SMBLA Trail Cycle Leader Training – Hamsterley hijinks on the TCL

I mentioned a month or so ago that I was planning to go for my Scottish Mountain Bike Leaders Association Trail Cycle Leader award, or the SMBLA TCL award for acronym fans. Well, last weekend I took the first step and went through the 2 day training.

SMBLA Trail Cycle Leader Course Skills in Action (peter.mcdonald, Flickr: trail cycle leader award, or the TCL, is the first of two main awards, the second being the mountain bike leader (MBL). For both qualifications the first step is to book yourself on the initial 2-day training course. The training is a mandatory part of the award and, even if you have all the skills already, you still need to get yourself signed off during the training before you can book yourself on the assessment.

Having signed up with the SMBLA I received my quite weighty textbook along with a whole collection of forms to fill in and take along to the training. The SMBLA registration is £45 and initially I thought this was pretty steep, but having had a look through the book I’m a bit happier now. The guide they produce is pretty extensive, running in at over 200 pages, and offering tons of info on everything you’ll need including navigation, teaching styles, legal issues in guiding, bike skills and more. Needless to say, being a bit of a lazy bastard, I didn’t do a bit of revision before the course but I intend to have a good look through before the assessment, and probably use it for years to come as a reference.

Along with the textbook and the forms, the other thing you need to take to your training weekend is a log-book including 20 rides from the last 12 months of at least 1.5 hours. Lucky for me you can fill this in retrospectively as I hadn’t been logging rides for long enough so I thought back over the last year and picked some nice ones to note down. You need a fair few of them to be in the 2-3 hour region, and at least one 6hr+ ride, but if you’re short of a marathon leg then you can just head into the country for a relaxed ride around the roads for a day and that’ll count towards the big one. The rides have to be on varied terrain anyway so one or two on the roads should up the quality of your logs.

Anyway, having filled out the log and failed to even peek at the book I headed off to Hamsterley Forest in County Durham for my training weekend. The instructor for the weekend was Neil Slater, a long time SMBLA tutor, and he greeted us on the Friday evening with a slightly dull 2-hour classroom session. It was no fault of Neil’s though, he was a friendly and approachable guy and a good teacher, but the start of any course generally requires an element of admin and ‘what level are we all at’ questioning. It turned out all three of us on the course had a fair bit of maintenance experience though so the ‘what bit of the bike is this’ questions went by in a flash and we were straight into the next day for some more practical stuff.

The next two days involved tons of learning for me, more than I thought it would, and it was great fun the whole way. We started off with some skills games, follow the leader and whatnot where Neil tight-turned and trackstanded his way through trees with the three of us following closely behind trying not to drop the feet. We also got a demonstration of the standard SMBLA skills course which includes slaloms, ramps, rumble strips and bottle carries and finishes off with a bike limbo. The bottle carry was a tricky wee bugger to begin with, having to pick up a bottle from near the ground in one hand and put it down on a box with the other while staying on your bike, but it become easy enough towards the end. The limbo, however, was different and in end required you to take one foot off and hang off the left side of your bike to get under. Even then my handlebars barely got under the bar by themselves! The skills course is part of the assessment so you need to be decent at it but after a few goes on the training weekend it should be no problem.

Later on on the first day you go through the trail-side repairs where the tutor tests your puncture repair abilities (read that as changing your tube!) and you need to know how to break and shorten a chain. You also learn a little about gear adjustment and all three off the aforementioned elements are tested on the assessment. While I have a fair bit of experience with maintenance now I still really enjoyed the repair session. Being self taught I’m never sure if I’m doing things the best way and I picked up a few tips both from Neil and the other guys there. There’s always ways to improve your skills!

So, day one over and plenty of stuff learned. This post is getting a little long so I’ll put the rest of the course commentary in a second post later in the week. If anyone is reading this and has done or is intending to do their Trail Cycle Leader (TCL) award any time soon then please leave me a comment. I’d love to hear what people thought of both the training and the assessment. And if you’ve done neither then just come back later in the week for part 2, I might talk you into it – see you then!


Colin started mountain biking in the early 2000s and has haphazardly, and with barely increasing skill, dragged his bike around the majority of Scotland's trail centres since then. Colin has oodles of hard earned experience in how NOT to do things - listen, be warned and don't repeat his mistakes...   More about Colin... Google+ Colin

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  1. July 2, 2008

    […] SMBLA Trail Cycle Leader Training – Hamsterley hijinks on the TCL […]

  2. August 16, 2008

    […] Association’s Trail Cycle Leader award, or the SMBLA TCL. I’ve already talked about the first day of the TCL in my last post, now we’re onto the second day and the hard stuff: riding skills and leading […]

  3. March 21, 2010

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