Becoming a Mountain Bike Instructor

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

" I am a pro downhiller", said Elinor , a tall athletic blond.

" I have a fitness and mountain bike skills business, " said another very fit looking woman.

"I investigate traffic accidents involving bikes, " said Paul, who had arrived at the class on a motorcycle with a bike hung on the back.

" I race in the Cat 1 mountain bike class.." and so on as each of the eleven participants introduced themselves, including  the bike shop guys, who live and breathe bikes. Mike Ahearn, the organizer introduced himself as the manager of Ridgefield Bicycle Company , a mountain bike racer, trail builder, and a board member of Fairfield Country New England Mountain Biking Association. He is the one who brought us all together.

Now it was  my turn.

"Uh, I am totally non-competitive. I've never raced in my life. I am taking this course to teach beginners."

Gale and Derrick, the instructors, as always were professional, and smiled serenely as they assigned another chapter of the manual to be read by tomorrow at 9am. It was already 8 pm and we still hadn't gone out to dinner! Luckily a burger and beer place was a couple of hundred yards from the bike store.


The first thing the next morning , one person asked " Do I need to use the flats?"

The long and short answer to that, and Derrick  said with another of those grins was "yes."  

I had already resigned myself to the flats and had practiced some with them, but had been unable to do a rear wheel lift.  I was a bit apprehensive.

The group was bonding and the jokes were flying.  But Gale and Derrick kept us on track and attentive.


Round and round the wheel goes and so did we as we practiced our turns.  Right turns and then left turns. I was always stronger on the right turn, but with a slight correction, the left turns came easier.  I hadn't expected that. I was here to learn to teach others, but improving my own skills was a great extra benefit.  
Gale , the instructor from Utah, brought some of that desert weather with her.  Dry and warm during the day, crystal clear skies, and cool nights, made for excellent biking.   Gale, a five-foot tall dirt jumper, sure kept us moving.  We broke into groups for skills, demos, and very brief tours.  To practice our guiding skills, we did the grand tour of Ridgebury School, complete with playground and parking lot.

First it was  Ray's turn to be leader . He did a safety talk  and reviewed the IMBA rules of the trail before riding.  After riding a few minutes he  stopped, did a head count, and checked to be sure the bikes and the participants on the ride were ready to continue the tour.  After counting heads, Ray realized Marjorie was missing. "Oh , no! Everyone stay where you are, and I will go and find Marjorie."  Fortunately, Marjorie was fine, having stopped to look at the lake.  That was an easy scenario, and the instructors challenged us throughout the four days with many other scenarios that could happen while guiding a ride.


After learning how to teach the skills, it was our turn to teach. Wow.  Gale assigned the skills. I had to teach braking. I practiced in the road in front of my house, and awoke at the crack of dawn to practice some more.  I also had to study the Ten Essential Skills, which would not stay in my head no matter what I did. Then the light bulb turned on. It was all about the bike. I drew a bike and assigned one of the skills to each part of the bike. Now I had it!  And I could do the skills on the bike too.  

At the end of day the day some of the folks were headed out for a ride. I was too tired and hungry to ride and besides I had more studying to do to prep for another demo and for the written test.


Ah, the big day! We rode on yellow lines for skinnies, and curbs for roll overs.  We dismounted on inclines and declines.  We turned to the left ( I am not quite sure what happened to the right turn) . We shifted on the front derailleur and shifted on the back derailleur.  And we took many mini tours on the Ridgebury Semi - Singletrack Loop. This was excellent preparation for us to teach and guide others, which is so important.  

Mountain biking can have a very steep learning curve, especially in the Northeast. We have very few beginner single tracks in the land of roots and rocks. Introducing beginners to single track with a few skills and a good guide will help bring more folks into the sport. Building more trails with progressive skill levels is much needed, too.  If more people can enjoy the sport and become advocates for more trails and for our forests and open spaces, it's all good. And so the wheels go round and round.  


The big day arrived.  Ridgefield Bicycle Company, the Parks and Rec of Ridgefield, and the FCNEMBA instructors sponsored a one day mountain bike camp.  Sixteen boys  ages 8-14 showed up on quite a variety of bikes.  None of us were quite sure how this would go, but everyone had a great time.  Brendan, an 8 year old BMX hot shot won the slow race.  A slow race is great fun to participate in and to watch.  All the groups rode around the awesome new beginner singletrack  built by FCNEMBA and some local high school students.


 I need to get used to clipless pedals again, but maybe I'll just stay with the flats.