Back to bike school

By Nick

A month ago Jim asked me if a wanted to go on a Jumps and Drops mnt bike course at Llandegla, my initial thoughts were that I didn’t really need to go on a course. I have been using a mountain bike ever since I got a Grifter for my 8th birthday, what was I going to learn? As the week passed and I was up in the woods near my house looking at the little downhill sections that have been built up it was clear that I didn’t have the first clue on any proper technique. A drop off was either small and easy or impossible and of course the third option of it might just go which I almost always ended up over the handle bars. Perhaps a course would be a good idea.

We arrived at Llandegla in the morning with the threat of afternoon showers, all of us were keen to get out on the trail but first to the class room. Bob and Ali went through the briefing covering trail safety, bike suitability and a quick run down of what we would be doing for the day. Outside we checked over the bikes and then a quick up lift to the trail. I was a little surprised to arrive at a fire road with a few planks of wood and a couple of cones. But you have to start somewhere.

First braking. I think I know how to brake thank you. Wrong! Apply both brakes at the same time, heels down and move back on the bike with open elbows. Just this one tip has improved my riding no end. Next “pumping” this was the revelation. Come up to a small step/drop off and instead of lifting the front and doing a sort of bunny hop. You press all your weight into the handle bars and just as you reach the obstacle the bike lifts up on the suspension, rebound and hey presto your front wheel is airborne, didn’t know that either.

Bob and Ali went step by step through the basics and no matter how experienced your are they were able to give you pointers to improve your riding. Even if your group has mixed abilities you would all have a good days riding. In the morning session we covered small drop-offs, bunny hops and table tops. Sometimes you did it right, sometimes horribly wrong. This didn’t really matter, what was important was that we were being taught the right way to do things and we could then go away and practice knowing we where doing it right. On the short ride back for lunch, I was braking later but with more control, and rather than seeing bumps as something slowing me down I was actually enjoying them. There we were bombing down the red run, actually riding every bump and divot, there were no points for leaving someone for dust, just whoever got the biggest air.

During lunch (a pretty good one I might add) we watched video of our mornings riding and it was useful to see where exactly our toes were pointing. On the trail I didn’t really get the correct way to bunny hop, there seemed to be so many things to do and so little time to do it all in; Heels Down, Pump, Look Up, Arms Open, Toes Down, Arms Out, Heels Down and Ride Away ARGHHH! But when you watched the video back then it wasn’t that bad. Bob was always making sure that we tried to keep our pace down as we tried things but sometime all you need to make it feel a little smoother was a little more pace (sorry Bob).

Back on the bikes we headed up to the black run where apparently most of the broken bones occur (gulp!) people were coming down off the bridge pretty quickly doing a simple bump and then being caught out by the next drop, if you know how to keep your bike low on the trail fine, otherwise you were heading for the trees. On most trails they create a scary section at the beginning so you don’t get carried away, but with this black run intersecting the red one it often resulted in a few people getting carried away. Luckily for us Bob and Ali broke the run into sections and went through each of the skills we needed for each part. In just a few short hours we covered manuals, tabletops and doubles. At the end we had a few runs linking it all together. I definitely felt more in control, I’d been down loads of black runs and red runs in the past but with very little flow and usually with a few moments. What was strange was how little I was using the brakes, I was just going with the flow and if I felt I was going to fast to jump I was able to absorb it and just cycle through, less panic more grins.

It was time to head back and we leapt in the back of the trucks, I didn’t really think we had done that much biking but we were all starting to ache as we were all using a lot of new muscles trying to achieve that pump. Then the immortal words came from Jim “lets have, one last run” there were a few mental oh-ohs but secretly we all wanted one last run. Jim really went for it and with heavy legs we eventually caught up, only to find him at the bottom of the last drop on the last run just yards from the centre, with a few cuts and bruises, but huge grin on his face.

Courses like this cost around £100 -£150 and although that’s not cheap I think I got a lot out it, my commute is just under 40mins with about 15mins on the road and 25mins on tracks and already I find myself thinking about all the jumps and bumps along the trail, trying to get the most of of it.

All the the best to Bob and Ali and the rest of One Planet Adventure, the cafe at Llandegla for a great lunch and decent coffee, and for Jim’s mates Jan, Snakey, Butler for taking the piss when he fell off.

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