PERSONALITY: THE ALL-ROUNDER
CYCLIST COACH WILSON LOW
You might have seen him in local trails showing fellow mountain bikers the finer points in taming the trails, or at local cycling and triathlon races or even Yak Ru race coverage. We are talking about a certain mountain bike coach / dedicated sportsman. While it is not that rare to meet hard-core over-zealous mountain bikers around the places we ride, it is indeed rare to meet someone who took that extra step to perfect his own skills and then make mountain bike coaching his profession. Meet Wilson Low – one cyclist/triathlete that we would gladly learn more about cycling from!
Name: Wilson Low Weicheng
Nickname: Adventure Racer (from the old Togoparts forum days)
Years riding: 14
Riding discipline: Cross-country, with interest in enduro picking up
Current bike/bikes: Yeti SB6C, Turner Flux DW-Link, Pivot Les 27.5
Sponsors: Inov8, Icebreaker, Altitude, Yeti Bukit Timah
Affiliated companies: Athlete Lab, MTBSkills Singapore, Sports + Travel magazine, Second Wind magazine
Affiliated team or cycle group: Big Tree
Favourite riding spot: Ketam MTB trail
Number of ride days in a week: Without counting any riding done as part of my job, 2-3 times, must include one MTB ride
JUST WHERE HAS HE BEEN RIDING?
These are some of the places that Wilson had rolled his trusty bicycle's tyres on. Fun? We saw commitment here.
SHARING HIS EXPERIENCE
Wilson, your name is in many places. For those who have not met you before, your colourful reputation may be a little confusing. Could you tell us what you do for a living?
I am a mountain bike skills instructor as well as a triathlon and cycling coach. I also enjoy writing articles, mostly about endurance sports, adventure, and related training and products. I am trying out video editing too and have made some videos of overseas travels and outdoor adventures with my girlfriend. (Ed: check out the 3 videos above)
How did it all start?
I was a wheezy, sickly kid in secondary school, and decided that needed to change if i was going to be any use during National Service. Took up running for fitness, but also cycling to go fishing (another hobby which I took up which must have given me the 'outdoor bug'). I also joined my school's kayaking team in junior college, and got into adventure racing then. National Service was just an extension of outdoor and adventure activity for me. I really picked up on endurance sports during university years in Australia, where the friends I made were all very outdoorsy and athletic. I got into triathlon there, but also honed skills like paddling in whitewater, navigating with map and compass, and 'going bush' by camping and exploring on foot, by bike, or in kayaks.
As I finished up my last year of uni' (majoring in journalism), I decided that prospects were dim from the perspective of job satisfaction, so I decided to take the plunge by teaching others to enjoy what I myself loved to do as a sportsman. I had part-time work as a coach initially at Republic Polytechnic, but various opportunities opened up along the way and have graciously brought me to where I am today.
Please tell us about Athlete Lab and MTB Skills.
Athlete Lab is a training company with facilities and classes for indoor studio, power-based, cycling training as well as outdoor training sessions for swimming, cycling and running. I coach athletes in cycling as well as triathlon, with my specialty being management and conduct of the outdoor sessions, as well as writing of customized training plans.
MTBSkills Singapore is mountain bike skills instruction gig I have as the Singapore area partner for MTBSkills Australia; other instructors are based in several locations throughout Australia. Instructing is different from coaching, the distinction is that instruction focuses on purely skills development – which I conduct for one-on-one clients, up to groups of five clients.
Many experienced cyclist are able to ride pretty well – roads and trails – without going through formal courses. What are the benefits of going to a cycling school?
Firstly, being 'schooled' eliminates the 'trial and error' aspect of cycling which can sometimes be very costly in terms of equipment damage or medical costs sustained if crashes occur due to poor mastery of skills fundamentals.
Secondly, training under the guidance of an instructor helps many students realize that they can discover so much fun and develop their riding considerably without having to buy more expensive or 'more capable' equipment in the belief that these things will improve their riding ability.
Lastly, any good instructor is a good communicator, and students benefit from this ability by having their mistakes highlighted to them in a way that they can easily understand. The instructor then communicates and demonstrates the solution to improving the students' riding in a way that is easy to understand and mimic.
In your opinion, what are the important traits to becoming a good cyclist for road and/or MTB?
I believe that a love for riding should be central to 'keeping it real' for any rider, whether in terms of skill, wellness, fitness, or race results. Cycling is what I would consider a high-tech sport now, with the advent of technology for both the bike and the rider (in terms of materials sciences, engineering, sports science, data capture/management) progressing in leaps and bounds. Being in touch with these trends, but not overly-consumed by them – that is, being guided by love for the sport and not getting caught up in technology hype, number-crunching, or ego – helps maintain a balanced approach and an overall healthier and more sustainable outlook.
Should a cyclist pick up another sport to improve his/her cycling skills?
As I have previously done or currently do a variety of other sports – including trail running, kayaking, swimming, climbing, and functional strength training – I can't say for sure which works best!
From a skills instructor perspective, probably the best option for skills honing would be to take up another 'speed sport' like skating (inline or skateboard), snowboarding, skiing, motorcross, or even rally driving. People with a background in such sports are usually the easiest to teach and they also tend to pick up skills at a faster rate.
Are there any “shortcut” to improving performance on a bike?
Harnessing technologies is the newest and most fashionable way to 'shortcut' performance. For example, monitoring of physiological metrics such as power, heart-rate, cadence, together with GPS data – and then integrating that into social media and training log apps. Monitoring data and detecting patterns in performance (on, learning from the patterns established by other cyclists, including pro athletes) is the leading edge of what many 'home-schooled' athletes seeking performance gains are adopting, studying, and even sharing with each other.
The 'traditional' shortcut of engaging a coach or instructor still reaps the biggest dividends to those who prefer guidance and a reliable feedback mechanism. An experienced coach or instructor offers a second opinion, or spots things that the rider him/herself would be unable to notice, and can offer suggestions for improvement which may not be otherwise realized by the athlete by him/herself.
As your job revolves around the performance aspect of cycling, do you still think all cyclists should adopt the competitive and performance aspect of cycling, as opposed to thinking cycling is just a fun pastime?
Most cyclists get a lot of enjoyment from cycling with friends and that includes learning from more experienced friends. The thing is, many cyclists get stuck in their improvements not because they lose interest or become , but because they are heeding the advice of friends who are themselves not familiar with the principles of communicating effective, safe, skills instruction or fitness coaching. Some enjoy that element of 'trial and error'; but others also prefer more precision in their pursuit of fun.
The worst thing I have overheard is people regarding hiring an instructor or coach as 'cheating' because it monetizes the rite of passage or fun factor that groups of riders learning and sharing in an informal environment go through. I can't change people 's perceptions of the job or industry, because it is a very small and niche industry indeed; of the people I have helped through training: I have made a difference to them, and that is what I find motivation in.
Cycling should always be about fun – even for top professionals. My job involves keeping the 'fun' element high along with the learning element. When I instruct mountain biking classes, for instance, there comes a point in the class when we have been doing very repetitive, demanding drills or 'sessioning' practice, and I will turn the entire session around by saying:"OK, let's go have some fun on the bike now!" to break up the monotony. This can involve going to a new section of trail and enjoying the ride along it, or bringing the newly-acquired technique to hone on a different trail feature.
Besides being a coach, you are also a strong athlete with many credentials to your name. Please tell us about your competitive career.
I enjoy multisport – including triathlon, which I now coach. I've managed to get slots to the World Championships for Ironman, Ironman 70.3, Xterra (off-road triathlon), and Multisport (a race in New Zealand that involves road cycling, whitewater kayaking, ad mountain running). There's no one sport which I favour over the other, although if you did press me on that subject, I would say "mountain biking". In that regard, I've also completed the Cape Epic in 2013, generally considered the most prestigious multi-stage mountain bike race in the world.
Adventure racing is the sport I really love. From the very short races (which last only a couple of hours), to the overnight, multi-stage, and multi-day ones, including some that have gone on for 4-9 days non-stop.
The very longest of these 'expedition-length' races is essentially endurance racing on extreme mode: long distances on land and water, remote locations and varied environments, day and night navigation in different weather conditions, very limited sleep, high levels of technical competency required – for a variety of outdoor sports including mountain biking, trekking, paddling, mountaineering, and so; with smooth teamwork and good 'soft skills' an absolute must. AR at this level is the closest thing that civilians can get to a military special operations training exercise. I'm proud to have completed a handful of these, but would like to do more especially as I mature as an athlete.
Please tell us about your experience at Yak Ru.
Hardest but also the most scenic MTB race I've done so far. It is very remote and that adds to the challenge in terms of being self-sufficient and able to cope with very rough terrain. This is real mountain biking, because you are literally amongst the world's highest mountains; the people of Nepal are what makes the biggest difference. The race is staffed by genuinely kind, helpful, and hardworking people who are very hospitable. The Nepalese riders who dominated the field are extremely capable and would do extremely well in any regular XC race anywhere against low-land dwelling athletes, but are also very approachable and friendly.
Did you ever felt helpless or wanted to give up during Yak Ru?
What motivated you?
I believe that a race like Yak Ru deserves more support from the wider endurance community because it is one that takes participants back to the trails of old that were part of the magnificent Round Annapurna Hiking circuit; and it is also wholly staffed by Nepalese officials and volunteers. This is important as it means that the flow of revenue generated by this event flows back into the Nepalese economy, enabling the race staff and others employed to support the race to benefit more. I have done this race twice now, spurred on by the amazing people I meet along the way and the amazing landscape it passes through.
What are your advise for cyclists who wish to join Yak Ru?
Nepal is ready to accept visitors once again after the quakes, so participating in Yak Ru – in fact any form of visit to Nepal – is a contribution to workers in the tourism industry – and their families & communities – which will come at a much-needed time. A race like Yak Ru, of course, is highly demanding and requires fitness, good cold-weather clothing, and to be comfortable carrying bikes and hiking for significant portions of time. A lightweight XC bike is best, as most of the riding (and carrying!) will be done uphill! A significant unknown would be discovering how one's body responds to high altitude. Even the fittest folks can fall prey to altitude related ailments, so it pays to take precautions against that happening with a thorough fitness screening, proper training, and perhaps also medical aids or supplements.
If you are to be part of a Promote Cycling Campaign, what would be your message to the target group?
Ride for the fun of cycling. Most of us will get this, but I've seen some people take themselves far too seriously on the bike, especially in my line of work!
Follow Wilson at:
Wilson would like to thank the race organizers, events organizers, independent photographers and all other parties for the photos and videos used in this article.
Bikezilla thanks Wilson Low for the interview and permission to use the photos and videos.