There is a lot of information in sport about the basic skills that are necessary for any sport, and also the transferring of skills and talent from one sport to another. Mostly it happens when people move between similar sports, like going from Rugby League to Rugby Union, or combining running, swimming and riding into a triathlon.
So my question is, can you be successful in mountain biking, whether it is Cross Country, Enduro or Downhill, if you haven’t had any real experience before you start racing, and is there a basic skill necessary to ride a bike?
In my own experience, I came from athletics, and had never ridden a bike on trails until two years ago. I hadn’t even spent more than, approximately, six hours in total on a bike in my life. But the very first time I did ride a bike in the bush on a trail, I wasn’t too bad. So, what was it that helped me to achieve pretty good results as a rider and a racer considering I had never ridden a bike before and wasn’t particularly a ‘natural.’ Besides a passion for riding, which helped me to put in hard work in learning riding skills, I think it was transferring some basic but important skills from my other sport that I believe are the foundation of all sports, namely, balance and timing.
Before you can really ride a bike with confidence, you need balance. A lot of little kids these days are getting balance bikes, and they even race them now. I don’t think it matters where or how you develop your balance, but it is essential for most sports – including for cycling – that you do. A great example of this is people who ride surf boards. They have great balance and many good surfers are high-level competitive mountain bike riders, Jack Moir for instance.
Next is timing. Being able to judge when it is time to put many combinations of skills together is what timing is all about. There is always manual timing; when you start off, a lot of what you do is because you are thinking about it. You put the skills you have learned together, in order, and it is usually slow and deliberate, but it is how you build skills. But once the skill has been practiced enough and the body’s muscle memory kicks in to put the skills into a sequence automatically, that is when the magic happens, and this is what most people mean when you hear them say ‘he/she has great timing.’
As a track and field athlete, I always worked hard on my balance and timing, and I think this is how I could transition to a bike reasonably well. As a hammer thrower, I had to spin around 360 degrees three times whilst moving across a small circle at full speed on one leg whilst holding on to a heavy steel ball at the end of a wire, a ball which increased in weight or resistance the faster I turned. Sounds technical and difficult and, well, it really is. I had to keep my balance and release the hammer with split second timing to get the hammer through a small opening in the nets. This seems like such an unlikely skill to transfer to bike riding, but I think it was a great help to me. Training for hours on end taught my body how to learn, and so learning something new like riding was a lot easier.
There are so many sports where most people wouldn’t see a transfer of skills on the surface, but when you look at the basics of what is needed in most sports, you can see the common aspects they share, and virtually all sports have balance and timing at their core.
I think that as long as you have the basics of balance and timing you can get on a bike, and with a little passion and determination to improve a little bit every day, there is nothing to stop anyone from achieving their goals and even one day racing mountain bikes at the highest level.
By Sam Luff – Pushys Sponsored Athlete