To really know if you are improving, you need some kind of benchmark to evaluate progress against. It’s as true in sports as it is in business. At work, we routinely set baselines or benchmarks, and this week’s first trail rides of the season have me thinking about benchmarks in my mountain biking. Every sport has its own ways to measure training and skill progression. As with road cycling or running, there’s the simple measure of time taken or average speed within a section of trail. More important than a speed measure in mountain biking is judging the development of technique and how that allows you to ride harder trails, tackle larger obstacles, get more air, be more aggressive. if you are only interested in speed it can be bench marked against your own performance or that of others. There’s tons of gadgets and smartphone apps that help you track this. Many of these allow you to compare how others rode the same routes. I find this interesting and a piece of the bigger picture, but my biggest competitor is myself. I need to measure my progress versus the trail, improvement in technique. I am
at the point in my mountain biking skills development that increasing strength and stamina play a significant role, but I still have so much to learn in this sport. So much technique to develop.
By riding the same trails regularly, I can easily judge the progression of my skills. Now starting my third summer mountain biking, I’m realizing both what I’ve already learned along with an awareness of how much I don’t know. It brings a smile to my face when I look back at pictures like these from 2011 and remember struggling with a climb I can now top, being afraid to ride across rocks I barely notice, coming to a dead stop in front of a log, I now pop over without a thought.
As I rode this week, I remembered how we used to have to stop at each and every bench, along with at the top of every small climb to rest and recover. I’m working hard at active recovery, continuing to pedal while I catch my breath. Limiting rest stops. I continue to be surprised how much the line you take or the momentum you have going into a climb, descent or obstacle plays a part. There were places on Sunday’s ride I struggled due to a line that put me into bigger roots or rocks, or how by not having proper momentum, I had to put a foot down in areas I’ve cleaned in past. At the same time in a section of the Muir trails called The Beach, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to ride. I remember the first time we rode that section, stopping half way up to rest. It’s the first time I’ve actually felt like I was enjoying a climb. Minutes later Hell’s Kitchen reminded me why it has the name it does.
But with increased confidence and skills, also comes increased chances for error. I’m riding faster. Attacking sections more. Weaknesses are being exposed. At the Ray’s Women’s clinic, I struggled with both speed and bike angle/position in the bermed turns of the pump track. At Valmont Bike Park in Boulder, I did better at speed, but Kiddo chastised me for not leaning the bike, for going through upright. On Sunday’s ride, in a section called Bermuda…. Damn bermed turn. I just don’t trust myself to lean the bike through them. Towards the bottom of the section, the final left turn, took the turn too high on the berm, upright, no real lean. On the exit there’s a small tree to the right. Because I was high I was on the right edge of the trail and bbeing upright meant my handlebars were not leaning away, I clipped the tree. Leading to a face plant and a bloody nose. Funny how many thoughts go through your head in a millisecond. ….Don’t look at tree! You’re gonna hit tree. I’m flying. Splat. Oops there’s gonna be a bloody nose. Get off bike off trail before someone barrels into you. Feel blood begin to pour. Pinch nose….
Still work to do. Benchmarks set, and continually updated. I’m super stoked about this summer’s riding. Here in Wisconsin I hope to do some rides with other women in addition to the family and solo training rides, there will be rides and the Women’s Clinic in Brown County, IN in June, riding on our family vacation to Breckinridge, CO in July and another prior to my nieces wedding at Killington, VT in August. Plan on doing a WORS race or two, The Brown County Super-D, Fall Colors Festival. Hopefully we can sneak in another spot or two, like maybe a trip up tp Copper Harbor, MI.
Tho, face it, even with a desire to more formally train this summer, I still want to stop and smell the roses so to speak…pausing to snap a few pictures and enjoy the view will always be a part of my enjoyment of mountain biking.
Two years ago my love of mountain biking was ignited by a spur of the moment decision to take advantage of the free women’s clinic at Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike Park here in Milwaukee. This year I was fortunate enough to be able to attend both of Ray’s women’s events, the February clinic at the original Ray’s in Cleveland, and the March event in Milwaukee. Hosted by 1995 UCI Women’s Downhill World Champion, Leigh Donovan,these events are a resounding success in bringing women interested in mountain biking together, an amazing 218 women in CLE and 203 in MKE.
Ray’s and Leigh put together a list of coaches that read like a who’s who of women in mountain biking, too many to mention but included: Tammy Donohue, Cory Coffey, Angi Weston, Hillary Eglert, Lindsey Voreis, Carley Young, Sarah Rawlings, Suzanne Summer, Nadi Stenbrecher, Wendy Palmer, Rae Gandalf, Jeni Roosen, Tania Juillerat. The women who attended the clinics were a diverse group in all respects A wide range of ages from 8 years old to late 50s and beyond; skill levels from never mountain biked to regular racers; interests covering cross country, jumping and freeride, along with BMX racing. Both Ray’s locations offer areas for learning technical skills like log overs, drops, rocks and skinnys, areas to work on jumping and bmx freestyle skills, along with pump tracks and a cross country loop around the perimeter All sections are defined by skill levels from novice to expert allowing visitors to Rays to progress through the park as their skills develop. Following introductions of the coaches, everyone split into groups around the Rays park, complete newbies to learn body/bike position in the Novice room, beginners and intermediates to the sport and beginner skills areas, many to beginning and advanced jump lines, others to the pump track.
The reasons behind the success of these clinics are twofold. First by the enthusiasm, passion and expertise the coaches bring. They break down skills. First explaining in words and gestures and then demonstrating themselves with their bikes. Angi Weston using her hands to explain cornering, Lindsey Voreis using her entire body, and Jeni Roosen demonstrating rolling over a drop with perfect form.
But probably the biggest factor is the women only format. It’s not just the lack of testosterone driven egos and bravado. There’s a sense of safety in the encouragement. Encouragement and urging to not doubt yourself and just try. Cheering as you attempt, even louder cheering when you succeed. A group that picks you up if you fall, and nudges you to succeed. Even more there’s the witnessing other women learn and do. A sense of if she can do it, perhaps so can I.
Both clinics ended with shared stories over beers while the coaches conduct a swag raffle. All participants were winners – not just of t-shirts, water bottles, forks, tires, even season passes, but of a sense of accomplishment. I will always fondly remember a young woman XC racer animatedly talking over lunch about crying in joy when she finally mastered the pump track. Or of plans being made for summer rides, contact info shared with other local women. Huge thanks to Rays for sponsoring these clinics, and to Leigh for hosting…and to all the coaches and women riders who traveled far and near to come together for these great days of riding!
It just hit me that I’m coming up on my 2 year anniversary of my first attempt at mountain biking. That visit to an Intro clinic and short, short ride on a beginner trail was really more of a putting my toe in the water, versus jumping right in. If someone was to ask me how long I’ve been mountain biking, I generally consider spring of 2011 to be the beginning, the point I actually started going out and riding trails…and dragging my family along for the ride so to speak. But it was at the Fall Colors Festival in September of 2010 when I first did a timid ride with dirt under my wheels. Even then I knew I was hooked.
Mountain biking is an all in kinda sport. Meaning your focus has to be all in, on the here and now. The rest of world gets tuned out. Not just by being in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of life. But by the very real need to keep a single minded focus on that single track ahead while at the same time giving into an almost mindless bike/body connection, constantly shifting weight and balance. That feeling of flowing with the bike, with the trail, coupled at times with an adrenaline rush due to speed or difficulty of the trail or drop offs or jumps is wonderful. Almost addicting, Brings me back time and again.
We’ve added mountain biking to our vacations.Re-introduced my brother to the sport.
Now with two summers of riding under my belt, it’s great to realize how much progress we’ve made on our skills. As our skills grew, our interest in the sport also increased – as did our stable of bikes. Riding trails we know over again, allows us to benchmark our progress. It’s a great feeling to to clean a trail you couldn’t before. To make it all the way up a climb that you’ve had to get off and push in the past. To ride over a log as if it wasn’t there. Beaver tree, what beaver tree (a particular place on an otherwise easy trail that has vexed me in the past). These improvements all help our confidence grow. With confidence comes ability, a virtuous cycle that allows us to tackle new trails, try new things. Downhill riding in Colorado this past summer, Kiddo and my first “Super-D” race. And in a full circle, we plan on doing our first cross country races at this year’s Fall Colors Festival.
I’ve written on this blog how a couple of women’s only clinics are what got me started mountain biking. The first one at the Fall Colors Festival in the Kettle Moraine. This was a casual affair, almost better described as demo, which introduced me to some great trails, and got me over my fear of leaving the pavement and trying out some dirt. The next at the Ray’s Mountain Bike Park was a more formal clinic following the International Mountain Bike Instruction Certification guidelines for teaching. Beginning to learn proper body position made immediate improvements in my riding.
Wanting the same for my family, was thrilled when I saw the 2011 Midwest Women’s Mountain Bike Clinic was also offering a Kid’s clinic (ages 8-12) and a Men’s Novice to Advanced clinic. Started several years ago as a clinic for a small group of women, The Midwest Women’s Mountain Bike Clinic is a weekend long event attracting over 150 people annually in June to Brown County State Park in Indiana. Sub-9 Productions does a great job of organizing the clinics using only IMBI Certified instructors and guidelines. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to sign up my kiddo and my hubby (after all I was attending no matter what!).
After checking in and receiving their name tags for their bikes, the kid’s clinic begin with introductions and questions from the coaches about what they wanted to learn. Coaches spent some time checking over bikes, adjusting seats, and getting the kids at ease, before they rode off to do skills drills on the pavement.
Soon the kid’s were split into two groups based on abilities. Kiddo was placed in the more advanced group where Angie Weston and Todd Boucher began working on things like high speed cornering, front and rear wheel lifting. After some practice time, the group took off on a ride on the LimeKiln trail, where they were introduced to the concept of sessioning areas of the trail.
That afternoon when I picked Kiddo up from the clinic, he suggested a quick ride on LimeKiln to show me what he’d learned. I was surprised when he tore down the trail. In order to put that in perspective, I’d written an essay prior to the clinic that talked about how I’d hoped the clinic would help him overcome a fear of riding downhills. Dramatic improvement is an understatement. And done with good form to boot. In May, he barely rode his bike, after the clinic he was hooked.
As an added benefit, because he learned to ride correctly at the time I was also just learning mountain biking, as a family we have been able to push each other. Kiddo doesn’t let me take the bail line around obstacles. Instead there’s a lot of “Mom, you can do that, you’ve been over bigger logs (or drop offs, or jumps or whatever)”. We now feel confident on all the local trails from intro to more advanced. Our weekends typically include getting in weekend rides at our in city trails (Hoyt, Oak Hill or Crystal Ridge), or at the more extensive Muir/Carlin trails in Kettle Moraine of southeastern WI.
Mountain biking has become part of our family travels. I was able to work in a couple of days of Brown County riding around a business trip in September, and over Thanksgiving, we tackled trails in the Nashville area. To keep active over the Wisconsin winter, the entire family are season members at Rays Indoor Mountain Bike Park (where kiddo is also taking up BMX and jumping). Next summer we’ll try our hand at riding Keystone in Summit County, Colorado, our first trip to a downhill/lift shuttled bike park.
I credit the Midwest Women’s clinic with not only helping our family find a great family activity, but also with helping our skills and abilities progress at levels we would have never been able to attain on our own. This will be an annual family activity for us….and one we look forward to immensely.
“Blues skies…local MTB trails are open.”
Was thrilled this morning to see this tweet from @WORBA_MMB, the account of Metro Mountain Bikers, Milwaukee’s off-road biking club. The Metro Mountain Bikers maintain several areas of mountain biking singletrack around Milwaukee County. The Hoyt Park and Oak Hill sections are in located in Wauwatosa – the city just west of Milwaukee proper.
The weather was perfect for our first trail ride of the year. Sunny, 80 degrees. We put the hitch on the car, checked out the bikes; giving them the ABC once over – air, brakes, cranks and chains. Once that was complete, made sure we had all the gear – helmets, water, gloves, before heading out on the 5mile trip to the trails. Yes, I know we could have ridden, should have – in fact I ride past the Hoyt trails on my bike commute. However, kiddo doesn’t quite have his biking legs and stamina to do both the rides to and from plus the trails. Working on that is a goal for the year.
For this ride, we choose the Oak Hill 1 trail, aka Harley Woods, at Capitol Drive and Menominee Parkway. To get to the trails, you drop in on the north side of Capitol Drive, just west of the parkway and the river, east of 45. Trailhead is well marked, just look for the signs.
The trails are flowing, curvy single track. No tough climbs, but fun little touches of dips and creek crossings. The Metro Mountain Bikers do a great job of maintaining these – in keeping brush in check, building boardwalk type crossings, and installing rock and other armor in low lying spots.
The trail makes a 3mile loop heading out along 45 (which is only noticeable in one small section), and returning along the Menominee River. While not overly technical, and no steep climbs, the trail does force you to pay attention in order to successfully navigate the twisty spaces between the trees. Both kiddo and I were fascinated by the bench in the river – and couldn’t decide if when the river isn’t so high, if you could sit in it.
I also laughed at this tree. Apparently, a local beaver has the same opinion as I about having this tree at the base of a small hill with a slight curve in the trail. Tho’ I suppose it would prevent you from riding into the river.
The entire time, I could hear the voice of Tania, my instructor from the Ray’s Women’s Clinic
, telling me, “Eyes up, Kim”. I must say compared to the first time I rode this trail last fall, my skills and ability to tackle the trail have made dramatic improvements since that clinic. I am so looking forward to learning more at the Midwest Women’s Mountain Bike weekend next month. I even made a couple of tries at making it over a large log (these not so successful, but other smaller logs, no problem).
We had a great ride, a great time playing in the mud today. Brought a bit home with us.
And as I typed this, was reminded that it was a good thing we took advantage of this sunny afternoon – and how handy it is to get text updates via twitter from @WORBA_MMB, because my phone buzzed with this tweet:
“More rain, arghh!. Milwaukee MTB trails closed.”