In 2016 I became a British Cycling accredited Mountain Bike Leader level 2. It was the first step in my decision to abandon 30 years of desk jobs, and do something that is healthier and much more fun. So far I have no regrets (I'm loving it), but what exactly does it mean?
The way British Cycling puts it is that the award "enables experienced mountain bikers to safely guide others on off-road terrain, thus spreading the bug that we all know, is impossible to shake".
In more practical terms I went on a two day training course to learn a whole host of skills, both in the classroom and out on the bike. We started with theory: how we would plan a ride, what a risk assessment is, how much of it we can do in advance, and what has to be done en route and how to manage a group of disparate riders so that they have a safe ride and enjoy themselves.
It's really important to be able to do running repairs on a bike ride, and not everyone who comes along will know how to mend a puncture, let alone how to sort out their brakes or deal with a broken chain. The second session covered all the basic bike repairs you might need on a ride: we raced each other to see who could to mend a puncture quickest, changed the pads in our disc brakes, and learned how to adjust the gears.
The third major area of learning was map reading and navigation. We started with the basic principles in the classroom, and on day two we put everything we'd learned into practice out on Dartmoor.
Our tutor had put together a ride, and we took it in turns to lead the group, following the map. Even when we were playing as client we had to keep our wits about us as Dan might stop us at any moment and ask us to point to exactly where we were on the map. He would also drop back, to make sure we were looking over our shoulders to keep the group together, and simulated an accident to see how we would cope.
Which brings me to the fourth part of being a mountain bike leader. We all have to pass a two day outdoor first aid course and renew it every three years.
With my level 2 leadership award I can guide people on terrain that:
is rideable at walking speed
is rollable on descents so that wheels are not required to leave the ground
has an obvious line choice
is 90% rideable by the entire group
is no more than half an hour’s walk from where an ambulance can get to
the maximum leader-to-rider ratio should not exceed 1:8
is during daylight in normal summer and intermediate seasonal conditions.
Happily virtually all the terrain in East Devon conforms to these criteria. If you're looking for jumps and big drop offs, then I'm not the mountain bike leader for you. If you enjoy swooping singletrack, exploring new bridlepaths, great views with some challenging climbs thrown in for good measure then do get in touch.
I'm also a bit of an evangelist, and my latest idea is to try and encourage people who don't currently mountain bike to give it a try. So as well as guided rides for beginners, I am about to start offering weekly Bike Yourself Fit sessions for women who haven't been taking much exercise and want to get a bit fitter outside in the beautiful Devon countryside.