We recently joined the trail gurus from School of Rocks in Stellenbosch for an MTB skills workshop. Here’s what we learned. By Rae Trew-Browne
I have been riding MTB for about seven years, yet I had never been to a formal skills clinic. As I made my way to Stellenbosh to meet Stephan Senekal, one of the pro skills coaches at the School of Rocks, I imagined that there were lots of bad habits that would need fixing. Senekal and pro rider Matt Lombardi started the School Of Rocks skills clinic with the aim of offering XCO, stage/marathon racing, and enduro skills training on an advanced and intermediate level.
We met at the Specialized Concept Store in Stellenbosch and after a cortado or two we made our way up to the popular trails in Eden, starting the session off with some basic skills testing so Senekal could gauge my riding ability. After the tests, we got to the good stuff: how to manual an MTB.
According to Senekal, being able to manual your MTB is one of the most important skills to have. Without the ability to lift the front wheel correctly, it will be difficult to clear obstacles in your path, especially large drop offs. “Body positioning is key to pulling off the perfect manual,” he said.
I spent about 10 minutes running through the drills that Senekal gave me. Although I struggled at first to get a smooth action going, the drills taught me that one of the key mistakes I had been making is using my arms to bring the front wheel up. Using my arms instead of my body weight kept my weight over the saddle and made controlling the bike difficult.
Out on the trail having my weight forward was creating all sorts of problems for me on the technical rocky sections. After hammering the drills for a few rides after the session I found my weight automatically drifting further back, giving me far more control on the tricky terrain. This helped with the cornering and jumping skills that we touched on as well. I realised again how so many of the skills needed on the bike are linked to one another, get one right and the rest begin to make more sense.
I will be honest, I felt a little awkward going for a skills course. I mean I have been riding for 10 plus years on the road and more than seven on the MTB, it felt a little embarrassing. I thought I should know this stuff already, but after the session I realised that there is nothing wrong with saying, “hey I need a little help here.” Having someone with you watching how you perform certain skills and giving constructive feedback can have massive benefits to your riding.
Senekal shares his top tips with us on how to perform the perfect manual:
How To Manual On A MTB:
- Start with your feet flat and relax your body. The first step of a manual is to not over think things. Use a stick on the ground to practice your timing.
- Preload your front shock with your weight by pushing down with your arms. Move your weight to the back of the bike, at the same time lift your arms slightly towards your chest and use your heels to control the manual by driving your weight down towards the ground. (Please note that the shifting of your weight backwards past the saddle should be the main reason your front wheel is lifting – not your arms. Arms just assist.)
- If you can get all of these movements to feel like one movement that would be ideal! The smoother your actions are the better/more control you will have.
- Finding the balance point of a manual is something you are going to have to find for yourself. Make sure you have your finger on the back brake to bring the front wheel down safely in case you go back too far.
- Every manual differs. Make sure you are aware of the terrain
Contact details for School Of Rocks:
Matt Lombardi: 072 205 5021
Stephan Senekal: 082 418 3236
Have you been to a skills clinic recently? Let us know in the comments below how it has benefited your riding.