The last in my biking series (for now) is with Colin Down from Flattyres-MTB- a MTB Guide and Skills Trainer (just what I need!) As I said in the beginning of this series, it was designed to motivate me back on to my bike and help you to get back into it too. I’m glad to say whilst on holiday I clocked up 22 miles on a road bike…. It’s a start right?!
Chelsea: Hey Colin! Tell me all about you.
Colin: I’m based in Mold close to the Clwydian Range. I got into mountain biking in 2000 in my late 20’s. At the time I smoked, went to the pub on weekends and didn’t exercise. I had an epiphany one day after again playing on my Playstation, wondering where I would be in the next ten years if I continued the same way. I tried the gym and other sports but it all seemed like so much hard work. Then I went on a friend’s stag do in the Peak District. After a night of beer and curry, the next day’s activity was mountain biking. It was lashing it down and blowing a gale but I returned from the ride with a huge grin on my face. 17 years later I still get the same feeling from the sport.
I enjoy it because of the buzz I get. My No1 love is throwing myself fast downhill and the adrenaline kick it gives me but I also love cleaning a tricky and/or long climb. Then there is the fact of just being out in the country with the stunning views, clean air, and silence. All my worries left behind, just being in the present. Yes, I love the rocks flying past on a fast descent but on the flip side I regularly stop and look at the view and listen to a skylark or burbling stream. Or even better, to those elusive moments when there is complete silence, no wind, planes, birds or people.
Chelsea: It really is true about how when you truly enjoy something, it doesn’t feel an effort. Good for you! If you had to choose between road cycling and mountain biking which one and why?
Colin: MTB wins hands down. It’s so much more fun and you have to contend with fewer cars. But I do agree with a slogan I saw on a t-shirt, ‘A mountain biker that doesn’t road ride has no legs, a road rider that doesn’t mountain bike has no soul’. Fortunately, I commute by bike to work, so I don’t have to cut into my mountain biking time to keep my legs in shape. 😉
Chelsea: I’m adamant that I like MTB much more but a recent road cycle stint made me entertain the idea of road riding more… I like that slogan! What are your tips on choosing your first mountain bike?
Colin: The first tip would be, don’t believe the hype. It’s so easy to get sucked into the marketing that tells you to buy the newest, shiniest, most expensive. Do your research. There are plenty of online resources and magazines that run best entry level/budget bikes. Read as much as you can to get a good feel for what’s out there. There is also lots of advice out there about £1000 bikes that are the usual top end of the ‘Ride to Work’ scheme.
Also, ask yourself why are you thinking of buying a mountain bike? What sort of riding do you want to do? Cross country, downhill, jumps, trails. Try and work out what you want to do and buy the appropriate bike. If you don’t have a clue buy a trail bike and see what type of riding you prefer.
Try and buy a light bike. Yes, the marketing (and some shops) will try to sell you a 160mm travel mountain slayer of a bike but you will probably go nowhere near the terrain that bikes is intended for. Your legs and lungs will thank you for buying a much lighter 120mm hardtail. You will also get more for your money with a hardtail. Leave the expensive full-sus for when you find you ‘Really’ like mountain biking.
My most basic advice I give people about buying their first proper mountain bike is to go for an aluminum frame, as much Shimano/SRAM on the gears and brakes as possible and a fork with rebound damping adjustment
Chelsea: My bike is STILL in need of so much repair and guilty as charged I’m the one that gets hooked in by the shiny ones… For those just getting onto a bike for the first time what’s your advice?
Colin: Look Up and Look Where You Are Going! That is my most frequently used phrase when I am skills training. Many people ride staring down just in front of their front wheel, afraid of what it might hit, but this gives you very little time to react to any obstacles. Look up and ahead to see obstacles well in advance so you can plan a good safe route around them. Then look at that safe route, as you go where you look. That is shown very easily in the opposite way when you panic and stare at the tree you don’t want to hit. Then you just can seem to avoid it.
Also take your time. There is a lot more to riding off road than on the road. Start off on the easy trails at a mountain bike centre. When you are comfortable with that progress to the next one up in difficulty. Just because you can already ride a bike doesn’t mean it’s wise to head off down the red route for your first venture off road.
We are a friendly bunch so check out Facebook and forums on Singletrack and Bikeradar for local riders of a similar level to enjoy the social side of mountain biking.
Chelsea: I love the mountain biking centers especially Llandegla and Coed Y Brenin. For those getting back onto a bike after a long time, what’s your advice?
Colin: It’s pretty much the same advice as for beginners.
Look Up and Look Where You Are Going! I say this frequently to experienced riders who come on my skills training.
Also, take your time. Bikes and trails have evolved a lot, even in the last 5 years, so best have a bit of time for acclimatisation before throwing it downhill at 100% (PS make a brew and sit down before trying to get your head around what has happened to wheel and tyre sizes).
Ditto for Facebook and Forums to find riding buddies (or come on one of my free guided rides).
Chelsea: I used to be so caught up with how slow I was until I had a nasty fall whilst trying to go faster than I could go handle, and now I couldn’t give two hoots if I’m the slowest that’s ever ridden! 😉 Any bike maintenance tips?
Colin: Even if I am tired after a night ride and have just left my dirty bike in the shed, then find it still dirty next time I go for a ride, I will at a minimum clean everything that moves. This includes all the sprockets and gears, the chain and the sliders/seals of the suspension. But it’s even nicer to clean your bike after every ride, which I try to do after every ride. Your bike and bank balance will thank you.
Check your tyre pressures. There’s nothing worse than finding out your tyre pressure is too low by puncturing on the first descent. But also make sure you know how to repair a puncture before you go out.
If you are not mechanically minded get it serviced by someone who knows how to, once a year at least or when it doesn’t work properly. If you are mechanically minded Google and YouTube are great resources for finding out how to fix/service stuff.
Do not forget to get your suspension properly serviced, as I have found to my cost on a couple of occasions. It may seem a little expensive, but it’s much cheaper than having to replace your fork every few years.
Chelsea: I’m quite proud that I know how to change a puncture but no punctures are ever the same and the ones where you’ve to soak the tyre in water to find them, are really annoying! Tell me about a ride you’ve done and loved?
Colin: The trails I would like to ride again are in the Alps. I I’ve only been there once, in 2006, and loved it, with the long rocky descents and lifts that mean you can descend in a day what is only possible in a month over here. But then marriage and children came along and the opportunity hasn’t come presented itself since. My girls are just being introduced to mountain biking though, so I’m hoping we can go back as a family in the next few years.
Chelsea: What an awesome experience for you all – you never know, they may one day take over the business! Do you have any WOW moments that stand out whilst biking – tell me about it?
Colin: Over the years I’ve had so many wow moments. It tends to be the technical rides that stand out, as testing my descending ability is something I love doing. I did a ride last year in the Lake District, a 16-mile ride that included Rossett Pike. The climbs were steep and long with lots of carrying the bikes on our backs and the descents were just relentless. They were steep, rocky and very technical, which pushed my skills and fitness to the limit. It took us 6 hours to complete those 16 miles. I will remember them for a long time. I will also remember the pints we drank in the summer sun directly after, with feelings of satisfaction and exhaustion, before returning to the campsite.
I’ve just had another type of wow moment. I become bored riding the same trails all the time, which is what drove me to find all the trails I’ve published on my website. I still have the need to find new trails and it’s even better if they are good ones. Last Sunday I went to the Peak District to ride somewhere I’d never had the chance to before. The wow moment came when riding the Devil’s Elbow in Blacka Moor Nature Reserve. The descent was fantastic and such fun. I reached the bottom with such a big grin on my face. Riding a great trail for the first time is always one of the experiences at the top of my list.
But it’s not only the riding that makes me go wow. The landscape I ride through can do it too. I remember being on top of the Clwydian Range with an inversion on both sides. It was just me alone on a ridge of hills, floating in a sea of clouds with clear blue sky above and an island that was Snowdonia on my left. Also I can vividly remember the three occasions that I have experienced silence, near the top of the big Black Route climb at Glentress, halfway up the Braich climb on the way to Pont Scethin and 2/3rds of the way up the Wayfarer climb in the Berwyns. I just stopped and enjoyed the silence and also the strangeness of it. It’s not often you can’t even hear a bird, or sheep or the wind. Special times ☺
And for the technical riding plus visual spectacle, this was very wow: https://youtu.be/JD_8rjAUsK4
Chelsea: They certainly are WOW moments…. Do you have any recommended reading for those wanting to get into biking more?
Colin: If you are just starting out in mountain biking the usual magazines are a good start. MBR, MBUK, Singletrack have details on bikes, kit, rides, maintenance, etc. Reading them for a few years will help you build knowledge. Other than that I haven’t really read much MTB specific stuff. For bike maintenance I picked up stuff from other people and in magazines, but as an engineer has worked things out for myself. But the biggest help I have found recently with fixing bikes is YouTube. There are so many maintenance videos on there it’s a fantastic resource. Not only that there are skills training videos too. Obviously for somewhere to ride there is my website.
Chelsea: Talking of your website and your profession, Do you coach more men to women or is it equal and if not why do you think that is?
Colin: I have coached a pretty much even split of men and women. As there are less women who mountain bike this seems to suggest that women are more likely to come to a skills training course? However, my sample size doesn’t run into the 1000’s, so I’m not sure how accurate that conclusion would be 😉 Could it be the man thing about not needing to read the instruction manual first?
Whatever the reason I think more people should be doing skills training and not just for the positive financial implications for me. My training courses cost the same as a good pair of tyres but they will improve your riding and, more importantly, your enjoyment of riding so much more. Being taught to ride correctly will save you blundering about trying to improve your skills through trial and error. It hurts a lot less too, as I know from experience as can be seen from all the scars on my knees. Being more skilled will give you confidence and will expand your horizons in ways new bits of bike bling can never do.
Thank you for joining me on my biking series, I’d love to know which has been your favourite post. In the meantime, go and check out Colin on the links below: