Tag Archives: mtb

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…

Satmap Active 10 – final thoughts

Satmap Active 10 final impressions

Satmap active10 GPS unitSo, it’s a bit late, but I thought I’d better finish off the review.

Positives first:

  • Ease of plotting a route. For mountain bikers a big selling point is the ability to go out & explore, then plot a route back home from wherever you happen to be. This is great for MTBers as you can cover more ground on a bike & exploring will get you ‘lost’ more quickly than on foot.
  • Many people like to use a GPS to log their progress which the Satmap seems to do accurately. If you want a GPS for this purpose you might find the other features unnecessary,  but you might become convinced by the value of the map display
  • A major plus for bikers is the replaceable screen cover. There’s a fair bit of peace of mind knowing that if it gets scratched a replacement is cheap & available. I only used the unit in the dry, but someone who owns a unit told me that in the wet, moisture gets behind the cover making the display harder to read, so maybe some better sealing might be needed?
  • The unit has a tough feel to it which is big plus for MTBers.

Negatives:

  • The main negative I found is the battery level display. It shows as maximum for ages, but when the batteries run out there’s very little warning. A rechargeable is available and comes as standard if you buy the MTB kit.
  • As far as I know the screen on the unit is good in comparison to others, but I still found the display hard to read in sunlight. This is the case with most GPS units but one of Satmap’s selling points was that it was easy to read in sunlight.
  • Once or twice the map didn’t orientate correctly. On one route it caused a wrong turn.
  • I didn’t find the menu system that intuitive – although I got used to it. I guess that’s just me admitting I don’t like to read instruction manuals!
  • A minor was the bulk of the unit. It would be nice if any future versions were smaller or thinner. Crashes are inevitable at some point when mountain biking, and it’s not always possible to mount the unit in a way that would avoid damage in a fall. For some bikes maybe putting it on the top tube would work.

Personally I could see the attraction, but I actually quite enjoy map reading & I like to keep the skills up to scratch so I’ll stick mainly with paper maps. However a GPS unit is great for new routes where time is tight & you can’t afford to retrace your steps. They give you a definite position with no workings out.

If you’re after a GPS with OS Maps I’d say this is a good one to go for, some of the other similar models from other brands have some major disadvantages like no option to change batteries so if the rechargeable one runs out you’re stuck. Many just have to many dissatisfied owner reviews on the net.

Satmap Active 10 GPS – update

Satmap Active 10 GPS unit – review update

Satmap active10 GPS unitGot one of these through the post end of April by Special Delivery from the UK distributors. They were after feedback about the unit from a mountain biker’s point of view. There’ll be a full review after it goes back at the end of June, but here’s a few comments:

Battery power seems to be easily good for a day & a bit – so far hasn’t lasted 2 whole days with high capacity alkalines. If I owned the unit I’d go for the rechargeable battery (you can always keep AA’s as backup).

As with any device with a backlit LCD screen, the brighter the default setting the shorter the battery life. Also the longer the screen stays on before sleep the more battery drain …obvious to some, not so obvious to others. So far I’ve left the screen on a mid setting & about 30 seconds until the screen switches off. In bright sunlight the map is quite hard to read, but the waypoint pointer is much easier. As far as I can gather this is the same with all brands.

One thing I need to have a play with is the speed setting at which the compass switches modes. Sometimes at slow speeds, like on a steeper climb, the map flips 180 degrees or the waypoint goes a bit random. This can be a bit of a pain sometimes & send you the wrong way, but not for long. Still annoying though if you end up having to double back & it’s uphill… I have a feeling that altering the afore-mentioned mode change speed might sort this.

To me the unit is useful as a ‘get you home’ device. If I want to explore randomly, I can then switch the unit on to plot a route back. The route maker is easy to use & by all accounts the Satmap Active 10 is the only current unit with a decent one.
For a pre-planned route I still prefer to use a traditional map although I may be in the minority soon!

That’s all for now, more later.

Satmap Active 10

First Impressions of the Satmap Active 10 GPS unit

Satmap active10 GPS unitJust received one of these through the post by Special Delivery this morning from Satmap. They were after feedback about the unit from a mountain biker’s point of view. I’ve only had a quick look so far as I’m waiting for a map-card to show up. First impressions in no particular order:

 
Likes:

  • Replaceable screen covers
  • Easy to plot routes on the unit
  • …which allows it to be used without a PC
  • Personally I like the button control as opposed to touch screen
  • OS mapping
  • Really solid bike mount
  • Decent carry case
  • Appears to have good battery life, will report more fully later on

Dislikes:

  • so far, not much. The buttons do need a firm press though

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.