In a new series of articles, London & South East Region (LASER) Air Cadets will be exploring some of the qualifications available for adult volunteers in the RAF Air Cadets. We will be speaking to officers, non-commissioned officers and civilian instructors who have undertaken a course through the organisation, to find out what they thought of it, and how it’s helped them both with the cadets and in their working lives.

British Cycling Level 2 Mountain Bike Leadership Award

This rigorous course contains formal training, consolidation and assessment phases which focus on safe riding, bike maintenance, group management and navigation. It is run by British Cycling , the National Governing Body for cycling in Britain. The qualification equips instructors to plan and deliver safe and effective training sessions on the mountain bike. Last month, Sgt Peter Wilson ATC, who is a member of 31 (Tower Hamlets) Squadron as well as part of the Directing Staff team on the Junior Leaders course, successfully completed the training and earned the award. We’ve asked him to give us some insights in to what was covered on the course, and his advice on how best to prepare for it!

Sgt Wilson and mountain bike

What made you want to do this course?

I’ve been cycling since I was three years old and so have always been into bikes. In recent years I’ve got particularly into Mountain Biking. In school I was part of a youth club which took kids like myself Mountain Biking for the day. We went all over the country for only £1. The volunteers there were great, and I got a lot from it and may not otherwise have had the chance to do. I wanted to emulate this and do the same for the Cadets on our Squadron which I am now able to do with the qualification.

What did the course involve?

You have to have done 20 ‘quality riding days’ in the 12 months prior to enrolling on the course. These also have to be across a variety of different terrains. The course then involves doing a two day training course which covers everything from route planning, risk assessments, navigation, group management, remit of the qualification, technical riding skills and much more. After this, each person is given ‘development areas’ to go away and work on before the assessment day. The assessment can be done any time within the 18 months after your training course.

There is also a written test, and the requirement to have an outdoor first aid certificate as well as child protection training. Fortunately I had already completed the latter two through the RAF Air Cadets. Once this is all complete, you have to book onto the one day assessment, this involves the assessor and four ‘candidates’ who then take it in turns to plan, assess and lead a group of riders on a 10km route having to deal with any personnel or mechanical incidents as they arise.

Candidates on the mountain biking award

How much time did you spend preparing for the course?

A lot! I spent most evenings in the weeks before the course taking the bike apart, breaking it and fixing it again. I definitely spent a lot of time speeding up my trailside repair skills – probably ten hours in total. Not to mention going on a number of practice rides, practicing route planning, risk assessments and ensuring I had all the kit.

Is there anything in particular you recommend in terms of preparation, for someone thinking of doing the course?

Practice, practice, practice… All the skills that I mentioned above. The course does teach you but it is advantageous to have a good grounding in all these areas before applying. Pay particular attention to trailside repairs – not just for your own bike. Fitness is crucial as well, as a leader you are of course expected to be able to keep up in terms of fitness but also have energy in reserve.

mountain biking qualifications

What was the thing you found most difficult?

For me it was the trailside repairs. These have never been my strongest area and came as a bit of a shock on the training course. I learnt I had to be more knowledgable and a lot quicker hence why I had to practice so much.

What was the best bit of the course?

Aside from riding in the mountains in Snowdonia National Park, it was the actual leadership aspect. It was interesting to apply leadership skills learnt in the RAFAC in a practical mountain biking environment. It was fascinating to see the number of crossovers as well as picking up new leadership skills and techniques in the AT environment that I can apply to areas outside of AT.

What are you hoping to do now, to put your qualification to use?

Getting as many cadets as I can out riding on Mountain Bikes! As a squadron we’ve already got a few rides planned for week nights. I hope to continue this all year round.

Do you think the qualification will be useful outside the cadet world?

Definitely, from experience employers value lots of different qualifications. Although the things I learnt may not directly aid me in my day to day job, they definitely help add variety to my skill set.

Do you have any future plans to take more, related qualifications?

Definitely, I’ve always been interested in climbing. I want to start a climbing qualification when the weather takes a turn for the worse this winter.