San Diego Cycle TEAM
Local News from the Road
MTB Clinic with LUNA PRO Danelle Kabush
Wow! What a great way to spend an afternoon!
Meeting at the UCSD campus, mountain bikers of all abilities and backgrounds gathered Sunday to experience an afternoon of bike riding, bike handling skills and coaching with LUNA pro rider and 2x XTERRA Championship medalist Danelle Kabush. Not only were pro roadies in attendance, but the mountain bikers ranged in age from nine to… OK so nevermind on the upper limit, the youngest person there was nine years old!
After a brief discussion of proper shifting, trail etiquette, and introductions, Danelle led the group of 26 riders over to a gently sloping grassy area to coach us on some body position techniques. She emphasized the importance of understanding how your bike will move and react to your body position. Ultimately, you want your body and the bike to act in concert as one entity, not as two separate units. Taking time to pedal through the grass and note the responses from your bike when you brake first with the front, then the rear, then lean the bike from side to side as you ride is vital to developing confidence on your bike, and to understanding its nuances. (Yes! Your bike has nuances!) I remember during my second year of racing downhill, I finished a practice run and one of my teammates told me with a smile, “Hey, good work! Looks like you’re finally riding like you’re in control of that bike and not the other way around!” Danelle’s techniques would have really facilitated that transition back then!
From the grassy hill, we headed north on campus, past the library and into the Eucalyptus Grove. A popular running trail, the Eucalyptus Grove offers the beginner as well as the advanced mountain biker a bit of everything, with wide double track, winding singletrack, challenging rocky climbs and rutted descents. Since there were so many of us, we broke into two groups, with the more advanced riders (along with the bursting-with-enthusiasm school-age crowd) chasing Danelle down the trail, and the more novice riders following me. Throughout the clinic, we tried to be sensitive to the desires of the advanced riders to challenge themselves while taking care not to overwhelm the less experienced riders. With so many options for different routes and trails at UCSD, we were able to strike a nice balance, split off and meet back up when necessary, giving everyone a fun and challenging ride. At the base of one of the hills, Danelle talked to us about the importance of finding the perfect balance point and gear ratio when climbing, and encouraged us to practice climbing a hill at different speeds and in different gears, so that we would be better able to predict the best gear and body position to use when on group rides. We then ascended the hill one by one, the young kids going first and the rest of us cheering for them as they crested the hill.
To give the advanced crowd a challenge, we took them to a short steep roll-in. The degree of difficulty was partly in rolling the descent without flipping onto your nose, and partly making the 90° turn and not rolling off the edge of the cliff. Once a couple spotters were in place, the intrepid riders lined up to make the short steep descent. Many of them had never done anything like this, and would not have thought anyone would even attempt it. Seeing so many riders take a deep breath and go for it, descending to the bottom to the cheers of their friends and fellow riders was a huge boost. I think everyone felt the collective mood and spirit of the group bubble over with excitement at having conquered the challenge.
While the advanced group made a loop down the narrow singletrack and back up a challenging climb, the rest of us wove our way through the trees to an open area that contains a winding twisty trail. This trail helps you to practice working on your body position, keeping your chin up, and anticipating the next turn. Once through these areas, we all regrouped on the fire road and headed over to the final section of trail for the day, the bridges section.
There are two bridges in the Eucalyptus Grove, one is long and wide, about 3 inches off the soft ground and has a few slight turns, the other is short (only eight feet across) but spans a dry creek bed about 3’ down and is no more than six inches wide with raised edges lining the sides. While we all charged across the first bridge with most riders making it all the way across and the others simply riding off the edge like it were a curb, we all stopped at the narrow bridge to take a look and think about the technique to cross it. In addition to being confident, you have to spot the entrance, immediately spot the exit, think about giving an extra pedalstroke at the exit to make it past the roots, all while not losing your nerve or looking down. Danelle assigned two spotters to stand in the dry creekbed while the riders came one-by-one and triumphantly crossed the bridge. As with the steep roller, some of the riders had never attempted anything like this, and you could tell by their faces that they were both surprised and delighted by their having stepped up to the challenge and conquered it!
The last skill Danelle introduced us to was the pop-over-the-log skill. We didn’t have enough time to do a real bunny-hopping session, but Danelle laid down the foundation of the move and encouraged us all to do our best popping over a log in the trail. Our two spotters really earned their LUNA bars this time, as they caught three or four riders in mid-air, their front wheels bouncing off the log as they anticipated the log too early. Everyone got a chance to try, and Danelle was on hand to give individual instruction to anyone who was having trouble.
From the moment we all arrived, we were excited to be there, knowing this was a great opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and improve our skills. The added bonus was that as we started testing what we were learning and cheering for each other, the collective enthusiasm began to grow, and we began to see ourselves less as individual riders, and more as a part of a pack. As time on the trail passed, we were more and more thankful that we were there and a part of the action.
With time running short, we finished up the trail ride and headed over the the Outback Adventure Center on campus. There, Danelle spoke to us about sports psychology. She asked us to think about what we each liked most about mountain biking or cycling, and what mental skill we saw as most important to being successful at it. She then discussed different ways in which our minds play as important a role as our bodies in truly preparing us for success in our sport. I’ve been racing mountain bikes since 2004, and know the importance of focus in a race, but Danelle took it one step further to say that it is important to know how to re-focus when the visualization we had for ourselves and our race is not met, be it by doing worse than we expected or even better than we had expected. What a great point! She also talked about how vital relaxation is, and that as an athlete, you must know how to actively relax your mind and body. That sounds like an entire class in and of itself that I would love to take.
Our session with Danelle at a close, we gathered our things and prepared to head back to the parking lot where we’d met before the ride. The riders all thanked us for a great ride and clinic, and filed out of the conference room, leaving just the San Diego LUNA girls and Danelle to pack up while we chatted together about how successful we felt the afternoon had been. The air was still crisp with the excitement of challenge and triumph, and we all felt it. After packing up our things, those of us on bikes headed back to the parking lot, wondering if any of the riders would still be there, even though we were only a few minutes behind them. Imagine our delight when we rolled around the building into the lot to hear one of the young girls shout, “Here come the LUNA girls!” and all the participants from our clinic stop and begin to cheer for us.
Indeed, it was a great afternoon.
Special thanks to Jay Hines and Steve Kowaluk who helped on the trail, to the Outback Adventure Center staff who provided us the room, to all our attendees, and especially to Danelle. We hope to see you all out on the trail again soon!
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