I’ve always been pretty evenly divided on the road-vs-mountain bike riding issue. When reporters ask me, “Which is better, mountain or road?” I tend to dodge the question with, “Who cares, when they’re both so great?”
Last Friday, though, I think I answered the question definitively, at least for myself.
It was a sunny afternoon. I was unemployed, and uninsured. The lack of insurance pretty much made road biking a non-starter; I knew that while I was more likely to get hurt while mountain biking, I was more likely to get seriously injured or killed while road biking.
So I convinced Bob to skip out early on work; he drove over to my house and then we went mountain biking at Tolt-MacDonald Park in Carnation, WA.
“We’ll probably get lost,” I told Bob. See, this park is a near-infinite tangle of twisty, rolling NorthWest singletrack, deep in the woods. And those mossy-colored trees—well, they all look a lot alike.
“That’s fine,” said Bob, nonchalant. When you have orienteering skills like Bob and I have, you come to accept the occasional befuddled stumbleabout as part of the price of mountain biking.
Something the NorthWest has in abundance that I have not seen elsewhere on mountain bike trails are logpiles. Logpiles feel odd to ride over because about the time your front wheel rolls over the top log and starts going down, your back wheel is just starting to go up the pile. Then your big chainring high-centers on the pile for a moment, and your rear wheel flops high into the air, giving the exact same feeling you get when you’re about to endo.
Then, if you keep your head and keep pedaling—against your instincts, because of course your rear wheel is in the air—your chainring grips the wood and pushes you forward. Your rear wheel bumps to the ground, and then you’ve done it: you’ve ridden over a logpile.
Here I am, just as the chainring bites into the top log. In spite of appearances, please let me assure you that a large tree branch is not protruding from my rump.
Ride The Length of a Log
Riding over a logpile is small potatoes when compared to the move that Bob and I tried probably fifteen times each: Ride up and along the length of a mossy, wet log. I’d guess the distance was about twenty feet.
First, you have to get onto the log, which may be the hardest part of the move. The soft, rotten end of the log makes a decent ramp to the top, but it tapers, forming a notch just before you get to the top that grabs onto your rear tire, slowing you down and throwing you off your line. Here I am, stalled out, my rear wheel deep in the notch.
Once you’re up top, you’ve got to keep rolling, without slipping off. There’s a groove you can ride in, but it’s narrow and if you hit either edge, it’s hard to recover. Here I am, bailing out.
And Bob, using a handy tree to get his balance (after which he had to bail out, because he couldn’t restart).
And me, bailing out, again.
Move Truism Number 1: Take The Long View
After who-knows-how-many tries, I remembered something Stuart Talley (a large hairdresser who also happens to have hundreds of biking-related axioms at his beck and call) taught me about technical mountain biking long, long, ago: don’t look at the obstacles, or you’ll hit them. It occurred that I was staring so hard at the little notch at the top of the approach that I’d never know what to do once I got beyond it.
So the next time I tried riding the log, I looked beyond the notch to the end of the log.
And I cleaned it, including the wheelie-drop at the end.
I admit it: I squealed with delight.
And I regretted that we had stopped taking pictures (in disgust, about fifteen minutes earlier).
Move Truism Number 2: Once Someone Cleans a Move, the Stakes Increase
Up until the moment when I cleaned the log, Bob and I could have ridden away from the move, declaring it unrideable. Once I cleaned it, though, the game changed. Bob—a much more technically adept rider than I—could no longer leave until he had cleaned the log.
He got it on his next try. This is due to a corollary of Truism Number 2: Once you know it can be done, it’s no longer as difficult to do.
Plus, there’s another corollary, which I don’t care for all that much: If fatty rode it, it can’t be all that difficult.
If I Had to Choose
It was after I cleaned the log that it occurred to me: I don’t experience that kind of elation on a road bike. In fact, the kind of enjoyment I get on a road bike is almost completely different from why I like mountain biking. And if I had to choose just one kind of biking, I’d choose mountain biking, because I love that amazing sense of triumph (rare as it is for a schlub like me).
That said, I’m really glad I don’t have to choose between the two. Come to think of it, I can’t imagine why any cyclist would make that choice.