Advice to newbie MTB riders
Having ridden a little on local trails but not very much, here are some thoughts for newbie mountain bike cyclists, seeing that the next SMURF clinic is around the corner, on 19 Sep 2004.
SMURF Clinics - a foundation
SMURF clinics are a necessity. They aren't about how to ride a bike, so you have to learn to balance on a bike, change gears and brake reasonably well first. Get help from a friend for this.
The clinics provide a proper foundation which casual instruction does not achieve since it is guided by a syllabus. Ad hoc instruction on the trail by friends tends to respond to challenges of a specific trail. Without a lesson plan, familiarity leads to overlooking significant issues such as lowering seat posts when going into trails. I found out only much later and it was very helpful when I did!
Having advised newbies myself, I found this worked well - try something easy like general trails in Ubin, then to the SMURF clinics, and finally rides with instruction by friends at T15. The clinic provides a useful foundation which were upgraded later on other trails.
One way to pay instructors who provide these free clinics is to help them out at their cycling events or during the next round of clinics. SMURF clinics are run by "Uncle Nik" [Ho] and friends.
On mental preparation and confidence
When I first tried out trails, two experienced friends, Athena and Chi provided instruction and demonstration for specific (easier) trials at Sentosa. I listened, watched and followed and so it was relatively easy there.
On another occasion, Airani and I were late, rushed down meet the gang as they emerged at BT, did not realise we were doing the BT trail that day but followed them in and kept up (our first taste of BT as well). We had simply been too hasty, were not focused so both crashed at easy bits, mind you! My crash was mild (I tend to bounce off the ground) but Airani cracked a bone and her wrist was in a cast for a few weeks.
I realise for myself at least, the ability of both rider and bike outweighed confidence. When I work at confidence, I have an enjoyable rides free of excessive braking and dismounts.
Knowing your bike and practise
The more I got used to my GT Avalanche 1.0, the better I could estimate its ability and response to terrain. After more than five years on the Champion Du Monde, I am at times still compensating for the wrong bike!
A friend from the clinic I attended, YZ used to frighten me with stories of his spectacular crashes when he first acquired his new bike complete with disc brakes. He has since got used to it and there are thankfully fewer dramatic stories.
Since I did most of my haphazard learning with my heart in my mouth. I tried something else with some newbies - practising basic skills on simple trails and even on flat ground. Something they could also do near their place, on their own. It helped to build familiarity with braking ability, gearing, balance etc., and does wonders for confidence. They later realised a tough trail was simply an amplification of what they had already tried and the principles they learnt help them overcome these.
On any ride, always go at your own pace. If are the riders are too fast and leave you behind, abandon the ride; its best to have company in case of emergencies. Ride leaders on Wheels Are Turning or DREAM-Escapades
usually indicate the type of ride and if they will wait for newbies. Find out if unsure.
Knowing the trail builds confidence
Don't be disheartened if everyone you are with on a ride seems to zip through a trail and are then are always waiting for you at the next slope. E.g. the T15 slopes. When you get to know a particular route well, you will become familiar with each slopes' incline, distance, corners, dangers etc. Regulars who zoom far ahead have this knowledge and it makes a big difference.
It's just like racing drivers who learn their circuits down to a T!
So learn a particular route well and tackle it regulary; you'll soon find yourself zooming ahead in the easy parts wiothout hesitation. Does wonders for confidence too!
From a post to Wheels Are Turning
First posted in Otterman speaks.