MOUNTAIN BIKING FOR NEWBIES

Summer on the  Sheep Creek Trail  near Fairplay, Colorado.

Summer on the Sheep Creek Trail near Fairplay, Colorado.

By Summer Tucker

Mountain biking is awesome.  You wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t interested in discovering that for yourself.  Though my love for it wasn’t immediate – it was a decade in the making and lots of lessons learned.  I’ve owned a mountain bike for almost 10 years because, for some reason, it sounded like the perfect commuter bike in college.  It was only about a year ago I started giving mountain biking a real shot. So taking advice from me on mountain biking might be the equivalent of taking advice from Homer Simpson on healthy eating.  DOH!  But regardless of my relative inexperience, I am certain about four things:

1.     Your bike matters.  For the first 10 years I rode a mountain bike I could afford on a college student budget ---- we’ll call her Ramen --- since she was basically the ramen noodle of mountain bikes.  Pedals and tires were about the only requirements I had, and her sole purpose was to be a commuter bike to school - which was along a flat, paved path.  She was a shining star under these conditions!  Three years into our partnership, she met her first real mountain biking trail.  I remember the day all too vividly:  It was 2002 and I was unlocking my bike from the bike rack on campus.  I had my eye on a guy who I’d seen many times locking up his mountain bike.  The day finally came where he walked over and asked if I wanted to mountain bike sometime.  Naturally with star struck eyes I said yes!  He didn’t ask my experience level, and I think assumed that since I had a mountain bike, I was the next Alison Dunlap.  The weekend finally hit and we headed off to Turkey Mountain.  All went well until we started uphill.  Every push on the pedal felt like a sack of bricks – how were all those people clearly in worse shape than me flying past?  And the squeaking from the bike…surely there was a train nearby?!?!  It didn’t take long before the chain snapped and I was rendered helpless 2 miles from the car.  My starry eyed romance ended shortly after, Ramen returned to her commuter status, and I ruled out mountain biking as a good fit for me.  I dabbled with the sport here and there over the years but nothing serious.  Finally this year, I invested in a real mountain bike and after much research I ended up with a Specialized Stump Jumper.  She practically pedals herself!  She is so easy on the trail I have temporarily named her Twitch because she naturally responds to every little groove.  After man handling a bike for 10 years, she feels like an angel!  Granted, a twitchy one. 

"yes I know, I need to stop mixing men and mountain biking"

2.     The people matter. This is perhaps the most valuable lesson I learned (and good news for you ladies who need to find out the character of a potential mate).  Who you are with on the trail can make or break the experience.   I started giving mountain a serious shot because of a guy (noticing a trend yet?).  We had dated about a month before he asked if I wanted to go biking.  At the time, I still had Ramen, so with serious reservation, said yes.  We hit the trail and again, a sack of bricks!  But I have gotten more stubborn with age and kept on pedaling.  This time she didn’t snap, though in hindsight it might have gone smoother if she had.  About 30 minutes into the ride, we hit a fairly technical downhill section and my date went flying down as smooth as Tennessee whiskey.  He made it to the bottom, then stopped to watch me come down.  Thankfully voice of reason took over and I didn’t attempt the treacherous spot.  Instead I slowly walked Ramen down the obstacle.  The entire time he was yelling things like, “get on your bike and give it a shot”, “even my grandma could do it”.  When I finally made it down, I could tell he was highly irritated.  “Timidness is such a turn off” he said.  The remaining ride was pretty much silent, and that starry eyed romance also ended pretty soon after.  Fast forward to 2017 and my second trail ride on Twitch.  My boyfriend and I hit a trail that wasn’t very technical but still intimidating for me.  He had more experience so would take off every once in a while but, always waited for me not far ahead.  He was very encouraging, tried to help me with technique, and was incredibly patient the entire time. We are still together JSome people are very competitive and impatient, and as a newbie, that can be discouraging.  Just know there are some awesome mountain bikers out there who are more than happy to take a newbie out.  Front Range Mountain Biking is full of them!

"start with missionary style, a position you are comfortable with and know well"

3.     Not all trails are created equal.  Be honest about your skill level.  And if you are a newbie, and a guy walks up to you at a bar wearing a “Pain in the Aspen” shirt and asks if you want to join him and his friends the next day on an “easy, slow” ride, say no.  Run for the f****** hills.  Their easy is not your easy (yes I know, I need to stop mixing men and mountain biking).
True story:   I was at mountain biking demo days in Eagle CO and grabbed a drink at the bar waiting on a friend.  The guy next to me strikes up a conversation and it didn’t take long before we discovered we had mountain biking in common.   He told me his friends were hitting up an easy, slow ride the next day and he asked if I wanted to join.  Easy and slow described my perfect ride, so without asking any qualifying questions, I said yes.  Even though we talked about the “Pain in the Aspen” shirt he was wearing, I didn’t think of the implications.  Their easy was almost unrideable for me and I had many battle wounds at the end of ride to prove it.  If ever in doubt, consult a site like mtbproject.com to decide if a route is right for you and your skill level. 

4.     Technique matters.  This one is simple, yet important.  A lot like dating.  When you first start sleeping with someone, you might play it safe - start with missionary style, a position you are comfortable with and know well.  But before too long that gets old and you start experimenting to find other techniques that work and are fun.  Mountain biking is no different!  When you first start, it’s fine to hit the trail and just pedal – stick with what you know.  But to really get the full experience, you have to learn proper technique.  Either take a class or find a local mountain biking group.  You won’t be sorry!

Now that I have the right bike, know the right people, am realistic about my skill level, and am learning some technique, I see what the hype is all about!  Mountain biking can be anything you want it to be: relaxed or competitive, fast or slow, challenging or easy.  The mountains are your playground and are guaranteed to teach you things about yourself you never knew.  So grab your bike and hit the road --- the mountains are calling!

Editors Note; Visit our events calendar, email erintrail@comba.org or visit the COMBA site for beginner rides. COMBA does a great job introducing people to mountain biking! If you're a Front Range local, join the group and we'll set you up with more help than you can imagine.