing all day. I recognised some of the course from the previous day’s sessions, but eventually you come to a road and a drop-off of a few feet or more.

On the right hand side there’s a rollable section, but that was on stone and I was not convinced my chain ring would clear it with my weight compressing the rear suspension. This was my excuse to walk it down and continue with the rest of the course. This final section is open and faster, again with some berms and jumps, still all rollable.

Then I was at the bottom, in one piece! I had beaten the minibus down, which was a minor triumph for me, though I was the last to arrive. I’d been overtaken by the lads on the other XC bikes as I’d minced around a section which they cleared first time. It had taken me about 15 minutes or more to make it down, I think the fastest were doing it in about 5!

It was with a little less trepidation that I ascended in the bus a second time, and I felt able to make a few hesitant comments on the course to my neighbours, though I was still feeling pretty self-conscious. We got about 6 runs in during the morning, each ride up taking about 25 minutes or so including unloading time.

As the morning progressed I found myself cleaning most of the lines, and trying out a few minor variations on the route. The driver has a 45 minute lunch break, which gives you a chance to rest the weary arms and legs and take advantage of the fine cafe on site.

I was surprised at how tired I was feeling, the arms suffering due to the ‘death-grip’ I’d had on the brakes as I descended. Not a place to bring the retro, v-braked steed, especially if it’s wet. But today the weather was kind, with the early morning rain clearing shortly before the 10am start, to remain dry all day.

On the last run before lunch, instead of the downhill course I had headed back to the ‘secret singletrack’ that Rowan had showed us the previous day, taking that route back to the centre and the cafe. After my first run down of the afternoon, I decided that on the next ascent rather than heading all the way back down, I would session the tabletop at the beginning of the course.

I had changed my Crank Brothers Mallet pedals to the Shimano flatties for the DH course, and on a few occasions my feet were flying off the pedals as I took a little air rather too enthusiastically. I reckoned that if I could master the tabletop in the flatties I had a better chance of getting it right on a few of the jumps further down the course.

As the rest of the riders disappeared, I sessioned the tabletop 20-30 times, pausing only for a five minute chat with a local rider who had pedalled up to give the DH course a go. With the return of the minibus, I let the experts get away then headed for the tabletop with full-speed (for me), managing to keep my feet in contact with the pedals even though the wheels were off the ground. I wouldn’t claim ‘big air’, but at least it felt like I had cleared it properly.

After a few more runs, it was time for the final run of the day. I think the minibus managed 12 runs in total, which was more than enough for most riders as quite a few gave the last run a miss.

I would recommend it as a cracking day out. You can feel your confidence and lines improve over the day, though I confess I never had the nerve to try the left-hand route and stuck to the right-hand option all the time. But I’m determined to tackle the road drop-off next time I give the DH course a go.

Most of the Moles would enjoy it, I think, as most is rollable and there’s always an alternative to the more technical lines. At the weekend they have two buses running, so the course is a little busier, but there’s plenty of it and if you let the enthusiasts take off there’s plenty of time to enjoy it at a more leisurely pace. Count me in if anyone fancies organising a day trip.

Filed under Reviews, Skills training in May 2010


About the author

Having been mountain biking since 1996, you might have expected Dandy to have learnt to ride a bike by now. Several broken bones in the last few years prove the maxim that you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

In between hospital visits, Dandy rides a brace of much-blinged Pace RCs, the 'green themed' 405 and the silver & gold 506. His winter hack is the Moles' favourite, an On-One 456 hardtail, now converted to an Alfine hub He also dabbles in 'the dark arts', keeping 2 road bikes in one of his seven sheds.

There are 10 comments on ‘Cwmcarn Skills & DH Days’

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  1. Alex says:

    It’s a good day. Excellent VFM and – as you say – surprisingly knackering.

    from when I went. Want to go back now. That road drop is nowhere near as bad as it looks. Says the man having done it exactly once.

    Also on the Pace (405) 🙂

  2. John R says:

    Andy – after your aggressive attack on Deathstar with a hardtail last month, I am appalled by the thought that you see yourself as just a novice.

    More generally, many of the Moles have been on skills courses of all sorts over the last year or so such as Gorrick, Astounding Adventures, Tony Doyle and Cwmcarn. I wonder what top three things they have learned from all this tuition that they would want to share with newer riders?

  3. D'AndyC says:

    Nice article, Alex. You’re clearly a wordsmith, and you have articulated far more eloquently the spirit of my article; “run what you brung, and have fun”.

    The subsequent debate your article created about what bike to use is slightly off-target from your general theme; to quote the mighty Lance, “It’s not about the bike”. As you say, it’s more about your attitude and a determination to have fun.

    For those of us who are self-conscious adults tackling a DH day for the first time, there is a nervous anticipation combined with the adult hang-up of not wanting to look like a total plonker. The advantage of the Cwmcarn DH course is that most competent XC riders can have a go, no matter what bike they’re on, and enjoy it. If they have more travel and, more importantly, more skill, then they will go faster and take the more demanding lines. They won’t necessarily have more fun, and one day I might have a go with my On-One 456 hardtail.

    I took the time to read some of your other articles on the Pickled Hedgehog site and enjoyed them; and I was particularly pleased to hear you’re a Pace RC405 rider.

    I think it’s a cracking bike, and I bought it after a North Downs demo day where I sampled several bikes over a testing 50 minute loop. It’s a great all-round bike, superb in the singletrack, climbs better than most, and as we’ve both seen, capable of tackling the DH too. The frame is quite chunky, and will take quite a bit of abuse (I hope). Mine weighs about 28 lbs, it has SRAM X0 shifting (‘cos it comes in green to match the khaki frame), with a Truvativ Noir chainset. Brakes are Hope X2. Some extra weight is added by the KS i900 adjustable seatpost, and Crank Brothers Mallet pedals and RaceFace Atlas bars (‘cos they’re green too).

    John – My view is that mountain biking is like golf in that we have an image of where we want to be (i.e. Steve Peat or Tiger Woods – maybe I could have chosen a different golfer, but you get the point) and a painful awareness of how short we fall in comparison. The fun is in trying to emulate your hero, even if it only happens once in a ride or a round.

    I have great fun in trying to pull off a move competently, and when it happens I do think I’m riding like Steve Peat (it’s a weird world inside my head). However, I am also aware that very often I am closer to the rank amateur end of the spectrum than the professional. Every time I try, and sometimes master, something new, I see that there are other techniques and tricks that are still beyond me.

    For me the fun is in having a go, and occasionally getting it right. Having (mostly) mastered Death Star, amongst my next targets are the drop-off at the Cwmcarn DH course, or the Judges Seat drop that Dave W shows us the way on!

  4. Matt says:

    D’Andy says ‘think I’m riding like Steve Peat’. Fair play mate but using the rest of your analogy, seems like Tiger Woods has had plenty of riding fun too!

    Wouldn’t mind emulating that but not on a mountain bike!!

    I fancy giving this Cwmdown thing a go, a weekday when it’s quieter and if I can borrow a full face helmet off someone.

    As for riding tips John, I think making the effort to lean on your outside pedal and moving your weight round the bike is key. Plus the front brake is your friend… but what do I know?

  5. AndyW says:

    Good write up Andy, keep up the good work, great to see people pushing their limits.

    DH day, count me in. Subject to holidays, imminent baby arrivals etc.

  6. Alex says:

    Slow in, Fast out. Look round the corner, REALLY look way ahead of where you are. Pump the trail. All sounds obvious and easy. And in an environment where you’re learning it is, harder when you’re chasing your mates.

    I like the Pace although it doesn’t get ridden as much as my ST4. But always puts a smile on my face. Mine is probably 30lbs+ as it has fat tyres, elephant condom inner tubes and a coil pike up front. Definitely a bike for big, rough days out.

    It is amazing how much different to the ST4 it is with only an inch of travel more. Far stiffer and burlier.

  7. D'AndyC says:

    Just had a cracking w/e in North Wales on the Pace, where its ‘trail’ set-up (Revelation 150mm air forks, tubeless tyres) was outstanding and matched the conditions perfectly.

    It could handle all the rough stuff that Llandegla, Penmachno and ‘The Beast’ at CyB could throw at it. I couldn’t ask for a better set-up to handle both the rolling singletrack descents and the rockier sections of CyB; and I could still get it up the hills (just) at 4pm on the final afternoon, despite the 80km and 2000+m of climbing over the w/e (plus 6 pints in the pub at night !).

    Now that the Welsh w/e is over, I am about to ditch the 2.35 High Rollers for 2.1 CrossMarks. They should better suit the drier smoother trails of the North Downs, and drop another 400g in rolling weight.

  8. Xavier says:

    Hi guys. Good to see you had fun at Cwmcarn. I’ve been there a few times including at the start of the year. Would be keen to have a session there again after Passportes at the end of June. The road drop is a real commitment of blind faith. Like jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool not knowing if you can swim.

  9. Muddymoles says:

    Weekend report: South Wales 22-24 July Part 1

    A trip to Wales includes a taste of downhill for the first time for some of the moles.

  10. Related: Weekend report: South Wales 22-24 July Day 1 - Cwmdown at Cwmcarn | Rides | Muddymoles: Mountain biking (MTB) in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

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