Through my formative teenage years, every Friday night after dinner my dad would disappear into the lounge room. There he’d stand, feet shoulder-width apart, hands clasped in front of him. Then, slowly, solemnly, he’d begin to swing his arms back and forth. He wasn’t, as we’d assumed, finally having some kind of breakdown or seizure; in fact he was ‘practising’ his golf swing in preparation for Saturday morning’s 8am tee off.
Golf is one of the most frustratingly addictive sports going. And while whacking a little bitof rubber and plastic around miles and miles of paddock mightn’t share many obvious similarities with mountain biking, us mountain bikers could really learn a lot from the world of golf. And I’m not talking about how to wear three-quarter knickerbockers with panache or how to jump your bike over bunkers (though both are a lot of fun).
If there’s one thing that golfers know how to do, it’s practise. Hours of refining their swing at the driving range, patiently drilling putt after putt after putt on practice greens under the judging gaze of their cohorts in the clubhouse. Countless superannuation funds have been sunk into private tuition, Zen meditation tapes and secret strategies to fortify the mind against the sledges of playing partners. And for all this effort, golf remains a sport where it can all unravel faster than you can say ‘Gee, your backswing’s looking a little tense.’ When it does unravel, what do golfers do? Practise more, hit more balls, concentrate harder, buy new clubs, drink more red wine and swing their arms in the lounge room with greater fervour.
Mountain bikers don’t do this.
When was the last time, honestly, that you donned the lycra, packed a sandwich and headed out with the express aim of practising a skill, a section of trail, a new technique?
For most of us, the answer is never. We learnt mountain biking through just ‘doing’, and that has taken us to a point that we consider good enough. It’s like handwriting – every one of us, at some stage, was given a gold star for it by some well-meaning teacher, and from that moment on there was no need to improve, which is why most of us produce a scrawl that looks like it was scratched onto the page by a wound-up chicken.
As super coach Mark Fenner says, ‘Do what you’ve always done and you’ll get what you’ve always got.’ We ride our local loop, we roll around the same obstacles, we walk down the same sections, we get off to lift our bikes over logs that, with a little practise, we could hop over. Meanwhile, we look on with admiration as someone else flies through that rockgarden, drops off that ledge or hops over that gully. Yes, some riders are just more naturally gifted, and I’m sure you’re still having a bloody good time. But with some practise, perhaps some tuition to break old habits, who knows how much more fun you could be having?
‘I can’t bunny hop,’ I’ve heard riders say. What, you’ve got special gravity? Of courseyou can bunny hop. It just takes practise, and thankfully practising mountain biking isn’t exactly an arduous task – hey, you’re riding! Practise may not ever make you a perfect rider, but when you reap the rewards of your practise sessions out on the trail, well, there are few more perfect feelings.