As mountain biking gets more technical with the addition of stunts to the trails, and with trails getting harder in general, Chris Colbeck created STORMBC Single Track Off-Road Mountain Bike Club to pass along his skills and experience as a former pro downhiller to the next generation of riders.
While hes been successful in the past, helping to develop two junior national downhill champions and several provincial junior cross-country champions, he has always felt that there needed to be a guide for mountain bike coaches that explained skills and progression in the sport.
Since there wasnt a guidebook available, Colbeck decided to write it himself. With funding from the Telus Whistler Sports Centre and PacificSport Whistler, he has completed a draft guidebook over the winter that will be refined over the course of the spring and summer before being finalized.
"Its a big positive for this year. For many years Ive wanted to get a skill awards program up and running similar to what you see in the Nancy Greene program for skiing, or the Blue Fin program for swimming," said Colbeck.
"So what Ive done is create a set of gold level objectives for kids aged six to 18 for mountain biking that will allow them to progress safely and achieve goals and objectives."
For example, younger kids will be able to earn bronze, silver and gold levels for various skills. Safety is a large component for this age groups, with levels given for looking both ways at intersections, making eye contact with drivers at intersections, riding to school on the Valley Trail, and so on.
For the older kids, the skill levels will focus on specifics, with levels for riding bridges and teeter totters, proper braking on downhill sections, proper gearing on climbs, maintaining proper balance and stance, and skills like wheelies and wheelie drops. The specifications for all of these skills vary between different age groups, with stunts and terrain getting progressively more difficult.
The new skill awards program will be tested in STORMBCs spring session, and refined during the summer before a final version is completed.
"What this will do, if someone decides to start up a mountain bike club, there will be a manual for them with a stepladder progression for all different age groups," said Colbeck.
"(STORMBC) has been using it already in some form, although it hasnt really been spelled out in any formal way. Thats what Ill be doing over this season, seeing what works, what doesnt, what needs changing. The bottom line is that kids need to learn to bike properly."
After talking to parents, Colbeck is also urging a back-to-basics approach to riding. Rather than kids owning a cross-country and a downhill bike, which can cost over $5,000, he would prefer to see all of his kids on freeride hard-tails, which are available with top-of-the line components for between $1,000 and $2,000 and that can be ridden anywhere.
"Its crazy what some parents are spending on bikes. We want kids to be as versatile as possible, able to climb and descend anything and do all events, and all they need is one bike," said Colbeck. "In the end this will make them a better rider. Look at what kids are riding on BMX bikes, and those are fully rigid bikes. Theres a misconception that you need to have different bikes for everything."
Colbeck is currently a coach and co-ordinator for the national downhill and four-cross teams, as well as a NCCP instructor for coaches.
Although theres some interest in the guide from various organizations, Colbeck said there are no plans yet to have it certified or standardized in mountain biking.
"I know the Sprockids course is recognized by the Canadian Cycling Association, which is fine, its a great program, but thats not what Im trying to do (with the guide). Sprockids program is more about developing self-esteem, and Im trying to develop athletes.
"It could be recognized as a standard one day, but right now I see it as a grass roots development program designed by myself and other STORMBC coaches that can be adopted by other clubs."
STORMBCs spring programs get underway next week.
The Whistler program for kids aged 6-12 will run on Tuesdays from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., with clinics for beginner, intermediate and expert riders. The cost is $159 for eight weeks. The meeting spot is still being finalized.
The program for kids aged 13-18 will run on Thursday nights from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., meeting at the BMX Jump Park. There will also be an opportunity to participate in Loonie Races.
The Pemberton program for ages 6-12 will run on Wednesdays from 3:15 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. at Signal Hill Elementary School.
STORMBC is also hosting a National Coaching Certification Program technical mountain bike course every Monday from April 15 to June 16, plus two Tuesdays for kids aged 16-18 that are interested in becoming coaches.
STORMBCs summer programs start on July 1.