Suburban Assault

Hats (or helmets) Off For All Mountain Bikers

with 8 comments


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.

Yep, endo.

Me or that jogger...

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.

Written by dickdavid

March 14, 2013 at 5:53 am

8 Responses

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  1. I think with a little more dirt riding it would all come back to you, it is after all just like riding a bike!


    March 14, 2013 at 9:27 am

    • My buddy is wanting to try Arbor Creek again, next week. I told him that he’d have to do it without me. I did tell him that if he ever wanted to try one of the flatter trails, that I might give it another shot.

      I was already on Craig’s List this morning, looking for a really cheap, geared mountain bike.


      March 14, 2013 at 12:45 pm

  2. It’s good to know your own abilities. I almost got into mountain biking when I was younger but didn’t. I regret it a little because I’m too old and timid now to tackle anything other than mild cross country.


    March 14, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    • I wouldn’t mind some mild cross country. That actually sounds pretty nice.

      I just need to think about a geared bike. Right now, the single speed needs a bit of strength to roll off-road. My only geared bike is so old, I feel it wouldn’t last a few miles without having problems.


      March 14, 2013 at 12:48 pm

      • I think you can learn and enjoy mountain biking at all most any age provided your fitness is up to the task, this might be where the consult your physician disclaimer comes in, the key is to start slowly and work up as your bike handling skills improve. I race in a few local races each year and to me it seems like the 40-49 category is chocked full of some really fast and really skilled riders, even the 50+ category has some guys that would give a 18 year old a run for their money. Gears definitely help in the beginning but once you get your cardio you have to decide if you want to stay with gears or enter the world of suffering by going to singlespeed. I have found for most courses, around here any way, you can run a singlespeed just fine provided you have chose the right gear ratio correctly, it’s never going to be “easy” by any means but it does make you a stronger rider for sure.


        March 15, 2013 at 10:58 am

  3. I’m so glad you’re all right.


    March 14, 2013 at 7:48 pm

  4. Same thing has happened to me when I retried mountain bike riding about 18 months ago. I went out with my cousin, got overconfident, took on a ramp, fell, and ended up in the doctor’s office getting stitches in my knee. It was fluke; I landed on some broken beer bottle glass left from the vagrants that hang out there. But still…

    Since, I’ve met others. In the parking lot at Rowlett Creek, I met an older guy who broke some ribs on his first time out, after having laid off mountain biking for a time. Then I went out with the cousin again, and his brother in law messed up his shoulder in a fall. I will now add you to the list.

    Problem is, that same cousin pushes his friends to do the harder stunts and go fast. I learned to not pay attention to him. There is something to be said for being brave, but I agree, skills, fitness, proper equipment matter. That’s the same sort of stuff you teach in the Traffic Skills 101 class, only applied to off road.

    I concentrated on the easier stunts (those rocks, dips, and so on) avoiding the really hard stuff. Gradually– and over time and practice– I got better. I dunno; worked for me. That initial ramp is now a piece of cake.

    Oh yea. This is Texas. On those really hot days, go early in the morning or at night (which happens to be very popular). And “Hydrate or die” Take a lot of water and have more in the car. Those backpack bladders are also popular.


    March 28, 2013 at 7:46 am

  5. I’m fifty-one and ride twice, to five times weekly off-road, typically near race pace because it’s more fun, exhausting and way more fun than urban. I’ve taken to medium distance road and seasonal gravel road distance riding, best done in cooler, wetter months and over-night during the heat. I call Legacy my ‘bad habit’ due close proximity to home, I never drive there and it has long become source of most of my single track as well, wee adventure rides because of the many mixed options.. rigid single speed. Pink. Though, I do however, also ride another, more Bmx style of rigid Ss, a cyclocross and a fixxed track rig on roads.


    April 9, 2013 at 12:34 am

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