Whatever You Do, Don't Mountain Bike!|
LeRoi Smith / Jeff Ream
Thursday, May 31, 2001
Lately I've been reading a lot of "how to..." articles on biking (new subscriptions, too much free time). I've found it all woefully lacking the proper satirical attitude.
So, you've decided that Mountain Biking is for you? Allow me to help you rethink your decision. Think back to a time when you broke a bone or ripped a ligament or tendon. I'll bet it hurt. A lot. Would you repeat that activity knowing that you might very well injure yourself? Now think about hiking, an activity you probably tried prior to coming up with this idea of mountain biking. Did you EVER get partway up a trail and decide, "Eh, I don't need to get to the top. I think I'll take a little rest and head back to the SUV." If you answered 'no' to the first question OR 'yes' to the second, give up all hopes and dreams of becoming a hardcore mountain biker. The closest you will ever get is riding an old railroad bed that has been covered in nice fine gravel. In fact, you should not bother to buy a bike with a suspension, as you will likely never hit a bump big enough to compress it (well maybe the occasional curb). Don't take this the wrong way. This doesn't mean you can't go out and ride that railroad grade till your heart's content, it's just that it is not even close to the same as going up (all the way up) a mountain. There is a reason this is called Mountain Biking and not Gravel Road Biking.
If you are still reading, then you must realize that mountain biking is, "All about Pain." It's not my quote, but it is so apt. To clarify, as my good friend "el jéfé" puts it, mountain biking is, "all about searing lungs, sharp pain, and open wounds." I think he still has trouble remembering his concussion, which has obviously persisted long after the sharp pain and open wounds.
To further clarify, uphill is pain; downhill is the threat of pain. Consider this scenario. You are going riding on a trail that has the option of starting from the top or the bottom. Do you:
a) Start at the bottom and begin your day with pain.
b) Start at the top and end your day with pain.
c) Put one car at the bottom and drive to the top thus avoiding the climb.
If you answered a, you are correct, continue reading. If you answered b, you're naive, you forgot to consider how much easier it is to go downhill after you break your collarbone. If you answered c, you should have stopped reading two and half paragraphs ago.
Still here? Now it is time to ride. Many people will tell you many things about how to ride in various conditions. It really is quite simple and boils down to a few general concepts:
1) If at first you don't succeed, you are a wimp, but try again after you heal. You might be able to redeem yourself, but only if you try a more difficult line than the last time. NOTE: if your failures continue and you keep attempting to redeem yourself you will eventually find yourself at the top of El Capitan strapping on your helmet as if that will save you (for further information see #7 below).
2) The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. If this line doesn't work, try a different line next time (see #1).
3) a) If you are not in pain, you aren't doing it right (this is uphill)
b) If there is little chance of serious injury on the decent, you aren't doing it right. Either you need more speed, or more challenging terrain.
4) The faster you go, the sooner you get past the tough spots (or at least parts of you will).
5) a) The cougars go after the weakest in the group, so always bring along a rider that is slower than you.
b) If you are the slowest rider in your group, carry a stick. At the first sign of trouble, a single stick through someone else's spokes and Poof! You are no longer the slowest.
6) Fear is your enemy. Avoid it by thinking as little as possible about the consequences of your actions beforehand. There will be plenty of time for reflection from the hospital bed.
7) Peer pressure is your friend. So is the camera. You are much more likely to take the more challenging line in the presence of either. Remember, your friends will appreciate the entertainment you provide them, and your doctor will appreciate the business.
8) The enjoyment of the post-ride beer is directly proportional to the amount of pain extracted during the ride.
As you can see the principles are all highly related and complementary. By following them and the links between them, you will be embarking on a life-long (not necessarily long-life) adventure filled with memorable moment(s).
Necessary Equipment (how many new toys do I get?)
Due to amazing developments in bicycling technology in recent years, you can now comfortably justify buying a multitude of bikes. I'm sure that this was just a coincidental bi-product of the quest for knowledge and not a calculated maneuver by the bicycling industry. But why dwell upon our enslavement by the capitalist-industrial-marketing force. Accept your place and go buy a way cool hardtail and then a full-suspension, road bike and cyclocross just for good measure.
You might be asking yourself, "What should I get?" I would answer, "How the hell should I know. I've never met you." Choosing a bike is a very personal endeavor. I do have a couple words of advice though (as if you couldn't have guessed that by now). At some point up the expense continuum, almost all manufacturers have nice bikes. The key is to find the point where quality begins to fall off. Components are often the key to figuring this out. If all else fails, make sure the rear derailleur is at least one group higher than the rest of the bike. This is the most mechanically intricate component and unfortunately receives a lot of punishment.
Note from the editors: when you get a new bike, go and ride it a few times on easy trails before you take it someplace that might cause you pain. In this way, you may avoid going off a jump and landing on the front tire. For those of you who have not done this trust us when we say it is not a good thing.
The harder you ride, the more equipment you will break. You may think that you'll leave maintenance to the pros at the shop. This is an excellent idea. However, out on the trail you are on your own. There are some things you absolutely must know how to do before you go out on a trail: fix a flat tire, fix a broken chain and make minor adjustments to both front and rear derailleurs. As you learn to do these things when you are stranded 20 miles from your car 2 hours before sundown, you will become confident doing these things in the comfort of your own home. For this you will need tools. Trail tools are fine, but let's face it; do you really need a great excuse to buy tools?
Someone once told me I look like a dork in riding clothes. Well of course I do. Everyone does. However, these clothes provide functionality that you just don't get with your run of the mill shorts and t-shirt. A good pair of padded Lycra (r) shorts are worth their weight in gold. The first time your nether regions go numb you will realize that you don't pinch pennies when it comes to the family bits and pieces.
Where to Ride
People ride in many, many places. People ride all over the world. I have not. However I have ridden in some really cool places and lived to tell about them. You may choose to visit some of these places for yourself. I highly suggest visiting your local bookstore, REI store or just browse the trails section of this website. You will find an awesome guide to lots of great trails.
A word about Ski Areas
Ski area operators are not entirely stupid. They have long recognized that they don't make a lot of money in the summer. I would wager that even areas that ski in the summer (Mt. Hood and Blackcomb) don't make as much money as they would like. So along comes this new sport of mountain biking. Perfect, the operators thought, they want to ride mountains, we have mountains and facilities. We can also appeal to the fat bastard riders who aren't willing to work, and for an inordinate fee we'll whisk them to the top so they can commence hurting themselves and suing us. In all seriousness, ski areas generally offer some fantastic trails, and if you choose to ride the lifts, you can get a sick amount of downhill time in a single day. I choose to ride up and suffer, but that is just me.
After many years and many miles of trail dust, we have boiled mountain biking down to three skills.
Number 2 is key. As my friend Hooter and his brother (also Hooter) pointed out, "Anyone can eat right, stay fit, not drink, and ride well. Where's the challenge in that?" Remember the immortal words of a famous Vegas singer: I pity those who don't drink; when they wake up, that's the best they're going to feel all day.
It seems as though you are sticking with this idea of becoming a mountain biker. I commend your determination. Now that you have a bike and have found some suitable trails, there is one thing you should begin to think about before too long.
You will need doctors.
I'm not talking about the family doctor who has had you turning and coughing (or the Female equivalent) since you were a little kid. I am talking about the slew, plethora, quiver, fleet, herd of doctors you will need at some point in your biking career. Just accept it. You WILL at some point get hurt. It might be an overuse injury of some muscle or tendon. It could be an overuse injury like prolonged flesh-to-ground friction. It could be a rapid-deceleration trauma like running into a tree. Suffice it to say there is no end to the combinations and types of injuries you might and will suffer. The key is being prepared for them and part of that preparation includes your doctors. Some of the types of doctors you may wish to consider are listed below:
Sports Medicine - This is the person who will oversee the reconstruction of your body. Most general practitioners are Internists. This is just fine for people whose problems start from the inside. The mountain biker however will most often injure from the outside in. In that respect, the Sports Med Doc has it easy. When you come in and say it hurts here, they will be able to tell that the cause of the pain is most likely that compound fracture of your Tibia.
Physical Therapist - This person is the most important part of the chain. Their job is to cause you almost as much pain as your original injury. The kicker is that you pay them to do this. Through an amazing array of stretching, balancing, pulling, twisting, lifting and sweating you will come to realize that the trail is not the most painful place in the world. Luckily you will also learn that PT's will put you back together better than new, if you will just listen to them and stop racing on your broken leg, damn it. Not that you'll listen to them.
Chiropractor - This person is related to the PT, but concentrates more on the stretching and pulling than working out. They are especially helpful when you screw up your back.
Neurologist - If you need this person, you are most likely lucky you were wearing a helmet. I wouldn't even bother setting this one up beforehand, you will likely only need them once in your MTB career, right at the end. Your Sports Med Doc should be able to find a good Neurologist to repair the remnants of your brain if this becomes necessary. It is likely you won't care or even notice.
Astrologist - While not technically part of the medical profession, it could be kind of fun to plan your strategy around whether this is a good day for Virgo to be assertive. If nothing else, your fellow competitors will think you eccentric, which is never a bad thing.
Dentist - If you need this person once, consider buying a full-face helmet. Considering that eating is one of those things we have to do to stay alive, it is amazing that insurance companies don't like to pay to fix your mouth after you tried to eat a savory piece of granite.
Optometrist - this is preventive medicine. If you see the tree, you are less likely to become one with it. Unless of course you don't STOP looking at it!
Psychologist - If your injury is bad enough, you may experience anxiety when you try to return to the sport that you love, but that scorned you and tried unsuccessfully to kill you (this time). This is a perfectly natural reaction to a traumatic event. It comes from your mind's overwhelming desire for self-preservation. Fortunately psychologists are very good at helping to suppress and overcome these natural desires. They do this largely by talking to you at such length that you realize that being anyplace is better than that office, even if that place causes you to hyperventilate and wet yourself.
Psychiatrist - If the incessant talking of the psychologist does not get you back on the trail. Try a Psychiatrist. They have long since discovered that talk does not work. The answer is powerful drugs.
As you can see, mountain biking is a sport best taken with a grain of salt (but not in the open wounds). With the variety of bikes, gear and clothing, trails and groups out there, anyone with an inkling to ride can go out and have at it and have fun. As in most things dripping with sarcasm there is definitely a kernel of truth in here. I'll leave it to you to sort it all out. When you see me out on the trail, feel free to tell me what you think (or you can just gesture).
About the authors
LeRoi Smith works for an Internet company, and as a result, cannot accurately define what he does for a living to anyone. Fortunately, his free time spent actively falling off cliffs while attached to his bike or snowboard has left precious few working brain cells to worry about such things.
Jeff Ream is a traffic engineer in Denver who longs for a secluded life in the middle of a snowy mountain range. Of course that means his professional needs (traffic congestion) conflict with his personal desires. Luckily he was raised as a good Catholic so he thinks this incongruity is natural.