How Canadian David Gagnon is helping up-skill riders
23 May 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking podcast. Where we meet the personalities, the people and sometimes even the bikes involved in this beautiful sport of mountain biking. I know that’s why you’ve downloaded because you want to find out what is next on the menu.
Well, South Africa has become, over the last probably 10 years, a bit of a hotbed for mountain bikers from around the world. We know of the great big events, the international events, but more and more people are taking to this sport. Therefore, more and more demand in terms of skills and learning about this sport and coaching and training.
Today I’m going to speak to a man who has travelled a long way, David Gagnon from Canada. He’s come a long way to do some coaching and training. David, welcome, thanks for joining us. I know you’re heading home fairly shortly. But firstly, you’re a coach, you’re a trainer, tell me what’s your background in this sport?
Using my ability to help up-skill others
David Gagnon: So, my background, actually I started with competing. That was the first thing that brought me into this world of cycling. I started competing and then at the same time, on the side, I was doing some coaching and got some certifications. Like the Canadian certifications in coaching and mountain and road biking. I kind of developed more the other disciplines that relates to the whole world of cycling. That kind of brought me to finding out about, discovering about the Professional Mountain Biking Association which now I’m working for.
It’s a bit of a part-time job, but I’m doing it because it’s something I’m passionate about. Now I’m a course conductor and I’m also a member of the board of that non-profit organisation. So I’m pretty involved with everything that relates to mountain biking in Canada. We’re closely working with the Coaching Association as well so that we can continue, be up to date, developed and try to reach out as much as we can.
GDK: In terms of competing, what sort of discipline did you specialise in?
DG: My specialty was cross country and mountain biking. I like to suffer, taste blood in my mouth, if you understand what I mean?
DG: I was all about training long distances and I did road biking, criteriums and stage races as well. So that kind of helped me to complete my full training. I was kind of on the endurance side of things and recently I noticed about, a few years ago, about the technical side of things, which is what the PMBI brought me.
Canadian vs South African terrain
GDK: We like to think we’re quite passionate and enjoy our mountain biking. But I think Canada is perhaps a little bit more evolved in terms of mountain biking. That’s the impression we get anyway. You’ve got some great mountains, I suppose you use old ski slopes in the summer. You’ve been here for a second trip, how would you compare the two environments in terms of mountain biking?
DG: What I’ve noticed so far, after a second time in SA, I notice that maybe you don’t have the big mountains we have. But the people seem to be into long distance marathons. Going for the long, long run. Whereas in Canada maybe the terrain helps a little bit more for that. But we do have lots of single track.
That’s what most of the industry in Canada is looking for, at the moment. Single track riding, a bit more technical, going up and down and lots of people are there for the fun of it. The free riding side of the mountain bike industry, I think that’s what is strong in Canada.
GDK: I think that’s perhaps where we are, you’re spot on. I think marathons and stage races is where we focus at the moment. The free riding is still very much in its infancy and finding trails. A lot of the marathon events don’t have the technical sections, perhaps as much. You’ve had another couple of weeks here training and coaching, is that an area that we are still fairly new at, in terms of skills?
How our skills shape up internationally
DG: Yeah, I think from what I’ve seen, the technical side of things is still fairly new around here. The terrain probably is part of the reason why. But I’ve had a chance to discover some amazing areas around here. Hakahana for instance, that’s where we held our level two certification last week which is amazing.
The thing is, when we say ‘technical’, it doesn’t have to be related to downhill and super-steep and gnarly. It’s about exploring the other side of the cycling training environment that we can set ourselves in. In order to be better and more confident and have even more fun. That terrain was pretty good.
GDK: In terms of the coaching and training you’re doing. Let’s go back to the certifications and qualifications that you have done and that you need to do to get to where you are. What’s that process?
DG: At the moment we have three levels of certification, the first level reaches out for teaching to novice to intermediate. The Level 2 is more intermediate to advanced and then the Level 3 is more the coaching side of things.
There’s a fine line between coaching and teaching. When anyone that starts a new sport, whether you’ve been coached or taught, it’s pretty much the same thing. Once you get to a higher level, there’s more coaching involved into it. Where we look more at the performance side of things.
How to be more efficient or proficient in the way that we handle bikes and handle the terrain and choose different strategies on what line to choose. So that’s kind of where the system is going right now. More beginner, more teaching at the start. It’s evolving to a more coaching environment when we get to the higher level.
Helping the PWC Bike Park guys enhance their credentials
GDK: Here in SA the last couple of weeks, you’ve been conducting courses. What has been the specific aim of those courses and who have you been speaking to?
DG: So far I’ve been approached by the PWC Bike Park crew here in Jo’burg. What they’re starting to do is they’re developing a programme more catered for beginners. Like people who have never been on the bike before, it can go that far.
Also, I’m helping them to develop more the intermediate and more advanced side of things as well. With the Park, they’ve got such an amazing environment for anyone to learn the basics and the fundamentals of biking. But also to push their limits to the next level. That environment that they managed to build is pretty amazing.
I’ve already seen some things, especially in the town, we’re literally in town. It’s surprising all the effort they’ve put in there and how well it’s all built. I think there’s everything there. There’s so little skills area and trails where we can ride, practice and apply what we’ve practiced on the skills features.
GDK: Now Hakahana, you were probably more advanced there?
DG: Oh yes, definitely more advanced. They do have some variety in the level, or the technicality of the trails. But what I found is that anyone, whether they’re training for a marathon or more in the cross country world, or even more for enduro, which is one of the emerging sides of biking that’s coming out right now and even down hilling; everybody could learn how to get better.
The only way to do that is to be guided properly with someone who knows what they’re talking about. Who knows the ins and outs of the physics that’s involved with biking. That’s pretty much where we shine, I think.
GDK: All that is stuff that you have learnt through the courses you’ve done and from personal experience?
DG: Absolutely and through my experience I kind of learnt on, how do you say, in French we say on the spot. Maybe by trial and error. Where I was shining more was endurance and suffering and training. To know the intervals.
Where I was lacking was on the descents and on the technical side of things where some people were just catching up to me very easily. I was trying to create a gap after, when the next line was coming up. Today, when I look at it, if I would have learnt all the things, or the knowledge that I have right now; after all these years, about technical riding. I’m sure I would have been way better, way stronger.
GDK: In other words, you wish you knew then what you know now.
DG: Absolutely, that’s exactly it!
South Africa is an exciting mountain biking market
GDK: The mountain biking fraternity in South Africa seems to be a sponge, we’re looking for events, looking for things to ride and places to go. Clearly this is a market you’d be interested in exploring more.
DG: Absolutely and Hakahana was a big, interesting discovery that I had to experiment last week. But I also, since I only had two days before I’m going back to Canada, with a friend we went to Howick and we rode Karkloof.
Some of the trails in Karkloof, which I was so amazed, these are amazing trails. There’s technical, but not too technical and they could be very flowy. There’s a wide range of different levels that I’ve had the chance to ride on.
Our trip was going to be finalised with Cascades in Pietermaritzburg, but with the rain everybody strongly suggested against it because of the clay and the mud. I have not had a chance to ride Cascades, but Karkloof was another really amazing discovery for me.
GDK: I think some might say you’re scratching the surface in South Africa because there’s so much more to be done here?
DG: Absolutely. I think you guys have such a big mass of people that are keen to ride. The more the industry will start to discover and push the boundaries a little bit in South Africa, the more this side of the industry will evolve and progress. There’s lots of potential.
GDK: We’ll see you back here soon, I hope.
DG: I hope so too, I want to come back.
GDK: Good. David Gagnon from Canada, out here coaching and training. Giving us a feel of what it means to advance in terms of mountain biking. Be it whatever discipline you choose to do. Trail, XCO, marathon, enduro or whatever, I think we could all learn from a man of your experience. Thank you very much for chatting to us and thank you for downloading our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast. Until next time, cheers.