Taking the Level 2 mountain bike leadership course with Cyclewise.
“The hardest part of navigating a group ride is leaving the car park”, we were reassured by our tutor, Ed, as we found ourselves back there minutes after setting off, having already taken a wrong turn. He may have just been humouring us, but it was a comfort nonetheless. We were in Keswick, in the Lake District learning to become Level 2 mountain bike leaders with Cyclewise, and it was already proving to be more difficult than anticipated.
After a day spent learning the basic principles and essential skills for leading a group of mountain bikers, this was our first attempt at putting it all into practice, and we’d almost failed at the first hurdle. Fortunately Ed was right though, and once we’d got on the right track, it was relatively plain sailing. With laminated maps rolled round our forearms, in what we dubbed the “Buzz Lightyear look”, we took it in turns to lead the group
to infinity and beyond round a route that we’d planned the previous evening.
By the time it was my turn to take the lead, the most difficult of the navigation was out of the way, but there were still plenty of other factors to consider, and things that could go wrong. Keeping the group together, ensuring everyone is coping ok, and making sure the route stays within the remit of a level 2 guide, are just some of the many other things to stay aware of, as well as being able to react quickly and effectively to any situation that may arise, be that mechanicals, a deterioration in weather conditions, or, heaven forbid, an accident. And if that’s not tough enough, it must all be made to appear effortless, whilst maintaining a calm and relaxed demeanour at all times, which is arguably one of the hardest things of all.
The key to pulling it all off is thorough planning and preparation, as well as a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of all things bike. In what was an intensive session the previous day, we covered trailside repairs, assessing abilities, route planning, navigation skills, and what to carry. Head honcho at Cyclewise, Rich, was not only delivering the training but had also devised the course content for British Cycling, so we knew we were learning from the experts. By the end of the day my head was swimming with grid references, endless variations of dotted lines, bike parts, and a long shopping list of essential kit, which ended with a much bigger backpack.
As Rich pointed out, the Level 2 Mountain Bike Leadership qualification is “a big ticket” that allows the holder to lead groups of up to eight people on the majority of UK’s vast network of mountain bike trails and bridleways, and with that brings a great deal of responsibility. So, while we came away with a good understanding of what it takes to be a proficient mountain bike leader, it’s only by going away and putting it all into practice that we’ll become competent and confident enough to take responsibility for leading groups of our own.
The course concluded with a self-reflection exercise in which we identified our strengths and areas to improve before we’re ready for assessment. Rich’s parting shot was to tell us to “get lost”. He meant it “in the nicest possible way”, but he did mean to literally go out and get lost. Of course, he did also want us put our map reading skills to the test and find ourselves again too.
At the end of the two days, I left Cyclewise HQ absolutely buzzing, and excited at the prospect of losing and then finding myself. I’ve already been out on a few navigation exercises/fantastic new rides, and am happy to report that, on each occasion, I’ve managed to make it much further than the car park without going off track!