Thursday, April 17, 2014

School of Hard Rocks

The Michaux Mountain Bike School took place last weekend and was filled up despite more cold and rainy weather in central Pennsylvania.  Hearty participants came from as far away as Georgia to learn new skills or brush up on old skills from the knowlegeable instructors.  Registration for next year's version will be opening soon, so if you missed this year's event be sure to sign up early to take advantage of a $50 early bird registration discount.

Friday's instruction consisted of a half day of fundamental skills training conducted in the field right in Camp Thompson.  The instructors were Harlan Price for the men and Sue Haywood for the women.  In this field there were logs scattered about along with makeshift barriers created by the school crew.  Sue and Harlan began the day with everyone together and they discussed proper bike set-up and how the set-up impacts rider performance out on the trail.  This primarily consisted of cockpit set-up and we did not cover suspension set-up.  I learned that my two fingered braking method isn't ideal and I corrected my lever position to better accomodate one fingered braking.

When everyone was happy with their set-up the men and women split up and began the fundamental skills training.  And I do mean fundamental.  We covered everything from basic balancing positions on the bike, to shifting, braking, cornering, suspension loading, and track stands.  There was definitely a method to the process because we learned how to utilize these skills to go over progressively taller drops and to clear increasingly higher obstacles.  I didn't poll the group but I'll go out on a limb and say that everyone learned something new and became a better rider.  Harlan made the instruction easy to understand and took the time to patiently answer everyone's questions.  I'm sure the women would say the same about Sue's technique.

An unexpected bonus came when Harlan volunteered to lead us on a 30-45 minute singletrack ride which wasn't part of the published itinerary.  We ended up being out for closer to two hours because Harlan couldn't help but stop the group at various points to reinforce the instruction that we received earlier.  We took turns tackling various obstacles and trail conditions and everyone had a great time.  There were a couple dismounts but no injuries and we returned to camp with smiles on our faces.  We were very appreciative of Harlan going the extra mile for us.

That evening we met the additional instructors and the other participants who hadn't signed up for the Friday fundamentals session.  The other instructors were Jay de Jesus and Ryan.......for the men , Cheryl Sornson for the women, and Gunnar Bergey and Jeff Bahnson for the juniors.  Last but not least was....who taught the Lil' Rippers.  The crew had a series of games that were designed for us to get to know each other and they were effective and fun.  After that, Jay couldn't contain himself and was soon teaching everyone how to do wheelies, stoppies, and various other advanced techniques.  Many of the participants caught on quickly and were soon doing stoppies like naturals.  Jay is a trials rider and his expertise in this area brought an added dimension to the instruction.  The crowd slowly thinned as people began to grow weary and retire to their cabins.  That brought back memories because it was either like summer camp or the army with ten people per cabin stationed in bunk beds.  There was some snoring and late night calls of nature but I was unbothered and slept like a rock as usual.  Truth is, it's entirely possible that I was the King of Snorers but I wouldn't admit that to my cabin mates!

We woke on Saturday morning to dry but colder conditions.  Everyone went through their own morning routines and headed to the dining hall for breakfast.  The school crew had their hands full trying to feed this hungry bunch but I think everyone got nourished in the end.  My only critique of the entire experience was the shortage of bacon and hot coffee.  Cyclists seem to be coffee drinkers by nature so the coffee pot was empty quite a bit.  This was the largest attendance the school has received yet, so I am confident that Zach and his staff will get that situation squared away for the next session.

After breakfast we divided up evenly amongst the instructors with the idea that we would rotate among all three to get the benefit of each one's special knowledge and teaching technique.  The participants that had attended Friday's session hooked up with Harlan first.  I consider myself lucky because that meant that we hit the trails first thing rather than covering more skills work in the field.  We headed out on a similar route that we had taken on Friday but this time had more time to 'session' the various sections of trail.  Again, we worked on employing the techniques that we had learned the previous day.  The rain began to fall shortly after we started but everyone was dressed properly and was carrying spare clothing.  Harlan went the extra mile again and we ran over our alotted time so were the last in line for lunch.  It was worth the delay because we learned much out on the trail.  After lunch we rotated through the remaining instructors and continued the training.  Sunday was dedicated to riding the singletrack in groups of varying distance and speed.

Rather than continue to go on and on about the details, I'll just say that this school was worth every penny paid and if you haven't had the opportunity to attend this school or another like it I highly encourage you to do so.  This instruction will have a much greater impact on your ability and enjoyment on the bike than any new set of wheels or other accoutrement that you think you need to go faster or better.  Some certainly agree with me because I met several people that have attended before, and some that have been to every edition.  Now it's just up to us to practice and employ the skills that we have learned.  I immediately wrote down all that I could remember so that I could review the information whenever I began a practice session.  The beauty is that practicing the basic fundamentals can be done in your back yard with a few makeshift obstacles.  

For those that want to heed my advice, Harlan Price does skills instruction through his TAKE AIM CYCLING.  For those intending to do the Pennsylvania State Championships, Harlan is also doing course specific instruction and the registration page is HERE.  For the women you will find Sue Haywood leading rides at the upcoming  DIRT FEST, and along with Cheryl Sornson the CANAAN MTB SCHOOL - LADIES WEEKEND.  Get out there and have a great spring!

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