See the show notes and links on the MBR page for Episode #5.
Main topic: THE ART OF SESSIONING ON A MOUNTAIN BIKE, PART 1: FOCUSED PRACTICE OF A CHALLENGING OBSTACLE OR SECTION OF TERRAIN ALONG THE TRAIL
Hey welcome to Episode #5 of the Mountain Bike Skills Network podcast. My name is Griff Wigley, also known as the mountain bike geezer. I’m am the founder of the Mountain Bike Skills Network and the host of the Mountain Bike Skills Network Community, a busy group of over 2600 mountain bikers on Facebook, free for anyone to join.
The skills network is all about helping recreational mountain bikers like you and me have more fun while upping our skills. Why? So we can ride the stuff we want that interests us and challenges us. I think of it as a Goldilocks Zone. Not too scary or hard; not too easy or boring but juuuuuust right. That middle is where the fun is and one of the most reliable ways to stay in that Goldilocks Zone is to continually increase your skills.
You can learn more about the Mountain Bike Skills Network at mtbskills.net where you’ll also see links to my various social media accounts.
Today’s show is about sessioning, the art of improving your mountain bike skills by repeatedly attempting a challenging obstacle or section of terrain along the trail. It’s part 1 of a series, which at this point, I have no idea if there will be more than 2 parts or not. So watch for episode 6, coming up in a few weeks. By then I should know!
THE ART OF SESSIONING ON A MOUNTAIN BIKE, PART 1: FOCUSED PRACTICE OF A CHALLENGING OBSTACLE OR SECTION OF TERRAIN ALONG THE TRAIL
Back in late July, I spent about an hour trying to clean a tricky boulder in the X loop of the Lebanon Hills MTB Trail here in Minnesota, about 45 minutes from my home. I’ve been able to clean the easiest way over the boulder for several years – maybe 90% of the time. But there are two obvious tougher lines over it that give me trouble. I spent that day in July attempting the route with small rock in front of the boulder about 25 or 30 times.
I only cleaned it 3 times but each one felt different so when I departed, it was with a sense of both frustration and mild accomplishment, sort of “Well, I guess I’ll have to analyze the video to see if I can understand what seemed to work the best.”
I learned the art of sessioning in my 3+ decades of riding motorcycle trials, commonly called observed trials way back when but now mostly referred to as mototrials. When you’re not competing at mototrials, 90% of the time you’re sessioning. You only ride a trail to get to something that you can session. And the nature of setting up a mototrials event at the club level typically involves flagging different lines over the same obstacle or section of terrain to make it appropriately challenging for different ability levels, ie, “Let’s have the novice class riders go over the log here but require the intermediate class riders to go over it here where it’s at a tougher angle.” So when you’re regularly part of a team who sets up an event, you gradually get better at spotting lines, especially the slower speed technical stuff. When I got started in mountain biking back in 2011, I got hooked on it immediately in part because the technical sessioning was so familiar to me
A few days after I sessioned that boulder at Lebanon Hills, I went indoor rock climbing with some of my grown kids at Vertical Endeavors in Bloomington, MN. It occurred to me that my sessioning of the harder line over that boulder on my mountain bike was very much like the rock climbing and bouldering going on that day. There are generally many routes up a climb and everyone picks those that provide enough of a challenge to make it fun. And climbers sometimes pick routes that they know that they can’t yet do or that they fail at much or most of the time. No matter what your sport, reaching and then failing and reaching again is not only a good way to have fun trying to get better, it’s actually a key strategy for forming new connections in your brain. More on that in an upcoming episode.
I eventually created a 2-minute video showing a dozen of my attempts sessioning that boulder at Leb , and I posted it to the MTB Skills Network Community, our Group on Facebook, asking for feedback.
The response was encouraging, including some very detailed feedback on my attempts from two guys, Sean Lawrence and Peter Kundrat. But it was this comment from Kyle Springer that opened my eyes to some bigger picture possibilities with sessioning:
“Like a lot of things it’s not just the quantity of the thing but the quality. In this case I would modify the word to be “qualities”. What qualities or functional aspects did you change in your attempts? Here are the items I would throw some A/B testing at: slow approach vs not as slow, higher gear vs lower, pedaling wheel lift vs a bump up, self belief vs self doubt, etc. My frustration is when I realize I tried the same thing over and over but expected a different result. It’s a cliche but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t guilty of it.”
Not long after that discussion, another community member, AngryMountain Biker podcaster Will Niccols posted a video showing his participation in a sessioning group called the Techy Riders Social Club in the Richmond, Virginia area of the US. Back in January, Will had interviewed the group’s founder, Rob Berube, for his podcast. I listened to it and got excited. These guys were experienced at hosting sessioning group rides.
It reminded me that we’d had a discussion in our online community last winter about whether or not we should try to organize a way for members to meet each other for group rides in towns all over the world. There was some talk about making the group rides focused on skill development but nothing ever became of it. Now however, with the inspiration from Will and Rob, I decided it was time to try to organize something. I called it the MTB Skills Network Sessionistas and we have started piloting it in the Twin Cities metro area (Mpls/St. Paul, Minnesota). As of this podcast episode, we’ve had a half dozen or so sessioning group rides. Anyone who mountain bikes in the area can join the group. Over 80 have thus far.
In my next episode, I’ll focus on the two different types of sessioning, as well as some guidelines to consider when hosting a sessioning group ride
Alright, before I close, I want to give a quick update on the MTBSN Community, my free Facebook Group that anyone can join. It’s completely devoted to mountain bike skills. I moderate all new submitted posts to make sure they’re skills-related. And I keep a close watch on all the comments to make sure civility rules.
Our percentage of women mountain bikers continues to increase, now over 35%. And the women participate just as much as the men, so that’s pretty cool.
And we’ve got a lot of members from all over the world and quite a few coaches and instructors. That’s a good mix for a dynamic community that, as of this recording, is approaching 2,700 members, with a third or more active during each month, posting hundreds of comments.
If you’d like to join the Group, you can get redirected to it quickly by going to mtbskills.net/community. Or you can do a Facebook search. Or look for the link in the show notes.
So that’s it for Episode 5. You can find today’s show notes over at mountainbikeradio.com/mtbskills/ . I’m interested in your feedback and suggestions