I’ve always had a bit of a love-hate with cycling. I can still remember my first ‘proper’ bike; it was a pink Raleigh road bike and I covered the wheels in Kellogg’s bike reflectors. My brother was horrified. I can also remember my first bike crash; I over-estimated my abilities a little and came to grief on a country lane in Dorset when I was 12.
Looking back, the accident in Dorset wasn’t that serious as I only suffered a couple of grazed knees. The handlebars of my bike came off worse and needed fixing. I returned from Dorset and abandoned my bike in the garden shed. It was very much a case of out of sight, out of mind. My focus shifted to other sports such as running and horse-riding; in my opinion riding a horse was a lot safer than riding a bike.
I didn’t go near a bike again until I travelled to New Zealand with my best friend in 2005. As you can imagine, I wasn’t very enthusiastic when my friend suggested we hired a couple of mountain bikes. Once I’d overcome my slightly irrational fear of failing off, I was thrilled to discover that I hadn’t forgotten how to actually ride a bike.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the photo of me looking terrified, so here’s another photo taken in New Zealand. My friend told me I looked a little reluctant.
Although I enjoyed spending the day mountain biking in New Zealand, I returned to a wet and gloomy England, and immediately started training for a half marathon. I didn’t go near a bike for another three years.
In 2008 I completed the London Marathon with an injury and subsequently spent the second half of the year unable to run. I needed a running replacement, so borrowed my friend’s mountain bike, bought myself a cheap and cheerful bike helmet and started to explore some of the less popular trails in Sutton Park.
I began to enjoy mountain biking so much, I asked for a mountain bike of my own for Christmas. I’m ashamed to admit that the mountain bike I was given almost 10 years ago remained untouched and unloved until the beginning of the year.
Regular readers of my blog will be aware that I’m nearly always injured. I should really rename my blog ‘The Frequently Injured Runner’. At the start of the year, as I wanted to mix up my training a little in an attempt to avoid injuries, I decided to give my mountain bike a second chance. As I’m still too afraid to cycle on roads, I decided to reacquaint myself with some of the trails in Sutton Park.
I made quite a few what I would call embarrassing, rookie errors.
What would be my number one top tip for beginners? Get your bike fitted properly, I didn’t realise my saddle was far too low until a more experienced cyclist stopped me in Sutton Park. While on the subject of saddles, spend a bit extra on a comfortable saddle, your bottom will most definitely thank you. Also make sure that your tyre pressure is correct, it makes a huge difference. Pushing my mountain bike up a steep hill was hard, hard work.
Luckily, the awesome people at Halfords have produced a Beginner’s Guide to Mountain Biking.
I wish that I’d read and digested the contents of this guide before I headed into Sutton Park. The guide starts with a section on ‘How to Pick a Mountain Bike’. Did you know that a smaller rider may find 27.5” wheels more manageable? I didn’t.
The guide then shares some basic mountain biking skills and a mountain biking trail grading guide. I think it’s safe to say I’ll be staying well away from black, double black and orange trails!
The guide then recommends a range of mountain biking trails. Although Sutton Park didn’t make it into the guide, I was pleased to discover that another local park – Cannock Chase – did.
“Cannock Chase’s green and blue graded Fairoak and Sherbrook trails provide perfect options for those beginning to bike. Master these and you’ll be tackling its famous Follow the Dog and Monkey trails in no time. As an area of natural beauty the Chase is a perfect place to escape in the heart of the country.”
The Gear List is a little dangerous as it includes links to loads of bits and pieces I don’t really need at this stage in my mountain biking career, but will probably end up buying anyway.
The guide then provides an incredibly informative section written by Fiona Outdoors on mountain biking etiquette.
I’m ashamed to confess that I’ve made a couple of blunders since the beginning of the year. Apparently, my approach of riding where I think I’m least likely to fall off is incorrect, I should always ride on the left. Next time I hit the trails – hopefully not literally – I’ll make sure I ride on the left.
The guide concludes with a section on mountain biking slang. I’m already thinking of ways I can introduce the word ‘gnarly’ into my next technical hydrology report. I doubt that anyone would actually notice.
So although I’m still not very confident and tend to spend most of the time worrying about what might go wrong, reading the Beginner’s Guide to Mountain Biking has definitely given me some really useful hints and tips.
You never know, I might ask my friend to drive me and Boris – I gave my mountain bike the least imaginative name ever – the short distance to Cannock Chase to check out some new trails.
If my friend is really lucky, I might even take him to Halfords so that he can pick out a bike from their impressive range of mountain bikes.
Do you have any tips that may help me increase my confidence on two wheels? At the moment, I’m still quite nervous when I ride in Sutton Park.
Have you ever made any mountain biking or cycling blunders? I genuinely had no idea I was meant to stick to the left hand side of trails.
**Full disclosure: This post is written in collaboration with Halfords**