Going nowhere

Yesterday I led a mountain bike trip for a group of young people. I used to do this back in the UK. The big difference: the distinct lack of mountains in the south of England. Here we were up at around 1000m, or 3300ft, depending how you like to measure your elevation above sea level. However the basics were the same. Giving hire bikes the once over, making sure seat heights were appropriate and that sensible gears had been selected.

Like the in the UK, the aim is to ensure everyone in the group feels they have been challenged, but not freaked out, by the ride. Some of this is achieved by allowing people to ride certain sections at their own pace before regrouping, another part is in setting challenges that focus people to think about elements of their riding. One of my favourites for this the slow race. You set a short, straight course – about half a dozen bike lengths – and race head-to-head. The last person over the line wins.

I was never a rider who enjoyed flying down hills at high speeds. Maybe one too many trips over the handlebars dampened my enthusiasm. I used to enjoy powering up hills but these days I get the most pleasure from going nowhere. Years of commuting by bike and obeying traffic lights have given me impressive track-standing skills – even if I say so myself. A track stand, to the non-cyclist, is stopping the bike while keeping balanced with both feet on the pedals. This is where the slow race comes in.

While all the young people tried their best to ride slowly I would role forward a couple of bike's lengths, turn the handlebars slightly uphill and stop. They'd draw level and seeing what I was doing try their best to imitate it. For some this meant feet falling off pedals almost instantly, a few managed to balance for a couple of seconds and one seemed like they would really get it with a bit more practise. With the ride safely concluded, everyone went home having done more than they thought they could, which goes to show that, just sometimes, going nowhere can get you somewhere.


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