Three Tries

01.17.2006 | 4:06 pm

If I have a gift in cycling, it’s in the ability to keep turning the cranks. Which is to say, I certainly don’t have any special talent in the technical mountain biking arena.

And yet, if you were to compare my technical biking skill, it would be very nearly above average. I can ride up and down minor ledges. I can go over moderate-size logs. I can navigate hairpin turns, as long as they are not terribly tight. I can, if the situation requires, ride up short stretches of loose shale.

How is it I can perform all these magnificent feats of derring-do? I think I can narrow it down to one particular thing.

The Three Try Rule.


How the Three Try Rule Works

I started riding with The Core Team (Bob, Dug, Rick, Brad, Kenny) after the Rule had been established, so I’m afraid I can’t offer any insight into its history. However, the premise of the Rule is elegant both in its simplicity and usefulness.


Any rider can try any move three times.


This means that if, as you’re riding on a trail, you dab (put a foot down), crab (hit a rock with your pedal, throwing you off your line or off your bike), or just plain fall down, you get to go back and try it another two times.

By itself, that doesn’t seem like much of a Rule. The Three Try Rule, however, has an extensive set of supporting corollaries that give it its true power.

  • A Move is What You Think it Is: If, either on-trail or off-trail, you find a series of logs, rocks, ledges, roots, or any other interesting challenge, you can call it a move and commence to try to clean (successfully ride over) it three times.
  • Exception 1: If you’ve been declaring move after move after move, to the point that the group hasn’t moved 50 yards in the past four hours, people will start to find you annoying.
  • Exception 2: If everyone’s tired from a whole day of riding and just wanting to get back to the trailhead (except you), there are no moves. Just shut up, will you?
  • Stick Together: Once a move has been declared, all shall gather around the move to analyze, admire, pick lines, and give advice.
  • Peer Pressure: When at the move, nobody is required to do the move. However, you are a chicken if you don’t. You’re not a chicken, are you? C’mon. Just try it once. Everyone’s doing it.
  • Turns: After trying the move, you shall return to the back of the line to wait your turn for the next try.
    • Exception 1: If you actually cleaned the move, you get to remain at the top.
    • Exception 2: If you missed the move but had an epiphany that will almost certainly get you a “clean,” you can ask for (and usually receive) cuts in line and an immediate extra turn. If, during your extra turn, you fail, you are a dork.
  • Advice from the Successful: If you clean the move, you may remain at the top of the move and offer advice, encouragement, and commentary, though not to the point of being distracting while the next person is attempting the move.
    • Addendum 1: Encouragement, advice, and commentary may be useful or useless in nature, but must be at least moderately entertaining. If you aren’t funny, shut up.
    • Addendum 2: If you clean the move on your first try, but nobody else does, you are The Champ.
    • Addendum 3: If you are the Champ, your advice must be taken seriously. The move is your throne.
    • Addendum 4: The Champ gets to make a short speech, usually thanking all the little people, and concluding that this is something they can’t take away from you.
  • Additional Tries Available by Request: If you were Soooooo close on your third try, you may make an emotional appeal for another try, and another. And another.
    • Ennui Override: At some point, you need to let it go. You’ll get it next time. Let’s move on. Seriously. It’s getting dark.
  • Mulligan: If you make a boneheaded mistake in the approach to the move — can’t get clipped in, slide out in gravel, feel a certain bad juju in the air — you may call “Mulligan,” and try again. One Mulligan per person per move, please.
  • Acceptable Use: The Three Try Rule may be used alone or in groups, but is much more fun in groups. 

    1. Comment by Carolynn | 01.17.2006 | 4:24 pm

      You must be up VERY early to be writing this, and have your brain engaged also. Amazing. And then you top that off by going out to ride in the rain. Blame it on a bad childhood.However, you are wonderful to stand up for the mothers of the world when we are being put down by your doctor friend yesterday. (BTW, did I forget to teach you how to choose good friends?) Being in the therapeutic business, I must say that the good doctor has some serious problems. Hoping for some sunshine for you!

    2. Comment by Unknown | 01.17.2006 | 4:33 pm

      i also find that the 3 try rule works well in human interaction, with little or no alteration.

    3. Comment by Unknown | 01.17.2006 | 4:37 pm

      Fatty,Is there a handicap exception to the three try rule for having spalmed balls? Would you have to have that condition verified in order to claim it? I love wordisms like that because I enjoy using them in my admittedly limited vocabulary, about three fourths of the way into a verbal paragraph, just to sound out whether or not my captive is listening or if I should let him/her go. In that way, I can adjust my delivery or inferred meaning accordingly in the future. One of the best regions in the country for original wordisms and colloquialisms was the Ozark mountain region. This uniqueness was diluted by an influx of television and the result pretty much spalmed the local color right out of the language and now they talk like normal folks, more’s the pity.

    4. Comment by Unknown | 01.17.2006 | 4:40 pm

      I’m trying to get my boss to implement a three tries rule at work. Him: "You screwed up that project, dummy."Me: "Yup. I call a Mulligan."

    5. Comment by Unknown | 01.17.2006 | 4:47 pm

      The theoretical basis of this could work in many sporting activities. 1. Lower your standards defining success. 2. Pick an event that doesn’t revolve around objective measurements like the absurdly outmoded “winning,” laughable irrelevant standards like "time," or the self-esteem-diminishing “finishing place.” 3. Find friends with similarly low standards. 4. Engage in mutual backslapping when anybody does anything tougher than forehead-wiping, or simultaneous gum chewing/walking. 5. Preen after you do a move, to trigger validation and mutual backslapping.6. Give yourself an A/A- grade for completing the move, which wasn’t hard to begin with. Hate the A-? No problem, just repeat Step 1. These rules are not without precedent. The national figure skating sanctioning body uses similar procedures for scoring events, and for selecting skaters to the Olympic Team; and I hear the NFL uses the same protocol for selecting playoff referees.

    6. Comment by tayfuryagci | 01.17.2006 | 4:57 pm

      as usual a joke has been used too much and thus worn out. spalm stuff is just not funny anymore. nothing personal jim, dont get me wrong ;)

    7. Comment by Unknown | 01.17.2006 | 5:06 pm

      What happens if you have an epiphany that you’re a dork?

    8. Comment by Robert | 01.17.2006 | 5:46 pm

      If I recall, we invented the 3 Try Rule because (1) some riders would try a move, miss it, and then keep riding; and (2) some riders would want to try a move 20 or 30 times, so we had to set ground rules to keep things moving.Addition: You forgot to mention that the 3 Try Rule is waived on crux moves in Moab. You can try the Triple Ledger on Moab Rim as long it takes to make it. This year, I finally made on about the 25th try, while Rocky made it on his first try. And second try.

    9. Comment by Unknown | 01.17.2006 | 6:31 pm

      living in flat Florida for so long,i now havezero technical bike handling skills. so, if i evervisited somewhere (Utah?) where such skillswere necessary, i would have to implement theuniversally accepted, IF YOU’RE GOING TO BESTUPID—YOU’D BETTER BE TOUGH RULE. otherwise3 tries or 103 tries would make little difference forme. yep, i’m the guy they invented E.R.’s for whenriding off road. i raise my Specialized water bottlefilled with Cytomax to all of you willing and successfultricksters of the trails. salute!!!!

    10. Comment by Tom Stormcrowe | 01.17.2006 | 8:00 pm

      Do you get extra points for finally pulling off the move on try three, this time while wearing a full body cast, or do you get points deducted because the cast technically counts as body armor?::GRIN::

    11. Comment by barry1021 | 01.17.2006 | 8:27 pm

      Oh my apologies Fatty, I have read your Three Tries article and I now understand American humor. It is quite funny. I laughed many times. In fact I laughed my assos off. Oh see now I am funny too!!Yours TrulyDr. Michael Lammler

    12. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 01.17.2006 | 8:43 pm

      How is the three try rule applied in cases where the failed move results in an ambulance/helicopter ride? Such as practising your track-stand at a red light and toppling under the wheels of a Semi when the light goes green.There has to be a self-preservation escape clause in there somewhere.

    13. Comment by michael | 01.17.2006 | 9:22 pm

      Did the article take you three tries to understand, Dr Lammler?I’m a fan of the "give everyone a turn to try it" stipulation. I was mid-move cleaning once when another rider came charging up behind me yelling, "Look out!" So I naturally stopped my attempt and moved for him. He then declared himself the winner of the move. For revenge I dropped him on the next climb.

    14. Comment by Unknown | 01.17.2006 | 10:01 pm

      track standing at a stop light is not a move. shooting a water bottle or other debris across the road with your rear wheel would be cool, but is not a move. in fact, i’m not sure anything on a road bike is a move.helicopter rides or 911 calls mean nothing for moves or 3 tries. it’s simple. you get 3 tries for a move, unless the riders present grant you more.and if you make a move on your first try, and then do it again to show off, you’re tempting fate, and better watch your back.

    15. Comment by Unknown | 01.17.2006 | 10:28 pm

      We have a similar "Three Strikes" rule. We also have a waiver for when you miss a not-so-difficult move 3 times. It’s the "OK, now I’m ticked off! I’m going to make this or die trying" waiver.

    16. Comment by Unknown | 01.18.2006 | 2:52 am

      >>> in fact, i’m not sure anything on a road bike is a move.No bike messengers where you live, eh Dug? Does riding your fixie over a downed skateboarder count? How about if you clear it, and go back to try it again?

    17. Comment by Unknown | 01.18.2006 | 3:33 am

      that’s the thing, al. i’m not opposed to roadies, messengers, or fixies riding over skateboarders (or whatever). i just don’t see them ever trying it over and over until they get it right.

    18. Comment by Sue | 01.18.2006 | 4:39 am

      jimserotta, I thought it was funny.Congrats, Dr. Lammler. You are funny too, but in a different and inferior way to jimserotta.Botched

    19. Comment by Unknown | 01.18.2006 | 5:16 am

      Simple7 logs X 3 try rule = dug is correctYa see al >> a fixie can’t even enter the arena!

    20. Comment by Fat Cyclist | 01.18.2006 | 5:38 am

      chucky – have you considered my offer to pay all your expenses to Leadville this year if you’ll let me bungie to your bike?botched / tayfur / jimserotta / "Dr. Lammler" – i agree with botched; jimserotta’s comment was funny. i further suggest that spalm is one of the best new words ever, and we owe Dr. Lammler a debt of gratitude. somehow, "spalm" has the comedic sound of "spam" with a connotative similarity to "balm." finally, i suggest that the "Dr. Lammler" that posted today is not the real Dr. Lammler. Unlike the rest of us, the real Dr. Lammler knows how to put umlauts over his a’s.dug / al / mike – i suggest that in the context used here, a move is a specific set of geographic features. the object is to clean the move with your weapon of choice (mtb in this case). so it’s easy to imagine doing moves on a mountain bike, a bmx bike, or a skateboard. you see it all the time. i’m with dug; i don’t think i’ve ever witnessed anyone doing moves on a road bike. i HAVE, however, seen remarkable technique demonstrated on a roadbike: trackstands, weaving in and out of traffic, using cars as slingshots. but that’s technique. there’s no specific geography involved. so it’s not doing moves. i’m not saying that nobody does moves on road bikes, but it’s for sure less common.bikejohn – i’ve seen the do-or-die last-ditch effort after the third try, too. i should’ve included it in the list. good catch.caloi – if someone actually forced you off your line to clean the move, you were within your rights to kidney punch him there and then.mike – you’re a funny one to talk about self-preservation, mr. "put me back on my bike, my concussion’s not that bad."stormcrowe – i actually get hurt a lot less often trying moves than just riding along. when you’re doing moves, you’re generally aware of where your bailout points. it’s when you’re cruising downhill thinking everything’s jake and suddenly your front wheel slides out in defiance of physics that you really get hurt.bikemike – "if you’re going to be stupid, you’d better be tough" is a great rule. i try to live by it.bob – noted: crux move (provided the ride has a crux move; many do not) gives you the right to unlimited tries. as we both know, the law of diminishing returns kicks in all too often; your legs lose their pop and you do worse and worse with each try. and by the way, we only said that 25th attempt was a clean so we could finally go home.keepyerbag – if you have an epiphany that you’re a dork, you are required to start a blog enumerating all the ways in which you are a dork. i believe i have demonstrated that such an enumeration can take quite a while.rocky – "mulligan" can also be used when you start a blog, delete it, start another blog, delete it, and then start another blog. oh. you already knew – riding in the rain indicates i had a bad childhood? you’ll have to give me a call and explain that one. your sunshine hope worked; thanks! for the first time in about a month, I rode today without being soaked. i believe i may have even seen a glimpse of blue in the sky.

    21. Comment by Unknown | 01.18.2006 | 6:14 am

      Was that really necessary? Yes, I employed the three try move in the blog realm, too.

    22. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 01.18.2006 | 6:37 am

      Is it considered a "move" if said trackstand is being executed whilst seated, one handed and discreetly adjusting your "geography".

    23. Comment by Sue | 01.18.2006 | 2:27 pm

      MIKE, it depends on how much heavy lifting is involved.Botched

    24. Comment by tayfuryagci | 01.18.2006 | 3:12 pm

      umlauts? â <—– does this count? :D

    25. Comment by Unknown | 01.18.2006 | 4:30 pm

      Fatty, I am deeply saddened that you thought it necessary to point out that "Dr. Lammler’s" post was fictitious.Botched

    26. Comment by barry1021 | 01.18.2006 | 5:07 pm

      FCHear, hear Botched! Ach! Undone by an umlach!!!

    27. Comment by Unknown | 01.19.2006 | 2:57 pm

      If you ride a move cleanly (especially on the first attempt) all credit must be given to rider skill. Failure to clean a move after three tries may be blamed on equipment, lack of sleep, too much sleep, poor nutrition, trail conditions, presence of other riders, lack of other riders, animal scat, time of day, phase of the moon… in short, anything except lack of skill. And also, it can be blamed entirely in full on alcohol consumption the night before.


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