The Mountain Bike Life

Over the years I have entered into a million conversations about upgrading my bike, the best, cleverest, shiniest, prettiest, cheapest, most expensive and of course coolest upgrades you can make to your mountain bike. Of course part of the charm of mountain biking generally is the conversation, in fact I think that the chat is one of the most positive elements of following any sport and as such its always important to keep your bucket list of dream upgrades polished to a shine for just such occasions (and seriously who doesn’t need carbon rotors?). However as a biker keen on the act of actually riding bikes my real choice of upgrade is a little different.

Not the most obvious item of desire for the mountain biker, but a budget way to more speed, control and laughs?

Not the most obvious item of desire for the mountain biker, but a budget way to more speed, control and laughs?

Introducing the ‘CONES OF DOOM’…. I hear you ask if I have lost my already scarce marbles? To you I say, as ever, hear me out. I ride frequently with people who are fortunate to have the best that cycling technology can offer, I myself am fortunate to have access to equipment with far greater capabilities than I can muster, so the question of upgrades is interesting. I put a test to you. Stick your bike on a turbo trainer, cover your eyes (hence the turbo, if you are brave/daft enough to do the latter without the former then I think there are bigger issues to manage…..) and use a Shimano Deore gear shifter. Then use an XT or XTR shifter. What was the real difference (front and rear lever actuation aside)? Weight? Clicky-ness? Can you vary your personal weight by 100gsm a day? I suspect so. And remember we are talking upgrades to small sections of your bike. Small gains. Now I’m not against getting the best kit, I’m just suggesting bling may not be the first choice towards better boom.

I also ride with lots of people with perfectly suitable, if not brilliant kit who simply can’t use it. This makes them no less fun to ride with and no less wonderful as people. And to those I say don’t spend your next bike budget on widgets, spend it on a session with a proper instructor and guide. Even if you are experienced, a racer or regular trail warrior, a session with a fresh set of eyes has some great positives.

Rather than dash out to the local Velocipede emporium next pay day consider dropping some hard earned with a skills coach, or at least taking the time to get your regular riding group to critique your riding.

Rather than dash out to the local Velocipede emporium next pay day consider dropping some hard earned with a skills coach, or at least taking the time to get your regular riding group to critique your riding.

Learning how to interpret a line or make a transition on what you have will be both cheaper and potentially more fun than buying a bigger suspension fork to suck up the bumps for you. Learning better pedaling technique and gear shifting will help with your trail speed and distance handling. All of the above will get more out of you with less exertion than doing things the hard way so your existing fitness goes further. If you are already nailing the trail a second set of eyes on your riding can get you to push lines and speed even further just because someone is actually telling you to do so.

Let’s not forget the psychological turbocharger. Having someone watch you and tell you that you are doing something better, well and perfectly has a huge confidence element. As you hit the trails and start to identify transitions, lines to pump, drop-ins, berms, hips and other features you’ll be off to a great start looking for the entry and exit points, searching for the braking spots all because you’ve got professional statements on your expertise on just such obstacles.

Being told you can do it gives you a certain confidence when out on the trail, and if you've already got trail swagger being pushed harder and further and picking up on those bad habits can push you to the next level.

Being told you can do it gives you a certain confidence when out on the trail, and if you’ve already got trail swagger being pushed harder and further and picking up on those bad habits can push you to the next level.

So ‘Cones of Doom’? well they aren’t really doom related, but if you want to make something a bit more exciting add doom or death to the title. As a skills instructor a session with the plastic cones is both great fun and a top way of getting people moving around those bikes and really thinking about body position, brake control, line choice and general on bike confidence. In fact, even if you don’t do a session with an instructor a half hour of low-speed exercises is a giggle and a worthwhile focus for the mind.

Get the cones out and try some tight slaloms, make them tighter and tighter until you have a winner. Construct a tight twisty path with ‘pause point’s’ where a cheeky track stand is called for a selected count. Increase the count until another winner is revealed, if you’re getting beyond the humble track stand ban the use of brakes and then even selected hands….. How about working on the position of front to rear wheels? Lay out four cones (or any markers, rocks will work as well as cones although they tend to be a bit more of a full stop than a sports cone if you clip one) in a square and ride round them keeping the front wheel outside and the rear inside. Bring the square smaller and smaller until that winner is found. How about something really tough, bring back the slalom but the front wheel one side rear wheel the other……

The obligatory track stand count competition. Make it harder by banning brakes and then limbs!

The obligatory track stand count competition. Make it harder by banning brakes and then limbs!

As the winter weather comes in and the dark nights and bad weather trimming a ride short and retiring to the local pub becomes an option, cones are portable and the car park or garden make just as good of a play-ground as the trails. Ideally a landlord happy to have a bunch of sweaty bikers doing skills drills in his bar would be perfect but as yet none have stepped up to the proposition!

Look out for MBLA or MIAS certifications if you are looking for an instructor or guide there are plenty across the UK (and I’m sure around the world) so go get a bargain upgrade…

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