I just — as in 12 hours ago — got back from Moab, UT, where a group of friends and I had what I think most of us would agree was the best long weekend of mountain biking in the history of long weekends of mountain biking.
I’m sure we share a lot of the same reasons for what made it great. The weather was truly ideal; temperatures in the mid-sixties throughout the day, with just enough of a breeze to feel good. There’s a new Mexican restaurant in town that we all agreed was top-notch. There was good consensus on which rides we should do, and most everyone stayed for the whole three days. And those who didn’t stay for all three days had a good reason for going home, except Brad, who is a nincompoop.
I had my own particular, secret reason for why I enjoyed the trip, though: I have fully and completely accepted that I am and always will be the worst rider in the group.
It’s refreshing, really, to finally be able to say to myself, "I may improve a lot, but I will never ever ever be even remotely as technically adept as the second-worst rider in the group." Once I admitted that, I was able to stop competing, and just start enjoying the multitude of ways in which all my friends are better mountain bikers than I am, and how they express that superiority.
I shall give examples.
Ride Brilliantly, Then Say You are Just Lucky
I wanted to start with this one, because many Fat Cyclist readers have expressed interest in how my brother-in-law Rocky would fare, what with his being a karmic black hole and all. Well, as he pointed out midway through the second day of riding last weekend, those kinds of problems only happen to him when he’s on endurance rides.
Rocky, I think it can be safely said, left everyone’s jaws hanging open last weekend. On Slickrock, he cleaned everything, and usually on the first try. On Goldbar Rim, he completely dumbfounded everyone by casually flashing big drops and tall ledges. This is best illustrated by a move that I call "The Grand Finale" — a series of three ledges in rapid succession, each about three feet high. Rocky, without ever having tried this move before, rode straight up it: Bam, bam, bam. First try. Then, after everyone else worked on it for about an hour while Rocky soaked up the sun, he got back on his bike and did it again.
The thing is, after each extraordinary feat, Rocky would always have some sort of weird self-deprecation on hand to explain it away. The following are actual quotes from Rocky, followed by my petulant responses.
- "I did it on the first try, because I knew I didn’t have enough gas for the second try." So, I’m falling down simply because I have energy to burn, right Rocky?
- "I just cleaned it because I was afraid to fall down." I, on the other hand, seek opportunities to crash and burn. Yes, I realize that it looks like that’s really the case, but I’m being sarcastic.
- "I’m just having a good day." No, Rocky, I’m having a good day, because I’m cleaning roughly 40% of the moves after having tried over and over and over. You are having a day unlike any day I can even imagine.
You know what I think? I think the extra kidney was just holding Rocky back.
Do Impossible Moves with the Grace of a Dancer, Using the Simplest Bike Imaginable
Brad is a pleasure to watch. While most people thrash on their bikes, trying to manhandle them up — or down — a tricky move, Brad just seems to flow up and over everything, as if he has obtained a waiver from the people who enforce the laws of physics and gravity. Brad sees a series of boulders, feet apart — something most people wouldn’t even picture as a "move," because clearly there’s no way to ride up and over all those — and then he rides up and over all those.
I don’t even try most of the moves Brad cooks up, in much the same way that I don’t try to speak Japanese: Saying a sentence is out of the question when you don’t have the vocabulary.
This year, Brad did it all on a 29"-wheeled singlespeed, which somehow made his riding even more elegant. On the singlespeed, you don’t get to pick how fast or slow you approach the moves, you pretty much have to do everything at a good clip or lose your momentum.
I used to be envious of Brad’s riding style. Now he’s so far ahead of me that the envy’s gone. Plus, I’m confident that I’m 45% smarter than he is.
Convince Me You are Going to Die Every Single Time You Do a Move
Corey is a mellow, unassuming guy who just seems happy to be wherever he happens to be at the moment. When he’s on his bike, though, you can be certain that he’s looking for a difficult ledge to climb up, or a huge drop to fly down. And you can be equally certain that he will completely disregard any potential consequences of failure, such as falling to his death or ramming headfirst into a rock.
Corey routinely charged at 4-foot-high ledges at top speed, knowing that he needed that kind of momentum to carry him up, and also knowing that if he didn’t make it, he’d crush into the ledge and then fall backward. He’d get big air off a ten foot drop, yelling "That felt good!" afterward, leaving unspoken — unthought? — how double-plus-ungood it would have felt if he would have munged the landing.
I guess that’s what separates the daredevils from the poseurs: Corey sees how well the move’s going to go; I see opportunities for compound fractures.
Convince Me that Fitness and Power are the Answers to Every Problem
Kenny also brought a singlespeed 29-er to the Moab party. And while Brad just seemed to zip up and over thing in spite of physics, Kenny cleaned everything as if he wanted to make an obstinate rebuttal to gravity. So many times during the rides last weekend, Kenny would slow down in the middle of a move. I’d think he was about to go down, and then he’d lean forward, stand up, and pedal through it. I swear, Kenny could pedal up a tree if the tires would stick.
Convince Me that Fitness and Power are Irrelevant to the Problem
Bob’s got middle-age spread to about the same extent I do. He’s been riding his mountain bike no more than I have, and his road bike considerably less than I have. But he was still cleaning move after move. No two ways about it: Bob’s got the skill and experience to make his body do whatever he wants, even if his body doesn’t think it can.
I think, actually, Bob may have benefited from the advice I gave him through the day. I encouraged him, for example, to throw his shoulders back when he attempted a move, or to try to lift his front wheel with more panache. My advice had its effect, and I could tell Bob really valued it, primarily by giving me the extra space a man of wisdom deserves. Some might suggest he was avoiding me, but I know better.
Completely Up-end My Understanding of What Makes a Good Bike
Dug and Rick both rode hardtail singlespeed 29-ers at Fall Moab this year, too. And they were cleaning moves left and right. They were climbing stuff I was doing in my granny gear. They were, in effect, showing me that all the reasons I have for a geared setup were actually just ways that I’m compensating for my weak legs. I’d clean a move and be proud of myself, and then Rick and Dug would easily do the same move on their singlespeeds. I’d be motoring uphill and feeling good about myself, when they’d suddenly pass me. "Sorry, gotta keep moving," they’d say.
Rick let me borrow his bike for a few minutes during a couple of the rides, and now I desperately want a Gary Fisher Rig.
So, yes. I am the worst rider of the group, and always will be. But you know what? I had some spectacular successes over the weekend, along with some impressive failures. And those are what I will talk about tomorrow.
And, after all, every group needs an omega rider — a guy who can make everyone else in the group feel good about themselves. I’m proud to fill that role.
PS: Who’s in the photos? Here’s who.
1. Bob, cleaning a ledge drop. Then, after the ledge drop, you’ve got to do . . . another ledge drop.
2. Corey, going big. That’s a six-foot vertical drop he’s hucking there, with a nice hard sandstone floor rushing up to greet him.
3. Dug, cleaning a big ledge move. It’s hard to tell in the photo, but that ledge overhangs. You’ve got to wheelie up about 18 inches and then hop your rear wheel that same amount.
4. The group.
Left to right, front row: Rich, Tom, Brad, Paul.
Left to right middle row: Rocky, Corey, Rick, Dug, Bob
Left to right, back row: Kenny, Racer, Fatty