There’s something brilliant about seeing people outside their comfort zone exhibiting all of the inner drive, enthusiasm and genuine eagerness to overcome the situation. You almost feel like you shouldn’t be watching as you receive an uncensored, yet privileged, insight into their personal world. It’s a wonderfully unique and in the real sense of the word, ‘special’ occasion.
It was with excitement that recently an invitation was received to assist Ride International deliver a guided mountain bike group day. Pat Fitzpatrick, who spends much of the year in Europe hosting tours to the major road races or providing high level MTB and Road cycling coaching services, lead a group of senior executives on a MTB tour around Melbourne’s Lysterfield Park trails. As assistant, along with Giant rider Brad Davies, my role was to support the lap of the park, provide instruction and direction where appropriate and be responsible for keeping the group together and safe.
For some of the participants, this was the first time on a bicycle for over 20 years. They say you never forget how to ride a bike, well, does that apply to riding one off-road on rutted out proper mountain bike trails?
The event itself was a fantastic idea, a group of senior IT executives brought together to cap off an end to their year and be rewarded for their commitment and work performance. Hailing from three Australian states, the group was familiar but there existed a number of newer members. What a way to build the connectivity of the team!
In the hour leading up to kick-off, the group was powered up with coffees and muffins, stimulating the senses. A short briefing was supplied and then it was onto possibly the most enlightening part of the day, supplying bikes to each member. Remembering that it’s been over 10 to 20 years since they’ve been on a bike, let alone a modern hardtail mountain bike. The instructions started way before the first pedal stroke had been turned. It was a frenzy of excitement as air suspension forks were bounced time and again, at standstill. Hydraulic disc brakes were pumped furiously with howls of laughter. Twin gear shifters providing 27 different combinations were clicked in and out. Technology moves fast in the bicycle industry and it was wonderful to engage in question and answer with technology buffs used to servers, routers, LANs and WANs. Just like you presume most people can navigate how to use a mobile phone, when you’re a seasoned cyclist, you presume most people know about which lever does what when changing gears. The first taste of many lessons to be learned by me for the day.
It was exciting to live that discovery moment with the group. So many questions, so inquisitive, it was brilliant. In hindsight, I was the one doing the serious learning.
Then we were off! A flurry of clicks, pedals mashed, it was on! Clouds of dust, sounds of more gears clicking and tyres skidding. IT execs? BMX bandits more like it.
And that was just the dirt road. At the trail head 2 minutes later, we stopped. Pat provided expert instruction in the basics of MTB mastery. Positioning on the bike, using your body as suspension and how to lift the front and rear wheels for negotiating objects. Vital for the many logs dotted along the Lysterfield trails. Focused silence enveloped the group.
A few static tests, many more timely questions and we took off toward the trail proper. A round of rolling individual tutoring ensued before the track tightened, got bumpy and went up. It’s one thing to know the means to ride a bike and some helpful skills, but when you haven’t used your engine to get it going for a long time, the lungs start to heave, the body contorts and sweats as it summons muscles to contribute to forward motion. These guys overcame all that with enthusiasm and will power, not that they were necessarily unfit, but to see much rewiring of the mind and body occurring in those few moments was fascinating. Real-time adaptation before your eyes. And more skids.
As the group settled into a rhythm, some attacked the trail with boundless eagerness, others contained themselves to ensure they saw the day through to the end. A diversity of talent and skill emerged; these guys were impressive. It was a reminder to embrace opportunities and live life to the full, as subtle as an alarm announcing an emergency. They were having loads of fun. At times earning it with gritted teeth slogging up the hill just to breeze down the other side, the resulting smiles were from deep down, perhaps from rejuvenated forgotten memories.
Each time we paused, more questions. And water consumed. It was hard to tell whether the question, “how much longer to go?” implied they didn’t want it to end or couldn’t wait to get off. It was usually cut off by someone saying, “did you see X do that!”, followed by laughter.
All too soon the Lysterfield lap was complete, everyone intact and bikes in one piece.
In the time after, tales were swapped, jumps got bigger, skids longer and the banter louder. What a delight. Surrounded by top-end bikes strewn across the picnic area, the echoes of “I’ve got to get one of these” were plentiful. Encouraging not only because many had obviously enjoyed the day on the pedals, but also because a seed had been sewn. Something had changed out there on the trail, a new script written for some.
A day out with the work team taken riding on mountain bike trails is one of many ways to build teamwork, but unlike a commando course or building lego bridges, this is something that can keep going, with one member or all members. It’s accessible, social, great for fitness, an easy escape for the mind, and can be done before, during or after work with little bother.
It really was a privilege to be part of the day, the insights gained whilst guiding people to learn a new skill, being given the responsibility to ensure their safety and deliver a quality experience was highly engaging. The real honour though was seeing the team execute their new skills time and again with absolute commitment.
Chapeau to the IT exec team, true trail blazers in many facets and on a winner with this one.
*12th Feb 2012
Post-script to this article: Following completion of the day, one member of the team purchased a new bike in January to start cycling again, such was the power of the experience. Keep it up!
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