“Just remember to keep your weight central and push the bike forwards,” were Mike’s last words of wisdom before we set off down the winding trail that disappeared into the woods. I tried to look cool about it, but inside I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous.
I was up in the wilds of the North York Moors, having a one-to-one mountain biking masterclass from rider extraordinaire Mike Hawtin from Gone Mountain Biking. The weather had closed in overnight, and in an attempt to find some shelter from the wind and rain, Mike had brought me to Dalby Forest, a forestry commission park situated approx. 15 mins drive from the lovely market town of Pickering.
Now I’m by no means an expert rider. In fact previous exploits go as far as a summer ten years previous where I went through a biker phase that ended in a spectacular crash. Nothing broken except my dreams of being a pro downhiller. However when Mike invited me to come up and experience what the North York Moors had to offer mountain bikers, I thought it was time to brush off the memories and get back on that bike!
Mike runs a bespoke mountain bike guiding and skills coaching business called Gone Mountain Biking. Alongside his Pickering-based 5* B&B, Eleven Westgate, he offers tailor made tours around the local area for both groups and individuals, as well as skills coaching days, where he gives one-to-one tuition for all levels, and bike maintenance courses. He specialises in small groups and one-to-one, meaning you really get the best out of a session with him.
Due to the foul weather, the moors were off limits to us, but the network of trails in Dalby Forest were a great alternative. Trails range from easy greens right up to world class blacks, including a Cross Country World Cup XC route which is supposed to be one of the best trails in the country. After saying I was up for anything, Mike set about taking us to the top of the park and starting off by doing one of the red trails — at 30km long I quietly thought it was probably the only trail we’d be doing that day!
The initial steep climb was a great way of getting the ticker pumping and the legs going, and Mike was impressed I didn’t ask to get off and walk! I put it down to my climbers legs — I may not have a thigh gap, but I impressed Mike which felt good. Once at the top we weaved through a variety of really nice single tracks and quiet forestry roads. Mike eased me in gently with some easy downhill sections, giving me great tips on body positioning, balance and controlling the bike over the steeper sections. After a couple of hours I was caked in mud and eager for more.
“The next bit is a little more technical — a series of steep ditches. Remember to keep your chin and eyes on your exit point, look at where you want to be, not where you are,” called Mike as we wove our way through the trees. Before I had time to get my eyes in the right place, Mike had disappeared down a steep bank and I was flying down after him. More luck than skill, I made it through the first trough, but the second was quickly approaching and as soon as I entered it, I knew I wasn’t coming out. The bike rose up the bank and out of control, I slipped off the pedals and landed in a tangled heap of limbs and metal at the bottom of the ditch. Eager to save face I quickly yelled out that all was good, brushed off the mud and pushed the bike out of the ditch. They say the best thing after a fall is to get straight back on the horse, so I once again mounted my trusty steed and pedalled off.
The rain was really coming down by now, the wind had picked up and my legs were getting tired. After a couple more miles of lovely downhill single tracks through the trees we reached my final challenge — a sweeping section of berms. “Make sure you look at where you want to be — wherever your head is turned that’s where you’ll go,” Mike gave me a few words of wisdom before heading off down the trail. I had more confidence now and even though I was probably going the same speed as a mobility scooter I felt like I was flying!
All in all it had been a fantastic morning out — I was covered head to toe in mud, was soaked through and my legs felt like jelly, but I had a massive grin on my face. Now just to find somewhere to wash off before the five hour drive home!