Mountain Bike Myth #1
Mountain biking is a kids sport
Mountain Bike Myth #2
Seasoned mountain bikers and especially pros don’t need skills sessions
Introducing husband and wife team Norm and Jess Douglas, our mountain biking myth-busters!
As far as Norm goes, the bike has pretty much been an extension of his body since he was a kid – he’s just always ridden, either as an elite junior or racing road, track or MTB as an adult. Jess on the other hand developed her creative spirit around the early 30s. Although she was fit as a fiddle, she realised it was skill development that would give her the edge. She was right on the money – Jess now has three 24-hour World Solo MTB Championship titles under her belt.
Before you smash a race, you need to nail the technique
So for Jess to evolve from a super tidy MTBer into a multi World Champion was a lot of work – for her and for Norm. For six highly concentrated months the two would hit the trails, with Norm almost re-teaching Jess the skills she needed to go from good to outstanding. This was an interesting process for the two – Norm realised that Jess needed to know the ins and outs of a skill and understand it completely in her head before her body would execute. It wasn’t a clear-cut case of Norm performing a skill, Jess watching and then repeating.
Suddenly Norm had to understand how to articulate what just came so naturally and what didn’t normally need words – he had to break it down and explain. Norm soon found himself developing talking notes around each skill, and Jess soon found herself nailing them.
Mountain bike-loving mates caught wind of what was happening and it wasn’t long before many invited themselves along for a session as well. It got Jess and Norm thinking – there was a genuine desire for this; people just needed to realise they wanted it!
The couple (they’ve been married for 22 years) was living in Geelong at the time and decided to run a test pilot – at least 40 keen bikers showed up. Jess and Norm knew they were onto something.
MTB Skills the business was formed.
Not afraid to wipe the slate clean
Five years in (and now located in Forrest, inland from Wye River on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road where the business is operated out of The Corner Store) and hundreds of students later, and the two hit a road block.
They were hosting classes that would see riders of varying skill levels, and it was difficult for instructors to be everything to everyone at the same time. It was about then that Adam Kelsall arrived on the scene. An avid mountain biker and a professional teacher, Adam worked with Norm to completely re-work the class curriculum and teaching methods. Through their work the two developed the VPMT (Vision-Position-Momentum- Technique) model, which has greatly informed all their teaching since (in fact, Adam’s now MTB Skills’ Training Development Officer).
They also used the opportunity to develop training guides for the actual trainers (both those joining MTB Skills, and those who wanted to become independent training coaches). The move has seen the business go from strength to strength, and 25 instructors now operate not only in Victoria but across South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and Singapore.
Norm and Jess have been adamant the whole way through that their instructors maintain individual character whilst adopting the MTB Skills way of teaching. It’s been a master stroke and has enabled the business to provide an awesome cross-section of instructor personalities (one teacher to five/six riders) and strengths all backed by a more objective course guideline.
And the bikes?
Thanks to Jess’s sponsor Giant, depending on which class they go to students get to hone their skills on the latest model 27.5 Giant Reign, Stance, Glory, Trance, or they just bring along their own bike.
Upskilling the Serious MTBer
When it comes to making a great MTBer even better, you can’t go past Road Championship winner Ruth Corset, who came to Norm earlier this year to fine-tune some of her skills. Within 15 minutes of them riding Norm had identified areas of technical improvement. Ruth has credited that session with improving her descending by as much as 10% - a colossal figure in the world of competitive sports.
But it’s not just the pros.
Norm refers to a recent trip he and Jess took to the snow mountains. Once upon a time they’d each been fairy handy on a set of skis, but that was ten years ago. They decided to start their trip up the mountains with a private lesson – a super move that Norm reckons re-honed more skills and abilities in one two-hour class than a solo stint over two weeks could have done. They see MTB Skills as offering to MTBers the same kind of results they got as ‘renaissance’ skiers. Norm says it best:
“We just want to see more bums on bikes. If someone comes to us after a 30-year MTB sabbatical, we want to give them a good experience that will reignite the passion. We want them to leave with basic skills and abilities that will serve them every time they’re out on a trail. We want them to love MTBing and to stay on board, and they’re more likely to do that if they know how to ride properly,” he said.
3 Top MTB Tips from MTB Skills
1/ Look up Or as Rowan Lamont MTB Skills’ Brisbane Area Manager says, "chin up". This is without doubt the single biggest thing any rider can do in order to improve their riding.
2/ Get off your bum! When gravity is on your side, stand up on your pedals to allow the bike the freedom to move beneath you.
3/ Do a skills course Regardless of your level or experience, every rider can benefit by having an experienced instructor watch them ride and then provide them feedback and correction.