Keen to ace the A-line on the sculpted bumps of modern trails, Paul Ingpen headed to Stellies for a back-to-basics skills training session with Jo Dobinson of Biking in the Bosch.
When I rode the Cape Epic prologue route with Karl Platt in 2009, he gave our group a small piece of technical advice which, to my horror, helped my ride enormously.
I’ve ridden on Table Mountain since Karl was just a toddler! But despite 30 years on a
MTB, feeling like I’ve heard and seen it all, something subtle and simple made a real difference. Yes, I’m fit and fast enough, but I do want to know that I’m in control on my
bike and not just diving into descents hoping for the best (that’s an accident waiting to
happen). I discovered that we old dogs can learn new tricks – and unlearn old habits – to
improve our ride, descend faster and crash less – and it’s made me keep my eyes and ears open in the quest to gather new skills and pass them on to you, our valued readers.
Unlike in the old days, when jeep track ruled, modern trails are full of fun jumps, bumps, table tops and gap jumps – and skilled riders make these fun obstacles look so tame and tempting. Like many of you – who probably also battle to admit it – I too often dodge the big jumps and live to regret it when I see postrace pics of others ramping them. We lesser skilled riders either ashamedly skulk off to the soft B-line, or bravely learn the hard way on the tempting A-line – emerging as dust balls with roasties and, in worst-case scenarios, needing to take a trip to the doc with a broken clavicle. Getting airborne on a ramp is child’s
play – landing a bicycle, at speed, on a slippery or angular surface is not.
Not wanting to go to my grave wishing I’d learned to control a bike in my youth so I didn’t have to skip sculptured bumps at stage races and bike parks around the globe, I signed up for a skills session – like many pro riders have done in recent years. The effervescent Joanna Dobinson has taught more advanced riders than anyone. Jo has done her 10 000 hours and
has the ideal combination of insightful expertise, ability to lead by example, and excellent
communication skills. Her Biking in the Bosch business is based in Stellenbosch, the heart of SA MTBing, where Epic winners cruise the streets and some of the best trails in the world.
We spent the morning on the aptly named G-Spot searching for the missing key to MTB
happiness. We first tweaked my suspension, which helped to explain why I tend to feel crushed by momentum into corners. We then exaggerated some positions, with me riding in flats and not with cleats, to find my true centre balance point. We also rode trails together to find the ideal lines in and out of berms and corners, plus practised all important pre- and post-jump weighting and unweighting.
It fast became clear why pro riders like Ariane Lüthi have spent the time with Jo going back to basics and working on what can make the difference between a safe or unsafe, fast or slow riding experience...
My respect for the importance of skills training was only reaffirmed when I popped into the new Hellsend Bike Compound after my lesson and got chatting to another coach about coaching Pauline Ferrand-Prevot. Even the runaway 2020 XCO World Champ had acknowledged that she’d often headed into steep technical sections not truly in control of her bike.
Some tweaks to her fork rebound made all the difference...
I have just one caveat as I now sit nursing a cracked hip – don’t assume you’ve suddenly become Greg Minnaar when you’re back on the trails and attack a large gap jump blind. Scope the trail, ride it a few.times, perhaps tweak tyre and fork pressures, and then slowly boost it harder each time as you gain confidence in your landing skills.
JO SAYS: The first thing we did is fit flat pedals in the car park. I wanted you to feel the effects of a heel drop with flats. Flats naturally get you to drop your heels, whereas cleats don’t. Flats improve your cornering technique due to having a lovely large surface area, so you can really lean your bike and lay it low. They also enable you to learn the proper American-style bunny hop technique which is crucial for the correct jumping technique.
Cleats cause you to pull up when jumping which is incorrect. It’s really good to go into proper flats and learn the correct technique, then go into cleats like we did, with the correct technique instilled. It’s also important to note that plastic pedals and cheap metal pedals
don’t work – you slip off them!
Getting the attack position right is crucial for confidence on the bike when descending.
JO SAYS: Weight the front wheel! Get traction onto the front wheel by hinging forward from the hips and get your elbows out for stability and soft knees. Look how your weight is centred down the middle of the bike.
A centred bike is a stable bike!
You will feel how much more confidence you have when riding over trail features like rock gardens and A-frame bridges when your weight is centred and you are in the correct attack position! Remember: Heels dropped, elbows out, soft knees.
HIGH SPEED FLAT TURNS
Correct cornering technique is crucial for building confidence on the bike. Turn the bike by turning your hips. If you turn from your handlebar too quickly, it can cause you to over steer and fall. Practice shifting your weight to the outside of your bike and softening your knee to lower the centre of gravity. It all starts with the heel drop!
THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT:
• Outside leg at six-o-clock.
• Outside heel dropped, which pushes the bike into the ground.
• Outside leg is soft to lower the centre of gravity and absorb
• Outside elbow is up so you can push the bike down with
outside arm to lean the bike into turn and turn sharper.
• Inside arm straight with soft elbow.
• Look to exit when halfway through the turn.
• Point both knees into the turn.
• Shine light out of your chest to where you want to go.
• Brake before the turn and accelerate out of it.
• You will find you prefer turning one way over the other.
Practice your worse side more to even out your cornering!
Jumping is not about pulling up on the handlebars or cleats! In fact, you do the opposite, by
loading the bike and pushing your feet into the pedals, which loads the suspension and that pushes you upwards. It’s called boosting. The harder you boost at the feet, the higher you go! Here’s where flat shoes and pedals really help. Learn to jump on flat pedals and in flat shoes and then transfer the correct technique to cycling shoes and cleats. You need to be able to do an American-style bunny hop in order to jump correctly.
• Approach in a centred attack position. Load the pedals and push the bike into the ground at your feet – in other words, boost.
• Flick your heels from threeo-clock to six-o-clock and manual by throwing the bike away from you from your feet. Keep straight legs and arms. Your body straightens up in the air and is centred over the bike.
• Spot your landing and land your front wheel down a split second before your back wheel by throwing your hands forward to tap the nose down first.
• Land centred and not with your body weight on your back tyre.
JO SAYS: When learning to jump, it is good practice to land with both wheels at the same time. This is safer but it can be a hard landing, so absorb the impact by landing with soft
elbows and soft knees. If the soil is really loose in the landing, then I’d also recommend that
you land with both wheels at the same time.
SHE ADDS: As you improve, it is better to land your front wheel down just before the back so
that you can match the landing of the jump with the wheels. This makes for smoother jumping – just be sure to keep your front wheel straight.