It’s not easy being a beginner on a mountain bike, trying to keep up with more experienced riders or getting beaten by the terrain!
Do you wish there was someone who could teach you the basics of riding safely off road? Take you on guided tours, at your own pace, and give you the confidence and inspiration to get out and ride properly?
Well you can rest easy now, if you’re either local to Yorkshire or want to spend a weekend riding somewhere new , then Cycle Yorkshire can offer you a package to suit all your mountain biking needs.
Over the weekend of 2-3rd September Cycle Yorkshire ran a Women’s MTB Skills day for beginners. (‘Beginners’ meaning you can ride a bike but you don’t necessarily have the skills to handle it safely off-road.) We sent SheCycles photographer, Joolze Dymond, off for a skills brush-up session and here’s how the day went.
I have been riding for years, but keep losing my confidence now that I spend a lot of time taking photos of people riding instead of on the bike myself. So I was pleased to meet Iain and the others in the beautiful setting of Chevin Forest high above the town of Otley.
Each beginners’ class starts off with a brief but through check over the bikes. Pointing out what you should look for before starting your ride to ensure you at least get to leave the car park with out any mechanical troubles.
This completed it was off to hit the trails and let the training begin.
Initially we were asked to ride as slowly as possible along a track, this helps Iain assess your natural balance and ability to control the bike at slow speed; a real necessity when riding some particular narrow rooty singletrack.
Then we rode over to the first of many climbs to get the hang of climbing properly, arms tucked down, elbows at right angles to the bars, weight slightly over the front wheel. At first it was uncomfortable and almost impossible, but after a few goes it soon became second nature and not as hard as we first thought. But anything is good that helps you get up those hills!
After mastering climbing, it was off to perfect the art of descending, what goes up must come down after all! All change for the riding position. Bum slightly pushed back over the saddle, pedals level, fingers feathering the brakes and it was off down the steep embankment dodging dog walkers and picking up speed as we spotted our line, confidence soaring.
Once we’d mastered those basics it was off to try some rooty singletrack. The beauty of Iain’s approach is that it doesn’t really feel like he’s telling you what to do, more suggesting it and encouraging you to have a go and see the difference these positions and postures make.
With the singletrack swiftly taken care of with ease thanks to our newfound confidence, it was time to up the ante and try some more difficult skills.
Firstly, the drop off, nothing too severe but just enough to raise your adrenalin, riding at a pace through the woods and then a gentle step down, like descending over a short sharp step. It was made all the easier with Iain showing how it should be done and then his gentle words of encouragement as you got stuck in.
Next up was the twig jumping… okay it was a bit bigger than a twig but the whole idea of this exercise was to practise the art of lifting your front wheel to clear an obstacle. A lot of people don’t realise how to do this or just think that their suspension will allow them to roll over anything in their way. Unfortunately this is not always true, so being able to lift your front wheel when the need arises is a valuable skill.
With this technique mastered it was off to the steps, a series of little drops offs, one after each other, daunting even for the most confident. But as with each challenge Iain threw at us nothing seemed impossible and was soon conquered with a whoop and a huge grin of achievement. Every challenge we encountered was designed to increase our awareness and confidence step by step (no pun intended).
By then it was lunchtime. A quick scramble up the hill, practising newly learnt techniques, to the rustic café, where a drop down a set of steps to the tea and cake that awaited was no problem. Tea and coffee is laid on, plus you can order the most wickedly handmade delicous chocolate cake all in the knowledge that you’ve worked hard to enjoy it!!
We made the most of the rest, as the afternoon, was taken up with a good ride around some more trails chosen to test your new found skills. A tough rocky climb followed by a gentle descent and more climbing, culminating in fabulous bumpy section through deep muddy puddles, guaranteed to wash away all your worries.
Later in the afternoon there’s time for a quick stop at the pub where Iain shows the basics such as changing an inner tube. Before turning back to descend the rocky climb, which takes you back to the warmth and comfort of the café for more hot mugs of tea and chocolate cake.
Was it worth it? Yep you bet. Despite knowing how to ride a bike and having done so for many years, it’s not always the case that you know everything there is to know about riding off road. The chance to get out amongst beautiful surroundings and good company along with picking up new skills and increasing my confidence was invaluable. Plus, anything that ends with a steaming hot mug of tea and a thick slice of home made chocolate cake just has to be good!
I’ve also been fortunate over the last couple of weeks to sample some of Cycle Yorkshire’s other rides. We were lucky enough to experience one of Iain’s family days. This one being a bit special, as it featured a prizewinner, in a raffle that Cycle Yorkshire supported in aid of The Bradford Cochlear Implant Unit. The prizewinner was Catherine Wells, who was born with profound deafness and successfully received an implant from the unit in 2003. A regular rider on the roads, Catherine had never tried mountain biking before. Coming from a keen cycling family, it was decided that the whole family would come and make a day of it. With Cycle Yorkshire providing the bikes and nature providing the terrain, Mum, Dad, brother, brother’s girlfriend and Catherine’s boyfriend all lined up to be taken through their paces. Riding off road is a whole different game to riding on the roads and the family were delighted to be able to take this opportunity to experience the fun and learn how to ride safely all under the expert guidance of Iain.
So whether you’re a rusty expert, out of shape beginner, keen family or just want to ride some new trails without the hassle of figuring out where you are, Cycle Yorkshire prides itself on providing a flexible package that should just about suit everyone. For more details visit www.cycleyorkshire.co.uk
Up coming dates
More women only and family sessions include 15th and 29th October, 19th and 26th November 2006 see www.cycleyorkshire.co.uk for more details.