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West Coast Wild: Ready to ride

Mounting a different kind of bike and learning a new way to ride opens up a new world of activity and a new physical challenge
Mountain Biking West Coast Wild 11
Patrick Nolan, instructor and owner of Nolan Riding, left, and cycling instructor David Lynch, right, show Monday editor Laura Lavin the right way to ride.

I was a bit nervous about hitting the trails on a mountain bike as I drove the long and winding road out to Durrance Lake.

Biking has never really been my forte. I didn’t learn to ride, or even own a bike until I was 12. I grew up in the city and I guess, biking just wasn’t in my parent’s genes, so wasn’t passed on to us kids.

I own a bike now and made sure my kids both learned to ride safely at an early age. As soon as we moved to a rural area, my son was riding trails, discovering new short cuts around town and is now a regular bike-commuter down the decidedly not-bike-friendly Jarvis Street in Toronto.

I figure, if he can survive that, I can survive this.

In the past, I’ve enjoyed afternoons biking along the Lochside and Galloping Goose trails, but mounting a different kind of bike and learning a new way to ride, I felt would open up a new world of activity along with presenting a new physical challenge, so – nerves aside – I was eager to ride.

I meet up with Patrick Nolan, owner of Nolan Riding, and one of his instructors David Lynch, in the parking lot of Durrance Lake. The spot is not one Nolan would normally choose to take a novice rider, but for the convenience of myself and photographer Don Denton’s schedule, Nolan picked the spot as reasonably quiet, safe and accessible, along with being located not too far out of town.

One of the things he notes is that local beginner trails are limited, although the South Island Mountain Biking Society is trying to fix that with an improved beginners section at Hartland, which is one of the most easily accessible and popular riding areas in Greater Victoria.

Fortunately, the early February morning is dry and not too cold. The first thing we do after Nolan hands me a pair of riding gloves and a helmet, is go through a bike check. He shows me the suspension and explains the braking system, making sure the bike fits me properly.

Then we head down to the trail by the lake. Along the way he shows me how to position my hands and how to shift. When we arrive at the designated spot, lesson No. 1 is how to fall safely. Tuck your arm in and try to roll over your shoulder, says Nolan. Don’t stick your hand out and break your wrist.

Got it.

The pair have set up small cones on the trail and the first activity is braking. It’s important for me to learn the feel of the bike, how long it takes to stop and how different the turning radius is from my usual road bike. On the mountain bike, the rear brake slows you and the front brake stops you completely. Learning how to use the pair in unison helps have greater control over the machine.

Next I learn position. In the ready position your head is up, feet are even horizontally on the pedals, knees are flexed and elbows are bent and out like “chicken wings.” After a few passes through the cones, I get a thumbs up on my ready position.

Next Lynch moves the cones into an arc so I can practice my turns. Nolan teaches me to use my body, “steer with your bellybutton,” he says.

“You know, like when you were a kid and you rode with no hands,” he calls as he rolls down the trail and turns his bike neatly, hands behind his back.

No. That’s not me, never will be.

On my first pass I am moving too slowly and turn the wheel too far. Before I know it, the ground is rushing up on my right side and instinctively I throw my right hand out. Luckily, Nolan’s fall lesson comes quickly to my rescue and I tuck my arm in and roll onto my back. I’m quickly back on my feet with Nolan and Lynch at my side making sure I’m OK.

My fall was “perfectly executed” says Lynch. Unfortunately, my left thumb is telling me something went wrong somewhere else. I decide to push on, eager to learn more. But first, to defeat that right hand turn. My next go at it is successful and after a few more passes I’m completely comfortable turning in both directions.

The next challenge is lifting the front wheel. This manoeuvre is not normally undertaken when one is new to the sport, but I’m game to try and see how it goes. Ready position, chicken wings out … I try to turn my body into one giant spring – bike and all. After a few tries and a generous amount of bouncing about – which no one laughs at, thankfully. Nolan says this time, instead of constant springing up and down, do it once.

“Now,” he says.

I pedal, position and lift. I can actually feel the front tire leave the ground. Success!

He and Lynch are generous with their praise. I feel like I just won the lottery. Small victories are sometimes all it takes to make one forget the falls.

We end the lesson with a well-spotted attempt to lift the wheel over a log that is fixed to the ground. The two men do a great job of catching me as I miss the mark by a hair.

Nolan tells me I did a good job and have “natural athletic ability.” I don’t know about that, but I do know it feels great to take on a new challenge and learn a new skill.

Nolan Riding offers several options for new riders, both young and not so young. Check it out at