Mastering the basics: Camp teaches mountain biking skills

Published 3:15 pm Monday, January 14, 2019

PELHAM – Mountain bikers from near and far gathered at Oak Mountain State Park Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 12-13, for the two-day Mountain Bike Skills Camp, which focused on learning the basics of the sport.

The camp, led by Lon Cullen, owner of Singletrack Skills, taught participants ground control techniques that are essential for mountain biking safety. In addition to hosting skills camps, Cullen helps coaches of high school mountain biking teams improve their skills.

“Coaches of high school teams are volunteers,” he said. “They go through training, but a lot of the time they come to me because they want to further improve their skills to help themselves and their team get to the next level. I also help more advanced kids on the teams who want to learn how to ride more difficult terrain.”

However, Cullen, who leads camps all over the southeast, said the majority of his clients are adults who have taken up mountain biking as a hobby and want to learn how not to get hurt.

“I take them from the basics to more advanced skills and maneuvers,” Cullen said. “It really matters that you do it right. You can’t skip the basics. The goal is for people to have fun on their bikes and not to crash unnecessarily. And when they conquer things that have been a challenge for them, it really gives them a sense of accomplishment.”

The camp includes lessons on body positioning, how to crash as safely as possible, terrain awareness, braking, shifting and much more.

Fifty-year-old George Ford started mountain biking after his son Tillman, 14, took up the sport about a year ago and then joined his school’s team. Ford is now a coach for his son’s team and the two attended the camp together.

“I’m really here to improve my skills,” Ford said. “I’ve had a few accidents and injuries as a result of a lack of skills and experience.”

Ford has injured his wrist and experienced a concussion from mountain biking crashes.

“I’ve had wrecks where I was surprised that I wasn’t injured,” he said. “In order to ride safe, you have to get the proper training.”

His son, Tillman, said he has the endurance needed for the sport, but he needs to work on his technical skills also.

Ten-year-old Jarrett Smith also participated in Cullen’s camp. A mountain biker for about two months, Smith said Cullen taught him how to get better traction and how to maneuver and gain speed.

But perhaps the most important skill Smith learned was NRA, which stands for neutral, ready and attack – riding positions that are the foundation of mountain biking.

Ford said there’s a misconception that mountain biking is always dangerous.

“You have to have proper training in any sport that you take up, but there are trails for all skill levels,” he said. “They’re not all difficult courses.”

Once the necessary skills are learned, Ford said mountain biking is so relaxing and allows him to free his mind.

“Your mind cannot wonder when you’re on the trail,” he said. “It’s so freeing mentally because it takes your mind off of whatever you might have been stressing about. We’re very fortunate to have a class like this here.”

Cullen’s next camp is in May at OMSP. To learn more about Cullen’s camps, go to