Sorry it’s late, but Happy New Year!
I’ve not gotten around to writing anything yet because I’ve made it my mission to get out and do a lot more things this year. That means running, meeting up with friends, doing daily yoga and, of course, riding my bike(s).
So, when you last left me, I was playing in the snow at Ashton Court. Now it’s 2018, I’m setting my sights higher.
That’s why at the weekend I went to… *drum roll*
Holy crap. I’ve never had so much fun in my life.
I was taken, nay, escorted there by the lovely Aoife Glass and her partner, Phil Hall (who also doubled up as our personal paparazzi). They’re both much more experienced than me but they didn’t ditch me for the black trails! We allowed Phil some freedom to go and do some red trails, but Aoife stayed with me on the blue trails and was a great riding companion.
I was able to follow her line when I was unsure, and having her up ahead allowed me to assess her reactions to things that I couldn’t see yet. Plus, she gave me some great tips to help me improve my technique (more on that later).
I have to say, it was so much more challenging than I’d anticipated.
I wasn’t really aware of the fact that the grading of trails (blue, red, black) isn’t uniform across the board, but is dependent on what’s there already. I.e. what’s blue in one place can be red in another, if the first place is much more challenging. Blue demarcates the easiest trails there, but not all blues are created equal.
So for me, having only really acclimatised to the Nova trail at Ashton Court, I was in for a big surprise when experiencing the blues of Bike Park Wales. It was much more down-hilling; steeper and more undulating. At Ashton Court I can easily avoid rock gardens (which I have been doing to date), but at BPW there was no way around them.
Learning to trust
As I said in my last post, I have trouble riding off-road with my glasses. What with the downhills and the rush of air, I frequently experienced watery eyes and my vision became really blurry. Usually I can handle this, but I was in unfamiliar territory, and going at an alarming rate down the side of a very steep hill. With rock gardens. Big rock gardens.
So where I’d started to learn to trust my bike by going through the puddles on the Nova trail at Ashton Court, here I was forced to put my life in its hands, so to speak. There were moments where I felt I was losing control, but the surface just wasn’t meant for braking on, and I had to force myself to let the bike take me.
It was terrifying at times, but also thrilling once I came up for air and realised I was still upright. My bike was definitely put through her paces that day, and she handled it well.
Finding a tribe
I’ve talked before about feeling the need to fit in, and categorise myself as a cyclist. Am I roadie? A tourer? A mountain biker?
One of the reasons I’ve reflected on this many times is that I often get asked, ‘what kind of cyclist are you?’ and I never know what to say. I’m a bit of everything, I guess.
But then a couple of days after BPW I went into work, excitedly told one of the mechanics (a mountain man through and through) all about my experience. I told him how much I was craving another go on the trails, and how cycling into work on my Dawes seemed so dire and dull in comparison. He laughed, looked at me, and said: “you’re a mountain biker”.
I have to admit, it felt good for someone to acknowledge me as part of their tribe.
Of course, I do still enjoy road riding, and riding long distances is something that really drives me to keep cycling. I’ll absolutely still do these things, but I know that it’s the trails where I’ll really feel the rush.
I mentioned earlier that I’m practising daily yoga now. This is partly to help myself become stronger, more grounded, and of course, more flexible. The other benefit I’m experiencing is that I’m becoming a lot more self-aware.
This really showed when I was plummeting down the trails. Unlike road cycling, where I very easily zone out and just keep pedalling, mountain biking forces me to concentrate, not only on what’s ahead, but what my body is doing at all times.
I found myself constantly checking my posture, technique, and analysing what I was doing well and what needed work.
This, plus Aoife’s advice, has helped me identify some key areas to practise:
- I need to loosen up a bit. It’s clear from the photos that my arms are too straight, and my knees aren’t turned out enough.
- Saddle height hasn’t really been something I’ve thought much about until yesterday. I now understand why people like a dropper seat post. I failed to lower my saddle before a big descent, and realised that I wasn’t able to lean back enough. It also taught me that my legs were too rigid, as I kept pinching the saddle between my thighs (to the point where I’m bruised there!).
- I also need to practise braking with one finger instead of two (which is a terrifying thought). I noticed on the big descents that with only two fingers gripping the handlebars, I didn’t feel like I had enough control over the bike, and towards the end as I became more tired, I started to lose my grip altogether.
I have a long way to go but this early on, I’m really bloody proud of where I am.