When I started riding again in 2004 after a long break to play hockey and train in Taekwon-do, I decided the best way to get back on the bike would be through mountain biking. I had been doing a lot of trail running and realized how much I enjoyed being in the nature. So, with this as my main motivator, I bought a mountain bike.
Ottawa has some pretty good mountain biking and thanks to some friends, I was soon out on my mountain bike learning the basics. But I needed more hands-on skills training so I signed up for a mountain biking clinic with Dominique Larocque – the Wild Women on Wheels weekend. Wow – what an experience. This weekend of riding seriously pushed my limits and exposed me to an entirely new set of skills and accomplishments. Needless to say, I was hooked – back on the bike and loving it.
This weekend of riding flashed back to me as I rolled around the woods on my cyclo-cross bike. I was struggling with one section of a trail – a fairly innocent twisty piece of single track that forces you to skim by two trees while cornering – oh and the corners are a bit soft thanks to the sand. I had this section nailed a couple of weeks ago but with the recent rainstorms, the entrance and exits to this section has changed.
Today when I worked on this section I was hesitant, slow and braking. And yes I was getting frustrated. And this is where that weekend of mountain biking lessons came to me. Back to basics is where I went. I took the trail slowly, and really slowed down the first time through the tricky section – as I rode through I focused on looking ahead and taking pictures.
Yes, taking pictures. This is something Dominique told us to do – as you ride down the trail – look ahead and take pictures of the trail – this helps you react instinctively to the changing terrain. So this is what I did today. I didn’t worry about the dips, the pine cones, the soft sand, the speed – instead I looked ahead and focused on what was coming up. Gradually things become faster and more smooth.
Yes – it worked. After a couple more run throughs like this I was off the rear braked and floating through this section of trail as I had been doing earlier. It might sound corny but even as I sit here now, I can clearly see that section of trail. I know exactly how to approach it and how much speed I can carry into and out of it.
It is interesting to realize how the small tips and lessons received over the years can pop up and really help in making a big step forward. I guess this is why so many Europeans seem to be much further ahead of us in cyclo-cross and road racing – they’ve been doing this longer and have this memory bank of tips, tricks and lessons to keep them moving forward.
The basics: looking ahead, steering with your knees, flowing with the bike, constantly pedaling, relaxing the upper body – really are more than basics. They are the keys – the fundamentals to putting together good rides. Slowly but surely all the pieces come together and the really good rides happen.
The small things really do make the biggest differences.