Nick Piper is an active member of MTB Guisborough, a mountain bike club in the North East, where he regularly uses his Level 2 Mountain Bike Leadership Award to take members on led rides and pass on a love for cycling.
Back in 2012, Nick helped out at the mountain bike events at the London Olympics and has since supported a member of his club to a medal at the World 24 Hour Mountain Bike Championships.
With a young family to look after, time is at a premium for Nick. We caught up with him to find out why he volunteers his precious time to lead club rides and how he trained to become a mountain bike leader.
How did you get into mountain biking and what does your riding consist of now?
I got into racing when I was a teenager, then had a 10 year hiatus until a move to North Yorkshire 15 years ago tempted me back to the hills. Nowadays, I lead and weekly mountain biking sessions for the club from April to the end of November. These are mainly in Guisborough Forest and the surrounding area.
I still race when I can, fitting in about 10 events a year (XC, Marathon and Enduro) around family life, and my commutes mean I can squeeze in a couple of rides during the week. My training also includes a weekly night ride and I try to get out for a couple of two-hour plus road rides and a weekend mountain bike ride of some sort (as time permits). I regularly travel to the Peak District, the Tweed Valley and Hamsterly for these and every couple of years like to fit in a long distance challenge, such as a Trans-Alpine or Pyrenean adventure.
Why did you decide to train for the Level 2 Mountain Bike Leadership Award and how do you use it?
Over the years I have gained a great deal from being taken on mountain bike rides by a trained leader, so I wanted to share my enjoyment of riding with others.
As a club we run two weekly mountain bike rides; a youth ride for 10-18 year olds, and an adult ride. We have a regular group of 20-25 young riders attending, with varying skill levels from 'just about coping with a red route' to 'about to be a pro downhiller'. We require all riders joining the led rides to have mastered their core skills and be capable of a 10km ride on red graded terrain - and have a number of qualified coaches who provide skills coaching sessions to develop their skills to this standard.
What do participants gain from being led on a mountain bike ride?
Fun, skills, friendship, self-confidence and more fun. Riding with a group also means that members can explore routes that will be completely new to them and build their network of trails.
What do you as a mountain bike leader gain from leading rides?
Every ride with the juniors provides at least one moment where you feel proud, inspired or humbled. That might be someone holding back the tears after a crash, nailing a downhill section or just refusing to give up on their nemesis climb. Seeing the kids use skills you have taught them to help each other is always personally rewarding. We get loads of great feedback from parents about how much the kids look forward to the rides.
What questions do you think a potential candidate should be asking of themselves before they invest in a Mountain Bike Leadership Award?
Commitment is the biggest factor. Why do you want to lead rides? If you're being pushed into it by someone then it's probably a waste of time. If it's something that excites you and you have a passion for it then you can overcome any potential barriers.
We have put around 15 club members through the award now, a number of these expressed concerns or self-doubt - particularly around technical skills - but they've all gained a huge amount from doing the course.
What can potential candidates do if they feel they lack skill in navigation, ride ability or leadership to ensure they have the required skillset before they book on a training course?
Learn by doing; go out and get yourself lost to hone your navigation, do a skills course to fine tune your technical skills, get involved in a club or shadow another mountain bike leader on rides to get an idea of what is involved in leading.
Personally I would book onto a Level 2 Mountain Bike Leadership course at the earliest opportunity; you're not expected to be perfect and one of the key aims of the training is to identify the areas you need to work on before assessment. Also, you might surprise yourself!
One of the things that many people are concerned about when it comes to training is the cost – especially as a volunteer. We understand that your club has been really successful in securing local funding; can you tell us how you went about it?
I funded the training myself, but the club gained funding to train leaders and coaches from a number of sources - in particular a grant from Sport England and 50% funding from the Tony Blair Foundation.
Our local council (Redcar and Cleveland) sports development department have been really supportive, pointing us in the right direction and helping us with bid writing, as has our British Cycling Regional Development Manager.
We also charge riders a small fee for each session that goes into the club pot for training new leaders and take advantage of delivery funding (such as sportivate) where we can. In addition to that we've done a number of fundraising initiatives and the money raised goes back into training.
Find out more about the Level 2 Mountain Bike Leadership course and watch the short video from our Mountain Bike Leadership pages.