Tweed Valley coaching outfit Dirt School have added guiding to their repertoire and launched Tweed Valley Guides to show riders around the Borders.
After spending a decade teaching people how to get more from their riding, Dirt School have added a guiding string to their bow in the form of Tweed Valley Guides.
Pete had a chat with Dirt School main man Andy Barlow to see where Tweed Valley Guides came from.
Who is Andy Barlow?
A guy who loves riding his bike and is lucky enough to make a living from it as managing director and head coach for Dirt School and Tweed Valley Guides.
What was your first mountain bike?
It was a Marin Eldridge Grade circa 1992. It blew my mind and I was hooked.
What’s your background in cycling?
Jumping over my younger sister and her friends with a ramp made from a plank of wood and some bricks. After that, a bit of downhill, XC, BMX, road and, more recently, enduro.
What’s your background in the cycling industry?
I originally worked in retail and was a mechanic for fifteen years. I ended up teaching evening classes in bike maintenance and becoming a qualified mountain bike leader. I’ve now been running Dirt School and the BASE college course for over ten years.
How did Tweed Valley Guides come about?
The Tweed Valley has become one of the UK’s most famous riding destinations over the past few years with visitor numbers continuously increasing and the trail network ever-growing.
The goal at Dirt School has always been to help riders enjoy their bike time more through teaching the techniques that really matter across all levels.
However, we also want people coming to ride in the Tweed Valley to have the best experience ever on the trails and in the countryside To do that we also wanted to offer a guiding service that takes the stress out of riders’ trips here and takes them straight to the valley gold so they can experience the best trails in the best conditions.
Either on or off the map, we want Tweed Valley Guides to give people the best experience of riding you can find in the valley. We also wanted to make booking a guide to be simple and easy, either pre-booked before they arrive or at the last minute when they’re already here and all our experience from a decade of Dirt School service has been poured into Tweed Valley Guides.
What do you think the Tweed Valley offers a mountain biker that other destinations can’t?
Along with the much loved and well-known trail centres at Glentress and Innerleithen, the Tweed Valley has 100km+ of unmarked hand-built mountain bike descents from fast and flowy to super steep and technical. There’s nowhere else in the UK with such a massive concentration of quality single track riding in a small area.
There literally is something for everyone from families with young kids exploring the green trails or easy scenic routes across the valley to enduro riders looking to test their skills of some of the best trails in the UK.
What would you say to riders who think the Tweed Valley is just the Golfie?
The Golfie certainly is the most famous of the ‘secret’ enduro trails in the area, but the trail network actually stretches all the way from Peebles to Selkirk and beyond. Each hill has a different feel to it, the Golfie is famous for it’s dark, steep, slippery and rooty trails, but we actually have a fair bit of everything here -from rocky to fast and flowy as well as plenty of open moorland descents – you name it and it’s out there somewhere.
What are the challenges of running a guiding company at the same time as a full-time coaching operation?
The reason we’ve never done any guiding before is that we didn’t want to dilute the work and focus on creating the best coaching company we could be. 11 years in, and with a brilliant team, we now feel confident we can grow our service beyond coaching to not only help riders learn, but also help riders find the best riding available locally.
All of our engine room behind Dirt School and BASE college is now behind Tweed Valley Guides too, and that makes us confident we can show riders coming here the best time of their lives without having to do anything more than get in touch with us.
How did you pick your routes to start with?
We’ve all ridden here for years so are very familiar with the extensive trail network and know what rides best depending on trail and weather conditions. We wanted to offer something for all types of rider so we have planned routes that cover everything, from scenic cross country link ups on old drove roads to incorporating some of the valley’s steepest enduro trails.
Our guides also know all the options and off-the-map links, so we’re able to make on-going route adjustments to make sure the best day’s riding is had, every time.
Best trail you’ve ever ridden, and why?
That’s a tough question, I have loads of favourites. Double Decker at Yair would be up there purely because it has a bit of everything and in different environments, from deciduous to conifer, steep to mellow in one trail.
Favourite moments in the process of starting Tweed Valley Guides so far?
Working with our great team who all share the same passion for wanting visitors to the Tweed Valley to have a memorable experience. Coming up with the inspiring routes, sharing our energy for serving riders across all levels and all while seeing record numbers of students on our BASE college course, all during one of our busiest ever years at Dirt School.
There haven’t been, surprisingly!
How did the 1% for the Planet connection come about?
We felt that we should be making a contribution to the upkeep and maintenance of the extended natural trail network that we all enjoy. 1% For the Planet came up on our radar and allowed us to make a transparent and regulated annual donation of 1% of our turnover to a charity of our choice. We chose the Tweed Valley Trail Association.
They are a small group of trail builders and volunteers that want to see a sustainable future for the trails in the Tweed Valley. The trails underpin our sport and what makes the Tweed Valley special and we feel the trails need as much support as possible so we can all continue to enjoy our riding here.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to start a career in guiding?
Start building your experience up early by shadowing guided rides or leading for a cycling club. Not only will it help you through your qualifications, but it will also mean you start looking for work with some experience under your belt. Whilst guiding is a dream job that lets you ride awesome trails for a living, it can also be tiring if you’re doing long days back to back, so work on your fitness and look after yourself as the healthier you are the less of an impact it has on your body.
Once you’ve started, make sure you listen to your clients and find out what makes them tick. Get to know them at the start of the day and ask lots of questions about their riding. That way you can take them to the trails they will like best and give them an amazing experience – and remember, not everyone’s favourite kind of riding is the same as yours.
What did you have to sacrifice to get to this stage?
Running a small business takes a lot of sacrifice but they’re all worth it to see our great team grow and meet more and more people who share our love for mountain biking.
Where next for you?
We’ve always got ideas in the pipeline, but for now my focus is on growing and training our team of guides and coaches as well as doing a bit of guiding myself. I’m really looking forward to meeting like-minded riders from all over the world and sharing my enthusiasm for the trails here with them.
Anybody to thank at this point in the journey? Long suffering spouses/parents/friends?
The rest of the team and our supporters and customers of Dirt School from the last decade. It’s been an incredible journey so far, and we’re looking forward to meeting new faces and sharing what we have to offer in the Tweed Valley in the future.