Mountain Scene journalist and novice mountain biker Paul Taylor has joined the downhill craze. He’ll keep you up to date with his progress
There is a middle-aged man whimpering with pain as I alight the gondola near Skyline for my first go at proper downhill mountain biking.
He looks to have broken his upper arm. He is making long low moaning sounds. Not good.
The idea behind this weekly diary column is to show that Queenstown’s boom sport is something that everyone should have a go at.
That it is not just the preserve of the armour-clad youngsters you see cycling around the town and looking all extreme in bike shop window pictures.
You don’t even need to be fit now there’s gondola access to the bike park. In fact, as I later learn, you hardly even need to pedal.
But then there’s this guy, spoiling the fun with his undignified pain.
It does bring in to sharp focus the possibility that I might soon be crashing and what the possible repercussions of that would be.
This is not like skiing or snowboarding, because there’s no lovely snow to land in – just earth, rock and trees.
No matter. I have a basic skills lesson with Paul “Pang” Angus, co-owner of Queenstown’s Vertigo Bikes.
Former Scottish downhill champ and ex-world cup pro rider, Paul has been in Queenstown six years and racing – and guiding for 10.
Paul, 31, adjusts the suspension on my loan bike and then runs through the basic riding position – the neutral position.
I’m a bit stunned to learn there are more things to learn about riding a bike. I don’t own a mountain bike and haven’t ridden one for a few years but I thought it would be like … well, you know.
“There’s a basic position that all the more advanced skills stem from,” Paul says.
“You’ll see a lot of riders on the track who don’t know the neutral position but once people learn it, you see them improve massively and become more confident.”
Vertigo runs Queenstown Mountain Bike School, which offers a range of classes, from elementary skills to progression classes – at $139 for a four-hour lesson (not including bike or gondola pass).
So, the neutral position. Paul tells me I should be standing up on level pedals with the arch of my foot in the middle of the pedal.
My elbows should be flared, like chicken wings. This all allows the rider to take advantage of the best suspension there is, the body itself.
Two fingers maximum on the brakes, so you can grip the handle bars and looking ahead.
“You need to look at the track ahead and what’s coming up. Some riders just look at their front wheel, so they have less time to react.”
Sorted. Time to hit the track …
For more information on downhill mountain biking and learning to ride, go to www.vertigobikes.co.nz/skills-classes