This article is my review or rather sharing my experience of having MTB skills clinics with Alex Roberton a UK based coach working under Lee Likes Bikes school of mountain biking.
One day in the early Spring of 2004 I walked around a big book store and saw a book called "Mastering Mountain Bike Skills" by Brian Lopes and some Lee Carmack dude... this book blew my mind already in the shop. WOW! This guy says that riding a mountain bike consists of pedaling, braking, cornering, jumping and there is something like a riding stance to manage it all. Moreover the book stated that cornering consists of 3 stages: setup, cornering and exit! Laugh as much as you want, at that time I was mountain biking for 4 years already, yet I was completely clueless on how to ride a bike. At that time there was nothing to learn from, other than studying New World Disorder movies or talking to that fast dude from your town, which might not have been a great idea. Internet wasn't really a learning tool it is today with blogs and countless instructional videos. Yea there was this "Fundamentals" video by DirtMAG but it wasn't really structured in any good way. Anyways... I bought the damn book and since then my riding has changed a lot. I was riding and studying this book for 3 or 4 more years until I found a website called Leelikesbikes.com, where I learned that Brian Lopes didn't write that book... Lee McCormack did. It was Lee's website that got me deeper into the art of bike riding, his articles were going deeper than the book, they were often based around answering some e-mail question of some rider. He also posts instructional videos there. As soon as i learned that Lee was a skills coach based on the other side of the pond, I thought to myself: Wow... it's a real dream of mine to get coached by this dude. I wrote it down on my "To-do-before-I-die" list along with visiting British Columbia and owning a 6" super bike. It may sound as if I'm going over the top here, but I can honestly say, without an ounce of doubt or vaseline, that Lee's influence on my riding, through his book and website is INVALUABLE. Furthermore I am more than sure that he contributed greatly to improvement of overall riding skill among the whole population of mountain bike amateurs. And most of people who benefit from it, got it for free, thanks to Lee sharing his knowledge quite openly in a very comprehensible form.
The problem with attending Lee's classes was that he lives on the other side of the pond so I've been forced to wait until my kids go to the college in 15 years. So here I was 3 months ago, sitting on my bottom in front of the computer, and I got a message from a guy called Alex Roberton who said that he is a MTB skills coach working with Lee and he is eager to come and visit me in Gothenburg. I was extremely pleased and couldn't really pass such opportunity to see Lee's MTB Kung Fu in action. I am more than aware of the grudge of non-applied knowledge. No matter how much I read about skills and watch instructional videos, I still need to perform some deliberate practice, have someone watching me do it and then comment on what he can see. Then there is the issue of putting together separate bits of information, then making an interpretation, and it makes a huge difference when someone lays it down in one logical, continuous feed of information. Lastly it's good to see someone do it well.
Alex will not turn you into a notorious Strava KOMmer, or make you rip a World Cup DH track with ease. Instead he will give you tools to practice fundamental set of skills that lie at the bottom of everything that, everyone, including the best riders, do on the bike. After you take his classes, no matter how much you analyzed World Cup racers doing their thing, you will look at their riding in a different way, with more understanding. Those guys always ride in balance, come out of attack position for all moves, and look far, faaar ahead. After those clinics I finally realized what sort of movement pattern allows some guys to rip berms. And this is what Lee's Kung Fu is mostly about: patterns of movement and reading the terrain in heavy/light manner - no matter how rough the trail is, after all, it is a one big pump track. All we need to do is to find a frequency of sine wave of being light and heavy, that matches the track, our ability and the kind of bike we ride. I was aware of that philosophy but it became much more tangible after clinics with Alex.
What does he do during the clinics? We were 5 people, 2 Stefans, Mats, Karolina and myself. He took us to a parking lot and showed us the famous neutral position (I had it a bit wrong), how to move on a bike in corners. Then he showed us how to pump flat ground, that is to propell the bike with hips and arms, without pedaling, where I basically learned what I hear in each single aspect of my life: you are overdoing it, stop wasting energy, focus on quality... I've been also noticed that I am not driving the bike in the corner with my outside foot - kind of funny after all those years. Then we went to the local pump track and CX course built by local clubs, where we trained pumping rollers and jumping small drop offs. The whole thing took 3 hours and most of us thought is was just spot on, as we couldn't take more info and some of us were a bit tired.
Everyone who took any kind of life coaching or got on a motivational program, knows that it is easy to get fired up by a spark and burn for a month. The problem is what happens after 3 months and beyond. Taking skills clinics is NOT going to boost your skill on it's own, it can make you do some things you thought you'll never do, but you will plateau rather quickly. What we need in each aspect of life is tools to figure stuff out on our own. Skill drills that Alex presented us with during the clinics, are a great way to practice and progress if one only finds the patience. It is damn hard to decide to spend precious time on two wheels on going to the parking lot, instead of ripping the trails in the woods, but my recent experience with doing skill drills makes me think that it is worth it. The brain and muscles must be wired to perform those fundamental patterns of movement, and if you can't do it on flat asphalt, you won't do it in the woods. So what's next? I guess it would be awesome to get Alex to go through the stuff he presented to us once again in a compact form, for maybe 45 minutes and then we could head out to the woods and try to apply those fundamentals and theory in practice in real terrain. Hopefully he'll be back to Gothenburg in some time.
Alex lives in London which is Europe's flight hub, that means that wherever you live, it is theoretically easy, fast and cheap to pay him a visit, as well as it is easy for him to come to you if you arrange a larger skills clinics, or a set of few meetings. Whether you are familiar with Lee Likes Bikes or not, I think it is totally worth it to take clinics with him. He's outspoken and very composed, considering his age, so don't get fooled by it, he can put down a good pitch. He's not a freeride superstar but he's incredibly smooth and looks solid, so it's not a case of: "How to get there" - by "I've never been there". All you need to do is to be open minded and you'll benefit greatly. All the people from the group we had here in Gothenburg were very happy and look forward to see Alex again.
Does it sound cheesy? Well I could manipulate you and write something slightly critical to add a bit of authenticity but honestly, it's been really good. Not spectacular, just really good
So here are some contact details for anyone interested:Lee Like Bikes coach in UK Alex Roberton
Wacek Kipszak WAKi
By the way: Lee also started an online school of riding, there's some really juicy material in there, I will write a review of it in the close future! here's the link: LLB-MTB/
By the way 2: Huge thanks Alex for showing up!
By the way 3: I am fricking flattered I could finally do something together with Lee after learning so much from him
Cheers man! You make the world a better place
By the way 4: Big thanks to bicycle store SPORTSON
for renting a bike to Alex!