Friday, 25 November 2016

A Day with Legendary Tony Doyle

There is, in some ways, so much to say about the incredible Tony Doyle and his coaching methods, but, in fact, it is not for me to put them in writing. They work, in part, through his delivery, his outstanding ability to read people and immediately identify their physical and mental issues, and because, for the first session, you don't know what you are getting. Therefore you go with the flow and learn naturally, without any preconceived ideas. 

I can say, however, he is a true coaching genius. 

A few weeks ago I visited UK Bike Skills again with my riding buddy Other-Jo. We had booked the session on my encouragement as I knew Tony would bring the best out in her riding. Jo is a great rider, very competent and confident on our steep Malvern trails. It's very inspiring to have someone to ride with who has such a laid-back attitude to survival on steep loam. Seeing her confidence has given me the desire to push my limits on the off-piste trails I had spent much time avoiding. 

However, Jo was not as confident in the air, and knew her issues related to being in a protected position off the back of the bike. Despite practice, she was failing to correct the habit. 

I had been there myself, many moons ago, and Tony had helped cure the issue. I had absolute faith he would do the same for her. 

And he did. Just look at this perfect drop position. That is one radcore chick. 

By the end of the day, Jo felt confident to give the gap jump a try. This is truely an amazing turnaround in such a short space of time.

Tony's calm and collected coaching, combined with his ability to give people space to make their own decisions about their limits, is fascinating to watch from the sidelines. I want to tell you more, but it would compare to a plot spoiler of a film. Some things you have to experience yourself.

So I guess to me. Why was I there? To be honest, I just wanted a fun day out, to see Other-Jo go through the coaching, and pick up whatever I could as a refresher session. I had no expectations and explained to Tony I wasn't the rider I once was, lacking enthusiasm for speed and big features. It wasn't a fear thing, I guess I had been kidding myself I was happy to just sit at the back and guide everyone else around. Although, on a good day, I can still jump a bit and I'm alright on drops, it'll felt like my glass ceiling was reached long ago. I've tried endlessly to overcome my inability to really pop the front wheel up with any considerable height, and I had never really been comfortable doing larger jumps on the trail bike compared to hitting stuff at speed on a downhill bike. I had kind of reached a 'well, this is good enough' place.

Thus I planned to sit back, watch Tony work his magic on Jo, and soak up whatever I could from it.

In his own relaxed Zen-like way, Tony was having none of it. Next thing I know, I'm popping my front wheel up on logs and remembering why he turned me from a beginner-with-bad-habits to an intermediate rider in the space of about 20 minutes, all those years ago. This was my third, or maybe fourth, session with Tony, and yet again, I came away with renewed confidence and enthusiasm to push my boundaries.

With no expectations, I found myself really enjoying the session and getting airbourne, thanks to technique rather than speed. All those months of worrying about bike set up (is the rebound too slow? are my tyres too soft?) suddenly, gone. It's not the's the rider. Tony sure knows how to find the best rider in me. 

Thanks to Other-Jo for this great multiburst shot.

The weeks following the session is where the work really begins. Other-Jo is going to have the frustrating phase of waiting for it to click. Of constantly realising when things aren't quite right, and the conscious brain registering it. However, I think 'overthinking' is part of the process. I remember my earlier sessions with Tony and there was an awful lot of that for a good few months after. Like he was sat there, on my shoulder, loudly reminding me of what I needed to do and when I needed to have done it. Until, suddenly, a few months later, I was just doing it. I was just getting those drops right, my footwork had become perfect and it was all becoming second nature.

For me, this time, I don't have the overthinking thing. I guess the session brought back to the fore understanding that was already ingrained, I had just covered it over with excuses about being too old or not caring that much. Tony is still there in the background of my head however, quietly indicating when I need to make adjustments in technique, be those physical or mental. The few rides since, I am just so much happier to be on the bike.

Ultimately, that's all that matters.