Dan French is the owner of Exmoor Adventures, an outdoor activity provider based in Porlock, Somerset, where activities include canoeing, rock climbing, coasteering, archery, raft building and mountain biking.
Originally a tutor for the MBLA, Dan made the move to delivering the Level 2 Mountain Bike Leadership Award and hasn’t looked back. We caught up with Dan to see how he found the process of becoming a tutor and what advice he would give to anyone thinking of doing the same.
So Dan, tell us about your background in outdoor education.
Well I’ve been mountain biking on Exmoor since 1996 but initially didn’t see this as a career path. Instead, I started a degree in business studies but finished after a year, in search of a new direction.
I started working at a small family run outdoor activity centre and grew a passion for the outdoors.
After working for a couple of seasons in the industry I decided to top up my qualifications with a degree, so headed to the Lake District for a three year course in Outdoor Studies. This was a fantastic few years, which really opened my eyes to the outdoor industry and the mountain biking potential in the UK.
After leaving University I freelanced across the UK and abroad, taking me to Spain and the UAE.
in 2009, I set up ‘Exmoor Adventures’ with a small loan from the bank, buying a bike trailer, 12 mountain bikes, helmets, gloves and insurance. I was off!
I chose the Trail Cycle Leader and Mountain Bike Leader awards offered through the Scottish MBLA scheme to qualify as they seemed the best and most robust in the industry at the time.
How long have you been a tutor?
I think it was 2011 when I was recommended to become an MBLA tutor which was a fantastic opportunity, but once qualified to tutor I only ran two or three courses each year. Actually, I was one of the last tutors to be signed up by the MBLA - and possibly the youngest!
Why did you decide to stick with your tutor role as the awards transitioned from the MBLA scheme to UK wide one?
This was a no brainer for me. I’d delivered a handful of MBLA courses over a couple of years, but take up was slow in the South West and the future of the MBLA was uncertain in England. I was sceptical at first because with anything new comes uncertainty, but soon came to realise that the new updated courses were a good format – and after delivering nearly 10 Level 2 courses in nine months, I’ve not changed my mind.
How have the new awards developed and moved on from the older MBLA scheme?
I’d say it’s more popular here in the south of England and people immediately identify the course as that of being a UK wide leading qualification.
While training, I found the paperwork to be thorough and well laid out with fantastic resources for both tutors and participants. The structure of the course allows standardised delivery from tutors across the UK, which is great from a participant’s point of view. This is also good for tutors, as we can work to a well planned format while still having personal input to the course and sharing our
experience, expertise and wealth of knowledge.
I’m now finding that the structure of the Mountain Bike Leadership Award course gives participants clarity on what the expectations are of them at assessment, as well as the role and remit of the Level 2 award. The new scheme has proven to be hugely popular in the South of the UK, with participants travelling from the far side of London and beyond to attend our courses on Exmoor.
What do you think are the benefits of a refreshed UK wide mountain biking award?
It’s clear that there is now a primary choice for mountain bike leadership qualifications, whereas in the past there has never really been a single leading award. People had to do their research and pick one to go for from a variety of options.
What advice would you give to potential mountain bike leaders, wanting to start a qualification?
Make sure you are doing it for the right reasons; for example, leading groups of mixed ability can mean a less technical ride at a much slower pace than you might be used to. Get as much experience as you can, such as helping out and observing led rides at a local company or club. Be keen, enthusiastic and open to new ideas!
What are your favourite things about mountain biking?
The places: Mountain biking takes you to the most beautiful, remote places.
The people: This sport always attracts like-minded, friendly and interesting people. You rarely pass a mountain biker who doesn’t return a smile or a ‘hello’!
The bikes: Everyone loves the bling!
The wildlife: Buzzards hovering over your head; owls swooping; red deer jumping out on you; badgers; foxes…
Everyone can enjoy mountain biking at all levels - whether a complete beginner enjoying the thrill of their first descent, or a seasoned mountain biker; everyone’s happy!
What would be your three tips to get started in mountain biking?
Find a company, group or club offering taster sessions or a basic skills course. This way, you know that you’re going to be looked after for that all important first experience. You’ll be set up with a suitable bike and helmet, teaching you the fundamentals in a safe and enjoyable setting. It’s the same as skiing; most people will have lessons to set them on their way.
Make sure that your first ride is an easy one! If you’re going to head out on your own, try to get some advice from a local bike shop or group on where to go. It’s easy to be put off if the route you choose is too technical, too steep and too scary. Trail centres are a good place to start as the routes are easily marked and you know what to expect.
Share the experience with a friend, or a group. Learning to mountain bike means that you will naturally have a few bumps and scrapes along the way, so make sure you’re not out there on your own in case you take a tumble. It’s much easier to improve your skills and fitness when you have friends to learn from, chase up (and down) hills and enjoy the experience with.
Favourite place to ride a mountain bike in the UK.
There’s no place like home!
I’ve biked all over the UK and I have to say that home is where the heart is. There is such a diverse network of trails on Exmoor; it’s overwhelming! Open moorland trails; steep singletrack; rocky ruts; smooth wooded winding trails; coastal views; there really is something for everyone.
With over 400 miles of bridleways, you never get bored and you never meet crowds. Being one of the UK’s quietest National Parks, this region really is a hidden gem!
The annual ‘Exmoor Explorer’ hosted in August each year is a great introduction to riding on Exmoor and is a big event in our calendar. For more information about any of the activities we offer, visit http://www.exmooradventures.co.uk/
Learn more about becoming a Mountain Bike Leader
The tutors who operate under license to deliver the MTB Leadership awards are some of the most experienced professionals in the business. If you are thinking about becoming a mountain bike leader, you will need to start by completing a Level 2 training course or progressing on to the Level 3 award. Talking to a tutor is always a great first step, though.
We have plenty of information about the award on the website to further explore the role and learning process before registering.
If you are a qualified and experienced TCL, MBL, Level 2 or Level 3 Leader and you want to put forward a business case for consideration as a tutor then get in touch and we can have an initial discussion in preparation for the tutor development process opening at the end of 2015.