With Covid lockdown still limiting competetive events, the team at Aqueduct arranged a training day for Intermediate and Clubman route riders on Saturday 15th August 2020. Kindly hosted by Dan Clark and Ben Butterworth, approx 25 riders enjoyed a great days tuition. What was it like? Well read on…..
Ian Emery (Very capable Inter, rides the Kia rounds and really should know what he is doing by now….)
I was one of 10 in Dan Clark’s group. The first exercise in the clearing centred around two upright logs about 10ft apart and we were instructed to ride figures of 8 around then, practicing tight turns in both directions, whilst Dan studied our every movement. We all looked a bit bemused. Bit easy this, where’s a proper section? It soon became clear how important this was. Dan watched me have my go, stopped me, made me stand on the pegs whilst he held the bike upright. With a big smile he said “OK Ian, 4 things, you’re too upright, your bums not far enough back, your legs are too close together and you’re weighting the wrong footrest as you make the turn…..” I was a bit shocked but took it all in and quickly realised how right he was.
The first section. Two routes, yellow as the main route, with a set of green flags to make it harder. The approach was up a rock strewn embankment with a 90 right dropping back down and along to a 180 U-turn up and round a camber to then cross the camber and peel gently right, up the hill and out at the top. The green route had a tight right turn here leaving little room to get settled for the steeper climb out. As I approached, the hardest thing for me was overriding my automatic pilot which had Dan shouting “remember your legs” as I made the turns. Through the big U-turn left I had to keep thinking right, right, right to make sure I put all my weight on that footrest as I made the left turn. Felt so alien but managed to clean OK. My first attempt at the hard route was clean until the tight turn before the climb when the front pushed out needing a big dab, then the rear gripped and with my body weight in the wrong place, I rode out of the section missing the markers. Dan said I’d leant into the turn too much hence the failure. Second attempt, Dan’s words in my head, I cleaned the section and it felt great.
We moved on to section 2. There was Mark with a big smile to welcome us. ” Come and look at this green route lads!” A few of us walked to the edge where the green flags were and looked over at a near vertical 10ft drop made worse by a deep undercut part way down . I’m thinking no way am I going down that. ” Don’t worry, lads, you’ll be going up it! ” He wasn’t joking. The section consisted of three consecutive U-turns, undulating up and down as you went round them. Quite tight. Needed to switch auto pilot off again and concentrate on footrest weighting. The exit for yellow flags was to take the climb at 45 degrees to vertical with a request from Dan for a pivot turn right as you crested the top. I managed that, even getting the front wheel in the air and turning on the rear. I looked at the green route. It was so, so steep and very little room to get any traction, speed or momentum to get up it. Along with others I’d already decided it was too much for me. I was queuing for my second go at the yellows with alongside Moz. ” Go on Ian ” he said, ” I think you’ll fly up there. Have a go. Oh, and you can go before me.” A sucker for punishment, I’d worked out if I was going to do it I’d get more whoomph in 2nd as I felt 1st might be too low. But that needed a gear change which I managed after the first very tight U-turn, got great lines round the next two turns and flew at the climb using a kicker rock to lift the front. Dan and Simon stood at the top waiting to catch if required which was a great reassurance. I shot over the top with the front wheel in the air and needed a big dab to regain control.
The rush of adrenaline hit me and I queued again ready for another go. Second go, I just couldn’t get a gear change in so I made the final turn in 1st and screamed it at the bank. Another big dab needed at the top along with helpful hands on my shoulders from the minders making sure I didn’t slip backwards. Third go, getting tired, 1st gear all the way, messed up the last turn, should have aborted but didn’t, flew up the climb at an angle and half way up the tree on the left. Thankful to Simon and Dan for catching the bike as I jumped off backwards luckily landing OK at the bottom. That was enough for me. I was very happy to stop for lunch.
The afternoon session had two more sections which were testing but a little less fraught. Both with tuition from Dan along the way.
Later that evening I checked the data my I-watch recorded and my heart rate went from a resting 60bpm to 3 spikes of 166bpm, averaging 119bpm for the session. I’m still buzzing about the day now as I write this and would like to repeat my thanks to everyone in the Club who made the day possible, to Dan and Ben for their words of wisdom, and to all the guys in my group for the great banter and laughs we had. Roll on the next one.
Rob Sloggett (Confident Clubman, regularly bottom 1/3 of Inters, happy to have a go at most things if there is someone to catch the bike…)
The day started with a look in the garage and me picking a bike. The Bultaco has just been rebuilt and I had ridden it a few times at Nant Ucha, but the Majesty was probably going to be my main competition bike once lockdown was lifted. It seemed sensible to take the Majesty and learn on that, but now having ridden some of the practice sessions it would have been great to see if the Bultaco would have got up section 2 (but more on that later!)
Arriving at the venue, it was nice to get that “buzz” of common minded riders enjoying a day out. It did not feel like a competition day but it had all the normal markings of an Aqueduct gathering. We had all been asked where possible to pre-enter to limit the Covid risk and it was great to see the norm of hand sanitiser and disposable pens just reminding us that we were operating under Covid guidlines.
But down to the teaching…. we all gathered at the lowest point of the quarry where Sec 1 is normally set up, to be met with 3 sets of “figure of eight” markers. The task was simple, split into small groups then each rider enters the zone, do 3 circuits of the figure and ride out. The kicker here was one simple adjustment to a lot of peoples learnt techniques. Focus on the outside leg on the turn and weight that foot. What was apparent is that most of us subconsciously weight our inner foot and keep the outer foot light. I could explain the physics of the difference as I worked it out in my head whilst waiting and once you get it you go “ahhhhhhh” but needless to say a lot of us have a lot of brain reprogramming to do and expect a lot of riders just at Nant Ucha or Swans doing endless 8’s for a while!
The rest of the day comprised of the group being split into 2 smaller groups (one with Ben and one with Dan) and for our group (Dan), we just slowly moved around 4 sections, each one having a moderate route and a challenging route, with Dan giving small adjustments to our technique and being there to spot on the harder parts (see Sec 2 below). If you are trying harder obstacles / techniques, especially when you are at clubman / inter level, the reassurance of a couple of good spotters to grab the bike gives you the confidence to attack the challenge knowing that it you get it wrong someone is there to get the bike leaving you to jump clear.
So why Sec 2? Well Aqueduct had used an element of this previously for the Elite route. The primary challenge was at the end of the section where after a left hand 180 change of direction, the harder challenge route presented about 10 ft in front of the final change of direction a bank. When I say bank, it stood 10 ft high, it was not flat, it had an undercut and it comprised in places of rocks (which moved). To the left of the top was a large tree but after the crest you had a clear run off.
Myself and Ian Emery walked the route and a number of us said “maybe not today”. I remembered having ridden it on my Beta Evo 200 a few times but that was a modern light bike that generally went where you pointed it. The ask now was a 35 year old twinshock weighing much more.
Dan demonstrated it on his Honda TLR, limited throttle, no effort, not a care in the world… yep older bikes will go up there…. go on then guys I will stand at the top and catch your bike and when you are ready…. have go….
First two attempts, I took the easier route, so instead of the wall, you continued left the rolled up up a gradual cambered bank arching right to the out cards.
Third time in, a few riders had tried the bank, so making it, some not. I was unsure. Entered the section in first, felt OK started to make the final turn where I had the option of the wall or the easier route, spotted forward, towards the wall, lined it up and launched it……….
Well the front wheel crested but as I had entered the section unsure, I was in first gear and it just did not have enough grunt to make the full climb BUT it was smooth, no surprises so next time select second and try again.
The next two efforts were epic, second gear had enough but my entry line toward the wall was just pointing me a little to the left so each time whilst I had drive and height, as it crested my front wheel was right by the tree. The spotters in all occasions made sure I was safe.
Final attempt, 2nd gear, line perfect, fired it up the bank in the sweet spot, front wheel crested lower and out for a clean.
Would the heavier Bultaco have got up there? Maybe. Would I have felt as confident as I did on the Majesty? Who knows. That is the enigma of this sport….. But it was great to see Dan grab my bike after my second failed attempt and effortlessly fire it up there…
So in summary what did I learn? Well I think there were a few things. Firstly we all have learnt behaviour and bad habits and sometimes you need someone to take you back to basics. Secondly, everyone can improve. You may not get it right first time, but small changes to technique, line and confidence slowly get you there.
Finally, its great to learn with others because when you watch someone either clean it or drop silly marks if validates at the end of the day its just a sport where we pitch ourselves and our bikes against a set of obstacles and if you are lucky you might move up a few places from where you normally end up, and actually for us in the lower ends of the grouping that is just as good as a win….
A huge thankyou for the Aqueduct team for having the vision and time to arrange this during these testing times and a huge thank you to Ben and Dan for being great coaches…. oh and finally whoever else was helping Dan spot on Sec 2, it was appreciated!