I travelled down to the Fabien Barel Training Skool at Cwmcarn in South Wales organised by Mojo Suspension last weekend. I knew Fabien by reputation – a guy who does nothing by accident. I thought I might learn something, although I have been riding for a while now and like to think I have thought things through. Bar position, brake levers, bike geometry, pedals, saddle height, suspension set up, etc are all run for reason.
Day 1 (Friday) saw 12 of us ‘students’ meeting at a rainey Cwmcarn. We ranged from top level Expert racers to entry level racers. Most were Mondraker Summum owners, but the course had been opened to others later on. Mojo had a full pit set up with mechanics, refreshments and food to keep everyone running. We took the uplift and Fabien spent time having a good look at individual riding position and bike set up. After a few runs and working on some basics, Fabien then set about our bikes and I was advised to change: bar position, brake lever position, bike geometry, pedals, saddle height and suspension set up … um! Fabien gave reasons for each one. Then we set about riding technique … he was going to be a busy guy. We spent the afternoon working on cornering technique.
Day 2. Very cold but drier – on Fabiens advice some Mondraker headcups were being changed for the slacker. I think it is fair to say there were some nervous bike owners. The most common worry was, how can I get the thing around tight corners? However, we had all spent a day+ watching Fabien ride his super slack bike round the switchbacks with no problems at all and it did tend to inspire some confidence. A common complaint from Fabien was that we were all trying to ride too fast instead of slowing down and perfecting technique. Technique first, speed later was the theme. An interesting moment on the uplift for the third run – total silence as everyone was caught in their thoughts trying to digest and apply what we were being taught.
Day 3. Roots. After emphasis on riding with a flow the previous day, Fabien had us riding a stinking set of roots. Another good moment as a rider who doubted their ability to get over the last nasty stump /root combo cruised through it.
The pace was picking up now. Rowan Sorrell (acting as secondary coach/supervisor) gave us all a laugh by being unable to coordinate revolving his arms in opposite directions in the warm up. If you see him, ask him to do it. By this stage, confidence was up, speed was up, flow was up. It was clear that a some riders had made dramatic advances in their riding. I was starting to put some ideas together. The last few uplifts were spent unleashing the fury a bit. A few stops each run had Fabien reminding us of the basics and letting people follow him through sections to demonstrate how to get the most out of the track. For a man who has been off the bike after a bad injury, he was going very large indeed on the jumps at the bottom of the track.
As I crossed the Scottish border in the van at about 10pm on Sunday night, I had much to think about. The great thing about the course was not just what we learnt but also the sheer number of ideas and exercises that Fabien had given us to take away and work on to consolidate improvement.
In total, we had run about 17 uplifts, large amounts of sectioning, we had all been fed and watered during the days, everyone’s bikes had had a lot of love from the Mojo mechanics (Cheers Pete and Tom) and most had had various upgrades and tuning. Silverfish gave us some Mondraker socks and a t-shirt. Fabien had given personal input to eveyone’s riding and bike set up and individual attention to everyones riding.
He never insisted you did anything but had strong supported reasoning for why you should. There are now a good number of super slack Mondraker owners who have been converted. I wish I had had some of the ideas and riding technique about 10 years ago but better late than never.
In return, I told Fabien some penis jokes. A fair exchange I think.
I had a great time, learnt from one of the world’s best and met some really good guys on the course. Mojo are planning to run some more of these weekends with Fabien next year. If you are interested in joining one, email Chris Porter at Mojo on email@example.com and he will add you to the information list when details are firmed up.
Words: Mark Mackarel Pics: Chris Porter