Written by Helen Davies in partnership with Sun Peaks Resort
My third lesson with Ian was one of transition. First of all, Growler and I have separated! Time to meet my new bright orange bike, Pipeline. Pipeline is a trail bike, and so with that, a change of territory and an introduction to the Progression Park, as well as a new downhill biker lexicon.
For those of you new to downhill, like me, the Progression Park is sort of the equivalent to the bunny slopes when you are learning to ski. It has been thoughtfully designed with the beginner in mind, representing the different elements you’d find on a downhill trail, but shorter, and with gentler steepness and more forgiving challenges.
It can be easily accessed by taking the carpet lift from the village base. Ian showed me how to load the bike and shared a little bit about what he hoped we would accomplish during the lesson.
When we got to the top Ian showed me the first downhill section. It looked fairly steep and a little daunting, but I know from skiing that things always look harder than they really are, and you have to have faith in your instructor, yourself and, in this case, the bike, and just go for it!
Our time in the Progression Park consisted of a number of laps top to bottom, starting with a few tips at the top to control speed, and then following Ian’s lead down to get used to the trail route. Then it was time for me to lead. That gave Ian the opportunity to observe me and provide tips and feedback, as well as literally put me in the driving seat to look ahead and find the best line to take through the berms.
We worked on shoulder and elbow positioning going into the berms, as well as creating some resistance in the arms to assist going over the humps and bumps. It still didn’t feel intuitive to be riding out of the seat most of the time, so Ian suggested placing my feet in a more central position on the pedals to provide a more rigid and balanced base. It worked!
Too bad our lesson was cut a little short as the weather got progressively worse with heavy soaking rain. However, we will revisit the Progression Park and I hope to attack it with a renewed level of confidence and a better technique.
Ian and I went back to the Progression Park for lesson four, thankfully in better weather. However, to get the best out of our time there, we spent the first 15 minutes in the village practising and perfecting tight turns using a marked paved circle on flat terrain. Ian explained how our natural tendency on a bike is to steer by turning the handlebars, but on a trail bike and when navigating berms, this creates wobble and instability. The best and safest technique is to actually lean into the turn by straightening the arm closest to the inside of the turn, with that same hand moving closer towards the ground, and in this case the centre of the circle.
Moving up into the park, we built on this arm movement. Ian guided me by calling out a three-step sequence: Resting position is arms bent, elbows out; get ready is pushing down on the handlebars for more resistance as you enter the berm; then straightening the arm and creating more bike lean to navigate around the berm and exit safely, ready to repeat resting position and prepare for the next approach.
Once we had practised this several times, we moved our focus to the position of the bike and, more importantly, the front wheel when entering and exiting the berm. Ideally you enter the berm at its highest point, with your eyes focused towards the point of exit. The combination of both bike and upper body positioning, enables a smoother navigation through the middle section of the berm, and a safer on target exit on the lower part.
The last and trickiest part of the lesson for me was combining arm movements with bike and body position. It all sounds easy and makes total sense, but actually doing it is more challenging, and I’m still at the stage where I can focus on one part to the detriment of the other. I definitely need to practise achieving a more synchronous approach, and that’s where the Progression Park really helps the beginner by offering a range of manageable terrain with enough trail length to keep repeating and perfecting your skills as you bike down.