By Celeste Cannon
Stop riding the struggle bus! Your guide to mountain bike clinics
You’ve been riding for a while and there’s a few things you would really like to work on. Maybe it’s figuring out how to tackle a switchback or conquer rock gardens. Maybe you want to shred some bike parks and learn to jump. Maybe you’re just tired of getting passed on technical sections during races. No matter what your interest, there is a clinic out there for you!
Mountain bike clinics are a fantastic way to take your riding to the next level. The coaches have been trained to see what mistakes you're making and offer solutions to help you fix them, unlike your friend or significant other who make unhelpful suggestions like “Stop using your brakes,” “Just go faster!” and over and over, “Look up!”
I first started riding in 2003 and racing in 2004. There were no mountain biking clinics at that time so I created quite a few bad habits that led to a lot of crashes and frustration. When I think back I’m amazed I kept riding. I have attended several clinics in the last four years, and I give those experiences credit for taking me from a bottom-half expert level cross country rider to Pro.
TYPES OF CLINICS
Which is the right clinic for you? It depends on what specifically you’re interested in learning and how much time and money you have to dedicate.
Half-day clinics tend to host a single group with a single instructor and will cover specific skills like general riding, down-hilling or jumping. They usually cover very broad techniques--some may be too easy or too difficult for you--as they usually try to cater to the “typical” rider. These are generally reasonably priced (sometimes free) and give a lot of good information, although maybe not as helpful as longer clinics.
Full day and weekend clinics or camps will usually break into specific groups based on skill level and number of participants. Often you will get a survey to get you into the right group with others with experience and interest. This is the ideal place to try to tackle some of those techniques you’ve been looking to improve like navigating switchbacks or rock gardens. They generally will have a low instructor to student ratio to give you lots of feedback and opportunities for drills. The larger clinics will have portable features like step-up boxes and drop-off ramps that will allow you to progressively improve your comfort level.
Although these camps and clinics are pricier than half-day clinics, you can definitely get the most one on one attention for your particular interest. Sessions are usually divided into morning and afternoon sessions which build on each other. A second day offers you a chance to learn more and nail those skillsnafter a good night’s rest!
GETTING THE MOST OUT OF CLINICS
First you’ll need to have a mountain bike (duh!). Make sure it is in good working order (have your favorite local bike shop check it out), and that it fits you well. Ideally you’ll have ridden it a few times. Some camps offer the option to rent or demo a bike, but there’s always a bit of time you’ll have to spend figuring out how that particular bike handles. If you’re wanting to work descending rough terrain or jumping then having a bike with good suspension is a must.
In addition to the bike you need to have the right equipment. A lot of clinics recommend using flat pedals to learn the skills properly (no cheating with clipless pedals) and you won’t be trying something scary while worrying about getting stuck in your pedals. Platform pedals should have traction pins and your shoes should have smooth soles. Do not bring the plastic ones from your old Huffy or you’ll just be sliding off! Knee pads, elbow pads and a full face helmet are often recommended and must-haves for downhill/jumping clinics. If you don’t have these try to borrow them or inquire about renting.
General skills clinics will have a lot of information for new mountain bikers, but you should have several single track rides under your belt, be able to shift effectively, and have the fitness to ride for a few hours. The learning curve for mountain biking is steep, so you’ll learn a lot on your own at first; then you’ll have a better idea of the areas you need help with.
Keep an open mind. If you’re a more advanced rider, you may find your initial clinic to be full of information you think you already know, like how to brake, body positioning, etc. Really listen to your instructor. They often have feedback or suggestions that may revolutionize your riding and solve a lot of your skills issues. We learn a lot on our own but sometimes we learn and repeat bad habits! Even the Pros bring it back to the basics time and time again.
If you are attending a clinic with different skill level groups and you think you’re in the wrong group then be sure to speak up. Remember, this is your time and money, so make sure you get the most out of it. At my first clinic, I thought we were covering too remedial skills and I mentioned this to my instructor. She assured me they were just going over the basics and there would be more advanced skills to come--she was definitely right! Fortunately I did pay attention while we were covering the basics and found them incredibly helpful for the more advanced skills. I’ve also attended a clinic where I felt I was in the wrong group, didn’t say anything and felt like I totally wasted my time. Clinic organizers spend a lot of time going over surveys trying to create the right groups, but riders’ assessments of their own skills are extremely variable so say something if you feel you need more or less of a challenge.
One important thing to ask--is the clinic at a location that will help with what you want to learn? If you’re mainly interested in learning to jump then ski resorts have the best features for learning. On the other hand, a place like Moab, while having opportunities to launch off big rocks, doesn’t necessarily have progressive features to help you learn. If you’re not sure, contact the clinic organizer before you register.
If you’ve never tried a clinic, you should definitely give it a go! Even if you only have the time or money for a half-day clinic, professional instructors have a wealth of knowledge and experience that can take your riding to the next level. Plus, you’ll have fun and meet new people who you may find yourself riding with later. If you have attended a skills clinic, then you already know how much they can improve your riding! Perhaps this is the year you sign up to rocket your skills even further.
Celeste Cannon is professional XC mountain bike racer who divides her time between training and working for the CSU Veterinary teaching hospital as an equine nurse. In 2017, she won the “40 in the Fort” and was the first women’s “Tooth or Consequences MTB Festival” winner. This year, she is riding for the Scheel’s Sugar Beets and looking forward to another amazing season.
Scheel’s Sugar Beets p/b Scrimshaw Tattoo is a new elite women’s race team with the goal of empowering women through riding and racing. The Sugar Beets will be hosting several rides and clinics this year, and will be attending the Trek Dirt Series in Fruita September 22-23 http://www.dirtseries.com/fruita. Come join us!
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