Muddymoles mountain biking in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

Feel the force – MTB skills coaching with the Jedi

Posted by Lloyd | July 3, 2024 | 6 comments so far

Lloyd on the berms, having MTB skills coaching from the Jedi at UK Bike Skills
Over the years I have heard some of the Moles eulogising about MTB skills coaching from ‘The Jedi’. I thought that I would like to try it but somehow, never got round to it.

Newly retired, I no longer had any excuse and messaged ‘The Jedi’ – aka Tony Doyle at UK Bike Skills – for a private MTB skills coaching session of my own.

Tony responded immediately with several dates, one of which was 1 July, the very first day of my retirement in fact. This seemed like a great way to begin as you mean to go on and 1 July was agreed.

The weather gods were smiling as the day was warm, not hot, with welcome cloud cover and dry conditions – perfect. After battling round the M25, the traffic gods were not so obliging, but I got to Stevenage and Tony’s bike park at the agreed hour.

I was immediately at ease as Tony had his Jack Russell with him and as two confirmed Jack Russell fans there was something other than bikes to connect over. I had said I wanted to improve my technique with jumps and drops and tips on riding generally.

As it was it was, it was less improve and more start again, but more of that later.

Start with the basics

Before I had even swung a leg over the bike Tony pointed out that my brake levers were set up wrong, being too low and forcing me to over rotate my wrists to reach them.

Then on some simple figure of eight loops it was my clips that were singled out, too loose. I thought looser was safer, but on reflection I have come unclipped at inopportune moments and so some tightening ensued.

We then started with a quick skills session on pumping and a few smaller berms to assess my technique. I quickly learned the right ‘pump point’ but my body positioning did not pass muster. My weight, in particular hips, was too far back which means it is difficult to weight the front tyre, resulting in reduced control.

The one key lesson I will remember from that session was ‘keep your bollocks above the shock’, easy enough to remember I think. But that was an important lesson as it was to be a key foundation block for all the other lessons that followed.

Lloyd tries a drop on his, during coaching by the Jedi at UK Bike Skills

Turning a corner

Next up was turning.

Easy, I hear you say, but not so fast. I have a tendency to lean my body over with the bike and have a more than occasional front or rear wheel washout as a result.

Here Tony tapped into my skiing experience of carving turns. Rather than getting the ski’s onto their edge and carving the turn, this was about getting the tyres onto their edge, bike leaned over and body (hands, hips, shoulders, feet) in the right positions playing their part.

The ski-ing analogy made perfect sense. I quickly grasped the principles even if the execution will take more time to master as one washout and a grass burned elbow proved.

We then took that onto some easy berms and after some patchy efforts started to string them together a bit more consistently.

Riding drops

It was then across to a series of 3 drops of increasing height.

Back in the Surrey Hills, on the log drops of Flinty and Rumble I am very inconsistent. I can sometimes land cleanly on both wheels but more often than not I land on the front wheel (occasionally the back) and am grateful the drop is not higher, as it would be a nasty endo ending.

It comes back to positioning on the bike. I have tended to get the weight back and push off with my arms when I drop off, respectively wrong and absolutely wrong.

My key learning from this is my take off point is often too late, it should be a step earlier. The weight should be central, don’t push off with the arms but simply bend legs and jump up at take off point.

It was not long before I progressed to the highest drop and was landing it consistently and in control.

Lloyd on a roll in, during MTB skills coaching from the Jedi at UK Bike Skills

Putting things together

Next up was stringing the berms and drops learnings together on a trail. A few small and few bigger of each.

The challenge was remembering all the things I had just learned and executing them correctly at the right time. This was a challenge I repeatedly failed but with each run down I was getting more sections right more of the time.

Most important was feeling confident on the drops with no distracting anxiety about screwing it up and crashing.

We then went over to try some roll-ins. For once it seemed that my technique passed muster. I guess you learn some things riding the Surrey Hills after all. The smaller smooth roll-in was easy and my technique was still good over the steeper, rootier one and so we did not linger here and moved straight on to the jumps.

Jumping ahead

The nursery jump slope features a middling slope down to a tabletop about 7ft wide. One half is scooped out of the middle, creating a tabletop and a gap jump side by side.

This means everything is exactly the same (take off, distance, landing) but one side has a gap and the other side doesn’t.

The gap/no-gap experience is psychologically completely different though. I looked at the tabletop and thought, ‘I’ll give that a go’ and I looked at the gap jump next to it and thought ‘no f… way!’.

Lloyd minds the gap, coached by the Jedi at UK Bike Skills

Starting a bit up the slope I rolled down to focus on the table top.

The technique here is the same as the drops, spot the take off point, drop down and jump up. We slowly moved further and further up the slope till I was clearing the top and landing on the downslope.

Tony suggested that as I was clearing the tabletop, I could shift over and do the same on the side with the gap? Logically this makes sense, so I was soon rolling down the slope again, this time heading for the gap jump, something I said I would never try.

As I approached the take off point my brain suddenly went ‘GAP JUMP – OH SHIT!!’, it was too late to abort and so… I jumped…

It was a real ugly duckling of a jump but I cleared it – my first ever gap jump. Knowing I could clear it the next few times I could focus on technique and not ‘THE GAP’, and managed to get a few efforts just right.

Lloyd tackles tabletops, coached by the Jedi at UK Bike Skills

Summing up

We finished off with a longer run with a pump section, nice berms, and a few big tabletops. I was absolutely knackered at this point, both physically and mentally and as I got increasingly ragged with each run it was time for Tony to sensibly call it a day.

So did my day of MTB skills coaching with ‘The Jedi’ live up to expectations? Absolutely!

I learnt a number of technique points that will improve my riding, giving me more control which should result in safer and (hopefully) smoother progress. More importantly, psychologically I feel that I can tackle trail features more confidently, which was my principal aim.


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There are 6 comments on ‘Feel the force – MTB skills coaching with the Jedi’

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  1. JR says:

    That’s a marvellous write up Lloyd, sounds like you had a great session.

  2. Matt says:

    I’m interested in what he said about clips? It makes sense that if your riding relies on them (like mine does) then you need to be securely attached but what about people who ride flats?

    Did he express any view about flats vs clips?

  3. Matt says:

    It’s interesting reading this and comparing to JR’s write up of the public group day he attended in 2012 and DDub’s solo session in 2010 when he still had knees.

    Over the years the messaging has been pretty consistent about your position on the bike, working with the forces acting on the bike and about the education and mental approach to understand what you are doing and why.

    While bike geometry, wheel sizing, dress sense(!) and the fundamental capability of the bike have all changed, they are is no substitute for mastering those fundamental skills. Doing it, rather than reading about it seems to make a big difference.

    I’ll have to try a session myself.

  4. Jedi says:

    That’s an awesome write up dude. Thanks for your kind words guys

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