Spotlight: Individual mountain bike skills coaching

Tired of making no headway with her mountain biking skills, Aoife Glass, decided to book a private session with 4X pro Katy Curd, sharing the results with us.

Aoife contacted Katy (pictured) 4X champion, when she reached an impasse with her mountain biking skills, booking a tailor made coaching session. Image by Torks.

I need help

My mountain biking had reached an impasse, a plateau. I had stalled. There were too many times where I reached a feature and rolled repeatedly up to it, only to slam on the brakes at the last second, eventually giving up and walking the section feeling defeated and rubbish. I’d been on group coaching sessions before, but this time I needed something more.

It was time to call in a professional.

The Professional

Not just any professional. Katy Curd is a 3 times British 4X champion, 2012 European 4X champion, and rides professionally on the Rose Vaujany team. She also, amazingly, offers coaching. Definitely in the A-Team of mountain bike coaches.

Katy is a qualified CTC mountain bike instructor, offering mountain bike skills courses for all abilities. Image by Torks.

Luckily Katy, unlike the A-Team, is easy to find. Type her name into Google and your browser window will be flooded with articles, pictures and race reports documenting her riding credentials. It will also link you to her personal website where details of the group and individual coaching she offers are listed, which is how I found her.

There are obvious advantages to having a pro mountain biker coaching you;

“With a few years of race and riding experience behind me now, I think it gives people the confidence to trust in what I am coaching them, which gives them confidence in their own riding”

Katy’s coaches a wide range of people, from those who are complete beginners, to advanced riders, offering group or private sessions.

Riders with a huge range of ages and ability come to Katy, but the majority are people who have just discovered mountain biking and want to improve and progress – riders like me.

The ability of riders varies massively from complete beginners to elite downhillers so I really do see a vast range of riding, which keeps it interesting and why I love doing it

The majority are female, though Katy does coach males too, and there are also an increasing number of women into downhill mountain bike racing looking to increase their speed.

The day

Katy and I met up in the Forest of Dean. We started with a quick chat raising what I’d like to focus on, any particular areas of concern I had, and what I would like to get out of the day. Then we went for a ride around the blue Verderers trail, me in front and Katy following, so she could watch me, gauge my level and note any bad habits.

I must have been doing the trail at about twice my normal pace, as I was out of breath most of the time –but there is nothing quite like being followed by a professional mountain biker to motivate you to give it some welly when pedalling up hills.

It’s not just private custom sessions on offer, Katy also works with groups, here she is teaching at a Diva Descent Course. Image courtesy of Diva Descent.

Katy observed that I tended to straighten my arms when it came to tricky technical features, so the first step was going through the attack position – elbows bent, knees flexed, body centred over the bike ready to react to the terrain. This is something I thought I had been doing, but obviously you can’t watch yourself when riding so having someone there to observe you ride a section a few times and give feedback was invaluable. Apparently I wasn’t doing it, and as soon as I focussed on ‘elbows out’ I could feel the difference. I was much more secure on the bike. As Katy said, “The most common problem I see with riders is just body position; it’s such a small thing that can make a massive difference’’

Cornering was next, Katy broke this down into basics, working first on the position of my legs going through corners, and building it up to include where I should be looking, how my hips and shoulders should be orientated, and leaning the bike.

We then progressed onto the downhill tracks, something I would never have dared try on my own.

A big problem for me has always been combinations of features. Roots are fine, little drops are fine, corners are fine. Roots AND drops AND corners induce bike tantrums and walking. Katy must have spent about 30 minutes with me on one corner, my nemesis for the day, which held all three. Amazingly patient, she watched me roll up to it again and again, and used a variety of techniques to help me through it until we found one that worked for me. She told me to focus on a series of points; a little knobble on a root, a patch of soil on the berm, and another point around the corner.

When, finally, I managed it, I couldn’t help but have an air-punching moment of shared triumph, and there were high-fives all around.

Why coaching?

Wanting to get more people into mountain biking, Katy started coaching. She’s noticed a steady increase in women taking up the sport and she hopes it continues.

I was interested as to why Katy had decided to start coaching;

“I started to coach because I wanted to try and get more people into mountain biking. I have ridden a bike all my life and now it’s my job, which I still find hard to believe sometimes. I really love coaching people and watching them achieve something for the first time, whether it’s something simple or extremely technical, that feeling of accomplishment is always the same.  My aim is to get more female riders into racing, and this year has been going well – the entry numbers have increased massively and the skill level of the girls is impressive. Eventually I want to help out a younger female rider, with advice, coaching and kit, to help them reach their full potential. I just need to find that one rider!’’

The result

Has it made a difference? Hell yes!

One of the big things Katy did was give me confidence in my abilities. When tricky features come up now I think I CAN do this. I trusted her when she said she wouldn’t put me on something unless she thought I could do it because – well – she should know. When she said I was a good rider, I had a glow of pride that lasted for days.

The personal feedback was invaluable. As I implemented all the suggestions she made, I could feel how they affected my riding. I could feel the progression as it happened.

I followed up the coaching session with a few days attempting easy downhill tracks in the Quantock and Mendip hills. There were still times when I rolled up and stopped at technical sessions, but this time I knew that I could do them, and I had tools to work out how to do them, which meant that, in the end, I succeeded.

Thank you Katy!

Katy’s Top Tips

“Keep those elbows out wide” (Attack position!)

“Keep your head and eyes up, looking ahead at the trail, letting yourself get prepared for what you are about to hit”

“Think about your technique and set-up whilst coming into a technical section. Hopefully by the time you have thought about this you will have already ridden over the technical feature! If not ridden over it, you will be mentally prepared and confident, ready to hit it.”

Been inspired? To book a course, contact Katy through her website.


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