You’re doing it wrong!

You’re doing it wrong!

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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.


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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!

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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.

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Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Thoughts, Uncategorised, 0 comments
Road trip like the good old days

Road trip like the good old days

When is a road trip not a road trip?

Is it still a road trip when you do it by rail?

Virgin bike rack

Virgin bike rack

I have no idea.

However, the fact remains that I’m on my way home from a road/rail trip to Scotland. Diaries aligned, opportunities arose and I managed to blag three days of bike-based fun north of the border.

A highly compressed timeframe

In the “good old days” when no-one had any responsibilities this would have been the excuse for riding dawn to dusk (which isn’t very long in Edinburgh in November) in search of trails, “one last run” in the gloaming before heading home for a massive pile of food and some beers sharing tails of close shaves and massively-exaggerated gnarliness.

Now, people all have commitments to work and, more importantly, small people so riding time is compressed. So it was that I set out with Ross for a ride that as to last no longer than the window of opportunity afforded by in-law babysitting. Oh, and the car had gone to a hen-do so we were riding from the door.

Initial plans to hit the Pentlands were rapidly scotched by the time taken to ride there. Instead we planned to hit some “probably-maybe” spots that we’d scoped within the city. We’d ride over along the disused railway, a couple of parks and the Water of Leith. We had no idea what we were going to find but we were going to ride for about three and a half hours.

In some ways it was like the rides I used to do when I was back at school: get out in the evening, hit a few bits of trail and then head home for a late tea (or late for tea).

It was a great crack. For much of the journey we threaded our way through the city as though it wasn’t there. The autumn leaves and the sensation of having snuck out for a ride made for a feeling of escape. After about five minutes I had no idea where I was. It was great. Eventually we arrived at our chosen spot and set about trying to find something worth riding in the old golf course (bless Scotland’s enlightened access laws). A few bits and pieces were dispatched with a degree of “well, it’s alright” before I spotted a likely looking bit of path and dropped in.

Braid Hills panorama

Braid Hills panorama

You win some, you lose some

After the initial roll-in I was faced with a choice between the high line which was quite churned & off-camber and the low line a slightly incised path. I chose the low road. I’ve made better choices. The path ran into a gorse funnel that quickly became narrower than my bike and I ground to a prickly halt. Ross bombed past, laughing at me.

Around the corner I heard the scrape of a back tyre locking up and more giggling.

So I lifted the bike up and dropped in again. When I got to the corner I saw the issue. A sudden left-hand corner on a narrow trail with a basket of gorse to catch you. I could see Ross’ tyre scrape. I got round it and plunged into the gully path below. This turned quickly into a series of rock-rolls and loose corners. It wasn’t particularly long, or particularly steep but it was a tremendous blast for the forty-five seconds it took to get down. There were grins all round. It was all the more sweet for never having left the city. This was right under people’s noses.

Happy campers

Happy campers

We scoped around, played and tried a few things that didn’t work. Then we found another likely-looking line from the top of the hill. It was steep enough that I had a quick stroll down before committing. It was steep, loose and really quite twisty. I wasn’t entirely sure it would go. Only one way to find out though so I dropped in. It was a little loose on the way down and on at least one occasion I could feel my back wheel lift off the ground, then I had to tripod around a hairpin with my foot on the ground to make sure I didn’t disappear into yet more gorse. By the time I got to the bottom, I still wasn’t sure it would go. That didn’t stop the grins.

More happy camping

More happy camping

A look at the watch revealed there was time for one last run before turning for home. So we opted for another run of the loose rocky descent. This time it was nailed flat-out from the top, choosing better lines, hitting corners faster and skittering across the loose rocks. The fist-pump at the bottom was only semi-ironic. In Hampshire, this bit of trail would something you’d build a ride around. In the proper hills outside Edinburgh it would be unremarkable. Right here and right now, it was trail gold.

Necessity is the mother of invention

It was also time to ride home to feed tired legs and, probably, tired children. All the way home we chatted away. We’d had just under four hours, and we’d managed to find genuinely good riding within the city bypass. There was also the feeling that a more concerted perusal of the map would probably reveal more.

Lunch was despatched while chewing over the ride and pondering how to do it better next time. Edinburgh may be blessed with considerable gradient but we spent all of about twenty minutes planning the ride and still found something worthwhile.

It goes to show that, with a little thought and imagination, worthwhile riding can probably be found in most places. You’ll be surprised by how good some of it is, but you will have to look in some odd places.

So the message of this story is: get out and ride. All time in the saddle is better than none.


More to come on the rest of the trip

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Rides, 0 comments
Pushing the boundaries, not the bike

Pushing the boundaries, not the bike

And now for something completely different

After my tour of the singletrack highlights of the city of Edinburgh on Saturday I was in Glasgow on Monday. This time I was hooking up with an old colleague, Andy (just to be confusing), for a trip to Glentress. This, most iconic of trail centres, would be a very different experience. Where Saturday was about finding things that were unexpected, this was all about having a blast on purpose-built mountain bike trails. I was really looking forward to it.

Last time I was at the Peebles trail centre, was maybe six or seven years ago on a 100mm travel hardtail with 1.8” tyres. I recall the red route being a little hairy in places, mostly due to our introduction to braking holes in the trail, but otherwise a lot of fun. On an earlier visit I’d underestimated a tabletop on the Spooky Wood descent and ended up with my scaphoid in plaster.

I was curious what the trails would feel like all these years later with more bike and more experience under me. I was keen not to have a repeat of the Spooky Wood incident.

Time for some CPD

Andy is very much a product of the Seven Stanes. Very happy with rocky, technical trails and comfortable with the bike in the air. This was very much his home turf and he was keen to show off the best bits.

I am a fully qualified mountain bike leader. I am a pretty competent mountain biker in a variety of terrain. That does not mean there are no areas where I feel my skills might benefit from “development”. It boils down to being in the air and steep rocks, neither of which are easy to get in Hampshire. So part of the point was to get plenty of that in over the course of the afternoon to refresh and hone my skills.

Glentress has been, and may still be, one of the most visited mountain bike venues in the world. One of the joys of visiting on a Monday in the middle of November is that the place was really, really quiet (apart from the lads changing, wrapped in leopard print towels, in the car park).

We headed for the skills area for a bit of a play to get our eye in. We checked out some rock rolls and drops. All of which are bigger than anything I’ve encountered in Hampshire. It’s hard to find features where air time is compulsory. Drop in we did. First time: wayward, second time: better, third time: nailed and confident. I was getting my eye in and believing in my skills.

Bigging it up

Which is when Andy suggested we move on the freeride area. Some tabletops, about 3-4 feet across the top, a few berms and a step-up. All bigger than anything at my local trail centre. First time: intimidating but largely managed, second time: better and quicker, third time: confident and at pace. I was getting there. These were skills I have but don’t get much chance to work on at home.

So Andy suggested we move on to the bigger jumps. Hell, why not. These are probably 4-5 feet across at the start and bigger at the bottom. So we dropped in. Hit the first one, whoop. Hit the second, whoop. Hit the third, oh god, it’s a hip jump and the landing’s at an angle to the take off. Land it and slide the back wheel round to set up for the next one. Launch that and hope the landing’s in the right place. Catch berm and two more tables to finish. On the final one it seemed to take an eternity for the bike to come down, even then it was only the front wheel. Don’t panic, weight back and wait for the back wheel to land. Which it did, eventually. And done.

I’d got away with it. Just. But definitely outside of my comfort zone.

Let’s do that again.

Push back up and drop in again. This time the lines were better, the speed was better and I spent less time riding along on my front wheel.

Again. Better again. And crucially, more confident. Again, this time with the confidence to attack it.

It’s amazing how much succeeding at something at something can boost your confidence.

Anyway. Why were we here?

Soon enough we needed to get on our way: there was only so much daylight to play with.

And we had an appointment with Spooky Wood and the drop to the valley floor. All that stood between us and that was a big climb. Oh well, best get on with it.

"...make a little birdhouse in your soul"

“…make a little birdhouse in your soul”

After a considerable amount of twiddling, gurning, grinding and a brief pause for a sandwich while a robin landed on our bikes we arrived at the top of the hill. I had brief flashbacks to the last time I’d stood here with a hire bike, before coming to grief.

Concentrate, trust your skills and believe that your bike will do the job.

Drop in

Dropping in at Spooky Wood

Dropping in at Spooky Wood

It was brilliant. A helter-skelter all the way to the bottom. Tabletops were despatched, compressions were pumped through, puddles were manualled past and even the surprise rock drop was launched. It was great. I was looking ahead, seeing what was coming and picking my line. I was loving it, and catching Andy in places. Next section: more of the same, compressions, berms, small tables and the occasional steep bit. All the application of skills in an unfamiliar setting. I may not have been familiar with the trail but I was more than equal to the challenge. The tight section through the trees was much more like home with its slippery roots and leaf mulch. The bottom was just laugh out loud.

I grinned the whole way down. Even the bits where the tree cover meant it was almost dark.

In short I had a great day out. The free coffee at the end was a real bonus.

I can’t recommend Glentress highly enough. Thank you to all the trail builders there. I can see how much of a pasting the trails get and how much hard work goes into keeping them riding sweetly.

This is Luke McMullan riding the Spooky Wood Descent

Moral of the story pt.1

On Monday I went out to ride and have fun. I also chose to deliberately put myself in a situation where I was outside my comfort zone to begin with. I chose to use the opportunity to refresh and practice my skillset. By doing so, in a managed and progressive way, I had a great ride and was able to boost my confidence on terrain that’s hard to find down here.

The use of the first person pronoun is really important. I chose to put myself there. There was no pressure on me, no-one was egging me on, if I decided I really didn’t fancy something I could walk it.

When it comes to progressing and improving skills, peer pressure can be a terrible thing causing you to feel compelled to try things you are not ready for. It makes you more likely to make a mistake because you’re tense so it’s not a part of the way I ride, or the way I lead.

Placing yourself in a space where you feel confident pushing your boundaries and putting your skills into use is a good thing, coming from within and a desire to improve. I will support you in this whenever I can.

Moral of the story pt.2

When you say “I’m not feeling confident about this” I really do understand how you feel.

My desire to get better at riding my bike means I have to step outside my comfort zone in the belief that I have the skills to ride it. I know that feeling of having to attempt something based on belief rather than memory. I know that feeling of taking a deep breath and committing.

The setting for this feeling is different for everyone, the obstacle that causes you to pause is different for everyone. When I say that I understand, it’s not glib encouragement, I really do empathise with facing down uncertainty.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Rides, 0 comments
The Friday Morning Club: Twyford 22nd July

The Friday Morning Club: Twyford 22nd July

Want to ride your bike somewhere really nice where there is no traffic but don’t know where to start? Then join us on the Friday Morning club.

Join the ride

What is it?

The Friday Morning club is a fun introduction to mountain biking. It’s designed as an introduction for beginners and those who want to rediscover the joy of riding bikes. It’s all about enjoying yourself out on two wheels alongside people who share the same goal.

It’ll be led by Andy Whincup a British Cycling Qualified Mountain Bike Leader with years’ of experience riding and mentoring, so you know you’ll be in a safe pair of hands. You also know you’re riding with someone who really knows where to find the right riding for you.

It’s a weekly ride that will take in some of the most enjoyable riding around Winchester. The ride will be deliberately aimed at those who are beginners or who need to build their confidence.

Above all it’ll be good fun and a chance to meet and ride with new people.

Where is it?

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This week we’re setting off from Hunter Park in Twyford to take in two of my favourite local trails.

We’ll pass the Twyford Waterworks en route to Mare Lane, a beautiful ribbon of twisting singletrack. This is a downhill of perfect dirt that flatters everyone and will bring a massive smile to your face whatever speed you go.

We’ll pass the Hazeley War Memorial to take in some spectacular views across Winchester, the South Downs and all the way to the Isle of White.

The ride closes with the drop from the top of the down. This hollow way is a brilliant bit of trail with just the right amount of slope to make the drop a huge amount of fun.

Who is for?

It’s very much aimed at those who are just starting out mountain biking. The difficulty is deliberately set low enough for everyone to enjoy. If you think you lack fitness or confidence, then this ride is the ideal place to start.

So come along and give it a try.

When is it?

It’s on Friday 22nd July at 10am.

We will be back at the car park by 11:30pm at the latest.

pdf Important information

Join the ride

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Uncategorised, 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