At RLC, we wanted to learn what acquiring skills looks like from our members' point of view, so we asked some of them. Here’s one of our most recent members, Joe Bank’s, experience with the 30-day Wheelie Challenge and a few other skills.
I should preface the article with this; I ride my bike a lot. I rode 355 days out of 365 and about 650 hours in 2020. I don’t generally take days off apart from travel, but naturally, I have a lot of easy recovery days.
When I started RLC in spring 2020, I integrated RLC practice into my routine by doing skills practice on easy days or when trails are in bad shape due to weather. On days that I normally would have ridden longer, I will ride the trainer in the evening after doing skills in the middle of the day as a break from work.
I have some weeks, especially when trail conditions are good, where I just ride my bike and don’t do any skills focused rides.
My practice sessions are usually 30 minutes to an hour with a mix of skills. For example, I might wheelie for 15 minutes, work on balance skills for 15 minutes, and then wheelie for another 15 minutes.
When I'm practicing a lot, I sometimes do 3 to 4 sessions a week and occasionally do multiple shorter sessions in a day. I keep bikes in my home office ready to go and usually just practice in my backyard, driveway or cul-de-sac, so there is minimal time overhead. When I’m working on something new or have questions I use a camera to record my practice and do a quick edit and upload after a session.
Because things got a bit hard to remember at the beginning when I was working on multiple skills, I even use a spreadsheet to track my practice sessions and key lessons from RLC courses and coaches. You can take a look here if you’re interested.
Here are some lessons I’ve gathered from my most recent skills journey...
Lesson 1: It's hard to make progress when you’re injured
I started working on wheelies in March of 2020. I made some solid progress where I went from just a pedal stroke or two to being able to do 50-foot wheelies on a good day.
I was picking and choosing some of the lessons from the 30-day Wheelie Challenge course, but not following it exactly. I took a break from practicing wheelies over the summer while I worked on other skills or just rode trails.
I came back to it a bit more diligently in the early fall of 2020, but was struggling with a tendency to over eagerly brake, which would immediately end my wheelie attempts. I had a setback when I decided on my own that the way to wean myself from over-braking was to do a bit of practice with "death-grip" (not having a finger on the brake at all). Not surprisingly in retrospect, I looped out on to my butt , on pavement, and ended up with a huge bruise and a break from wheelie practice for a while.
Lesson #2: Small skills can have big payoffs
I started practicing wheelies again at the end of 2020 and made progress following the course more closely. I was still doing some picking and choosing on the order of the lessons but reviewed some earlier lessons I had skipped.
At the time, I was practicing outside my house where I have a 1/8-mile or so loop and was starting to make it almost halfway around on my good attempts. I set the goal for myself to be able to do a full loop. The biggest obstacle to that goal was that the loop has a bit of a downslope on one side, so I would need better control of my speed. I needed to learn how to brake.
A breakthrough came when I spent some time dedicating practice to figuring out how to modulate my rear brake and got more comfortable at the back of the "float zone". In that session, something finally clicked and afterwards, I started making progress on longer and, more importantly, controlled wheelies. I practiced with a focus on using my rear brake for another week or two before finally feeling ready to try for my goal.
At the end of a solid practice session I finally achieved my goal of wheelie-ing the full loop:
In scenarios like this, it’s helpful to have coach guidance to help you narrow in on the small skills that will have big payoffs.
Lesson #3: Commit to the process
Another lesson came from working on my first RLC skill, the track stand. I seemed to pick that skill up quite quickly following the RLC course after previously having struggled to learn track stands practicing on my own.
I found that the way the course had the skill broken down, step by step, was extremely effective for me, especially combined with the helpful feedback on form from RLC coaches after posting some video. This first experience got me hooked on the process.
It was lucky that the track stand was "easy" because the next skills I tried to acquire required a lot more persistence.
I started working on the rocking and hopping courses next. Progress on those skills was slower and harder. There were some times I wasn't sure that the same process that worked for the track stand was going to work for these skills.
But I kept practicing and kept videoing my practice and asking coaches for feedback to push me in the right direction and slowly found I was making progress.
Lesson #4: “Incomplete” skills can still be useful on the trail
While I still don't consider my hopping and rocking skills "complete" in my own mind, I recognize that I have made a lot of progress and can do slow speed stuff on my bike like hopping up stairs or rocking to turn myself around on the trail that even my experienced friends are envious of.
So this was a bit of an "aha" moment for me - that while skills might not all come easily, they would come eventually if I kept at it and tried to get feedback to keep me going in the right direction.
Lesson #5: Soft skills are useful, too
The last "ah-ha" moment came when I started doing the Cornering Continuum course. My initial impression of that course was that it wasn't going to be as helpful because it didn't seem to have the straightforward progression that something like the track stand course had.
When I first looked at the course I thought it was so vague that it wouldn't be helpful at all. I decided to try it anyway, trying to follow the course with an open mind.
I ended up finding that course very enjoyable. It was a bit more of an exploration of the skills involved in cornering than a didactic explanation of how to do a specific skill. Still, the guided exploration with feedback from the coaches was very enjoyable and I looked forward to practicing cornering.
There are a few aspects of RLC that I've found helpful. The most obvious and straightforward is the feedback from the coaches. In each course I've done, the coaches have quickly provided feedback to videos I posted, making suggestions on form or on additional things to experiment with or different drills to try. This coaching feedback has been extremely helpful in keeping my practice sessions productive and making sure I don't spend too long going down blind alleys practicing the wrong form etc.
A less obvious aspect of RLC that is helpful is that I have used it as a "commitment device" to encourage practicing more. Having signed up to work on my skills, I am more committed to devoting the time and energy required.
The third aspect of RLC that I personally find helpful is the large collection of lessons that I can browse at my own pace. I enjoy "reading ahead" and previewing a lot of different courses and skills and then later going back and deciding which ones I want to focus on right now, but with some other ideas in the back of my mind for later. I like this ability to see the big picture of where the entire collection of skills could lead.
The final aspect of RLC that I've found helpful is the community on Facebook. Often, Facebook isn't the most positive place, but the RLC community on Facebook is an exception to that rule. The comments and community there are invariably positive and helpful, which is refreshing.
Over the last 5 years, RLC has helped thousands of riders reach their goals. We’ve received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback from our members and we’ve seen them make some serious progress in their skills.
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