From Dirt Issue 111 - May 2011


Words by Ed W. Photo by Chris Ball.

As a former member of the infamous ‘Clan’ downhill racing team, and subsequently a champion XC racer, there’s not much Dirt School’s Andy Barlow doesn’t know about riding bikes. For the past three years he’s been a partner in Dirt School along with founder Chris Ball, and basically if you want to go faster and have got a bit of cash in your pocket, then personally I reckon you’d be far better off spending it with these guys rather than on some new shiny bit for your bike. Yeah a decent fork might shave a bit of time off compared with a shitty one, but let’s face it, we all know that at the end of the day it’s the rider on top of the thing that really makes the difference. And don’t we all want to be better riders? Anyway, this isn’t really about why you should try out a bit of coaching, it’s more about why you might want/not want to be a coach. So, over to Andy…


I meet some of the soundest people

I got into mountain biking through racing XC and downhill in my teens, so everyone that I knew in the sport was through competition. Now I get to meet a lot of people that have no interest in racing at all, and in a way they’re the real mountain bikers. They’re not doing it to prove anything, or to represent a particular brand or product, they’re doing it because they actually enjoy riding their bikes.

The feedback we get

It’s great when people stop you and let you know how much of a difference you’ve made to their riding. And it works at all levels. I got a text the other day from a pretty fast guy saying that he got a good placing at one of the Winter DH events. We’d done a private session with him on the Friday before, and he put it all in to practice during the race. He was stoked!

Watching riders progress

We have quite a few riders that we see on a regular basis: the BASE Mountain Bike lads from Borders College for instance. To see them improve, not just on the bike but mentally as well, is really rewarding. Most of them are a lot faster than me, but they don’t necessarily know why they’re going fast. It’s our job to make them conscious of the things that will allow them to reach levels they could never achieve in the same time on their own.

The flexibility the job allows

I’m sitting in an internet café with my girlfriend just now, both of us working on our laptops. She’s a graphic designer so, like me, she can do a lot of her emailing or paperwork from anywhere she can get a Wi–Fi signal. It’s great to be able to get out of the flat and work from somewhere with a better view now and again.

I get to ride my bike for a living

When I was a kid all I wanted to do was ride my bike. Now it’s my job! I have moments all the time where I stop and take stock of the situation. When you truly enjoy your job, you never work a day in your life.

Working outside

I once walked out of a job I had in town because I couldn’t see any trees from the window. There’s no chance of that happening with Dirt School. I’ve always loved being outside. And when I’m on my bike I’m happy.


If you’re successful then people think you’re loaded

I’ve heard people say things like, “I wish I had Dirt School’s money so I could afford a bike like that". It’s ridiculous. I wish I could afford to buy one of the bikes we ride! We’re not in it for the money. We’re in it for a love of the sport.

The fear of injury or illness

If I get ill, or if I smash myself up in a crash, I can’t work. If I can’t work then I don’t get paid, and if I don’t get paid then I can’t eat or cover my rent. I had a nasty scare last year where I thought I’d broken my kneecap. Luckily it coincided with the second dump of snow we had in April so we couldn’t work anyway. But Chris and I were sitting in A&E having the ‘what are we going to do with Dirt School if it’s broken?’ chat. It was a real wake up call.

I have to ride in all weathers

If I have a booking, then I’m out on the hill. Regardless of what the weather says. Obviously if it’s too dangerous to ride then we have to cancel, but I’ve been out with groups in some terrible conditions with water running down in to my shoes and with my hands so cold that I can’t feel the brakes.

No time to train

In 2009 I was racing XC and riding the bike full time with Dirt School as well. It was pretty difficult coming home after a half day session with someone and going right back out on my road bike to do intervals. When you work on the bike as much as I do you can ride all day no problem, but you never have the speed to keep up with the top guys on the climbs.


I have the best job in the world

I have such a laugh with my classes, meet the soundest folk, and watch some of the fastest people in the country ride on a regular basis. I’m in my thirties and I just learned how to whip! Life isn’t that bad really.