Many of the tasks involved in the life of young people are to do with passing exams or being graded at something. The advantage of the Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) award is that it provides young people with real life skills and they learn skills which they can take with them for the rest of their lives.
Many of the young people I have worked with have gotten into mountain biking through DofE and they are still regular mountain bikers and some have even gone onto part-time jobs in bike shops. In fact, that individual didn’t have a clue about the parts of a bike when he started but he took it on as part of his Skills section and really got into how the different parts of a bike work and how you can fix them both in a workstation and, also, on the trail.
With all the different elements of the DofE award you can see where mountain biking fits within them and adds real value to young people’s lives. From reading maps and navigational skills, through to being healthier and happier taking on challenges through to planning for expeditions and trips on the bike.Back
It is a process which is really led by the young people who I work with (however if I am being totally honest being a bike nut I don’t need asked twice to do mountain biking with you them!)
Generally it is groups who have already achieved Bronze award and want to achieve their Silver & Gold award who I work with.
I send a mail out to my district, both the leaders & the young people, in September each year to understand if any young people want to take part in mountain biking as their expedition the following summer.
When a group emerges we look to sort out the dates for the following year ensuring we minimise clashes with other training, such as ‘First Aid’ or ‘Food Hygiene on Expeditions’ courses, which we wouldn’t want the young people to miss out on.
We then set up an initial meeting of the group in late November/early December where the young people bring their bikes to a meeting. We then go through their bikes and look to identify any new parts they require which they can then add to their list for Santa to bring them for Christmas.
In the new year we gather them together each week or couple of weeks to go through bike maintenance when it is generally cold and wet outside. This usually starts with really basic maintenance changing tyres, fixing punctures etc then moves onto slightly more technical techniques such as fixing chains, gears and brakes. However I always try and make it relevant to situations which they may come across on the trail or during their expedition – this keeps it relevant and engages them.
Once the weather picks up early March it is time to get on the bikes. I am generally amazed at the lack of fitness which most young people arrive onto the scheme with. I find you can really underestimate how unfit people can be and the importance of easing them in gently to mountain biking – you do too much too quickly you can lose them altogether.
So, we usually start with 1hr rides around easy ‘parkland’ or flat forestry tracks – Tentsmuir Forest is ideal for these first weeks of getting on the bike. I keep the navigational elements to a minimum at this stage and just focus on getting their bike fitness and skills improving. You do see the young people improving quickly at this stage and the time on the bike can be increased.
We then explore routes and estate tracks which are getting longer in distance such as the routes around Dunkeld in Highland Perthshire and Pitmedden Forest in Fife. Introducing more navigational skills and games as these weeks progress.
It is fascinating to watch the young people progress at this stage and you can really see them catching the bug.
Once the fitness of the group begins to improve we can start to introducing trailers and heavier packs. Again these can make a big difference to young people out on the trail and it is important to go back to shorter loops and routes till they get used to carrying the additional weight and learn to appreciate how the bike handles differently with weight in different places.
We work towards different types of Expeditions. Some groups have even flown to Switzerland to where they hired bikes and gear and explored the Alps by bike (although interestingly they enjoyed the biking in Scotland better!) We also took a group to Ardverikie Estates near Loch Laggan (Also known as ‘Glen Bogle’) which has ideal terrain for an expedition.
However it can be difficult to find routes which are not too physically demanding for the groups especially the younger groups (14 or 15 year olds).
Bikes do work well with Explorer groups though and the groups can use the bikes to get into interesting areas and explore them. We ran one of these in Achnashellach (on the road to Torridon) which was very successful as we had days on bikes but also did walks up Munro’s and canoeing on Loch Dugnaill – we even tried combining bikes onto canoes but I have to say that wasn’t too successful.
We try to be led by the young people and help ensure they enjoy the activity but still push their abilities, fitness and expedition skills.
What qualifications do you have?
Mountain biking I initially qualified as a MBLA Trail Cycle Leader (TCL) then progressed onto a MBLA Mountain Bike Leader Award (MBL) and a bike maintenance Weldtech qualification. I also have an Outdoor First Aid qualification which keeps my award valid.
I also have my Single Pitch Award for climbing and Summer & Winter Mountain Leader Awards.
Where did you source funding for your training?
Generally my funding comes from a 3 way split. 1/3 Scout Association nationally, 1/3 local scout district and 1/3 from Fife Council.
I have found that as I am giving my time for free the Local Authority recognise my contribution to the area particularly helping young people be active and healthy and, as such, have been very willing to help me gain my qualifications.
It is a time commitment though and I am fortunate that my job allows me plenty of spare time to train for and go on courses.Back
Working with young people and bikes are both very rewarding and I would encourage anyone, particularly bikers themselves to get the qualifications and help get more young people into our fantastic activity.
Also don’t force it allow it to be the young people’s project and for the young people to set and reach their own goals. You can encourage them but don’t make them not enjoy the activity because you want them to enjoy it as much as you do.
Do you plan to do more bike expeditions in the future?
Yes, indeed we have a group already working on their bike maintenance at the moment (January 2013) and they are looking forward to getting out on the trails when the weather improves into the Spring.Back