Skills training can give your biking a boost

Mountain bike rookie Ruth Schofield checks out a free beginner's course

Mountain biking is becoming more popular than ever before. For many people, the fact you don't need to dress head-to-toe in Lycra or be superhero-fit to have a go makes it the perfect sports option. All you need is a small amount of bravado and the urge to tackle varied terrain, and you’re good to ride.

If you're anxious about hitting the trails, or want to brush up your skills, training courses are run at locations across the country. I checked out the free sessions on offer at the Croft Wood Centre in Swindon.

The beginner’s course on Sunday 26 July had participants ranging from five to 55 years old, and of varying abilities. Group sizes are fairly small, which means you have plenty of time to test new skills and receive some all important one-to-one tuition as you attempt different sections of the trail. You can borrow a bike if you don't have your own.

The course began with a brief overview of what to expect on the trail. The CTC instructor, Rik Grover, then covered the basics of bike safety. From the spokes on your wheels to adjusting the height of your saddle, we learnt where problems could arise and how to adjust the bike accordingly.

Once everyone was happy with their bike, we set off. As we progressed along the trail, Rik took us through various skills, from riding berms (banked corners) to how to position yourself on the bike when riding downhill or over sections of wooden North Shore boardwalk. For less confident riders, there's an alternate route round some of the more challenging features like the jumps or drop-offs.

Jess, one of the riders on the beginner’s course, said: “The trail was really good, although I fell off a couple of times. Rik was great at talking you through how to tackle each bit [of the trail] and that gave me the confidence to have another go until I got the hang of it. I’ll definitely be back to ride the blue routes again and maybe even have a go at some of the red routes with a bit more practice."

After the beginner’s course finished, Rik went on to lead the intermediate course. This time participants were taken down a red-graded singletrack trail, designed for mountain bikers with good off-road skills.

Rik took the group over more challenging North Shore sections with drop-offs and jumps, as well as up and down some rocky sections, and over a purpose-built wall feature. 

A tip for the unseasoned rider: be warned that using clip-in pedals (also known as clipless or SPDs) isn’t advisable on these courses. You'll most likely end up bringing half the trail back with you, as one rider on our course found out when he fell a record six times in row.

As we made our way round we came across some of the Croft Wood Centre’s volunteers who helped build the trail. Phil Mayger, the trail team leader, was pleased to see the route being used by both the beginners and intermediate groups.

"It was great to see the trail being used for the purpose that we had in mind when designing and building it," he said. "Our trail is a place where people can learn and improve off-road biking skills without ever feeling out of their depth or having to travel for miles.

“Watching someone who has little off road cycling experience conquer an obstacle they thought they couldn't do makes our team of volunteers' efforts worthwhile. We've seen a range of riders here, from total beginners to riders with many years of experience, all enjoying what the trail has to offer."

Phil and his team are always on the lookout for more volunteers to keep the centre maintained and to help build even more trails and features. For details, check out their Facebook page.

Both courses were brilliant and whether you're a beginner or a more advanced rider, the skills you take away from the day are invaluable. So, if you think you need to brush up on your technique or you want to try mountain biking for the first time, then these kinds of courses are definitely a great place to start.

To find out more about the skills training at Croft Woods, call Tamina Oliver on 07717 696672 or email

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