By: Kristen Lake ::

This weekend was another great installment with San Diego Mountain Bike Skills clinics where I’ve been helping out, coaching. While I’m enjoying a transitional period in my life, it seems I have finally got to the part where I get to give back to the sport that’s given me so much. And I love every second of it!

Saturday morning was especially exciting because it was our first go at the new venue, Lake Hodges. It’s also the home of the Quick ‘n Dirty races, so hopefully our fresh batch of “ninjas” will take their new-found confidence to this amazing local series. USAC Cycling Coach Richard La China (who is also an IMBA certified skills instructor — one of the first in the U.S.) is our fearless leader. His courses are well organized and designed to help participants progress to their next level, no matter what level they arrived at.

We covered basic/intermediate skills like cornering (both high-speed and switchbacks), proper positioning, drops, technical descents and of course everyone’s favourite, climbing. It’s such an awesome feeling watching a rider who started the day saying “I can’t do it,” rip around a tight switchback, rail a corner, or take on a gnarly drop safely and successfully.

So amazing in fact, I decided on Sunday I would switch from assistant coach to participant for our advanced Flow and Efficiency clinic. Figured if I’m going to tackle those B.C. Bike Race singletracks, I’d better make sure I’ve got my “tool-box” packed to overflowing. And the sooner the better.

As mountain bikers, we are notoriously susceptible to throwing out the homework and enjoying the ride (I know … it’s irresistible) rather than stopping to practice, practice and practice some more. We fail to lock down our most basic skills because it’s “the easy stuff”, or there’s that [insert more interesting trail feature here] we want to level-up on. But everyone knows you can’t build up your skills unless you’ve got a strong foundation. In racing especially, there are so many seconds — minutes, even — to be won not by riding more base miles, but by spending time riding around orange cones in tighter and tighter configurations at the soccer pitch near your house.

Let’s compare beginning on a mountain bike to beginning on a snowboard. As Coach Richard explains, at your first snowboard lesson, you start with the very basics. How to strap in, how to stop, how to turn. You slowly move up to linking turns together. And so on. There are SO MANY skills in mountain biking but we gloss over them and spend our time working on fitness, hoping the rest just falls into place.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just speaking for myself and my lackadaisical past. But if you find yourself nodding along, check out San Diego Mountain Bike Skills and I promise, you’ll be riding like a ninja in no time — even if you already consider yourself to have a black belt.

Originally published on August 19, 2013

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