Here I am in the Wallride Mountain & Bike Store in Bürserberg. All around me are heavy, solid bikes with fat tires and huge suspension. The walls are adorned with helmets and body armour. "Full-face," says Pasquale, our guide, and smiles as he loads me up with helmet and protection pads. What have I just agreed to here? I'll tell you: On a day with “First Try Guiding” in Bikepark Brandnertal, a beginner’s course for downhill mountain biking.
My three men, husband and two sons (10 and 12), are beaming as they inspect the bikes and strap on their protection. What was I thinking? Should I not have just opted for a day in the spa whilst the boys go off on the downhill. How will a downhill course work with adults and children alike, are we not too fast for the boys, or maybe even the other way around. I guess we will find out over the next two hours. So with a smile of uncertainty I close the protection jacket and put on my Bikepark Brandnertal jersey. Pasquale expertly picks out the right bike for me and sets the suspension fork to my weight. Is that it, are we ready? And its off we go….
The boys whiz off towards the lift, but they are pulled back and I get a breather: Pasquale wants us to become familiar with our bikes in the gravel car. Together, we check if the tires are turning smoothly, if the brakes are working, and if everything else is in place. This is the most important thing when biking, explains Pasquale: If the brake fails on the track, it will end badly. Fair enough. So I eagerly turn the wheels in the air and bring them to a halt with a short pull on the brake. On the left is the front brake, on the right the rear brake. Good. Before we start, we also learn the right way to brake in the saddle. We let ourselves roll from a hill on the slippery test slope and practice: First only with the rear brake, then with the front brake, then with both. 60% front, 40% rear is the right braking ratio.
Alright, let's see. We skid across the gravel, leaving skid marks and I start to befriend the good-natured bike Pasquale picked out for me. Just when I think we can move on to the next training exercise, we go to the lift!! I’m feeling a little queasy as the lift staff hang my bike on the lift and as I travel on the lift I can see the course below. Steep pieces, huge jumps and what are those snakes made of wood planks that meander through the forest? Oh, what have I done? Don’t get me wrong, I like cycling. Cozy rides along the river, sometimes with a mountain bike on gravel roads, but this is something completely different? So, arriving at the top, I stand apprehensively with my bike at the beginning of the track, until the cheering "Go on, Mama, go on!" Alright. Take a deep breath, we'll take it easy. Pasquale grins at me. "Ready?" He asks. Yes, I am ready. I think...
Slowly our starts to move. "Relaxed riding, ride through the ups and downs and before the steep turns we will stop again" says Pasquale. What? Steep turns!? But before I have time to complain, Pasquale and the boys enter the trail. "Tschengla Unchained" reads the sign under which I roll off. What that means I have no idea. Anyway, gently downhill on a pleasantly firm surface. On the track are small hills. We should keep the bike firmly on the ground, use the maximum contact surface of the fat tires. To ride up, pull the bike up, push the bike down to ride down. Pull push. Oh and look ahead! So many things to pay attention to while biking ... I quickly gain speed. Brakes! 60/40. No idea if I'm in the right ratio, but at least my bike is slowing down, with no locking wheels. And the wave riding is fun!
Not thinking too much I concentrate on my bike and the ground, make friends with the track. Flowline they call this, and I begin to understand why: In a fluid motion, my bike and I roll towards the valley floor. After a few hundred meters, the men are already waiting for me. The worries I had for the boys are gone. They ride a lot more mountain bikes than I do, and they are on a well-maintained trail. Secondly, we have a guide who closely monitors them and, finally, I am also very busy getting myself down the mountain unscathed. Why did we stop? My eyes follow the route. The initial gentle gradient suddenly drops, steeply, in short succession four steep curves wind down into the depths. The ground looks loose. Slippery. And no way out. It looks worse than it is, Pasquale calms us down and talks about how to handle the berms properly.
I can’t look at them, can’t listen properly, but some things stuck: don’t look at the ground but look where I want to go, high into the corner, keep the bike at 90 ° to the ground, have no fear and If possible, do not brake in the corner. Even my brave boys hesitate as they drive behind our guide. Slowly they move around the first corner, the second one is faster. "Perfect!", Pasquale shouts and they whiz out of my sight. All right, now my time. I start the bike, stand on the pedals and drive into the corner. Contrary to expectations, it is not slippery at all and it looks a lot worse than it is. Although I am far from cruising the curves in a fluid line, I am now in the valley below and very happy with all of us. Come on...
Flying in the air over bumps and jumps (or slowly riding them out), through more steep turns and I feel like I'm at one with my bike. Almost a pro! But why are we stopping again? Now I see it, the wood snake through the forest. "Northshores," says Pasquale. Northwhat? No matter. 1.20 m to 1.40 m wide, treated wood, good to drive even in the wet. Just don’t be afraid, drive ahead, looking for your line and nothing can happen.
All right then. Roll on, concentrate on the track, take the first turn, ride over the planks which bank partly left and right, run in waves, but to the left of me there is a drop of two meters! I feel like I'm going too fast, hesitate, brake, look at the floor and before I can blink, I lie on pine needles and roots, right next to a tree. Fortunately, I am well-padded and lie to the right of the track, which on this side is only few inches above ground. I'm scared, but I also must laugh: you should just look forward to the track, not to the ground. "Alright?" Our guide asks worriedly, "Does something hurt you?". No, a few deep breaths and I’m up again.
So back on the bike and the last few meters on the planks through the forest. I admit that I am relieved when I have again "only" the steep bends and bumps in front of me. The route winds with varying steepness down into the valley, here a Wallride (a steep curve, which is heightened by a wooden wall) is built on the trail but as I am riding a more leisurely pace I don’t even touch the wood and then we are back at the lift.
Everyone alright? Yes! says the look into the radiant faces of my loved ones and after a short drink break, we go to the lift again. This time around, the track is not that scary and when we arrive at the top, we rush off again. Much faster we go into the valley, up, down, left, right, steep turns and jumps. I must admit that the Northshores in the forest are still a bit scary to me, but everything is fine. And this time, I even hit the wall at Wallride!
I'm a little bit proud of all four of us that we managed that so well. I didn’t think we would learn so fast, and I never thought that such a day out for the whole family would be so invigorating. In the evening in the hotel I put my admittedly a little sore body in the whirlpool. My boys tease me but its ok, I will take home some bruises, but they are proof that I did it and I am so glad I didn’t spend the whole day in the spa. So I defiantly recommend a family outing in the bike park, you have to try it!!
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