About fifteen years ago, Stuart convinced me to buy a mountain bike. He described the rush of speed, the incredible trails close by, and the challenge of climbing. I was getting tired of rollerblading (yes, really) to stay fit, and so bought a Bridgestone MB5. It cost $350 â€” which seemed excessive at the time â€” and called Stuart to take me on a ride.
I should have known better.
Stuart took me to the top of Squaw Peak, an incredibly steep, rutted, dusty, loose, downhill, primarily used by ATVs. Then he took off down it.
I stood there for a moment, looking into the abyss. Then I sobbed a bit, took a deep breath, and headed downhill.
I made it down the first ledge. Made it past the first switchback. Made it over the first jump.
It was the second jump that got me.
I am told that I hit the jump, flew over the handlebars and landed square on my noggin. I am told that horseback riders found me lying in the trail. I am told that eventually Stuart came back up the trail and took me to the hospital, while I jabbered on about how I couldn’t remember my own name, didn’t know how I got where I was, and had a very bad headache. I have to believe what I am told, for I have no recollection of the next six hours.
I didn’t get back on that bike ever again. Eventually it was stolen, and I’ve never been so glad to have something stolen in my life.
Try, Try, Again
Five years later, another friend, Dug, convinced me to buy another mountain bike â€“ this time a Specialized Stumpjumper, for $800 â€” which seemed excessive at the time. When he took me out on my first ride, we went to a dirt road. It was steep in spots, forcing me to get off and walk, but I was able to ride about 75% of it on the first try. There was no downhill on that first ride â€” nothing that posed a crash-and-burn risk.
I was instantly hooked. I remember talking with my wife all the rest of the day about how I had found what I wanted to do, that I was never going to ride my rollerblades again (yes, I was still rollerblading five years later).
Every day for the next month I went out to the trail Dug had showed me, until I could ride the whole thing without putting a foot down.
Is it much of a surprise that climbing became the most important part of bike riding to me, or that it still is, ten years later?
I don’t know anyone who has turned more people into cyclists than Dug. In fact, a few years ago, we started calling him “Shepherd,” because he had built up such a big flock of cycling followers. Which is not to say that Dug’s a wonderful person. Depending on his whether he needs something from you he is one of the following:
- Snide, mean-spirited, impatient and irritable
- Cloying, saccharine, and sycophantic
But he’s a remarkable bike evangelist.
A couple years ago, Jeff told me that he wanted to try mountain biking. We talked through dozens of different bike options until he settled on a bike he liked â€” a full-suspension Trek Fuel.
Conscious that this was my chance to give him a great first impression of mountain biking, I picked out one of my favorite easy trails. Not too much of a climb, no frightening descents, nothing very technical, lots of places where you can bail out.
Jeff had a miserable time.
The trail was too narrow, it twisted and turned with numerous blind corners, and there was a nasty, deep, rocky ravine on the left â€” which he tumbled into.
To his credit, Jeff wasn’t a baby about having a bad wreck on his first ride, like I was. He’s caught the bug, and is riding more and more. He’s even shaved his legs and bought a road bike.
What Have We Learned?
I write all this as a reminder to myself, because this weekend I’m taking a friend to look for bikes. Once he’s found a bike and is ready to take it out for a spin, I will remember the following:
- What I consider an easy ride is not an easy ride.
- What I consider slow is not slow.
- What I consider an easy climb is a hard climb.
- What I consider a fun downhill is terrifying.
- What I consider a short ride is a long ride.
- If I give him more than 2 or 3 tips on how to ride, I’m a dork.
- If I take off to show how fast I am, I’ve completely blown it.
I don’t know any cyclist who doesn’t get excited at the prospect of bringing a convert into the fold. The trick is remembering to share it on the new guy’s terms.