When one of Scotland’s leading mountain bike tuition companies offered the chance to join other riders on a course to improve technique and boost confidence on jumps and drops, I couldn’t resist a shot. But, as we all discovered, first we had to unlearn a few things …
It’s not often that you have an opportunity to learn from an elite rider, but that’s exactly what is on offer as we gather at Glentress Forest for a ‘Jumpstart’ course run by Tweed Valley-based mountain bike tuition business Ridelines.
And as one of those rather less than elite riders who tend to just hang on and hope when it comes to jumps and drop-offs, I’m desperately in need of some pointers. I’ve always marveled at how better riders seem to ‘pop’ up as they hit jumps, a serene look on their faces as they trace a perfect arc through the air before landing smoothly on both wheels. The experts from Ridelines promise to show us how.
The lure of learning from the very best at one of the UK’s most celebrated trail centres has attracted riders from near and far: Colin, who has just driven down from Aberdeen, Kelvin here on his travels all the way from Singapore and me from, er, Innerleithen. Our guide, Jess Stone, assures us that the all-day session will be exhausting, but that we’ll also be much better riders than when we started.
And she should know. With many years on the pro race circuit behind her, not to mention the small matter of being a former British downhill champion, there’s little that Jess doesn’t know about the techniques needed to ride trails with confidence and flow.
Our first stop is the skills area. “Just have a play and show me how you ride,” says Jess. It turns out that, like many intermediate riders, we are reasonably capable, but have a way to go in terms of technique and riding efficiency. “Ok, that gives me plenty to work with,” she says with a grin.
For the rest of the morning, Jess deconstructs how we ride – from body position, to weight shift, braking and specific foot and leg movements – demonstrating each point with ridiculous ease, before cutting us loose to try for ourselves. It’s hard. We’re just not used to thinking so much while riding a bike.
We almost certainly get worse before we get better. Colin grimaces as a move doesn’t quite come off; Kelvin, who is more used to being clipped in on a road bike than using flats, struggles with his footing; while I can't quite get my head around the ‘pump’ technique used to inject momentum on rollers and corners.
Gradually, however, we get to grips with what Jess shows us. It may make for gruesome viewing – do I really flap about on a bike like that?! – but the use of slow-mo video clips highlights our shortcomings and helps us tweak specific areas of technique.
Then it’s time to put our new-found skills to practice on Berm Baby Berm, one of the signature blue routes at Glentress. Jess challenges us to ride the entire trail using just our new pump technique. Strictly no pedaling allowed. To our astonishment, we all make it round without a single pedal stroke: the three of us lean into corners, pumping our bikes forward as we hit rollers, jumps and berms. We even get some serious air in a couple of places, although that’s probably more due to Jess chasing us down than anything else.
After a brief pause for lunch, it’s back out on the bikes, this time heading straight to the rather daunting Free Ride area – a series of white-knuckle jumps and corners where young tyros tear it up with tricks and whips.
Again, Jess breaks down the jumps for us, highlighting how and where to incorporate our new-found skills. We watch other riders as they hurtle past – some with style and flow, others fast but far from fluent. Crucially, we now understand why. “Anyone can ride fast, but it’s not so easy to get the technique right,” notes Jess, as one rider flies impressively high but then almost completely stalls on the landing.
As is the mantra on the course, we start slowly, trying to get the basics right, but soon speed up, Jess’s words ringing in our ears as we go. We ride one at a time, then in pairs providing feedback on the rider in front, and finally in a ‘train’, the four of us zipping along like a gang of giddy kids. We ride the trail again and again, our improved technique giving us the confidence to push it just that little bit more each time.
And by the end, Jess is absolutely right: we head home shattered, but grinning like idiots, all counting down the days until we can head out on our next ride.
For a taste of our Jumpstart experience, check out this short clip
With outstanding trails and facilities for every level of rider, Glentress Forest attracts hundreds of thousands of riders each year. It’s a fitting venue for courses run by the equally impressive Ridelines – a mountain bike tuition and guiding outfit that has become as synonymous with the Tweed Valley as the trails themselves. For much more on Jumpstart and the many other courses available, visit www.ridelines.co.uk
Ridelines is one of around 70 local businesses in the Tweed Valley Tourist Consortium – a group of like-minded tourism businesses that have come together to help promote this wonderful part of Scotland. Have a look around our website to find out more about the many things to see and do in the area.
Words and pictures: Rich Rowe