Downhill mountain biking 101: Bike park talks book smarts at new Northstar academy |

Downhill mountain biking 101: Bike park talks book smarts at new Northstar academy

Jason Shueh/Sierra SunLuke Sheppard launches off the pinwheel drop at Northstar-at-Tahoe's mountain bike park. Sheppard is a bike instructor for Northstar's new bike academy that has already made its debut this summer.

NORTHSTAR-AT-TAHOE, Calif. and#8212; Out goes the foot. It’s the signal, a stop sign in appendage form. and#8220;Shepand#8221; holds his leg rigid, foot still suspended in the air as I coast the bike, grabbing my brake’s levers, letting my tire’s rubber knobs shuffle to a halt in a cream of dust.

The one-legged stopping gesture is all part of the Northstar-at-Tahoe’s new Northstar Bike Academy, a series of downhill mountain bike classes at the resort’s bike park that range from beginner to advanced. Luke Sheppard and#8212; or and#8220;Shep,and#8221; as his friends call him and#8212; is the resort’s bike coach staff trainer and one of the many instructors spearheading the academy’s inaugural year.

Sheppard scans the trail ahead, talks terrain, jumping strategy, pedal placement, points out possible hazards on Northstar’s famous and fully irrigated Live Wire trail. Then off again, Sheppard rolls downward, puts his pedals in a spin, rocking handlebars, pumping suspension, a scoop of leg pressure, and he’s airborne, flying, 10 feet high. With his white jersey afloat, he connects wheels with dirt, descending into a swoop of banked earth.

Intimidating? Sheppard doesn’t think so. And it isn’t because Sheppard, an ex graphic designer turned ski and bike instructor, has been on bikes or boards all his life. For him, he said it’s all a matter of academics.

and#8220;To me it’s all about education and creating a safe, no-fear environment,and#8221; he said.

Sheppard said he believes education and safety are the answers to combat all fears on the bike, an idea he said translates across sports. As an instructor for the resort’s Burton Snowboard Academy, he said he witnessed a revolutionary training idea once Northstar began developing its snowboard academy.

and#8220;People would literally go from learning how to snowboard in three days to learning to snowboard in about two hours,and#8221; Sheppard said.

The concept around the success, he said, was providing specialized terrain designed to teach turning and stopping without the consequences of steep crashes.

For the bike academy, Sheppard said their goal has been to apply the concept into downhill mountain biking by equipping students with body armor and designing ability-specific trails and a short curriculum of need-to-know riding tips.

He said the education and the environment helps erase common misconceptions for beginners who believe the sport is too dangerous, or for experienced riders who believe there’s nothing new to learn.

and#8220;After you leave here, our hope is that riders have some type of ownership of the sport,and#8221; Sheppard said. and#8220;You should be able to come here and say, and#8216;I’m a downhill mountain biker.’ Or at least say, and#8216;I’m a beginner downhill mountain biker but I am a downhill mountain biker.’and#8221;

The Northstar Bike Academy offers two levels of downhill mountain bike classes, starting with Ride 101, a $15, hour-and-a-half introductory class, and Bumps and Bends, a $39, two-and-a-half-hour intermediate to advanced class all within the resort’s 100-plus miles of trails.

Sheppard said the academy allows new riders to have a true mountain bike experience on a budget by allowing affordable bike rentals from the resort’s new fleet of 120 downhill and freeride mountain bikes and#8212; the Giant Glory, eight inches of suspension, to the Giant Faith, seven inches of travel. Purchasing the bikes, which range in value from about $3,000 to $4,000, he said is very cost prohibitive to newcomers.

Eyeing the path ahead, Sheppard said he hopes the academy is able to progress and make the often intimidating sport of freeride and downhill mountain biking more accessible with new features to the park as demand grows. For now, Sheppard said it’s all about fundamentals, spreading word, unearthing the sport.

1. The Knuckle: This refers to a dirt jump’s edge just before its lip and#8212; between the take-off and the landing and#8212; that riders try to avoid, as it usually causes a crash.

2. Whipping it: To throw the rear of the bike to the left or right as the bike is in the air.

3. Drunken Sailor: When a rider goes off a jump without pumping the suspension so that the front end of the bike plummets downward and#8212; sometimes throwing the rider off the bike.

4. Cutties: Skirting the rear tire around a corner by throwing the rider’s weight onto the front of the bike and swinging the rear tire around the corner, sometimes throwing a plume of dirt into the air.

5. Endos: Short for end over end, this happens when a rider hits an obstacle and flies over the handlebars. Ouch.

6. Manual: Coasting the bike with the front tire up in the air without pedaling.

7. X-ups: Taking off a jump and crossing your arms while swiveling the handlebars backwards.

8. Tabletops: A type of jump shaped somewhat like a table consisting of two connected ramps with flat section in between.

9. Decade: Spinning the bike 360 degrees while the rider holds onto the handlebars.

10. Freeride: A type of mountain bike riding usually using bikes with large amounts of suspension and focussing on stunts and trick features.

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