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Team Rides

THE JOLLY BOYS OUTING, PART 1

By Team Rides

Like a bunch of school kids packed into the school bus heading away on a school trip, away from their parents for the first time, nervously excited of what the next two days would bring. That’s how the male contingent of the Canterbury Bike Project team felt as they crossed the Severn bridge into Wales on route to an intensive two day training session with Windy of WyeMTB who would be preparing us for our British Cycling Ride Leadership Level 2 award.

To be able to engage more of the local community and support individuals in their riding development we as a team want to take small groups out on organised local rides. To do this professionally, safely, and with all the necessary insurances and approvals we needed to complete training, and assessment in line with British Cycling Ride Leadership courses. The Level 2 course gives any ride leader the skills to safely take a team of up to 8 riders out on a planned off-road semi remote route. That means MTB fun to you and I.

Arriving late at our hotel, we all couldn’t sleep with excitement so kept the bar tender company until he closed the bar.  The following morning a healthy breakfast was had knowing we had quite a few miles of riding ahead of us.

With the nerves rising, we met Windy – nothing to do with the beer or the breakfast, but Dave Windebank from WyeMTB. Top bloke! We were soon chatting about bikes (obviously) and sharing war stories.  The morning consisted of a classroom session, cementing the feeling that we were kids back at school withnervous excitement.  The British Cycling Ride Leadership Award enables those qualified to lead rides in more remote environments and over longer and more challenging terrain. The award qualifies leaders to deliver guided bike rides safely for groups of intermediate and advanced level adults. Throughout the morning we covered topics such as planning and delivery of rides, leading techniques for effective group management, map reading and navigation, management of accidents and emergencies, equipment set-up, trailside repairs and core mountain bike techniques, decision making and advanced risk management.

Then there was the ‘practical’ element, which included a timed ‘test’ to see how quickly we could remove a wheel, remove the inner tube, swing it around our heads, and then re-assemble.  With Steve doing this activity many times daily at the bike project (replacing inner tubes, not swinging them round his head) he won, obviously.

After a spot of lunch, and yet more stories of the biking kind, and appreciation for the mechanical offerings to the biking gods that we had brought along for the weekend (our bikes…), we headed out for a ‘quick’ afternoon ride. To be fair to Windy it was a relatively short ride for the afternoon, but he threw some crazy climbs at us.  I for one had to dig deep, get into my zone, and pound away to keep the momentum up – mainly as my bike was not geared for such climbs.  Then there was the ‘baby skulls’ climb – large, wet, slippery cobbles on a climb that would have been a challenge with out them. Only the instructor, Windy, made the climb. Just a bit of showing us who’s boss I think…

With day one over, we were set some homework. To plan the route and guidance notes for the following day, where we would take it in turn to lead a section of the ride.  Luckily for us the bar was warm and inviting. A couple beers in and the mind was lubricated well enough to quickly get the route planned.

The following morning we woke, had breakfast, and headed to the meeting point for day 2 of our training.  Let’s revisit breakfast for a second.  The team decided to run a small fuelling experiment. Two of us went for the full-english fry up, whilst the other two of us took the continental (read healthy) route. The fry up was huge!! Two of everything. Certainly a lot of calories were piled in. The continental, complete with porridge, orange juice, and yoghurt was light on the stomach, but were there enough calories to carry us through the day?

At the meeting point, we kitted up, readied the bikes and headed out on our longer ride of the weekend. This time The Canterbury Bike Project team were in control… mostly.  We took it in turns to lead the team through the Wye Valley along the route we had planned the previous night.  Surprisingly, all went well. We had opted not to use electronic GPS guidance and to rely on the lessons from the day before, and a good old fashioned paper map (although the paper was the special water proof kind).  Now, to give a little detail here, there is a number of procedures, and checklists that need a British Cycling ride leader needs to go through (albeit somewhat informal) before leading a group out on the ride. Then on the road, a continuous adaptive risk assessment is carried out by the ride leader to ensure the group is safe, the route remains suitable, and the return time remains achievable. Part of the planning of a route requires alternative routes to be planned in case the ride distance needs to be changed to suit the group. So to say all went well means everyone successfully led their section of the route and took on the guidance from Windy on how to improve the experience for our future customers. A good day, a good ride in awesome surroundings, and a good experience with Windy from WyeMtb.

In the van on the way back to Canterbury we were all a little drained from the long weekend, but we also excited and motivated to complete our training, which was to include a number of planned and led rides over the coming months, complete with planning and risk assessment evidenced in our logbook on which we were to be assessed.  We were so motivated that we managed to squeeze a quick stop at the pub when back in Canterbury, just so we could continue planning the dates and rides that we needed to complete…

A huge thank you and a mighty recommendation to the team at WyeMtb for taking us through the British Cycling Ride Leadership course.  Established in 2010 by two passionate mountain bikers, WyeMtb’s objectives are to educate, encourage, and enhance Mountain Bike participation in and around the Wye Valley, Forest of Deam, and South Wales, by offering expert mountain bike coaching and guided rides. They run some great courses in an enviable location. Definitely look them up…

So that was the training. What about the assessment? Keep an eye out for Part 2 coming soon where The Canterbury Bike Project team tackle examination day!

AN ISLAND ADVENTURE

By Team Rides

All the best adventures start with a sea passage. Granted these passages are usually more arduous than the Lymington to Yarmouth ferry on a crisp, bright Saturday morning in mid-January but this was our voyage and our adventure and we were brimming with excitement.

The assembled team of The Canterbury Bike Project were setting off on another of our training rides ahead of completing our British Cycling MTB Leadership Award in March. We each needed to submit a log-book of 11 two-hour and 4 four-hour rides in advance of assessment so it’s been a chance for us to spend time together and explore rides that we’ve had on our to-do lists for a while. For me, it was an opportunity to explore my childhood playground and so I spent many happy hours plotting a route that took us to some of my favourite bits and gave a real flavour of the West end of the Island.

Will, Matt, Steve, Mike and me – The Canterbury Bike Project Team

Known as one of the most expensive stretches of water in the world, we abandoned the van in the car park and embarked by foot on to the ferry and stowed the bikes before going up to the lounge to drink coffee and discuss Steve’s new adventure-bike frame that he planed to collect from The Woods Cyclery in Lyndhurst on the way home. That frame collection became a regular refrain throughout the ride and I swear it got Steve up more than one steep hill!

Plot the route digitally. Upload to the Garmin, and a printed copy as a backup.

During our training with Wye MTB it was drilled into us that a successful guided ride is one that is fun and flows, which means that even if the leader hasn’t ridden the route previously, they should know the key points and not constantly be referring to a map or GPS. Although this was my ride, the route wasn’t known to me I knew that my favourite ‘Tulip’ routing tool was going to be critical to maintaining the flow of the ride. A Tulip is a series of squares that give you the essential points of the route such as turns, waymarks and distances in between. I find I get fidgety making them as they require lots of concentration to break down a long ride into bite-size chunks, but they’re so easy to follow once you’re underway.

Before the ride there had been much debate over which bikes to bring to the Island. It wasn’t clear from the maps exactly what the terrain would be and we’d finally ended up with a mix of hardtails and short travel full suspension bikes. The first leg of the journey – The Freshwater Way – which leads over to the Southern coast of the Island proved that we’d made the right choice. As fun as gravel bikes are they’d have been uncomfortable on the broken path. Feeling righteous in our decisions, we soaked up the stunning river valley that we were cycling along. To me this lowland marsh, mud and brackish river is synonymous with home and I lapped up every minute of the journey.

Stopping to ‘relocate’ on the map as we turned left onto the road we felt that instinctive desire to follow a different route and simply explore, but we reminded ourselves that this was time to practice guiding and so we had to stick to the plan. The next stage of the journey was one of the first places we lost the route but the benefit of this being a training ride meant that we were able to collectively resolve the issue and get back on track. I was cross with my mistake but determined to learn from it when I got home. Much like the first ‘Stage’ when I’m racing, I felt nervy and unable to fully focus through this first part of the ride. By the time we’d reached the Island’s Southern coast and saw the Tennyson Trail climbing up the ridge to our left, I began to relax into my role as leader. Almost immediately I began relying on the tulip instead of my Garmin. The map on the Garmin was clear and it beaped reassuringly each time we passed a logged way point, but having not taken time to get used to it, the map wasn’t centralised on our location and I was struggling to find grid references on it.

The Western Island stretching away to the Needles behind us

The climb up the grass and chalk path of the Tennyson Trail was idyllic. With the chalk cliffs in the distance behind us, Lymington and the Beaulieu foreshore laid out to our left, the Channel sat to our right. We literally were cycling along the spine of the Island. We passed a few walkers and golfers (the Trail cuts through a golf course) and were overtaken by a couple of other MTB riders, heading on to the single-track hidden in the woods ahead. None of that bothered us as we chatted about the Project and planned future bike-packing expeditions – our plans getting ever bigger with the increasing altitude. Before long we conquered the first climb and dropped quickly down to a country lane before regaining all the lost altitude on the next hill. It made me realise how fit I am currently with training for Kingdom but also how as a Guide you are likely to be considerably fitter than many of your clients and you need to be aware of their pace and comfort as you ride. The enjoyment and reward you get from guiding is subtly different to the enjoyment of type 2 fun with your mates and with this distinction in mind it becomes easier to be conscious of the other riders in the group and their needs.

A glorious day in January

We’d planned the ride for late January, but we need not have worried about the weather – it was glorious! No wind, blue skies, strong sun – the Island was revealing itself in all it’s glory as we took our first stop about a third of the way into the ride. Basking in bright sunlight, we munched on assorted snacks before re-booting the new bike conversations to power us up the rest of the hill. Soon we were skirting along the edge of Brighstone Down, heading towards the reservoir that marked our turn North and our return to the Solent side of the island.  One of the best bits of route planning for me is the chance to pour over Ordnance Survey maps, getting lost in the history and culture of a place. Place names, old industrial works, trigonometry points, lookouts and public toilets are laid out for all to see.  I still find it amazing how many disused pits and quarries make up our countryside, while remnants of the World Wars are often left off the maps.

The Tulip I’d created used a mixture of geographical markers, distances and grid references to help keep us on the bridleways and trails that were taking us across the Island.  Not having a chance to ride the route in advance meant that I doubted myself at one turning point, marked simply with a grid reference.  A combination of apps and maps enabled us to find a suitable alternative through the woods and we were racing down the side of a field in no time, like grown up members of the Famous Five, out on an adventure. Inside I was logging the experience, determined to use it to make my preparation better next time, reminding myself that this is what practise is all about.

We followed the bridleway into a farmyard in the middle of the Island. Feeling like intruders we quickly made our way through and out the other side climbing up a root-strewn gully that was meant to be a track. Bringing out our competitive sides we tried valiantly to keep going before admitting defeat and pushing the bikes to the next field junction.

We followed the perimeter of this field to the top of the next hill and spotted the Island’s TV mast ahead, giving us a chance to pinpoint our exact location on the map. The remainder of this section of ride was surreal as we followed a rocky stream bed through land that had recently hosted shoots by the look of the buckets of spent shells along the track. Keeping an ear out for gunshots we were relieved to make it to Ashengrove in one piece.

The final third of the journey took us on a mix of lanes and National Cycle Network through Shalfleet and Newtown, the creeks where I spent most of my childhood. Honestly, I don’t think I’m happier than when I’m in this part of the Island. This is where my sense of adventure and love of freedom was cultivated and I am so lucky to still have it in my life, anchoring me and providing solace when thing get tough.

After several hours of riding through woodland and fields, we were grateful of a bit of fast tarmac pedalling to bring us back to Yarmouth and the Ferry. As we joined the main road by the groynes just outside Yarmouth we spotted the Ferry at it’s berth. With one ferry an hour and Steve desperate to get to Lyndhurst before The Woods Cyclery shut, we pedaled all out to catch this boat. Arriving at the last minute we scooted on and parked our bikes before heading up to the lounge to eat chocolate, drink tea and dissect the ride.

Love the things you find on the Island – Dino in the garden!

EPILOGUE

Steve made it to the shop in time and collected his beautiful Bombrack Beyond + frame. We all agreed that the Island is one of our favourite places to ride and we all passed our practical MTB Level 2 Leadership Award in March! Thank you to The Canterbury Bike Project for investing in me and Wye MTB for leading us through the training and assessment. I still love Tulips for guiding rides but have made good friends with my Garmin eTrex too.  I can’t wait to get more guiding and training under my belt once lockdown is over.