Hats (or helmets) Off For All Mountain Bikers
Here are a couple of alternate titles that I had for this posts:
– Not All Cycling Is Created Equal
– The Worst Two Miles Of My Life
– I’m Weak And Old
This post is to pay due respect to my fellow ‘sports’ riders – especially mountain bikers.
I had mentioned that my buddy, Jason, just recently got back into cycling. He wasn’t sure of what type of cycling he wanted to get into (mountain, road, suburban assault, etc.), so he bought a Trek Dual Sport. Since the weather has been getting nicer and daylight savings time is keeping the sun up a little longer, he hatch a plan to take the bikes out, after work, to the trails at Arbor Hills Nature Preserve. He wanted to try some dirt riding to see if mountain biking was for him.
If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I don’t ride off-road – for sport or recreation.
I used to, back when I was younger and more flexible. So, call it missing my old days of trail riding, blind ignorance or just plain stupidity, I agreed to join him. I mean, how bad could it be? I used to dominate North Shore and L.B. Houston back in the day. During the summer, I’d commute to work – 14 miles (each direction) in 100+ degree weather. Really, how bad could 2.32 miles of dirt track be?
It killed me.
Since it was only 2 miles away, we rode to the nature preserve from our office. When we got on the trail, it all came rushing back to me – the joy of being with nature, the thrill of run and the adrenaline rush from tossing my bike over rocks and roots as we tooled around some tight single track. Admittedly, I was both glad I was there and upset that had waited so long since my last off-road ride – 18 years ago.
Unfortunately, that thrill didn’t last very long and I was getting tired fast. I think my energy level hit the wall when my body, literally, hit the ground. I was stupid. I tried to make up some lost time by taking a downhill with a little speed. Heading into the sun wasn’t helping my visibility, especially when I came across a jogger coming from the other direction. I tried to apply a proper ‘quick stop’ but my body was too weak to shift it back (uphill) fast enough. I was also quickly reminded that braking on dirt is a whole lot different than braking on the road – so I ended up digging my front wheel a little into the ground.
Fortunately, I landed properly and didn’t hit the jogger. Jason thought my actions were instinctive, but I think it was just dumb luck.
I got back on my bike, but pretty much limped the rest of the way back – not because of the fall, but rather from pure fatigue. I was wheezing and gasping for air as the crank on my single speed was nearly impossible to turn. My legs and core were toast. All I kept thinking was, I hope nature doesn’t mind if I toss my cookies all over it. Jason said he was hurting too, but being ten years younger and in much better shape, I think he was just being polite to the old guy.
Mountain bike riding is MUCH harder than I remember. Hats off to those who do it regularly.
This is the part where I roll out my excuses:
– I’m out of shape:
Seriously, the only riding that I’ve been doing these past few winter months is the short, 5-mile round trip to my local Starbucks on the weekends.
– I’ve lost my experience level:
I haven’t been off-road for over 18 years, so my mind and body had a much harder time processing the ride. My actions and reflexes were way off.
– I had never been on this trail:
Part of the reason for my quick fatigue was not managing my energy well. Being the first time on this trail, I wasn’t conserving my strength for when I really needed it. Unexpected climbs took me by surprise and I didn’t have the proper momentum to attack them.
– I was on the wrong bike:
My Redline Monocog is a single speed that was designed for mountain biking – and the closest thing I had to an off-road bike. Unfortunately, I converted it to a street-ready, suburban assault bike, with higher gearing and slick tires. For street speed, I raised the gear ratio from the original 1.6 (32-tooth chainring, 20-tooth cog) to a 2.4 (36-tooth chainring, 15-tooth cog) – making it a less friendly trail bike. On a 29er, that took my gear inches from 46 to about 70, making my climbs extra hard. Also, my street-sticky Serfas Drifters didn’t grip the loose dirt trail like my old knobbies.
Reality set in.
For a while on the trail, I started thinking that I needed to add a mountain bike back onto my bike wish list. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I’m no longer cut out for mountain biking – and I accept that.