Take a moment to think about your riding. We pretty much all have something we can improve upon, from fundamentals all the way up to advanced bike handling skills. It’s the time of year where we all make plans for our summer of riding, and I would like to think I can convince a few of you to add “Take a mountain bike clinic” to your list of summer must-do’s.
I find it rather baffling, there is a very clear split in those who feel doing skills clinics and sessions is money well spent versus those who don’t see value. I’ve noticed some correlation in skill level to perceived benefit of taking skills sessions, so I figured I’d take the time to clear this up and explain why everyone should spend time (and yes money) on some coaching. I mean, the best of the best mountain bikers have coaches and trainers, so why wouldn’t we?
Why pay for skills when you can just learn them from your friends/significant other?
Yes, that friend of yours may be an incredibly good rider, but something I’ve seen time and again is the way they transfer that knowledge on. Some examples of well-meaning advice would be
(i) while riding a steeper downhill trail, the advanced rider says to their newer friend, “Oh yeah, just get back and let the bike do the work.”
(ii) saying, “Just go faster,” while another rider is trying to get over a more technical piece of trail.
(iii) and finally the worst in any scenario, “Just follow me and watch my line.”
These are all well-meaning pieces of advice, but not always the best for the situation.
Why pay a coach? (a.k.a. This is what we do well.)
● We teach you the fundamentals of mountain biking. We assess your skills and we tweak your riding to help you improve and try and undo bad habits.
● We identify the most appropriate trails for you to work on skills and make advancements. Seeing you make improvements over the course of your session is just as rewarding for us!
● We break down more advanced skills and techniques into understandable pieces and then we help you master them.
● Our demonstrations of a skill match the words that we are telling you. We also try and keep our explanations succinct.
● We do everything we can to make your experience fun, safe, and rewarding – making you stoked to get back out on your bike and practice the newfound skills we have given you.
What can you learn from a professional Mountain Bike Coach?
Sometimes it can just be the small things, like a shift in body position. For others it can be a full-on epiphany moment, and there is something pretty awesome about being there when you see a new skill click with a client! As a coach myself, I love every opportunity to learn something new. It can be improvements on my own skills or a new cool way to teach something. I love learning and growing.
So, let’s look at a few things that you can improve by seeing a coach.
Bike Set up
Yup, this one seems like a no brainer. Before even working on bike handling skills, making sure your bike is set up for YOU is key, and a sometimes overlooked, starting point. Having the correct air/spring in your suspension, having brakes that work properly, and riding a bike that fits you well can have an effect on how well you can transfer skills learned to practice.
Having a good body position while riding your bike is one of the fundamentals. Even as we advance as riders, keeping that good body position is key. For example, as a mainly clipless rider I tend to want to pivot onto my toes rather than keeping my heels down. Such a small body movement, yet the loss of stability I feel is huge. If one small position can make such a huge difference, imagine how much better you can get when we start tweaking the position of your whole body.
Where you look is where you go! I’m sure we have all heard someone say that to us before. I’ve fallen off my share of ladder bridges in the past because I got too fixated on NOT falling in the water. We often get fixated on the very thing we shouldn’t be looking at, or when we get into a challenging part of the trail we start looking right in front of our tire. As simple as it sounds, we need to learn to look ahead more to help us anticipate and react to the trail. This will make a huge difference in your riding progression and improve your trail riding speed.
One thing we can all get better at is cornering. Most of us can let off the brakes and get up a good click on a straight moderate decline trail, but the second we spot a corner, some of us spend more time on the brakes than we need to. Carrying speed around a corner, be it flat or bermed, is one of the most common requests I get as a coach. And to over-simplify cornering, it takes good body position and plenty of practice. This skill alone is worth working on with a coach.
Jumps & Drops
Back when I was a newer rider, I used to joke that getting in the air was easy, it was the landing that scared me. I know that many ladies fear getting air under their tires, and with somewhat good reason. To jump and drop, you generally need to be comfortable with a little more speed, and if you do crash, you have further to fall. Along with cornering, learning some good foundational drop and jump skills before hitting up bigger and larger challenges can be the difference between landing it or getting wheeled out by Fire and Rescue (yes, I am talking from past personal experience). Learning these skills well can be extremely rewarding and fun.
I know this one doesn’t fall under the jurisdiction of Mountain Bike Coaches, but as a personal trainer, I can never stress enough how much improved strength and fitness can help with your riding level. Being stronger will help you maneuver that bike around better, and help prevent minor injuries. Being generally fitter will enable you to ride further, and be less fatigued when you drop into the downhill portion of your ride.
Have I convinced you yet?
Hopefully, I’ve given you enough information to at least think about spending some time with a coach. If the above wasn’t motivation enough, going to a skills camp (versus private coaching) has the added benefit of meeting likeminded individuals who ride at a similar skill level as you, and it is just a ton of fun!
Jaclyn Delacroix is a Professional Mountain Bike Coach, Internationally Certified Personal Trainer, and owner of Ozmosis Training. She is passionate about helping other people realize and achieve their goals. She holds skills clinics, teaches bike maintenance, and is involved in trail building and maintenance in the Lower Mainland of Britsh Columbia.