Ground Rules 1

     Ground Rules - flatland tutorial DVD review

You really have to respect the time and effort pro flatland riders are willing to put into instructional material like Ground Rules, by Matt Wilhelm. If you are just getting into flatland you’re pretty much spoilt for choice these days for how-to videos; generally they all offer useful, practical advice for improving your riding skills. This particular one has been made in a very easy-to-follow format with lots of narrative, slow-motion/ freeze frame and rewind editing. Forget what it says on the back cover about there being ‘56 tricks’ – with all the variations for each trick there are at least 3 times this number.

Here is a collection of some very clear, detailed, user friendly flatland tutorials covering most of the basic-to-intermediate tricks at the beginning, and a good few surprises towards the end.
Ground Rules Volume 1.0 begins with an 8 minute segment of some of Matt’s best know combos, some lesser known bombs, and some amusing, comical scripting that add to the high-end feel of its production. The trick how-to’s begin with an imaginative ‘loading screen’ that includes a brief demo of the featured move and a 1-5 rating system that the author breaks down thus:

  • Difficulty – how hard the trick is
  • Speed – how fast you’re going during the trick
  • Stamina – how much it takes out of you physically
  • Heart – can be anything from how frustrating the trick is to how likely you are to get hurt if you mess it up.

Each move has its own menu entry so you can surf the DVD from trick to trick. There’s a real emphasis on having fun throughout the film, mainly through Matt’s

lighthearted approach but also in the earlier tricks where, for example there are 4 variations for rear peg pogos, 2 fork glide rideouts, 5 track stand variations, 3 endo variations…all of which build trick vocabulary and confidence, and always put a smile on your face no matter what your level.
If you’ve been riding for a couple of years Mr Wilhelm suggests you go towards the end of the video, where you’ll find the more difficult tricks and (slightly) less detailed verbal descriptions, just the essential points to remember and of course plenty of slo-mo and various camera angles, some of which are virtually ‘head cam’. Elementary moves like endo’s, track stands, swivels and the like are broken down into their constituent parts, with plenty of slo-mo/ rewind editing and the novel ‘on-screen-drawing, which deserves special mention.

Don’t panic – its use is nowhere near as annoying as the NFL type scribble that commentators get carried away with on TV. Here it’s used sparingly, and only where it supports the verbal diagramming, which it does effortlessly. So you watch, visually observe important detail like hand/ foot/ bike position and prepare your own image, remembering what you’ve observed while you’re riding. It’s a tried and tested formula used in many other sporting arenas and its effectiveness in flatland is well known.
The whole ethos of the film appears to be about progressing you from your first elementary moves onto basic links as soon you’re ready, then onto more difficult moves and combos once your skill level and confidence increase. Combos are introduced within the first 20 tricks, offering plenty of opportunity for variation and challenge in your riding sessions. By trick #28 you are doing barflips, brakeless side squeaks and opposite donuts (all in the same link…) 2 tricks later you’re deep in framestand tomahawk land and by #39 you in a world of wheelchair-to-sideyard-to barflips…this is the easy to intermediate video, right…? Even if you can do most of this already, perhaps there’s some sticking point in your riding you need professional help with; this film could offer a different perspective.
In flatland video terms Ground Rules is something of an epic; 1hr and 53 minutes of instructional goodness, just 15 of which are not directly concerned with helping you learn a move. Just to give you a
flavour of the kind of information the author imparts, read this tiny transcript of the decade how-to “it has to do with the way you angle the bike…at the beginning the bike is angled down and to the right…at the end the bike is angled down and to the left…that’s the opposite way to how you started out…this is how you get on every time” (highly abbreviated). You’re then taken through perverted, then rolling decades in similar detail. This why it runs for nearly 2 hours – it must have taken quite some time to produce…
From the back cover info, the film appears to be marketed towards beginner riders, but there is material here of real substance to those with 2 or more year’s experience. For example, if you are ‘handed’ i.e. do all your scuffing with one foot, and balancing on the peg/ frame with the other, you probably recognize how many doors learning everything opposite opens. You could do a lot worse that study this DVD if you are looking for inspiration in adding ‘opposite’ riding to your repertoire. Matt introduces a particular philosophy with regard to the question ‘which foot should I scuff/ squeak with’, which your reviewer wrestled with for a good couple of riding sessions before fully understanding it. While it might not work for everyone, its intrinsic value is immediately apparent, and as said can open more doors in your riding. What makes this philosophy interesting is when you try the opposite to what is suggested, as you are encouraged to do at various points during the movie. And this causes you to think slightly differently about your riding, in a non-detrimental, experimental manner. You become like a scientist, creating experiments, applying new methods, noting their results, always moving towards a predefined goal, which in our case is to improve our skills. The basic trick descriptions now become really valuable even if you know them on one side of your bike, because they force you to consider the opposite balance points, body positions and the degrees of hand/ foot pressure you will encounter. This video is riddled with information like this; provided you are prepared to actually use the material and attempt to apply it, its there for the taking.

An instructional video can only be as effective as its viewer makes it; Ground Rules volume 1.0 provides a sound basis for beginners and intermediate riders who like to learn by seeing, and listening, then doing. All in all this is a very well presented project, one that could be the first in a series by Next Level Productions, as Matt explains right at the end; volume 2.0 may already be in production.

Let’s hope so!

If you need a reminder of Matt’s riding, recommended viewing includes 2003-04 Circle of Balance and Athens jam 04-05- check ( Matt video archive )

27th of November 2005 - Carl Bourne