Tag Archives: mountain biking

mtb skills refresher day

MTB skills refresher day

James’ thoughts on his recent MTB skills refresher day

Following on from my previous blog about my experience of skills coaching way back in 2011, I returned to Dalby Forest a few weeks ago and joined Steve from Chasing Trails for a refresher session.

The main aim this time was to focus more on skills that would benefit me in my cross country races, so gnarly jumpy stuff wasn’t on the agenda and neither were we going to be looking at Peter Sagan style no-handed wheelies…

Flow through the trail, free speed, cornering techniques and negotiating technical features were the key areas. And although much of this was covered in detail in my original session, Steve soon noticed once we were out on the trail that I had developed a few bad habits here and there.

I tend to do a lot of road cycling for fitness and sometimes can be off the mountain bike for a good few weeks at a time, living in East Anglia also means that I rarely encounter many technical trail features on my MTB rides unless I’ve travelled at least 100 miles towards some hills. As a result, my position on the mountain bike had morphed to closely reflect that of my road bike; weight well forward over the bars and the saddle height set somewhere near my shoulder blades.

Although I somehow managed to stay on the bike through technical sections, it was probably more through luck rather than skill. So we made a few minor alterations and tried to ride the same sections again. I now had much more freedom to move around the bike and could distribute my weight more accordingly to the conditions faced on the trail. There is a compromise between manoeuvrability and being able to actually get the best power from your legs for speed, so there needs to be a trade-off between the two. It’s still frowned upon to use a dropper post in XC, but it would really give the best of both worlds and the weight of such components is dropping (no pun intended) all the time.

I was also keeping my body too rigid when I approached rocky drops or other technical features and this demonstrated perfectly when I was unable to soak up the landing from a drop-off and ended up on the floor with my legs in the air. I’d consciously gone through the motions in my mind, but failed to execute it quickly enough. A second attempt with a more relaxed body and I was able to clear the drop faster and much more comfortably.

We covered cornering until I was a dab hand negotiating the multiple twisting corners leading up to Medusa’s Drop, a twisty downhill section on the Dalby red route, and also looked at how the most ridden line of a trail may not always be the fastest. A lot of the skill involved in maintaining speed isn’t just about power, but constantly reading the trail ahead of you and thinking where you can conserve energy rather than pedalling through sections like a runaway freight train.

Much of the training needs to be stored in the memory banks and practiced frequently over the following weeks to ensure you don’t forget and can apply it to your regular riding. I found the refresher course was a lot more beneficial than I expected it to be and it instilled new confidence in my riding and gave me a chance to find the answer to questions that have floated around my head when negotiating certain obstacles.

I went away from the session and entered a local XC race at Thetford Forest. Not quite the tech-fest you’d expect to be able to put those new found skills into action, but you’d be surprised…

The course was pretty much devoid of any serious climbing apart from one large pit that we rolled in and out of and a sandy incline through some tight trees near the end of the lap. Everything else was classic Thetford singletrack; tight, twisty and lots of rolling bumps between the rows of trees. Straight away I spotted how I could use the bumps to my advantage by ‘pumping’ through them and conserve my energy for later in the race. Sighting the fastest line through corners also meant I didn’t have to brake off my speed only to pedal hard to regain it again. And reading the trail way ahead rather than directly in front meant that I was ready to select the right gear to pass another rider on a sweeping corner.

As I’m more of a long distance rider than a race whippet, I usually struggle to keep up the pace in these shorter course events and tend to finish in or around the top 10. So I was surprised to roll over the line in 5th place. I think a lot of this was down to applying the skills training during the race to maintain my speed and conserve energy rather than just thrashing legs and burning out early like I always used to.

Next up are a couple of endurance races, a 6 followed by a 12 hour. Again an opportunity to look at ways of conserving energy and making free speed by pumping the bumps and railing the berms!

James

Also see James’ blogspot post for more info on the race itself

1 sponsored place is still available for a female racer. If you race XC, Endurance or Enduro & your riding skill needs to improve, get in touch!

Chasing Trails has a sponsored rider

James Deane is the first rider to be sponsored by Chasing Trails

It occurred to me recently that this would be a good thing to do…

Obviously it gets the word around that skills coaching is effective! It has to actually work for there to be any appeal..!

Many people just hope for the best, but everyone who’s had some coaching with Chasing Trails has been surprised with the progress achieved. One thing I’m always surprised by is the number of racers who avoid learning skills that could be the difference between a crash & a personal best.

James booked a 1:1 day in 2011 & we covered a fair amount in the day, so much so that he was inspired to tweet this:

Since then James started racing & replied to a facebook post/tweet asking if anyone was interested in being sponsored in the form of skills coaching. I knew he was serious about the racing; despite living down south I’ve often seen him ride past on the trails at Dalby while I’ve been teaching. Having gained a lot from the skills session way back, James was keen to build on it & refine things as well as refresh in case any bad habits had crept back in.

There’ll be another report from James shortly on his recent session, but enough from me. Here’s James’ thoughts on the initial day in 2011:

When I first started to get really serious about mountain biking, my adventures took me out into the wilds of the Suffolk countryside. A part of the UK that doesn’t boast epic hills, radical descents or even a remotely gnarly drop-off… But at the time, it really was all I knew about riding cross country and embarrassing as it to admit it, I did fall off quite a few times.

With time I grew more confident and started to venture further afield. First to Thetford Forest, then Cannock Chase and eventually over the border into Wales and to the Grand Daddy of them all, Coed y Brenin.

CyB was a total culture shock for someone who had spent their cycling life in the East Anglian flat lands. I probably walked/slid/fell down most of the descents and came home with more cuts and bruises than I’d have sustained in a round with Tyson in the ring.

I’d read about skills courses in magazines, riding buddies spoke about them in hushed tones but never admitted to having even considered them. Bravado is big in cycling and to admit you have a weakness will mark you out as less of a hard man (Just go on a bike forum and post on there that you are scared of descents and you’ll see what I mean!).

After considering the options – broken collarbone vs reputation in tatters with the biking hard men, I chose the latter and booked myself on a skills course with Chasing Trails. There are plenty of skills coaches in the country that you can choose from. Some are quite eccentric, others are quiet and unassuming. I chose on reputation rather than marketing.

Steve from Chasing Trails initially spent some time riding with me on the trails at Dalby, analysing my riding style and quietly building a list of things that we needed to concentrate on; riding position, how I moved my body weight in corners or in drops. These are things that you wouldn’t really think about until someone actually points them out to you.

With the bad habits ironed out, the next focus is on learning solid technique, understanding why it works and getting the skills into body memory. Body memory allows you to do the right thing before you have to think about it!

Like driving lessons, a skills course will not instantly make you into the greatest rider that ever lived. You still need to practice and develop your riding over time. But from a course you will come away with added confidence, knowledge and a better understanding of how to handle your bike and yourself when negotiating technical terrain.

Following the skills course I went back to Coed y Brenin and this time I had both the technical knowledge and the confidence to make it down all the descents on two wheels!

James

Chasing Trails is small (just me, Steve) and so there will only be space for 1 more sponsored rider. In the interests of balance this will be a female racer. If you race XC, Endurance or Enduro & you know your riding will improve with some skills work, get in touch!

First Ride at Llandegla

First ride of the red/black at Llandegla

This is the 2nd proper bit of film shot with the GoPro. Jane from EDS Bikes was planning a last minute raid of Llandegla & asked if I was up for it.

Twas an early start. Coffee. Get there. 1 lap. Coffee. Straight back to Yorkshire!

I’m not quite sure why I haven’t ridden Llandegla before. In the past various people have claimed to be not too impressed, but as it is, I loved it. The climbs are on the steep side but all doable if you have the energy. As we all know, the main thing with climbs is that there should be downhills that are worth the effort, and this is the case..!

And …I’ve just seen some news that more improvements are being finished at this very moment!

Apart from the riding, the trails are quite scenic in places, so generally a good place to be.

Being the 1st time I’ve ridden Llandegla, it wasn’t flat out. So one perspective of the video is that it kind of shows the level any rider can get to with a bit of coaching & practice.

As with the previous vid, a (possibly) sharper version will be on Vimeo when it’s processed. A link will be edited in shortly…

First MTB video shot with the GoPro Hero 3+

First impressions of the GoPro Hero 3+ Black

Took the GoPro out for the first time a couple of days ago. I rode out the door to Raincliffe Woods, did a few miles & then stuck the best bits together. This is the result:

The crash at 1:46 was down to a rock or tree stump that my foot hit with the pedal behind it! I thought I was just brushing some vegetation, turns out it was a bit more solid! It crossed my mind to leave that bit out..! But it feels better to be ‘honest’!

The video looks kind of speeded up in places but only the very start is messed with. The rest looks quick because the trail is very overgrown at the moment!

I’ve been impressed with the GoPro so far, features wise it’s hard to beat. For me though the picture quality just seems noticeably better than the competition.

A sharper version will be on Vimeo, minus music, when it uploads! A link will be edited in shortly…

Middleburn RS7 Crankset (ISIS) long term review

How has Middleburn’s RS7 stood up to the abuse?

Middleburn RS7 Silver cranksetCranks. Pedals one end, bottom bracket the other, 1 – 3 chainrings, make the bike go.

There’s a lot of talk about how stiff various cranks are. These ones are stiff, although it’s rare for even cheap ones to feel flexy. The Middleburn RS7 crankset is also on the light side. They’re made out of quality alloy in the UK. They’re a little bit pricey, with a RRP for the arms & a spider around £150 but you often see them for a fair but less than the RRP. They do have a lifetime guarantee which includes DH & dirt jumping. It doesn’t cover the splines but it’s rare that they would go on any crank in use. I would guess the disclaimer there is to avoid paying out for dodgy fitting. If you want even lighter still, the RS8’s still have a lifetime guarantee but not for DH & jumping.

I can’t think of anything bad. They’re available in square taper & ISIS. Stop, I hear you say, but aren’t ISIS BB’s the worst product ever invented? Well they seem to have a bad rep, but in my experience if you get a quality BB, (not necessarily the most expensive), they last as long as the old square tapered ones. The axles are larger diameter & therefore stronger. The FSA Platinum I 1st used lasted 16 months of hard use before any play developed. It was replaced by a Superstar a couple of months ago, the design of which makes total sense, so I’m expecting that to do well. As a comparison, the best I’ve had from an external type BB is 6 months, the worst is 3 rides! Before anyone asks, yes the BB shell was faced. There are better units available now, however, from Hope, Chris King & others.

Although these have a triple, the spider is removable & you can fit a lightweight XC double where the inner ring is also the spider for the big ring. Uno setups do away with a spider, the ring fits where the spider would normally. Spiders are available in XC & DH versions, and trials set-ups are also available. In the more standard config, you can get various 4 or 5 bolt types including one for XTR cranks to allow you to run your own choice of rings.

Lastly, a word about chain rings. The pic shows Middleburn’s own fitted to my set of RS7’s. I use these because they seem to last better than most. It’s very hard to decide on a longest lasting make of chain ring, because the conditions & the weather make it a bit variable, but these seem to do the job. The granny ring has been on other cranksets, so it’s 2 years old or more, The big ring isn’t showing any signs of wear & it’s about 6 months old & the middle ring (gets the most use) is still going after a good few months, but has some wear. Not enough yet to need replacing, but enough that you can see it. The one on there at the mo is a hardcoat, unlike the older one in the pic.

To sum up, buy a set of RS7’s if you don’t mind shelling out a bit of cash for something that will last. They’re due to release an external set sometime soon, so you may want to wait for that – I’d say there’s no need, this one is fine. Another UK product that works & works well.

howies merino base layer – NBL natural base layer

howies NBL base layer

howies description: “Superfine Merino that can be worn on its own or as part of a layering system when it’s cold. Wicks naturally, resists build-up of odours, regulates temperature and is itch-free so it feels real nice next to your skin. 100% Zque accredited Merino wool”.

Brands generally want you to believe their products will somehow enhance your quality of life. Apparently if you drink the right kind of Cola you’ll have more friends and become rich & cool… MTB marketing isn’t usually at that level of fantasy, but it’s often difficult to know which brands have a quality product and which rely more on a huge marketing department. If you’ve got a product that does the job it’s all a bit more straightforward, for company & customer.

The howies stuff I’ve owned does usually seem to match the marketing. I hesitate to use the phrase “does what it says on the tin”, it’s a bit cheesy, but there genuinely isn’t that much to add that howies haven’t said above. Except that I’ve owned a long sleeved & a couple of short sleeved versions for nearly 3½ years now, and they’re still going strong. When new, I was concerned that they were so comfortable that I’d grab one to wear off the bike far too often! Well, I’m still doing that now, so I reckon they’ve proved themselves for quality.

[edit] I was complaining the other day (July 2014) that my 2 NBLs were wearing out & why doesn’t stuff last very long these days. Then I found this post & realised they were 8 years old…

On the bike, I wear a long or short sleeved howies merino base layer as the only top layer on warm summer days, and you can get away with just the base layer & one of the warmer jackets like an Endura Stealth in the winter on all but the coldest days. When it’s cooler but dry in the autumn I usually wear a howies mid layer on top

It’s often claimed that natural materials out-perform synthetics. In my opinion this is often true; it certainly is with merino. For many, the cost will seem a bit high, but I reckon they work out at good value seeing they last so well. The fact that they refuse to smell used is a plus if you’re away for a week or weekend as you don’t need a base layer for every day. Another advantage is that merino stays almost as warm when wet, so if you sweat a lot or just get caught without a waterproof the ride doesn’t turn miserable. It also soaks up a huge amount of moisture before it even starts to feel damp. Make sure you follow the washing instructions as it will more than likely shrink in the tumble drier. They dry quick enough not to be tempted, so no excuses there.

Paramo Velez Adventure Light Smock – pt2

Paramo Velez Adventure Light Smock – longer term review

OK, a short re-visit to the Paramo. In short, great. As I mentioned before, I’d have the arms slightly longer, but there’s not much in it & with the wrist tabs done up everything’s comfortable & stays put<./p>

The big question; ‘has it stayed waterproof?’ – yes. And Paramo are one of the very few that always reproof properly when they need it. Good on & off the bike & seems much more resistant to dirt than most fabrics. Got splattered with Dalby mud the other day, the sort you’d think might not even come out in the washing machine, and it just didn’t soak in.

If you really don’t get on with smock designs, unfortunately they don’t have much else that works for biking. [edit] Now they do… I wasn’t 100% convinced that it would be as good all round as the eVent it replaced, I went for it because I wanted long life (from the Paramo, it doesn’t make you live longer..!) Now I’ve used it for a few months it all makes good sense.

Another plus for the ’10 version is the choice of a few more colours.