I read in the magazine Mountain Bike Rider (MBR) that on every ride you should have at least one thing you want to work on. I agree that every ride should have a purpose and today I decided to go back to the basics of riding trails, particularly narrow, twisting single track trails. But why should an experienced rider think about the basics? My reasoning is that we’re now approaching winter and the trails will become slower and more slippery. It’s too easy in such conditions to abandon the correct techniques and just hang on to the bike as it slithers around. You’re less likely to find yourself aiming for speed and by spring, when hopefully we’ll be back to dry and fast trails, the best basic riding methods may have ceased to be so instinctive. I thought by really concentrating on 2 important but basic aspects of my riding I’d stand a much better chance of retaining the skills and not need to relearn next year.
I took an unusual route to my local hill, Healey Nab, by crossing the Leeds/Liverpool canal and climbing across a field to avoid some road riding. Approaching the top Of the hill I took a technical climb and cut across onto a trail which enters a small copse. Returning it’s a gentle downhill on a twisty track with a few rocks and other obstacles to keep you on your toes. Then to the trail head where I’d ride 3 laps to include the red graded downhill in order to practice the basic skills. Firstly I took some pictures from the top of the hill. It’s a pity I don’t have a better camera on such occasions. I could see southwestwards into another country, Wales, with some excellent mountain biking in the Howardan hills. Beyond these small hills I could see the mountains of Snowdonia. The sea was visible to the west beyond Southport and to the NorthWest I could see the Lake District, with more superb riding!
I reminded myself of the purpose of today and started my first decent. The 2 aspects of riding I was particularly concerned with were, firstly, to make sure I was using my arms and legs as additional suspension. I have far more movement in my limbs than the 130/140 mm of travel which the suspension of the Boardman FS Pro offers. By standing on the pedals with my torso leant close to level, my legs flexed and my elbows bent and sticking out I can react to the ground. If the front wheel rises over a bump I can absorb the feature as my body drops closer to the bike. When the bike drops into a dip I can extend my arms and legs to push the bike down. This way the pressure on the tyres stays much more even and hence so does the grip. This is especially important on corners where you want as much grip as you can get.
The second thing I was practicing was leaning the bike over whilst keeping my body fairly upright. By doing this, if I need to change my line around the corner, I only need to lean the bike further over, or not as far if I’m turning too tightly. If I throw my body weight into the corners I have to then move my whole body to change line, rather than just the angle to which the bike is leaning. I kept some downward pressure on the handlebars to aid front wheel grip.
I rode my 3 laps, having climbed by 3 different routes. I also tried a fast, flat corner which has emerged since the trees were cut down in the spring. It requires a slightly different technique, I believe, to the single track of most other corners. You ride this corner in the opposite direction usually but I’ll certainly be using it on an alternative descent. My times for the 3 downhills were within 3 seconds of each other according to the app. Strava. This is the kind of consistency to aim for in a segment of only around 80 seconds. I was riding smoothly with no need to panic brake, which really helps with consistent times. I still had the prospect of a fast, open descent back towards town and home. With good weather predicted for the coming week the autumn holds no fears, at least so far. I’ll try to make the most of it whilst it remains dry.