Published: 26 February 2014
Report: Abby Holder
Recently I found this article on the Insight Zone, which makes the case for including mountain biking in your sportive training plan.
I owned a mountain bike before I had a road bike, so I don’t take much convincing that it’s a good idea to get off road and explore places road bikes are not made for. And this article says it will improve my bike handling skills and pedalling efficiency and build strength and power. There’s just one small problem. I’m not very good at it. In fact, I’m of the firmly held belief that I have all the mountain biking skill and finesse of a potato. I got my first ‘mountain bike’ as a teenager, but the most challenging terrain I encountered in the seaside town where I grew up was riding up the curb outside the paper shop. And I wasn’t particularly accomplished at that.
I’m going to need some help.
The man who takes on this challenge is Mike, a skills instructor based at Dalby Forest, who has agreed to give me a skills lesson. And so, on a chilly Saturday morning in early February I find myself in North Yorkshire, wearing all the cycling clothing I own simultaneously. Mike asks what I want to get out of the day and, through chattering teeth, I say I’d like to be a more confident mountain biker and to be able to ride down a rocky descent.
We spend the morning on the skills area where I practise cornering and riding over bumps and steps. I learn how moving my weight and body position around affects the bike, how and why to push the bike through underneath me, where to look when going around a corner and that the best way to get across a rocky, rooty section is to ride at it slightly faster than seems sensible (“If you think you’re going fast enough, you’re not”) and then get into the ready position and let the bike take care of the rocks. Just as importantly, as I complete each loop of the skills track by reeling off a list of the things I did wrong, Mike reminds me I’m aiming for progression not perfection.
In the afternoon we head out on to the Dalby Forest trails to put what I’ve learned into practice. We start with a steep descent which goes well, but then I have a wobble at the sight of some rocky steps and for the first time that day Mike has to remind me to smile. We move on to a set of log steps, which descend on a curve, gradually building up to riding the whole lot - something I would never have attempted if someone hadn’t been standing by the side of the track telling me I could do it.
The next day I am let loose on the open trails of the North Yorks Moors. As I plough inelegantly through deep mud into a headwind, I begin to see how mountain biking helps to build strength and power. Without Mike there prompting me to keep my head up and my heels down, I invoke an imaginary Mike to remind me what I learned the day before. The conditions are far from ideal but it’s a lot of fun. For me mountain biking is all about the mental challenge of doing something that slightly scares me. Maybe that’s another reason for making it part of my training plan. It makes a 100km sportive seem like a doddle...