Why you should seriously MTB, not seriously.
Words by Kate Erwin
Photos by Oliver Correa
I never intended to be a mountain biker. I am not even sure I knew what one was 5 years ago, but after breaking my foot in a motocross accident I was well on my way to becoming one.
I never really rode bikes as a kid either. My mother broke her ankle on a bike at age 16 and began what seemed to be an endless journey of hospital visits, chronic pain and a rather large mistrust of bicycles. I would not say that I lacked in my childhood, there were Labradors, skate boards, leotards and sailboats. But I never really rode bikes. I vaguely remember an archaic rust bucket that resembled a bicycle in our basement, and maybe there was a bell? Surely the bell got more use. To my mother’s defense -- she had a major trauma on a bike, so the general lack of enthusiasm had a basis in fear.
Although my mother and I share similar brokenness in our life, my recovery was very different. To me, anything motorized seemed a fitting physical therapy. My partner at the time did not agree. He basically forbid me to ride motos until I mastered the bicycle.
I could count the number of bicycles I had ridden at this point in my life.
One, "Lemon Meringue" - the hand-me-down tricycle my childhood friend Mary Margaret taught me on (this was done behind my mother’s back).
I rode a sprinkling of rented bikes on various trips. Bike two, three, and four - Gunther (a Kmart bike), and Gunther 2 (the UK version), and another hand-me-down “party bike” a 26” Haro which I aggressively rode around NYC on, jumping stairs and hopping curbs. Word to the wise, you will get ticketed for this!
My partner's encouragement lead me to a road bike, which I enjoyed well enough. It certainly helped me with clipping in, balance and general riding. But I am not a roadie. It just isn’t in me. It’s too much with cars and riding, I became too aggressive. But the first time I tried single track something changed for me. A light was turned on.
Now that light isn’t very bright. I am not some gnarly rad mountain biker who catches big air and nails every feature. Far from it, but I love to mountain bike so much, this shit changed me - changed my life - my attitude, my chemistry and the odor of my car. When I am riding in the mountains, the woods, wherever I can find single trail, with my dogs, I am just in heaven.
The point is, if I can do it, you can do it.
Here are some helpful tips for women like me just starting to mountain bike. There might some useful reminders for those who already ride as well.
GIVE TIME TIME.
I don’t know where this saying came from, but it is a freaking lifesaver for all aspects in life, and especially for mountain biking. Time is your friend, not your enemy. I want to be mountain biking past my 60s so I constantly remind myself that I have time. It does take time to learn to mountain bike and it can be super frustrating, but everyone else you’ll met on the trail has been there. “It just takes time” everyone says. So enjoy that time. Try and relax and stay in the moment and in no time, you will be able to master features.
I recently asked one of the most badass female mountain bikers, but also one of the chillest, the infamous Lindsey Voreis about that moment when new riders "get it".
"Happy surprises are when it’s not as hard as the rider once thought. Once they learn to understand what's going on between them and their bikes, and start having 'ah ha' moments as they progress, they realize they can do a lot more than they thought they could on a bike. It’s so awesome to see!”
Another reason to give time time, is well.. time. Give yourself time to prepare to ride. Seriously, when you have to take on and off a bike rack using those tools that come with the kit, you can loose your mind before you even get to the trail.
Go out and get a socket with a ratchet. Make loading up easy. Keep your shit together - have a grab bag with shoes, tools, helmet, gloves, chamois, water, all that. If you have to take your bike apart to transport, make sure you keep your thru axle in the same spot. You only leave it once before you NEVER do that again! (OK, I did it twice because it takes me longer to get things - thick skull!) If you can prepare well before rides, you will enjoy riding more - and if you can ride to the trail from your home, well you should be riding everyday!
SAFETY IN NUMBERS.
Yes, I am telling you to ride with people. My two favorite riding buddies don’t have opposable thumbs and can’t make a phone calls. I broke a bone in my hand late last year and my dogs were great moral support, but it would have been nice to have a human with me. I like to ride with people for encouragement as well. I have NEVER ridden with jerk mountain bikers. There may be some out there, but I haven’t met them. Which is rather crazy thing to say confidently, but mountain bikers rule.
Everyone was a beginner at some point and for some reason mountain bikers love to get new riders going. I have ridden with super fast guys who are Strava stars, but they would always wait for me and were nice about it. I too have been the more advanced rider on some rides and have found myself nurturing automatically.
The one person who has been the hardest on me - is myself. Which leads me to the next reason there is safety in numbers.
Ride with AS MANY people as possible, especially if you are learning to ride with or from a significant other. No one really makes a big deal about this, but it should be pointed out. Say you are a girl learning to mountain bike from you boyfriend, you need to branch out - ride with women, it will help your confidence, your love for the sport, your skills will improve and it will help your relationship. It is good to see how everyone rides, what trails they like best and any tips they give you will be better received than if the person you are dating gives them to you.
Stay loose. Stay loose physically. I do yoga and strongly believe that it has helped with some really awkward crashes. I am that slow-mo crasher, landing in really strange positions. Keep your components on your bars a little loose so you can adjust them. Also, keep them pedals loose! Please. Trust me. Getting stuck sucks and it can hurt sometimes.
Most of these crashes come from my mind being too tight as well - stay loose in your mind. If you know a feature is coming up and you immediately think “Oh I can’t do”, try to erase that thought and just give it a shot. Stay flexible with your expectations for a ride. Of course ride your ability or step a little outside of it, but be kind to yourself when you don’t make something that you have before. Mountain biking should be joyous.
WHY SO SERIOUS???
Final tip, don't freaking take yourself so seriously.
This is a bit of an add-on to the previous tip, but you really need to master this tip to have fun. Please don’t get all roadie on us or on yourself. Sorry roadies, but you guys looks angry and busy - very very busy. Mountain bikers usually have a shit-eating grin and dirty faces after and before a ride. I like dirt. Dirt is friendly.