faster

You’re doing it wrong!

You’re doing it wrong!

It seems that everyone on the internet is telling everyone else that they are doing it wrong. Step back from that feeling and love the fact they’re doing it at all

I was out for a walk at the weekend. The weather was nice, my bike was in the stand waiting for a component delivery so I decided to embrace a slower way to experience the countryside.

Near my house there is a bridleway that is popular with all kinds of users: walkers, dog walkers, families, cyclists and equestrians. At the weekend this lane can be fairly slow going with all the people on it. It can become boggy through the winter but it’s definitely the best way to get from our house to the countryside. Which is why I was there.

As I approached it I saw a chap and his son out for a bike ride. For a potentially muddy uphill lane, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an ill-equipped pair. Son was on a BMX that didn’t really fit and had small block urban tyres. Son was also off and pushing before he even got to the mud because it was too much hard work to get the pedals to turn without spinning the tyres. If anything, dad had made an even odder choice: what appeared to be a flat-bar carbon road bike (from a popular Italian brand in their signature blue). This was complemented by skinny-skinny tyres and, most bizarre of all, only a single gear. What on earth was he thinking?

It seemed that what he was thinking was that attempting to unclip from your pedals whilst looking over your shoulder will lead to you landing unceremoniously in the bushes.

You’re doing it wrong

This is the point where I caught them up.

Dad trying not to fall in the undergrowth. Son pushing his bike whilst trying to catch up. Son complaining that it would be quicker to walk. Dad trying to persuade him that it wouldn’t be if he pedalled faster.

It would be easy for me to adopt the superior attitude of the experienced mountain biker and sneer at the roadie being hoisted on his own petard.

Except that both of them appeared to be having fun.

 

These are not the gents I am talking about

These are not the gents I am talking about

They were both out in the countryside “enjoying” each other’s company. It didn’t really matter that their bikes were utterly unsuitable for what they were doing: they were spending time together, in the open air, getting some exercise. They even seemed to be enjoying their argument.

So I left them to it and went for my walk.

Watching them struggle and flail in the mud got me thinking though. It’s very easy to look at someone else and say they are doing it wrong.

The other way!

That way. I think

That way. I think

I think a lot about my local trails. Too much, perhaps. I think about how best to stitch the best bits together to make the best rides. Partly for clients but also to maximise my own enjoyment out on the bike. It’s a thing I do.

I often see people out riding those trails the “wrong” way. There’s a very strong part of me that wants to stop and ask them if they’ve considered riding the other way: it’s much more fun. And then you can link it to that trail, which brings you out…

Another, luckily stronger, part of me reminds me that it’s their ride and they can do whatever they want. After all people would probably look at some of the bits I love riding and think I was bonkers. So I smile, say hello and wish them the best of luck with their ride.

It just shows that I need to think less about some things, sometimes.

Live and let ride

Part of my job is to help people enjoy their riding more, to give them confidence. Not to tell them they are wrong: just highlight ways they could get more out of it. One of the ways I do this is to start to unpick long-held beliefs about the right way to go about things. Another is to suggest that their bike may not be set up quite right.

It can be a difficult transition. I know that when I have flaws in my technique questioned I’m pretty resistant. It can be hard to let go of things that I’ve been doing for years and embrace a new way of doing things. Eventually, though I can see that the new ways work better than the old ones, but it can take a long time before it becomes normal.

When it does take root, it can make an enormous improvement to confidence and enjoyment. It can make a huge difference to how easy some things feel. But it takes time and energy to make it stick.

Another part of my job is knowing when this advice will be positively received, and knowing when just shutting up and riding will allow a client to have more fun.

Damascene revelations

increasingly, I am coming to the conclusion that people being out riding at all is more important than them doing it right.

It still pains me to see people suffering with their saddles too low, or sitting down as they ride through obstacles, or riding a bike that’s too small/big for them. I can, now, let it lie and just rejoice in them having fun on two wheels. 

I can watch them having fun and just accept it. Not fixate on how they are doing it wrong.

So, my lesson for this week is simple: just get out and ride. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing it right or wrong if you’re enjoying it.

In fact, if you’re enjoying it, you’re probably doing it right. Doing it better can make it more enjoyable, but only when you’re ready for it.

And finally

Son was right though: it was quicker to walk. It took them about fifteen minutes to catch me up.

QE Park mud covered
Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Thoughts, Uncategorised, 0 comments
“I’m not fit enough to ride with you”

“I’m not fit enough to ride with you”

I’ve had a couple of odd conversations this week. I paraphrase, but they went something like this:

“I’m not fit enough to go one of your rides.”

“yes you are, why do you think you’re not?”

“Because you’re really fit, you’ll get bored.”

“The point of the rides is that they’re about you.”

“But I’m still not fit enough.”

 

From here they became slightly circular.

However, they really made me think.

Both conversations were with women who were thinking about taking part in one of my Get into Mountain Biking rides, but were being put off by perceptions of how fit I am. I was confused to say the least: these rides are designed for people who have never (or almost never) ridden a mountain bike before, so how could you not be fit enough?

So let me state, for the record:

You are fit enough to take part because the Get Into Mountain Biking rides are a fun introduction based on the fitness and ability of those taking part.

Or, to put it another way:

The ride is based on your fitness so you must be fit enough because you only need to keep up with yourself.

The length will be determined by your fitness and the difficulty by your ability. I’m offering these rides because I want people to share my love of riding mountain bikes. I’ve designed them so that they’re fun whatever speed we’re going at. They’re about meeting people and having a great time on two wheels. I’m going to enjoy myself because I get to ride my bike, which I love.

Notice how fitness, speed, difficulty didn’t come into that statement? That’s because they’re irrelevant. I want you to have fun because, if you don’t then I’m not doing my job properly. If you hate it, then you’ll never come back. If you love it, you will. It’s in my interests for you to enjoy yourself as well as meaning there are more people riding bikes, so I promise that I will look after you.

However, I can see where both people were coming from: they’d seen pictures of me with my bike and I look fit. I’m a professional mountain bike leader, being fit and healthy is a matter of professional pride and discipline. The Mountain Bike Leader qualification is pretty exacting and the standard is pretty high, so I need a certain amount of fitness to meet those standards. Also, it is a matter of professional standards to be fit enough to lead every ride I offer without running out of gas, and some of them are quite long. I am in fairly good shape because I need to be. I have also reached an age where this doesn’t happen by accident, it’s the result of fairly hard work.

I can see how, to someone contemplating going for their first ride, that looks pretty intimidating. Believe it or not, I know how you feel. When I turned up for my leader training the chap leading the course looked fit as a butcher’s dog and I thought to myself “Am I in good enough shape for this? Am I going to be able to keep up?”. When I started riding mountain bikes I was much less fit than I am now and struggled to keep up with the (admittedly quite fast) group I joined, but they looked after me.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy riding fast. I enjoy going out with my friends pushing each other to go as fast as we can, coming home knackered. I enjoy going to new places and pitting myself against terrain I’m not sure I can ride. I enjoy getting to the top of a hill before my friends or getting the bottom sharing stories of how fast we went. It’s a lot of fun. In my own time, with my friends.

But it’s not the only reason I ride.

And it’s definitely not the reason I’m doing these rides.

Every day I go out on my bike is a good day.

It’s a very good day if I can share that with other people.

It’s an even better day if they can share it with me.

 

That’s why I’m doing this. That’s why everyone is fit enough to go on a ride with me. Come on a Get into Mountain Biking Ride to find out.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in beginning, Thoughts, 0 comments
Sometimes it’s not about the ride, it’s about how you look in the photographs

Sometimes it’s not about the ride, it’s about how you look in the photographs

Ride down for about 20 metres, wham on anchors, get off, push back up.

Is this my good side?

Is this my good side?

Ride down again for about 20 metres, avoid lady in undergrowth, wham on anchors, get off, push back up.

Ride down again for about 20 metres, try not to gurn or stick thinking tongue out as I go past the lady lying on the floor, wham on anchors, get off, push back up.

Load bike into car, drive to next spot, repeat.

It’s a lovely, sunny, warm, early spring day and I’m out for a ride. What could be better? Well, maybe riding more than 20 metres at a go for a start. Why on earth am I doing this? More importantly, why is there a lady lying in the undergrowth?

I promise, there’s nothing nefarious going on.

When I first put the website together I went through all the photos I’d accumulated over the years and found they were all taken by me. Thus I appeared in none of them, barring selfies of my face covered in mud. In order to get photos of me riding I needed a photographer to take them. Now, where to find one? Actually, that bit was easy: my mother is a photographer looking to turn professional. It was a perfect match.

I had a good long think about where to go, which trails might create interesting shapes and dynamic-looking riding. I had loads of ideas so I went out and scoped them, taking photos of the bits that looked best and put together an itinerary.

Thus I found myself out in some of my local haunts sessioning incredibly short sections of trail. We walked around looking for those places where interesting trail met useful light for photographs. Suddenly, my long list of spots became much shorter as I discarded the ones that were too deep in shade, and the ones where the light was coming from the wrong angle, and the ones where there was nowhere to sit to get the shots. The list came down to a small handful. I can see now why magazine shots all seem to be in similar places: they know where they can reliably get good photos of riding.

Not only that but riding for a photographer is very different from riding for fun. It really is a case of riding just far enough to get up to speed, blasting past the camera and then stopping. Not only that but I found I really needed to exaggerate the forms I was making on the bike or it looked like I was standing still. I also discovered that riding repeatedly about six inches from someone’s very expensive camera is quite stressful: there’s no margin for error. Not only that but, as she was lying on the floor for the best angle, I couldn’t even look at her as her head was at axle height: a bad place to be looking when you’re riding. Just ride the right line and assume you’re not going to clobber her lens. Looking back up the path I could see endless tyre tracks and they were all mine.

Dropping In!

Faster than it looks

Faster than it looks

It was not riding as I know it. It was also really, really revealing of bad technique where my weight was in the wrong place or I was looking the wrong way. It was, nonetheless a lot of fun, carving the shapes I’ve seen in magazines and adverts, giving it large if you will. I was also getting something out of riding the same corner over and over again to get the right pose, adjusting my line slightly, adjusting my posture slightly, adjusting my speed slightly rather than just riding it once and heading off to the next trail.

“Why are all the places in the woods?” I’d not really thought about it before but all the good, twisty bits of singletrack were in trees. Individually, they made great shots but, after a while, it all looked a bit the same.

Oh, and one of my favourite riding jerseys is rubbish for the camera.

I’m really pleased with the results. For a first time rider in front of a first time photographer, we got some really good stuff. They’ll be gracing the website and social media before long. I’m under no illusions though: we’ve both got a lot to learn. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

In my case I need to learn not to stick my tongue out when riding!

Flat out, tongue out

Flat out, tongue out

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Events, Thoughts, 0 comments
Ride with someone better than you

Ride with someone better than you

It’s an old truism of mountain biking that the best way to improve (apart from actual coaching) is to ride with someone faster than you.

Try to stay with them, watch their line, their body position, where they brake, where they don’t, all those kinds of things.

Over the years, this informal has been a lot of fun. I remember playing ducks and rakes down some of our favourite local descents. Nothing makes you go faster than your mates right behind you. Very little is scarier than only being able to see your mate’s rucksack in front of you. Tip: don’t get too close. It works though.

Those rides seem a long time ago. These days my riding buddies are of more of a cross country persuasion. We’re pretty quick, with a bunch of Strava Kings of the Mountains between us. Great for setting a target going up hill but, when the trail points down, the story is often the same: “Andy, why don’t you go in front? You’ll only get held up.” It means I can see the trail ahead but doesn’t really improve my skills particularly.

I’m always looking for ways to improve my riding. I read magazine articles and try to put it into practice. I watch videos of the trail gods throwing shapes and try to do the same thing when I’m out. None of this is a substitute for seeing the real thing in action.

Which is why I was excited to be heading off to see my old friend Phil for a day’s riding around his local haunts in Kent. Phil and his mates are much more gravity oriented than my riding chums. At least one of them has successfully completed the Megavalanche which is a bit extreme for me. So I was looking forward to learning something new.

Here’s the Strava profile of the ride for your entertainment.

The ride was sold as “more cross country than sessioning descents” but I’d been out with Phil before and wasn’t fooled. Actually, I was. It really was more of an XC ride, but that didn’t matter. There were a few chances to watch these fellas in action. They were all quicker than me when gravity beckoned. They were definitely more skilled than me. But there I was, as close to their back wheel as I could manage (which was often not that close if I’m honest). I managed to see how they went about things, how they set themselves up, when they were fast and when they were slow, what line they took. A thousand tiny lessons. All of which will be added to my skills bank and used when I’m out here.

So what did I learn from them? What the line into a steep bend looks like. That my tyres will hold on round those bends. That brakes are sometimes my friend and sometimes my enemy.

Did they learn anything from me? Carry a spare banana. What persistence up loose hills looks like. That Hampshire riders can ride steep chalk slopes well.

Did I learn anything from the ride as a whole? No one uses Strava in Kent or I wouldn’t have got a top ten placing on a road climb riding a mountain bike. That loam is a lovely surface to ride. That a mid ride pub stop can be fraught if you’re covered in mud.

Most of all though, none of this matters if you’re having fun. So just get out and ride.

Thanks to Phil, Tom and Griz for showing me round their local woods. I’ll come back and ride them again when they’re dry.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Thoughts, 0 comments