I rush home to beat the setting sun for my first ride of the season. I choose an easy ride accessible from the quiet parking lot of Tahoe Cross Country outside Tahoe City. I ride past the water tank behind the high school and turn onto Old County Road. There is plenty of snow still on the trail as small streams trickle down miniature crevasses; rocks and pinecones make the going tricky. I make a sharp right turn and start a single-track descent dropping my saddle without hesitation.
Whether you have been riding for 30 years, consider yourself an advanced or expert rider, or are looking for some pointers to
up your game, there is
always room for improvement.
I have ridden this particular section multiple times and think I know every rock garden and obstacle; however, within the first 50 yards, a new obstruction appears in my path: a fallen Jeffrey pine. Looking ahead for my passage, I veer off trail and keep riding over a thick carpet of pine needles and re-enter the trail not far below. A few sweeping broad turns through a sprouting field of Mule’s ears, bring me to my nemesis, the rock garden that has taken me down more than once.
I slow my speed, drop my heels to ratchet the pedals, relax and let the bike contour and move over the obstacles. My limbs absorb the shock — extending and flexing to maintain contact and balance. “I want to ride there,” I say to myself and I do so without putting my foot down or falling. This is a first. I high five myself in my mind proud of my accomplishment.
Mountain biking hasn’t always been this effortless (or fun) for me. Over my 30-plus years in the saddle, I have undoubtedly picked up some bad habits, frequently muscling through and over obstacles, scraping, injuring and bruising myself and my ego along the way. That is until I signed up for a mountain-bike skills clinic with A Singletrack Mind.
A Singletrack Mind was started in 2014 by Dylan Renn and is the culmination of his life experiences on and off a bike. Like many of us, Renn’s love affair with cycling started on a Christmas morning when he awoke to a shiny new bike under the Christmas tree. He started mountain biking because, he says, he grew up at the end of a long dirt road.
In 1998, Renn began racing downhill at the expert level and over the next 10 years advanced to semi-pro and pro. Dissatisfied with the racing community, he decided to take a clinic in 2008 with the idea that he could figure out how to coach. As a pro downhiller, he already knew how to ride a bike, he just needed to learn how to teach someone how to ride a bike. However, Renn was awestruck by how little he knew about how to ride. What he had been doing throughout his racing career had worked for him, but it wasn’t necessarily right — he had some bad habits.
Renn realized then that to be a coach was not about being a professional rider, but about being a professional instructor. Working for the very company in which he took his first clinic, he learned what it took and meant to be a professional instructor while sharpening and defining his coaching skills.
At a Women’s Skills Clinic last fall, I was joined by four women who were avid mountain bikers. Still, Renn advised us to “approach the clinic with a beginner’s mind.” On his business card is a quote from Jedi Master Yoda: “No, no different, only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned.”
After Renn assessed each of our riding capabilities, experience and bike set ups, we unlearned and learned and relearned our skills — body position, bike body separation, balance, slow speed and balance, braking, slow speed corners, switchbacks, vision, wheel lifts and more. For hours at the Prosser staging area in Truckee we practiced our drills and honed our skills until late in the day. Then we set out on the Emigrant Trail exhausted but excited to put our newly learned techniques to practice.
Whether you have been riding for 30 years, consider yourself an advanced or expert rider, or are looking for some pointers to up your game, there is always room for improvement. The one-day skills clinic with A Singletrack Mind proved to me that riding doesn’t have to be about beating myself up or beating up the trail. It’s about finesse and a fundamental skill set. As Renn puts it, “Know thy bike.”