Recently, I had my first mountain bike lesson with Katy Curd at the Forest of Dean. Katy is multiple British 4X champion and one of the top 5 female downhill mountain bikers in the world right now. She is also a very highly rated coach and I for one had heard nothing but good things from those who had benefited from sessions with her already. With an attempt at a 2 day enduro race looming on the calendar for next weekend I thought I had better get involved myself.
I had signed up for a group Advanced skills course but in the end the other people couldn’t make it so I ended up with a bonus 1 to 1 session!
We caught a cheeky uplift to the top so we could start on a short but rough section of one of the downhill tracks where Katy could assess my riding. In no time at all she had picked out a few simple but critical adjustments we could make to my body positioning on the bike. Just doing these little things had an instant impact on the speed I could carry across the rough sections. We also looked at pumping the trail for speed and to save energy. Through all of this Katy was very hands on to show and explain, demonstrating the positions on her bike and and showing you the spots on the trail. For someone like me and many other practical people I found this a great way to learn because I could see and then feel as I rode and re-rode the trail, what she meant.
From here we moved onto corners, the biggest speed sapper for most riders. At first we started with 2 corners and looked at how through thinking outside the box with line choice you could make it one corner. By turning earlier to cut across the first corner you could enter and then exit the second one sooner. This all came down to looking up to scan the track for where your heading sooner. Katy had a good way of putting this. Rather than trying to look up all the time, think of just looking up for a moment to scan the trail for where you need to go. This way you will think to do it more as there is a reason to do it.
We carried on looking at line choice further down the track through a section of off camber roots leading to a steep run out onto the fire road. Again the best line choice was not the obvious one and I was able to gain the insight of a professional. The best choice was to keep high, hop your front wheel over an off putting root and hold a straight line through to the exit. Here I really saw the benefit of keeping my body position over the bike so that the wheels were weighted evenly.
We then pedalled back up to a section of trail with multiple corners to work out how I could gain, rather than lose speed through these. The trick it turns out is to lower your outside heel and try to push all your weight into it. This helps the tyres to cut into the trail and grip more which makes it easier to lean the bike over and turn quicker. Here I began to come unstuck at the challenge of thinking to change legs, keeping my new improved body position and looking up whilst gaining all this newfound speed. Needless to say I had to practice this section of track many times!
Just when I thought I had it mastered we moved onto a steeper rootier section of switchback turns to add in the importance of line choice. It was really interesting to see here the lines that Katy would see in a section that I had never even considered. You can really make life easier by widening the view with which you look at the trail with.
To finish we had a roll down a few narrow enduro trails concentrating on pumping for speed and finding the flow in the trail.
- Keep the pedal on the ball of your foot and your heels down.
- Position your body in the centre of the bike.Hips above the saddle, head above the stem, bend your knees AND arms. Push all your weight through the legs keeping the arms light.
- Where possible drop your outside heel and push into it around corners.
- Scan further ahead down the trail to look for the best line choice.
- Widen your view of the trail, take the widest line into the corner and exit early.
- Do not pedal if you can pump.
The biggest eye opener for me from the lesson was how much of riding fast is a thinking game. When you want to go fast the first thing you usually do is to pedal, pedal, pedal as much as you can and yet, this is often the least effective thing you can do. Instead, think of your body position. Look ahead for the smoothest line, where could you pump for speed instead? This also saves the riders energy so that when you get to the finish line, you have the power left to sprint for the flag. The biggest issue, for me at least, was remembering to do all these things when the trail gets technical. Particularly tricky was fighting the impulse to revert to throwing myself off the back of the bike as soon as something went wrong or it got steep. Ah well, they say practice makes perfect which gives me an excellent excuse to do more riding of the bike!
Above all I had an immensely fun morning. Katy is a brilliant teacher, easy to be around with a great way of explaining things and a crazily keen eye for spotting what your problems are. We spoke at the beginning about what areas I would like to improve and I felt we covered these and more. Highly recommended for anyone wanting to get more out of their rides.
For more info on Katy and what coaching sessions she runs click here for her website.
To see a wicked video of Katy showing us all exactly how Forest of Dean downhills should be ridden have a watch of this.