We head along to a mountain bike coaching day with multiple national champ and DH racer Katy Curd to regain some trail zen.
I’ve been riding the best mountain bikes for nearly 30 years but until recently I’d never had any form of coaching. However, after a six-month lay-off caused by a crash and the resultant knee injury, my confidence was shot and my riding was really suffering. A torn ACL and damaged meniscus was the result of coming up very short on a jump I should have steered well clear of, and once I’d been given the all clear to ride again by my knee surgeon, my brain just wouldn’t let me ride over obstacles and through technical sections that I wouldn’t even have noticed beforehand – the thought of damaging the knee again was always at the forefront of my mind.
The coach: Katy Curd
Katy knows a thing or two about technique, she’s a former 4X national champ, a pro downhill rider and now she runs Katy Curd Coaching in the Forest of Dean.
1. Back to basics
At the beginning of our session Katy took me to a gentle flowing section of trail with a few flat corners in order to assess my riding. It was clear that I was standing too tall and too stiff on the bike – I felt like the bike was in charge rather than me. Katy got me to bend my elbows and knees more to get lower on the bike in order to have more room to manoeuvre and time to react.
KATY SAYS: When we start coaching anyone, we always look at their riding as a whole; no matter what their end goal is, we need to make sure the rider is safe before moving on to anything technical. A rider’s position on the bike is crucial – if a rider is slightly off-centre, it makes it so much harder to achieve a controlled ride when things get faster and more technical. We get them to stay strong through the legs, maintain a central position and keep a bend through the arms to allow room for the bike to move. Focusing on the basics to start with makes for pretty rapid progress.
We then concentrated on hitting some tighter turns with roots and braking bumps. Katy noticed that as I was hitting the roots my weight was rocking backwards and my hips dropping behind the saddle as a safety mechanism. But this made my arms straighten out and the bike lost its ability to turn. By concentrating on keeping my weight over the stem and my arms bent, the bike was able to come to me rather than forcing me away, enabling me to maintain control and increase my speed.
KATY SAYS: Cornering is a huge part of everyone’s riding. Riding a corner fast can make the difference in really making a trail flow. There are so many ways to ride a corner depending on the steepness of the trail, the support available, the sharpness of the turn, meaning a rider needs to adapt to the trail and understand how to ride each corner to maintain the flow. We go through the basics of multiple ways of cornering so the rider understands why and how each skill we are asking them to do plays a part in finding grip or carrying speed around the turn. A big focus for our riders is always staying centred, this creates room for the bike to move and allows us to stay strong to push through our legs to find grip.
3. Steep turns and drops
Once I was consistently keeping By keeping low on the bike I also had low, we moved to a steeper trail of linked turns and worked again on body position, keeping centred over the bike. With my body low over the stem, I was able to steer the bike more precisely as well. The timidity in my riding was causing me to drag my brakes through the tighter turns so Katy put down some cones marking the points where I should be off the brakes. This meant more grip for the tyres to do the turning and less tension in the arms for more control. A few runs through the trail and I felt so much faster and was able to use these brakes-off periods to instigate a change of line that could otherwise cause a wash-out. Keeping low and staying off the brakes boosted cornering speed and control the movement in my arms to push the bike over lips and into compressions, meaning I could ride more aggressively and also with much more control.
KATY SAYS: Once the rider understands the different skills needed to carry speed and maintain control we then work with varying levels of technical turns, to not only test the rider but help them understand that it’s not just one skill that works for everything, we need different techniques for different corners. This helps them understand what techniques are needed and to read the trail to maintain the flow.
4. The reveal
Pushing up for another run, I realised I hadn’t thought about my knee once during our session. I’d been concentrating so hard on what Katy was teaching me. She was impressed I’d noticed but disappointed not to have been able to reveal the secret herself. By spending these few hours going back to basics and concentrating hard on riding properly I’d managed to break that thought process in my brain and ever since I’ve barely given the knee a second thought – I’m fixed!
KATY SAYS: Ben came to us with the biggest goal of gaining his confidence back. Unfortunately we don’t have a magic wand to do this but we can work with a rider to get them focusing in detail on what they need to be doing. This makes them focus so much it takes their mind away from being nervous or thinking about those ‘what if’ moments. And, with the right technique and position on the bike, this makes the rider feel so much safer – feeling the difference in the levels of grip and control, confidence is instilled just from a couple of simple little adjustments.