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Tom Dowie Coaching @ Chicksands
For Christmas I gave the GF a Bike Coaching voucher. Well, being as tight as I am, I actually just cut some pics out of a magazine and stuck them on a bit of cardboard. I dressed this up as a present with the intention of arranging something later. After all, why do it now if you can put it off?


Eventually though the day arrived when I would have to do something constructive, so I gave Tom Dowie a call. Tom is a pro 4X racer of some note and offers coaching sessions as well as Hadleigh Farm Olympic track guiding. He's also based at Chicksands, Bedfordshire, which isn't too far from my place.

Rolling into Chicksands carpark we're greeted by Tom and his sweet VW Caddy, he pops out from under the bonnet looking like Slash in riding gear. We go through the preliminary insurance gubbins and it's off to the track.

Anakin and I have rode at Chicksands plenty over the last year or so, there's a good range of different trails but today we are starting on the 4X track, a wide, sweeping snake of berms, doubles, tabletops and drops. I've always found the other tracks more fun and so tend not to use the 4X so much, but I'm about to be shown the error of my ways. A couple of full length 4X runs with Tom following and he has our measure. He's upbeat and constructive, outlines work to be done and seems confident that we'll see improvement, but I'm not so sure.

He proceeds to break each element of the track into it's basics. We're starting with a simple pump over a lip, but even this requires concentration and where I have previously tried (and failed) to manual through it, Tom's recommending a different technique entirely. Much practice later and we're both sucking the lip up and using it's backside to add free speed, I'm into the following corner faster than ever before and this is creating it's own problems.

Next up is using the berm and weight transfer, having just carried a fair bit more speed from the last section I'm looking further down the trail than before and trying to apply my weight to the pedals correctly. We are joined (Chicksands is open to the public via £5 day passes) by a group of lads from central London. Some are better riders than others but they all seem keen and rag their bikes about like madmen. They're no trouble though and leave us room to train on each section.

Eventually it's time to hit a berm into small step-up. This is the first time that Tom has recommended getting some air under the wheels and (rather embarrassingly) he saw me fluff this right up a couple of days ago. The step-up comes together nicely, no more flying stiff as a dead sailor, I'm letting the bike do the work, moving it underneath me and absorbing the landing like a moist sponge(?). Anakin is struggling here, so I'm feeling like a Real Man[sup]TM[/sup]. Soon though we move onto the 'step-up tabletop to double' and she hands me my ass on a plate as she repeatedly canes both the up-onto-off of the tabletop and also whups the double into submission. I'm left floundering, I can get the tabletop dialled but the double eludes me, I've slammed the rear wheel into the landing harder than The Rock laying the smack down, I think I'm about to trash the rim and then the London lads return...

With a couple of the boys watching, Tom's positive vibes and being beaten by Anakin all vying for my attention I give it one more blast. A crank or two more speed, a touch more high pump off the lip and I've only gone and done it, landing on the backside of the double, smooth as you like. I'm utterly chuffed, but try to hide it as if it was the easiest thing in the world. I'd have done the freakin' Macarena if no one was watching.

The lads aren't impressed and ask Tom to show them what he can do.

We spent around 4 hours with Tom, his method of demonstration, analysis and constructive and positive feedback made for a fun and progressive session that we both came away from feeling that we had learnt something. Applying the skills from today's course to trail riding will make them second nature, but it will take time to polish. Chicksands Bikepark is open daily and is well worth the £5 (+£1 parking) entrance fee and, though it's obviously busier at the weekend, never seems packed. There are some big development plans afoot to cater for a greater range of rider ability which should see fruition within the next months.
Keep it foolish...
That sounds awesome. When I went there I saw him gap the 3-4 pack, great rider.
I love your write ups Mike; very imaginatively worded.  Sounds like a great day - especially for Anakin!

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