Thursday, 25 October 2012

Family Cycle Session at Meldrum Academy

Children, mountain bikes, girl's roadsters, wooden balance bikes, bikes with bells, bikes with stablisers and a sprinkling of parents filled the playground at Meldrum Academy on Wednesday 24th October, all eager to take part in the Family Cycle Session.

Arrange the bike bits.

Leading the session gave me a great opportunity to practise what I have learnt over the past couple of years and bring it all together in one session. The age range was wide, from 4yrs - 8yrs and so I used elements of the Ready Steady Bike scheme as well as an adaptation of the off-road obstacle course that I learned during the Trail Cycle Leader training.

Children began by looking at the different parts of a bike and the younger children worked together to complete the bike puzzle while the older ones had a look at the technical names of the bike parts. Then it was the older children's job to label the parts on the jigsaw using chalk. This led nicely to the bike check.

The limbo bar didn't survive.
With the younger children, a bike check is not an easy thing to do. In fact, getting them to stand in one place for 5 minutes is near impossible. This was the part where the parents had the opportunity to work with the children to check that the bike was safe. We did this together and after a little hestation, the parents became more involved.

Once the clothing and the bikes had been deemed safe, we began with our activities, including the braking zone, freewheeling, turning and finally the culmination of the basic skills in the off-road course. I was pleasantly surprised that not only did some children choose to continue practising the basic skills but that also children on balance bikes and even with bikes with stablisers gave the off road course a go and achieved success on particular parts of it.

The session ended with lots of thank-yous and happy children who assured me that they had all learned new skills and felt more confident on their bikes. The feedback from the parents was also good and they even helped me tidy things away. I look forward to doing this again, with more defined age groups and perhaps some longer sessions.

Monday, 8 October 2012

I Passed My Trail Cycle Leader Qualification!

I'd done the two-day training course back in May so as I rolled up to Gartmorn Country Park near Tillicoultry I felt quite apprehensive. It was a cold morning; 8am; -1C. Could I remember everything I'd learnt before? I should have practised leading groups over the Summer but in my defence, I had precious little child-free days with which to dedicate to bike riding. Anyway, the beautiful sight of the mist over Gartmorn Dam suggested that the day was going to be a good one.

The TCL assessment outcomes include having logged 30 mountain bike rides of 1.5hrs or longer, with at least one of 6hrs or more. After that it is down to three main questions; can you ride a bike, can you take the right stuff with you and can you lead a group.

The day began with a star orienteering task which involved estimating the route to the various points around the area and then checking how close you were using your computer. It was supposed to be a confidence-building, low pressure task but I was already a bit nervous and so after a few school boy errors I completed the task. In fairness, I had been asked to speed up after the first one and so I felt that pressure too. I upped my speed from an unrealistically slow 17km/h to a more respectable 22km/h and found the other 3 checkpoints and completed tasks like breaking and re-linking a chain and placing a post-it note on the inside of my rear tyre, wrapped snugly around my inner-tube. I ended up being back much sooner than the others and after realising that some of my estimates were quite far off (>100m) I took myself off to the skills course.

The skills course consists of in/out of bottles, a chicane, an up/down ramp amongst others. That was all easy peasy but my nemesis came in the form of the 3 limbo bars. The first two are fine but the third was about an inch lower than my stem and therefore close to impossible to clear. Strategies like leaning the bike one way with my whole body and legs the other didn't work. Neither did letting the air out of my front tyre! I'm ashamed to say that I left the skills course defeated and broken. However, contrary to what I'd been told during my training, it wasn't necessary to clear that obstacle to pass so I needn't have worried. And neither should the other 6 people who also didn't fit. It will be my mission to clear it in the future. I think it is the height of a wheelie bin. I'll let you know.

After some peer assessment and feedback of the morning's orienteering debarcle, I was a bit deflated. We were told to judge whether or not we'd pass each other. I wouldn't have passed me, even though I had no problem navigating to my destinations, my distances were just too far out. I was therefore relieved to hear that my navigation skills would also be assessed during the afternoon's assessed ride. A second chance for me!

The afternoon's ride was in groups of four with a given loop of about 20k. We had to divide the route into four and each choose a section to lead the group on. That involved writing up a route card with distances, key decision points and durations. I chose a particularly wiggly and varied looking bit with the intention of proving my navigation ability and redeeming myself. It was a good choice as I had many opportunities to show confident and competent leadership skills and clear decision making.

We got through our respective sections with relative ease and all felt confident in each others abilities, only occasionally having to raise eyebrows or remove the tickle in our throat when a moment of hesitation took the leader.

Safely back in the car park we debriefed and readied ourselves for our feedback. I went first as I had a two hour drive home as well as a sense of impending doom after the morning but, and rightly so in my opinion, I passed. I'm now really excited about adding the Go Mountainbike accreditation to deliver it in schools as well as starting a fortnightly/once a month day taking families around Stonehaven and encouraging off-road riding. My only obstacle is that before I can receive my certificate and begin leading I must have my outdoor first-aid certificate. I'll have that in the bag before the weather gets better and then I'll be off!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Mates Race For Life

At the top of the Old Fort across the road from Wolftrax Trails (photo: Chris Feltham)

Recently I've not been particularly good at updating blogs but after having a couple of lazy days to recover, I'm eager to share what was perhaps my best weekend of riding, ever!

Fetching pink plates (photo: Douglas Glen)
What made it so good was not only the amount of riding that was squeezed in but mainly the brilliant people who set the challenges and motivated me into really pushing myself to the limit of my own ability. I came away from the weekend with a sense of achievement as far as my riding was concerned and also a sense of pride having been part of an event that brought the fundraising effort for Cancer Research to over £4000! The whole event was organised by friends Craig and Janine in honour of the groups' biking friend Julia who passed away a year ago.

The Upper Red
Having never ridden any of Laggan Wolftrax, I was somewhat apprehensive about the race element of this. We were starting right from the top, at the start of the upper red and the black trail. I'm quite confident in my own riding ability and I know my limits but I'm also aware that I tend to chicken out of things until I am familiar with them. I think that's an important part of my own self-preservation!

The timing system was simple enough. Someone at the bottom with a stopwatch and someone at the top keeping an exact gap between riders setting off. That way, when the split times were gathered, the results could be calculated by subtracting the time taken to start at the top. Simple... mostly!
At the top of upper red

The start line had been roughly scratched into the trail at the top and we all lined up, one at a time, ready to be told to go. My nerves had turned into eager excitement and, in a large part, silliness. That could maybe explain why I set off erratically and at full speed, hitting the first few corners with little control before coming up to a drop far to fast, braking hard and coming to an abrupt halt with my front tyre resting against a rock. Time to relax a little. The following few minutes saw more of a flow though I chose the 'chicken run' past most obstacles and took it easy on anything steep or sketchy.

The air was further taken from my sails when I then picked up a pinch flat in the front tyre. The adrenaline was pumping so I changed the tube in record time and carried on to a finishing time of 14+ minutes on a track that should take 7 minutes.

Somebody then had the bright idea of a race back up the fire-road and down the fun park to the cafe. I thought that this could be my chance for a winning time since I have been feeling quite fit recently. So with saddle up and eyes on the top of the climb, I began to pace myself. It didn't help. While I was in the competition to a certain extent, I still suffered as I got to the top and still had to lower my seat for the fun park. No podium place but I'd like to think I made a fair effort!

The Lower Red
Janine on lower red
Tea and cakes later, we completed the climb to the lower red. We stopped a little way down to cut out a slower section and ensure that the descent was as fast and competitive as possible. It was and I really found the flow. Taking it much easier, I bounced my way down the first part, over the rock gardens as fast as I could pedal before the track became much more fast and flowy and I found myself leaning this way and that, zipping between trees. I finished that trail with both tyres and tubes intact and with a much more respectable time!

The Fun Park
With my spirits high and confidence boosted we hit the fun park again for the timed event. Having already ridden this I knew how fast I could hit the jumps and how I could keep my height down. It was pretty windy and the last thing I wanted was to be caught by a gust of wind in mid air. My air-born skills can't cope with any unexpected interference when gritting my teeth and hoping to hit the ground the right way up!

By this time I think most of us were ready for another cup of tea and the security of knowing where we were to be sleeping the night.

Sleeping Arrangements
cosy accomodation
Laggan Village Hall wasn't the easiest to find as it doesn't really look like a hall, more a small block of flats. However, it wasn't that difficult to find amongst the half a dozen buildings in the village so we had soon terrorised the local farmer's field with our convoy of white vans before being asked to park on the road! Then, after being let into the hall, we surveyed our accommodation.

At £6 per person, our digs were fit for kings. Albeit very muddy ones! We had heat, space, showers, toilets a games room and lots of space to run around in. Fantastic, now all we needed was food. Unfortunately the local hotel wasn't serving food and so we drove into Newtonmore and were invited into the Braeriach Hotel with open arms, five minutes after the kitchen was due to close. The arms were slightly less open once the other 13 or so people turned up. But they fed us just the same and the service was as warm as the lovely fire that greeted us. A steak pie and chips later and I was drinking beer, sulking at my lack of raffle-luck and getting ready for a kip. I hit the sack early as I planned to get up and ride even if the others were still in bed nursing hangovers. To my surprise and delight, everyone started rising at about 8.30am and we were in the Laggan Wolftrax cafe at the back of 10, eating bacon butties.

All Over Again
heading down from Old Fort (photo: Douglas Glen)
Sunday's riding was varied and much more relaxed. We had a little explore over the other side of the road from Wolftrax and found some good, natural riding including the infamous Brown Run. The brown run led down from the old fort and wound it's way to the bottom via slippy, off-camber natural features picking off it's unsuspecting victims as it went. We all got to the bottom eventually and made our way back to the cafe.

With the 3 hour drive home hanging over us, we decided to do one last run... of EVERYTHING! In an hour and a half we had sprinted up the climbs to the top of the upper red and I cleared a downward time of 7.24 with no punctures. This would have put me 7th or 8th the day before. Then came the whole lower red including the formidable drop, Ayres Rock and then back down the lovely, fast and woody trail to the bottom half of the fun park. After some pumping, jumping and my repeatedly forgetting that some of the landings lead off to the left/right unexpectedly, we arrived back at the car park, truly ready for home, a beer and a hot bath.

the exploded tyre
I was really impressed with the hardtail Cotic Bfe. Other than the puncture, it had survived a real beating and held it's own against the bouncier, full sus bikes. I was just considering how well it had held up when there was a loud bang and the unmistakable smell of fish from the back of the van. Buckley the dog acted accordingly and we pulled over to find that my rear tyre had given in. A large tear was now where a small hole had been in the wall of the tyre and the pressure of the tube had finally been too much. I imagine this really is the bike equivalent of the clown car that gets put through its paces before all the doors fall off amongst a cloud of radiator steam. We all let out a sigh of relief and headed home, already planning the next adventure.

The Results

Race 1 Upper Red

10th Charlie 14.51.21 puncture :-(
9th Lyndsay 11.22.34
8th Janine 08.19.93 
7th Summers 07.24.09
6th Dougie 07.22.09
5th Ewan 07.06.27
4th Jon 07.01.43
3rd Craig 06.57.65
2nd Beansie 06.46.77
1st Anton 06.33.65
Impromptu Race from bottom of upper red thru fun park to cafe :-

1st Ewan
2nd Anton
3rd Dougie
Race 2 Upper Red

11th Lyndsay 06.43.40
10th Janine 04.22.85
9th Dave 04.13.36
8th Dougie 03.46.77
7th Ewan 03.34.14
6th Charlie 03.31.00
5th Craig 03.23.
4th Jon 03.18.63
3rd Summers 03.16.03
2nd Beansie 03.08.09
1st Anton 03.01.10
Race 3 Fun Park
11th Lyndsay 05.13.80
10th Janine 04.00.90
9th Dave 03.41.80
8th Dougie 03.24.40
7th Jon 03.21.30
6th Charlie 03.16.30
5th Summers 03.16.08
4th Ewan 03.15.00
3rd Craig 03.08.60
2nd Beansie 03.06.20
1st Anton 03.02.00