Britain crew decide they're rubbish riders on a day of skills and
spills with a downhill demi-god. Read on to find out just how badly
they fared and what they think they learnt.
A few months ago I came
across a news article in MBR about a chap called Nigel Page, pro-DH
racer, who was offering bespoke skills sessions. The article
appealed to me as I thought of myself as a competent cross country rider who
didn't really know how to jump the bike properly, so I contacted
Nigel and arranged a days training for a group of four riders of
varying ability. Myself and Paul race each other neck and neck cross
fast as we can go (with frequent high speed crashes); Dave has only
been mountain biking for nine months and has always preferred to walk
technical sections rather than try and ride them; Colin has been
riding mountain bikes infrequently for two years but is quite a cautious rider.
So how did we all get on?
Firstly I'll say
a few words about Nigel. I'd never met him before our training
day, nor even heard of him before seeing the article in MBR, so had
no idea what to expect or how good he'd be as a teacher, but we
were all pleasantly surprised. Nigel is a really down to earth,
unpretentious guy who is very good at explaining technique. In fact
the one thing you'll definitely discover, if you go on his course,
is how much technique there is that you never knew about!
Having explained we
were a mixed group and chatted about our requirements we set off
into Delamere Forest on some easy single track. Not twenty yards from
the cars, Nigel stopped and started the lesson by demonstrating riding
a short section of single track (20m) with a tight chicane around
some trees. Nothing special I thought, easy single track - why are
we bothering? This is the start of my realisation that I really had
no skill whatsoever and basically had been relying on suspension,
good brakes and guts for all my technical riding (along with 95% of
mountain bikers in general).
the technique of pumping the bends and turns to gain speed and
momentum and it was incredible how much speed he could pick up just
coasting into the bends and not pedaling - far faster than I could
ever ride the section.
We spent about an
hour practicing this section, trying to gain momentum by pumping the
turns. If we'd spent our youths riding BMXs, this would all be basic
stuff, but going straight to XC MTB riding, we'd missed out on all
these basic skills, which when turned to cross country riding make an enormous
next skills session was steep descending, which was something that
Dave and Colin wanted to cover. So we went off to a steep, loose
slope to practice. Again this is where I discovered that I
have no technique, yes I hurtle off full pelt down the slope without
braking, but then I have to brake too much before turning so I loose
all my speed. More haste ' less speed is a good summary from my
report card, go into the bends slower in control and come out faster
in control. Normally I go into bends skidding out of control and arrive at the far end with no idea how I made it!
next skill was drop offs and the importance of lifting the front
wheel and hopping the bike over the drop, to land in control,
either rear wheel first or both wheels together. Nigel demonstrated
this perfectly including bunny-hopping this gap from a standing
After lunch we went
off to practice jumping in another area of the forest. This was
probably where we learnt the most and also where we (I) realised how
low in skill our riding actually was. When Nigel jumps his hard
tail he picks up the front and the rear wheel exactly where he
wants, controls their height perfectly in the air and lands both
wheels separately with total control at exactly the right spot. He
demonstrated the basic technique (American bunny-hop) and then
explained why he uses it. When a low skilled rider comes down the
jumps course you can see him jump then land with a 'clang' from the
suspension. Then a high skill rider comes down the same course on a
down hill bike but there's no 'clang', and if you watch closely
you'll notice that the rear suspension never moves because the
rider uses his legs to land the rear wheel perfectly smoothly on the
back slope of the jump.
Then Nigel comes
down the course at about 3 times the speed of everyone else, only his
jump height is almost nothing ' a few inches. Why? Well to go
fast, you need to be on the ground gaining momentum by pumping each
jump (riding down the back of each jump), you don't gain any speed
by flying through the air. But to stay low and still go fast you
can't take off on the lip of each jump as you'll jump too high
and stay off the ground for too long. So you lift the front wheel
before each jump and drop it over the crest of the rise to reduce
the effective height of the launch ' this way you go faster by
staying lower and in contact with the ground. It's really weird to
watch ' Nigel flies down the jumps course, over each jump but
hardly leaves the ground. Instead, his wheels are bobbing up and
down at mach 6, but under his control ' he's lifting the bike
over the jumps.
Now this is all
very impressive, but can we do it? No. Our skill level is way too
low and unless you can do a decent bunny hop to order, you can't
really start learning to jump properly. For a decent bunny hop, lift
the front wheel (at low speed) whilst riding along and then lift the
rear wheel whilst the front is in the air. E.g. clearing a 4' log at
five miles per hour in total control. If you can do this (none of us could) then
you can progress to the next level. In our defence, XC suspension
bikes make it very hard to lift the front wheel as the balance point
is too far back and the stems make the reach very long, so its
harder to lean back and lift the front wheel easily. If you can do
it on the flat ' try it on a downhill section at low speed ' I
couldn't lift my Attack Trail at all on a slope ' which proved
to be my undoing on the jumps course.
only could I not lift the front wheel high enough, but for some
reason (probably panic) I pushed it down the minute I took off, so
90% of my jumps where through the air with all the weight on the
front wheel. This is the most unstable and dangerous way to jump, as
if the front wheel lands off line or hits anything, you'll face
plant instantly. On a few occasions I did manage a proper jump
technique ' but it was never caught on film, so you'll have to
take my word for it!
recommended that we go away and swap our stems for a cheap shorter
version and practice bunny hops and wheelies with platform pedals
(rather than SPDs).
In conclusion what did we learn? Well personally what most amazed me
was how little skill I actually had and how much real technique
Nigel had ' think down hill is all about guts and a lobotomy? Think again
- it's a very skilful
discipline! Without the BMX background and bunny hopping technique
we couldn't really maximise our time with Nigel as we didn't
have the basic skills (and you can't gain them instantly) so
what we really learned was that we needed to master the basics before
attempting any more jumps otherwise we weren't going to improve.
suppose this was worth knowing as at least I now know how I should
ride jumps and a DH course, even if I am no better at actually
riding it than I was before the course.
Nigel a good teacher? Yes.
I recommend him? Yes ' but a one on one session is probably more
beneficial than a group session (but will cost you more than going
in a group).
can I find out more:
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For even more
pictures of this ride see The
Gallery a part of MTB Britain's Forum.