I recently heard a great little saying that got me thinking about mountain biking and how we strive to get better as we progress from a newbie to a weekend warrior to a racing bunny and beyond.
It went something like this: “You can ride a bike, but do you know HOW to ride that bike?”
The sport of mountain biking requires a few key factors which will allow the rider to get better as they progress in their riding journey. Fitness, strength and power all allow you to get faster but a fundamental element, particularly in mountain biking, is of course... skills. Without that you may as well prepare yourself for every ride to be frustrating and likely ending in some nasty crashes.
What are the benefits of skills training?
Safety and enjoyment. No one wants to injure themselves. And being stressed out and tense on the trail because you don’t know what to do, around other people who are enjoying themselves, is no fun. Learning how to be safe and how to enjoy mountain biking is not such a huge step. All it takes is someone with patience to show you how to conquer your fears so you can relax and enjoy yourself. Speed comes from that knowledge and you will be a better, happier and faster rider.
Many absolute beginner ladies improve their skills tenfold after only one lesson and are often riding with the more experienced riders in no time. And the experienced riders also benefit from skills sessions, learning new skills they weren’t aware of. Nothing beats getting back to basics. I cannot emphasize the importance of skills training and every single rider needs to ensure they are incorporating this into their training program. Whether you are just getting started or you want to take your riding to the next level, skills instruction can benefit any rider.
Dirtyheart was recently invited to participate in the inaugural Bezhoek Ladies Skills Experience. Let’s just clear this up… this was a full weekend of activities and basically, a skills session on steroids. The weekend included skills sessions, outrides to test those skills, information workshops with a dietitian and a biokineticist. Also included was incredible catering, sunset game drives and some downtime to sit and chat to some great like-minded people over a glass of wine (or two). The ladies basically had a full spectrum mountain biking experience with exceptional hospitality.
The Bezhoek Extreme team know how to host exceptional sporting events and apart from their racing calendar which features a three day MTB stage race and multiple other adventure events. The Bezhoek Extreme team have also focused on providing athletes with a chance to improve their skills and proficiency in their chosen sport. By selecting great business partners, sponsors and securing the knowledge of two professional riders they are able to offer a select group of ladies the chance to learn and gain knowledge on many facets of mountain biking as a sport.
The Bezuidenhoutshoek Nature Reserve provided the setting. This wonderful reserve offers sublime trails for all abilities and such amazing riding amongst the game and through various valleys and ridges on custom built trails and routes. The accommodation was perfect and the farmhouse provided us with a great space to chat and socialise. The Bezhoek team provided excellent hospitality and everyone felt comfortable and well taken care of.
Sarah Hill and Theresa Ralph, two professional riders from Team Galileo Risk and Liv brand ambassadors, provided the amazing skills sessions and facilitated our outrides, allowing us to engage on a sporting level and a personal one. These two are just amazing women who are truly passionate, not only about their sport, but also about developing women in that sport. Their knowledge was invaluable and every single rider, regardless of level was able to learn and take away valuable knowledge throughout the weekend. It was like camping out with superstars and leaving with new friends. Much thanks to Sarah and Theresa for giving their time, effort and knowledge to us all.
Our skilled instructors broke down each skill into manageable pieces, then taught us how to put them all together while providing valuable feedback. Lessons were taught in a newly built skills section, a great addition to the Bezhoek environment. We all had ample opportunity to practice each skill and then the outrides providing great opportunities to practice in the single track. Some key skills that were covered include:
Neutral & Ready Position
Straight Line Riding
Climbing & Descending
Climbing and Descending Dismounts & Restarts
Cornering, including berms
A workshop on nutrition for athletes was hosted by Zwarts & Kirstein Dietitians, and gave us some wonderful insight into specific needs of athletes and what we should be feeding our bodies on and off the bike. Sarlene’s keen interest and knowledge on performance nutrition was a great addition and I certainly learnt a lot on how to fuel my body correctly. Take a look at their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Dieetkundige/
Jaco Ferreira's expertise on training correctly and improving performance was also invaluable for the group. Training correctly, not only fitness and strength, but also how engaging with a coach or training tool can improve your performance. Jaco provides coaching and added services for athletes.
Each afternoon we took to the trails of Bezhoek and were able to test ourselves and actively practice our newly acquired skills. Evenings were spent around the fire or the dinner table learning even more and getting to know each other.
Here’s what the ladies had to say about the weekend:
“The skills clinic was such a positive experience, creating self- confidence, motivation, teamwork and making new friends”
“This weekend was an opportunity for women to step outside their comfort zone. Whether it be on a mtb skills level, fitness level, socializing level, or simply traveling to a new area! Learning new things never gets old, and at the BezHoek Women's Weekend, I feel I have come out of it upskilled, wiser, and with a whole new group of friends! Can't wait to see them all at the BezHoek Extreme!”
“What we learn with pleasure we never forget… Memories forever”
“A great weekend spent with like minded individuals with a variety of great trails and skills. Sarah and Theresa are masters in their field and are so willing to share their knowledge and experience. Without a doubt everyone left with some new-found skill that they will use in any situation. I strongly recommend every girl who is looking to better their knowledge and experience to attend this training camp. From the food to the accommodation to the hosts and the new friends made, it was worth every cent.”
This type of event is so important for our sport. Allowing female riders to spend a full weekend gaining skills, knowledge and experience in a wonderful and safe setting. It can only grow our sport and develop riders to be better, safer, happier and ultimately faster. The atmosphere was open and supportive and every rider found themselves comfortable to ask questions and support each other. And who doesn’t want to spend a weekend in the company of two of SA’s greatest riders, riding bikes, being hosted in style and loving every second of it.
Many thanks to all the sponsors (Liv Cycling, Jurgens Bekker Attorneys, Navworld and Bezuidenhouthoek Reserve) and the Bezhoek team for creating the opportunity for women to improve their skills and become better riders.