What I learned from Specialized Bike Academy

Snow is receding, trails are reappearing, and bike academy is just about in session. Yes, bike academy, opening in mid-June at Northstar California. I remember last summer when I booked Northstar’s Specialized Bike Academy, thinking to myself, how much could I really learn from a bike academy at a downhill mountain bike park? It’s just pointing your bike downhill, right?

Well that couldn’t have been further than the truth. In actuality, it felt a lot like I was learning a whole new sport, even after having spent so many hours the last decade on road and mountain biking trails. So today I’m sharing some tips and a little bit of what I learned from the Specialized Bike Academy.

Plan on learning new bike skills and tricks

As it turns out, downhill mountain biking is more than just pointing your bike downhill. Mechanics like learning proper weight distribution, especially on turns, is imperative to success. Believe me, I learned this the hard way when I bit the dust, literally. As such, having a certified bike instructor taught me things I never would’ve expected to learn. So if there’s one tip I’d give you for your first Specialized Bike Academy session, it’d be to have an open mind.

Be prepared for a workout

Yes, a workout on a downhill mountain bike park. Continuing off my point above, since downhill mountain biking requires certain mechanics and tricks for success, you’ll use muscles that you probably don't use every day to achieve that success. Though you may not be expending as much energy as traditional mountain biking, you’re still pedaling and using a wide-range of muscles, which over the course of several hours make for a great workout.

Bring an action camera

Dropping your camera or lenses on dirt or gravel isn’t very forgiving. As such, I’d leave your nice camera equipment behind to save yourself from the hard knocks, and dust, it could collect. However, if you want to bring a camera, I’d recommend bringing an action camera like a GoPro, as well as a couple mounts, such as a handlebar, helmet, or chest mount. Furthermore, consider bringing a heavy-duty hard case for your iPhone.

Ask for your favorite snowboard instructor

One of the best parts about Northstar’s Specialized Bike Academy is that many of the instructors work as instructors or ski patrol during the winter. So if you’ve had a favorite instructor during the winter, then they may be available to be your bike academy instructor during the summer. Nobody knows the mountain like they do.

Learn the bike park trail system like you’d learn the ski runs during winter

Northstar’s Mountain Bike Park is set up on many of the same trails and using much of the same classification (Green, Blue, and Black Diamond) as the ski trails in winter. So just as you familiarize yourself with Northstar's trails and trail map during winter, do so during the summer, too. Some trails meander through the trees, others are dotted with jumps, and others are actually double-black diamond trails, which you’ll only find at Northstar during the summer. Like winter at Northstar, I found myself taking quicker turns and jumps after familiarizing myself with the features of each trail.

Plan on spending more time in the park than on traditional mountain biking trails

One of the downsides of traditional mountain biking is that there’s often a lot of work for a little reward. A couple hours riding and you’re wiped because you’ve spent so much time bicycling uphill. With Northstar's park, however, you could spend several hours riding, doing a number of laps, while expending far less energy but while still getting a good workout.

Bring a hydration pack

It should be a given to bring water to go mountain biking. However, water bottles can sometimes weigh you or your bike down. This is why I like having a hydration pack, which can double as a bag for my GoPro, phone, and any other items I may have brought along. Bonus points that it’s easy to refill mid-mountain at The Lodge at Big Springs.

Southern born and bred, Spencer was bitten by the travel bug at a young age, flying on a plane for the first time at age five and by himself for the first time at seven. While he continues to travel around the world in search for the best whiskey, Spencer now calls Reno home, where his search is for the best cocktail (and first tracks, naturally). He has written about travel, food, and drinks for a number of publications that have included the Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Outside Magazine, and Travel + Leisure, just to name a few. See a more candid version of Spencer on his website, whiskeytangoglobetrot.com, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.