Monday, 4 April 2011



Sitting in a cafe high above the orange groves in sunny Portugal, I’m munching through my second piece of post ride cake. It tastes fantastic, and after such a great ride I have absolutely no guilt about calorie intake! Looking up at the red ribbon of singletrack threading its way through the orange trees I can’t help wondering what it is that makes the perfect mountain bike ride. Is it the quality of the trails, or the quality of the post ride cake stop? Is it the cake that makes the ride so worth it, or the ride that makes the cake taste so good?


I've just finished two weeks working with AQR Holidays as part of their pre-season training camp in Portugal.  It is without doubt the most exhausting job I have ever had. I should be grumpy and tired, but actually I am already planning to do the same again next year because I can't wait to do it all again!

As I munch through another mouthful of cake it dawns on me that the “cake or ride” debate is similar to the debate that got me here in the first place.
The journey started 6 months earlier, ironically over a post ride coffee and cake, when I had come out to AQR Holiday’s main base in Luchon (South of France) for some training, coaching and race advice prior to the World 24 Hour Solo Championships last year. 

A bike that fits- just works
We had started a discussion around efficiency and performance on a bike.  Ian Potter, skills coach and co owner of A Quality Ride Holidays, the master of debate on dynamic bike fit, was explaining his process of making you a better rider. Not just by teaching you better skills but also by having the bike correctly fitted to your riding style. His bike fit technique was not about sitting you on a bike and using, numbers  tables and a ruler to calculate 'ideal' bike fit – which assumes you are the “average person”. He explained how he would watch how you ride on challenging trails and then use his experience to help you to adjust the bike specifically for you and your riding style. He described how he could adjust the bike set up to improve your skills, power and efficiency, helping you to improve your performance.

A balanced body - just works
I had my own opinion on the subject: What about your body?  My argument as a physio and pilates instructor, with experience in treating cyclists with musculo skeletal and structural imbalances, was that it was far more important to correct the body first than to correct the bike. Most cyclists develop such imbalances and the more they train the more pronounced they become if not addressed. If the body isn’t working properly, simply changing the bike in order to fit the body to develop more power and to support skills development may even reinforce the habits that created the imbalances in the first place.

A healthy argument followed about which was more important for performance - the bike or the body.  One thing we did both agree on is that bike/body fit has to be done through dynamic assessment. The bike and body both act totally differently when on the trail vs when stationary. A good mountain biker moves so much when riding that anything you do on a turbo trainer, in a bike shop, or in a gym is not going to show the full story.  In the end we agreed that there was only one way to prove or disprove a theory - lets test it out!

The AQR Portugal pre-season training week was born.
March 2011: 20 riders, 20 bikes, a video camera, lots of awesome trails and over 50 years of relevant experience from an elite bike skills instructor/mechanic Ian Potter, elite racer/coach Kate Potter and a physiotherapist to elite cyclists/clinical pilates instructor – who sometimes likes to ride her bike for 24 hours ;-) Anne Dickins.
Each rider’s skills were assessed on the trail by all three of us. Ian and Kate would analyse the riders skills and how their position and bike set up impacted their skill level. I would watch their position on the bike and assess why they might not be able to get into that optimum position or pedal efficiently because of a postural/dynamic core dysfunction.
Video analysis was all the proof the riders needed to accept our comments. Many of the riders were indeed shocked to find out that their riding style included back wiggles, knee wobbles, elbow flaps or stiff shoulders, legs or spine, all of which will reduce efficiency and performance. 
An 'off trail' assessment of bike and body was then given to each rider to further analyse their bike/body interface and finely tune their 'bike fit'. Their dynamic core was assessed to ascertain which 'weak links' in their kinetic chain were causing their less than efficient riding styles. Over the week we watched the changes take effect with some brilliant results.
A number of the riders had been through static bike fit assessments at some point in their lives, but between the three of us we helped improve peoples position on their bike by changing the bike fit and by altering their dynamic core. The final videos were indeed impressive.  Riders had become naturally more proficient.
Its all very well having skills tuition but the bike and/or body might be holding you back. If the body is incapable of dropping the heel down due to tight calves, for example, cornering is never going to be mastered. If the saddle is in the wrong position, climbing is always going to be hard.  By the end of the week, with the combination of skills coaching, dynamic bike fit and dynamic core assessment everyone’s skills had improved, as had their confidence.  
So back to the 'cake / ride' debate – it is the same as the 'bike / body' debate. It is not one or the other, it’s the whole package which is important. Just as a good mountain bike ride is just as much about the ‘trails’ as the post ride 'cake', achieving optimal cycling performance is just as much about a good “dynamic” bike fit as it is about a body working seamlessly with the bike.

{Postscript – Having written this, Simon tells me I have it all wrong.  Apparently the real debate is about coffee or beer – which makes the perfect ride?…}


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