Hey everyone! My name is Rafe, I have been riding bikes since I was 10 years old, I started racing at 15 with Pedal Hounds, then Southern Enduro, British and Welsh National enduros and the Megavalanche in 2019. I love coaching and getting people out on their bikes to explore the great outdoors. I love being up in the mountains and my favourite place to ride is Cwmcarn in South Wales.
What’s your one mountain bike top tip?
Keep your eyes looking up and down the trail – you go where you look.
What’s your favourite bike part and why?
My brakes because they don’t hold me back or slow me down!
There are times in UK winters when you think, could this get any colder/wetter/more miserable? Will the trails ever be anything other than slop again? Ok, riding in the wet can be fun and sliding around or just getting down some tracks may be an achievement. But there comes a point when all the kit cleaning (and bike maintenance) starts to wear thin, and the motivation to focus on your riding drains away…
So what can you do about it?
1. Goals – Name it & Nail it!
Everything else stems from this. If your goal for MTB riding is to maintain health and fitness then it’s simple enough to switch out riding for indoor training when you’ve had enough of bad weather. There are plenty of guides and plans to help you with this, which should basically amount to ‘Get Fit, Get Strong’. When you get back on the bike your skills will be a bit rusty, but it won’t take long to get to where you were before.
If you have specific goals, such as preparing for events or races, or achieving a certain skill level, then it’s important to think creatively and get intentional. Your goals need to be directly related to your event. For example, I have two goals for next year. One is to get improve my speed on faster slick downhill tracks, something I struggled with last year. The other is to get a top 3 result in my category at the Kirroughtree PMBA race; a race which suited me and I enjoyed.
If you have competitive or specific mountain biking goals then skill progression is essential.
In skill development, there are four key concepts to consider:
Variation – Taking different approaches to the same learning task can improve flexible thinking and problem solving. When external factors become a problem, you need to find ways around maintaining a schedule .
Specificity – If your training is not specific to your goal, then you could end up making zero measureable progress. This means training needs to be both rider and event specific. On a psychological level, specificity can be seen as meaningful and purposeful practice.
Frequency & Intensity – Skills are not acquired linearly, and can happen in jumps and steps. If training is not frequent or intense enough, then progression through these steps could be so slow that you don’t progress at all.
Simple vs Complex Skills– Simple skills can often be practiced out of context in a predictable environment, whereas complex skills are much closer to the environment your goal is focused on. For example, learning to jump by bunnyhopping over a stick, is a simple skill or technique. Clearing an unfamiliar jump, on a wet downhill track, with a technical steep run in, is a complex skill. While these two actions have aspects in common, there are some key technical differences.
You also need a way of measuring progress. My focus is on racing, so the key outcome to measure is speed. But it’s also important to have a variety of different measurements, both quantitative and qualitative. So, I also want to improve at jumping, which I can measure by comparing videos of me jumping with a better rider. Or simply noticing how comfortably I ride jumps on a particular trail.
3. Fill Up the Willpower Tank
Your training should be rewarding and enjoyable. Everyday, we have limited willpower and mental energy. So when you are running low on motivation it’s important to decide whether what you are doing will spend reserves or replenish them. The most specific sessions you do should require the most from you. There is little point putting all your energy into sessions that don’t give you measureable progress. On the flip side, sessions that are not very specific but are fun, will keep you motivated and interested in your riding.
Confidence is also an important factor. Training that focuses on your weaknesses can be demotivating and progress can be slow. So make sure to mix up your training with aspects you enjoy.
4. Creative & Purposeful Practices
If you are want to see real progress towards your goals you need creative and purposeful training exercises. They need to be challenging and specific, and cover both simple and complex skills.
The key thing to getting this right is properly understanding the demands of your event and being intentional about how you will improve. This is where outside input can be really helpful. An expert rider or coach, who is able to help you identify what the key areas of improvement are for you.
Have something solid to work towards. A number. But make sure its specific. Its tempting to gravitate towards the easiest thing to measure. So for an intermediate level downhill rider i think it’d be more helpful to measure time gains on splits on a variety of features and track sections, than improvement in bench press 1 rep max test. It might seem like a lot of effort you will be measuring fractions of a second. But with a video analysis App and practice, its not that hard.
Or for an XC racer, it maybe tempting to set your primary goal as improving your FTP in a Wattbike test. But it may be better to measure your pace on specific sections of a climb and descend lap over multiple consecutive repetitions. Not only will this give an indication of endurance, but also technical/tactical ability.
You can still measure those other things, upper body strength & aerobic endurance, but making it your primary focus may draw away from the key area for improvement.
These two examples, are very specific exercises, largely focused complex skills. You can also do a simpler exercise working on a specific technique, such as a slalom on flat ground to work on cornering, or some trials skills to work on balance and weight shift.
5. Embrace the Slop
Bad weather tends to come with an unpredictable environment: dark, wind, rain, wet mud, slippery roots, maybe even snow and ice. Riding in challenging conditions will help you to be more responsive to your surroundings and better at interpreting what’s coming up in the trail ahead.
Much of our vision is created by our brain guessing what’s in front of us, as we are not capable of processing all the visual information that enters the eyes. A key skill in both Enduro and Downhill is reading the track intuitively and responding with action. Reduced visibility due to rain and mud means your brain has to work harder and rely on intuition and feel. Feel, being the physical sensations through contact points and balance (or proprioception). Think about your own experience of riding wet off-camber roots compared to dry conditions. Your line wavers as the bike slides underneath you, so you have to be loose gently adjusting where your weight is on the bike, looking ahead focusing on your exit. The more you ride in these conditions the more in tune you will be with the bike.
Maybe it’s time to embrace the slop?
I’d love to hear comments on winter riding. What helps you keep motivated?
There are barely a handful of sporting activities which come as close to mountain biking for physical demand. Since mountain biking joined the Olympics in 1996, riders have since chosen to specialise in either cross-country or downhill disciplines.
Both downhill and cross-country disciplines include high impact and require sharp reflexes. Fuelling both brain and body right is essential.
To stay at peak performance, the following five foods are absolutely essential for a mountain biker’s diet.
Whole Grain Breads
A hearty nutrient-dense carbohydrate, whole grain bread tastes great and is incredibly versatile. Like other carbohydrates, whole grain bread offers slow release energy throughout the day to compliment your calorie rich snacks.
It’s not so much the bread itself but the whole grains which offer the best nutrients. These nutrients include:
Protein – great for muscle recovery, particularly after an intense ride.
Fibre – essential for smooth bowel movement, keeping you feeling light and comfortable.
B vitamins – great for energy levels and brain function, helping you think sharp.
Commonly considered a superfood, yet often left out in a western diet – whole grain.
Carbs really are king, and your body can consume around 60g per hour so pack a sandwich for a mid-ride break to aid recovery and support muscle growth.
Or alternatively eggs for vegetarians. Lean meats which include beef, lamb, veal, chicken and most seafoods offer the best post-ride recovery nutrients. Particularly chicken and fish offer a low-fat / high protein mix which aids muscle recovery and will digest easily.
The western diet has moved towards stocking up on lean meats in the evening. However a regular serving of lean meat throughout the day is highly recommended particularly if you train daily either on the bike or in the gym.
For the best combination of fats and oils whilst keeping the environment in mind, I would recommend eggs for breakfast, fish or nuts and seeds during lunch and chicken in the evening.
With any luck, you have slept a solid 8 hours prior to competition day with plenty of deep REM sleep. Even if you haven’t slept, don’t worry as a porridge breakfast will put things straight. Or even better – porridge with banana provides the ultimate slow release energy throughout the day. If it’s a competition day, make sure you’re eating no less than 2 hours before you start riding.
Gone are the days of boring breakfast – try adding banana and honey to suit that sweet tooth and increase your energy.
Finally, to aid digestion make sure you drink at least a pint of water with breakfast. This combination will keep you feeling light and agile whilst providing slow-release energy throughout the day.
Particularly on a 2 to 3 hour cross-country ride, even the biggest bowl of porridge won’t keep you fully energised during your ride. Jelly sweets (which have gelatin-free vegetarian alternatives in most supermarkets) offer a lightweight yet dense source of quick release energy which is high in calories.
My recommendation would be to pack these sweets without a bag in a handlebar bag or small back pocket in your shorts. A decent handful will do the trick and can be accessed without having to stop for long and lose time.
Raisins prove particularly effective if, like me, your stomach doesn’t agree with energy gels or similar products. Similarly to jelly sweets, raisins are easy to access and are calorie dense, however what makes them unique is that they are stacked with carbohydrates.
Raisins are easy to eat on the go and packed with nutrients.
My recommendation would be to wrap up individual portions of raisins, nuts and seeds in foil and eat one portion every 20 to 30 minutes. This way, you’ll never feel hungry and you will assist that slow-release energy from your hearty breakfast earlier in the day.
A high performance diet is achievable by any kind of rider with any diet requirements. The key then is to plan your food into pre, during and post ride with two goals in mind: to offer slow release energy throughout your ride, avoid hunger at any point and aid recovery following your ride.
In light of the on-going Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, I’ve decided to put in place a few simple steps to lower risk of infection when attending your Pilates class.
Current estimates are that 80% of us will contract the virus in the UK, and while the majority will suffer only mild symptoms, we should be diligent in protecting the spread to ‘vulnerable populations’ which will include some of my clients, your fellow classmates and their family members.
MATS – I would suggest you bring your own or bring a towel you can place over them. I disinfect these everyday but if you are concerned either bringing your own or just placing something over it will help.
EQUIPMENT – Please can I ask all clients to bring a small cushion or towel along to classes as a substitute for head cushions where required.
Exercises can be adapted and modified to avoid the need for equipment, but if you would like to purchase a (NEW) resistance band or block for individual use in class and at home, please do let me know, I know a lot of you have already done this and it should be here this week!
PERSONAL HYGIENE – Please can I encourage all my clients to continue to follow the government advice regarding regular hand washing and use of antimicrobial hand sanitisers. All of my venues have hand washing facilities.
HANDS-ON CORRECTION – Correct alignment and performance of an exercise is crucial in Pilates, but I will be limiting the use of hands-on correction during the current outbreak. Please continue to follow verbal cues and if you are uncertain about a move – please stop the exercise and wait for assistance.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE UNWELL –If you feel unwell and have any of the typical symptoms of the COVID-19 virus, please call 111 and do not attend your class, let me know asap on 07984367888.
We can all play our part in reducing the immediate risk of spreading, or catching, the coronavirus infection whilst in your exercise class. Perhaps the most important thing to remember though is that regular exercise and activity, adequate sleep, stress management, and good nutrition are all ways to support long term health and immune function.
Welcome to my new Pilates workout Wednesday series. Every week I am going to bring you a new Pilates workout you can do from the comfort of your own home. I know sometimes we are all time crunched and don’t get time to spend an hour on ourselves (we should!) so my workouts are all under 10 minutes long and can be done from anywhere by anyone in most cases.
My Pilates workouts start off with easy levels and increase in difficulty, please adapt and use the levels that are right for you. Reduce the range of movement or number of reps if you find it too hard. These 10 minute videos are a great addition to one of my weekly Pilates classes.
Cyclists looking for great places to go on mountain bike weekends might be tempted to head to Wales after an award-winning biking family has recently opened new tracks in Snowdonia.
Rachel, Dan and Gee Atherton have spent £2 million buying a practise track at the Dyfi Bike Park near Machynlleth, Powys – and it has certainly paid off, as the family have collected eight world titles and 49 world cups over the years.
They have been based at the site since 2014, having borrowed the huge amount of money from a bank to create the cycle park in Wales’ famous mountain range, BBC News reported.
Dan, 37, told the news provider: “I had always dreamed of finding a forest with this much potential. We have an amazing blank canvas with 650 acres of forest.”
The site provides great downhill experiences, dropping from the 660m Tarren y Gesail Mountain through to sea level at the bottom. This has, no doubt, been helping 31-year-old Rachel achieve five downhill championships, as well as six world cup wins.
The family now hopes other biking enthusiasts will share their passion at Dyfi Bike Park, located in the beautiful Esgair Forest, along with them.
On the website for the park, Dan wrote the area offers the “perfect mix of max elevation with long descents and really varied terrain”.
According to the world-champion, the site, which has now opened its first four black trails, boasts “some of the most diverse tracks you can imagine”.