Sunday, 24 October 2010

Bike Skills 1.0

I started this year a fairly casual MTB rider. I did it as a way of keeping fit and hanging out with mates. Now I keep fit so I can ride harder and, whilst its still the best time you can spend with your buddies, I want to be a much better rider. I want to be competitive. Not in a bad way. But I want to race with enough skill and fitness to finish somewhere other than near-bottom. I've been watching instructional DVDs and devouring MTB books trying to soak up techniques and tips. When I go out and ride, my brain is working through a laundry list of instructions, processing all the new info I've pumped into it. The result? I've started to suck. Big time. My last ride at Skeggs was a turning point (or breaking point.) I was analysing every nuance of my riding. Trying to stay on the trail, perfect technique and keep up with Chris and Aaron.... Over thinking everything had a hugely negative effect. My cornering was terrible, I was hitting technical sections too slowly and second guessing every move. I had no flow and my confidence collapsed. Not good.

So, I've decided to go back to basics. Reading books and watching videos is all well and good but I have to feel it. It needs to be in my muscle memory to work. You can't do that unless you're on the bike. So, I've decided to do some clinics and practice sessions to up my game a bit. Skills 1.0 was this weekend. I went to Helen Putnam Park in Petaluma. I haven't been before but looking at the map it seemed perfect. Lots of twisty turns to session over and over. I arrived on a very wet, rainy afternoon and rode around until I found a suitable trail section to session. The weather meant I had the whole place to myself. It also made the single track a little more slippery so finding good technique was essential.

The first corner I sessioned was a nice, wide left. I set up the camera so I could watch my technique and make adjustments. The first few runs I did whatever came natural. Breaking on the apex, not leaning the bike. All the bad stuff. With each run I started to introduce a new element : Weight the outside foot, point the inside knee through the turn, push left to go left etc... I could feel the benefit of each, but the most natural technique was to simply look through the corner. Look well ahead, and keep focused on the exit. Looking back over the footage, I could see that everything else was more or less falling into place by itself. My body position seemed good, I was leaning the bike and weighting the outside. The bike had good traction and was railing nicely. Looking at the video below you can see how taking the outside line is also faster. As long as I stay relaxed and focused on the exit, the bike will rail on its own.

The next corner was a tight right. Just before the apex there was a tree. Predictably, my first attempt had me focus on the tree and hitting the brakes to keep on track. Forcing my brain to relax and instead focus on the exit, I quickly improved. The video below shows how, again, taking the outside line is much smoother. Not as quick in this case, but the body and bike position is much better. I could have carried more speed with a few more runs.

Ofcourse, I needed to fall a few times to help feel when things aren't right. This video shows what happens when you turn the bar to try and steer. I didn't consciously do it, but I must've been trying to take the inside line to avoid the tree. Over compensating. Also, this video shows poor body position. My inside knee is pointing inwards so my setup is screwed.

So. Not exactly a RAD shredding session. But an important one. It was good to take time out and just relax into the technique a bit. Also using the camera is a great aid. I now know where my weaknesses lie and what to work on. I tend to weight too far forward, turn the bars into the corner and point my inside knee the wrong way. But if I just relax and look through the corner, things come together. I don't need to run through lists of commands to corner better. I can just focus on tweaking my technique and trust what I learned.

Helen Putnam Park is somewhere I'll be hitting on a regular basis over the next month or so. It's great for practicing skills and has some lovely twisty turny sections. In the meantime I have a couple of classes coming up. Next weekend its a session at China Camp with Celia Graterol (see her website HERE.) After that I have a skills course in Santa Cruz. I'm looking forward to the accelerated learning that comes from having a tutor. But I'm also looking forward to a few more practice sessions at Helen Putnam with the camera. Watch this space for (hopefully) lots of progress!