Saturday I took off from work to go adventure up in Mt. Tamarancho near Fairfax CA and did the Beginner/Intermediate Bikeskills class from Bikeskills.com.
I will flat out say it was the most useful $$$ ever spent on a class at learning an outdoor activity, and looking back I've done a few. The class is $89 bucks. The free loot at the start is alone worth a good 20-30. Any other part of the class makes it most worth while, also. OH and I really lucked out, there was only 1 other guy in class with me. And we had their videographer helping along with the company boss sometimes also.
The instructor up here is Chris Duncan a championship dirt jumper whose been getting crash courses from Mark Weir and others in all mountain riding lately. He started out with checking our setup on our bikes. For me he recommended that I change over to regular platform pedals. And boy was he right. My old pedals were combos and would have been super annoying, just handling clipping on the trails is moderately insane, and I caught myself from falls numerous times with a quick foot placement. Next he moved my grips and controls in on my bar a few inches for better gripping I think it was. Or maybe just to get around my upper bars for long riding. Next he set our tires to 30 front 35 back and said we could even go 30/40 if we desired later but the lower front helps it bite more. A few other adjustments and we were off.
A coworker or two from bikeskills showed up in the beginning to help us along a bit also. We started out with a demo of how to ride switch backs at the beginning of Alchemist Trail. On i think my third try I got a good run thru it and up the hill. A few more on and we stopped to check out a pretty hairy on with a decent drop, and we road it and picked it up on our 2nd/3rd try. Chris empasized arm angle while riding, line choice and vision and looking ahead and not down during all phases of riding but especially with switchbacks. The looking ahead and not down was very challenging. I've gotta work more on that in the next week if I can.
At the top of alchemist trial they've set up a mini-log trail and chris walked us through exploring how to "approach/handle" one of those and what to watch out for on those surfaces. We then continued climbing with a mix of terrain through some interesting stuff till we hit the first flat. Here we did some skill building demo stuff. It started with 1/4 crack switchback/turn drill where you constantly crank small amounts while tring to maintain as tight as possible figure 8's around a pair of rocks. sweeping out wide and cutting back in hard just like with switchbacks. this worked both on switchback handling and short cranking which is VERY useful in tight corners I made use of it in several narrow spots sucessfully later. The 2nd drill was weight changing so as to eventually pop your wheel/push-pull the bike basically used to build momentum while riding to avoid pedalling. Also it can be used as part of an ejection sequence to get cleanly off the back of the bike. We had a contest to get off cleanly, meaning no pedal movemnet and both of us did the 5. That got us some more super sweet loot to be listed at the end.
After Chris showed off the ultimate use of this to do real hop's jumps by jumping a guys bike we started a cool section into the serpantine trail. This was a curving mix of many different terrains. It had a bit of everything but mainly was a nice rolling trail (hahaha). I honestly don't remeber doing much except trying to work on looking ahead and watching my grip/braking setup. In fact much of the ride till near the end was like this when we started descending B-17 and Broken Dam trail the tightness of the trees and some of the switch backs were tough. By the final climbs I was pretty played out and had a small pull of a quad and had to walk the bike a bit. I finished the final climbs and only ate on the last and hardest switchback of the final climb. The descent back down serpantine was a breeze and I only recall footing 1 or 2 times.
Chris lead us expertly and was willing to answer any and all questions and gave examples of when things could go good or bad and when to use different skills. He encouraged us when necessary and kept the challenge right at our skill and endurance level.
And the loot? 1 Set of WTB Grips, Waterbottle, CO2 Tire Inflator, Misc Bars, Cliff Shot Block's (Which are awesome!), and the biggie was a WeirWolf LT in 2.55. Almost 80-90 in freebies. NOt bad I must say. If your at all interested in mountain biking, go take one of these classes, you will love the ride, learn tons and have a blast.