04.4.2006 | 2:05 pm

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.


Log Pile

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.


  1. Comment by Unknown | 04.4.2006 | 2:21 pm

    A different question: which form of biking is more idle?

    In my younger, hackey sack playing days, we celebrated the fact that hackey sack is Pure, Concentrated Idleness.

    Obviously, bike commuting is not idle, so that form of road biking loses. (Assuming you commute on a road.) Riding a see-saw? Very idle!

    But generally, riding a loop on a trail vs. riding a loop on a road? Hmm…


  2. Comment by craig | 04.4.2006 | 3:01 pm

    Fatty, I can’t beleive you are wearing that brooklyn jersey you sister gave you in the woods.  I know you were going for photo ops, but I would be too worried about ripping it up or snagging it on a tree limb or something. 
    Come ride in the great Northeast.  Piles of logs are very common.  two techniques to employ
    1.  The ‘flick’  for when you are not traveling very fast but faster than walking speed.  You ride up with a manual and then unweight the rear of the bike while weighting the front.  the goal really to not touch any part of the log pile.  tough to do at slow speeds but doable
    2.  The bunnyhop for when you are traveling at high speeds.  More risky but the preferred method at speed. 

  3. Comment by Sue | 04.4.2006 | 3:32 pm

    It appears that Bob is wearing Teflon socks.  Look how muddy his bike and shoes are, and look at those gleaming white socks. If the socks are not, in fact, Teflon, how does he do it, and how can I translate Bob’s ability to keep his socks clean into a way for me to make money?

  4. Comment by Juliet | 04.4.2006 | 3:52 pm

    fatty – Looks like an interesting fracture waiting to happen.
    Reminds me of when I used to rockclimb in NM.
    craig – not unemployed – just devoted ‘fattyfan’ – also devoted ‘jillfan’ 
    (Up In Alaska) and she posts on saturdays too.

  5. Comment by Unknown | 04.4.2006 | 4:24 pm

    Boo.  Hiss…and other such insults.
    I suspected you would choose the Mountain Biking long ago but I held onto the hope that you would never make such bold claims.  To your defense though…I only have the flattened landscape of Dallas to navigate and road biking is really the only choice I have.
    It doesn’t change the fact that you have alienated me…I may not come back again (at least not for a few hours).

  6. Comment by Zed | 04.4.2006 | 4:27 pm

    Very zen-esque looking. Yeah, mountain would win out, I’m sure, but at least you don’t have to drive to the trailhead for road riding.

  7. Comment by Lynda | 04.4.2006 | 4:42 pm

    looking quite slim I must say~

  8. Comment by mark | 04.4.2006 | 4:47 pm

    If a man rides a bike in the forest and he wears lycra shorts, will
    anyone know? Only if he takes pictures! Put on some baggies and some
    body armor, and you’ll clean that log on the first try.

    I commend you for choosing fat tire over skinny, however. I’m exclusively a fat
    tire rider (terribly afraid of cars yet somehow unafraid of technical
    rocky descents and drops). Now all you need to do is be like the rest of us fat riders and get yourself a full squishy.

    Would love to ride with you next time I’m in Utah. I’ll help you build the seesaw.

  9. Comment by EricGu | 04.4.2006 | 4:56 pm

    The term you’re looking for is "target fixation".

  10. Comment by Gelati Farms | 04.4.2006 | 5:00 pm

    Truism #2 is a very good lesson for life as well as for cycling challenges.  I learned this years ago when my mother came home from a week-long meditation retreat with 2 black eyes.  Seems as if one of the exercises was to be of visualization and trust.  The goal was to stand across a large field, focus on a point on the fence at the other side, put on a blindfold and run full tilt, trusting that you would end up where you visualized.  My mom stopped when she hit the fence pole.  Unfortuanately she had used a car on the other side of the fence as her visualized spot.  She did end up exactly where she had pictured though.
    I think the true lesson is to visulize exactly where you want to be.  This is true of logs, fences, feilds and probably all aspects of life. 
    Wow, I know where Ican come for great philosophies on life.  Thank you Fat Cyclist…you have changed my life.

  11. Comment by barry1021 | 04.4.2006 | 5:39 pm

    Gelati girl you were made for this blog, you are on the money. And your mom shows us truism #3: Be careful what you wish for, you might get it (AKA The Monkey’s Paw Truism). And look, three lines written about you and i did not use the S word even once! Aren’t you proud?
    FC, the reason you do not get that rush and elation on the road is, well let’s face it, you are not really fat, never were (gasp!) and you are not a schlub. Now put on 45 ellbees and climb that 6% grade. Right after you are able to stop gasping and your heart stops pounding in your forehead at the top, you will get that feeling. And by the way, welcome to my world.

  12. Comment by Unknown | 04.4.2006 | 6:47 pm

    I don’t experience that kind of elation on a road bike….  I’d choose mountain biking, because I love that amazing sense of triumph (rare as it is for a schlub like me).
    Ahh, Fatty.  The Cocaine Study Monkey of cyclists.  You just keep hittin’ the red button until it feels good.
    I’d have to go with roadriding, specifically racing.  From our chats you know how long and have an idea about how hard I’ve been training to be able to be thoroughgoingly mediocre.  But I have to tell you, a good result in a race – I had one recently – is higher than anything I have ever experienced on a road or mountain bike previously, and it rivalled anything I ever felt playing contact sports, and that includes two magical seasons when a team I played for was in the national championship hunt.  Roadracing has higher highs and lower lows than anything I’ve ever experienced and I wouldn’t trade either; a drink from the bitter cup makes the victory champagne – well, being within a dozen or two dozen places of it – that much sweeter.  The axiom that "second place is just first best loser" has never struck me as more true than in racing where 50 or 100 or 150 people start, die out there on the course, and then die again in the last couple miles when the hammer drops, and if you do it right, you can’t even talk for five minutes afterwards, and you have to keep pedaling because your legs couldn’t support you if you tried to stand.  Regular road riding is fun in comparison.  It has an awful lot of profoundly sublime moments – a sunrise during a quiet, cool commute; a turn around a corner to be surprised by a herd of llamas wandering about in a field; the close cameraderie of a hard group ride of 50 to 100 miles.  There is almost no such thing as a bad road ride, and even dismal 7 flat days or minor crashes leave you with something to chuckle about.  But racing man… that’s the thing. 
    Admittedly, the high is short on availability. If you like to tickle your dopamine receptors every single ride, you’re probably better off on a mountain bike.  Training several months including cold weather rides and regular trainer torture sessions in order to feel good (or more often dismally bad) once or twice a week is an awful big investment for a scant payoff.  But on the other hand, it makes the payoff so much more overwhelming when it comes, and the joy in knowing that you worked for it and there was nothing accidental about being in position to win or place high makes it ever so much sweeter.  Maybe I haven’t raced enough yet, but I go into every race thinking I may not have what it takes, I might even get dropped bad enough that the officials make me retire, and I resolve to leave it all out there on the road, and do, sometimes including my lunch.  I’m guessing that it’s pretty rare that you have to dig that deep on the MTB, I suspect that most moves you pull off are a bit challenging, but ultimately you’re pretty sure deep down in side that any move you start working on, you’ll do.  As for me, I’m never sure that I’ll do okay.  The weekly race throws down a gauntlet in front of me, challenges me to dig much deeper, in a way MTBing never did, and I am starting to feel about the sport the way a dog must feel about its master.  Though I stuck knobbies back on the MTB and started doing some dirty training rides a couple months ago, I could never take the MTB over roadracing.    

  13. Comment by Unknown | 04.4.2006 | 7:43 pm

    look where you want to go, not where you don’t. it’s good advice, and helpful in a wide variety of situations. i used it yesterday hiking/skiing coalpit #4. got away with minor scrapes and bruises. it works when you use the bathroom, at work, even in politics. tom delay could have used some of this advice, turns out.

  14. Comment by A Dawn Tinsley | 04.4.2006 | 9:23 pm

    You need to change your name to unfat cyclist. You calling yourself fat is an insult to genuinely plump people everywhere! :P
    The only way I could clear a log on a bike would be to have approximately 20 very strong sherpas to lift me on my bike over and set me down gently on the other side.

  15. Comment by uncadan8 | 04.4.2006 | 10:24 pm

    Al – That is exactly why I ride a road bike. Someday, I hope to race (after I lose about a hundred pounds).

  16. Comment by Unknown | 04.4.2006 | 10:28 pm

    No insurance!  Ride on trails or the road, but for goodness sakes, stay off the rollers!
    By the way, you look smashing in the Brooklyn jersey – it is very slimming.

  17. Comment by barry1021 | 04.4.2006 | 11:05 pm

    That was pure cycling poetry, thanks for that, although I am still waiting for my first herd of llama surprise. I was attacked by a hawk once tho.

  18. Comment by Nanget | 04.5.2006 | 12:42 am

    What Al said.
    Both are good but road is better.

  19. Comment by Brie | 04.5.2006 | 12:46 am

    Both are just as good….easy way to answer the question. I guess you could argue to have both sides of the pie is to compete in the "Croc Trophy" – nothing like a mountain bike race in the heat and beauty of Northern Australia to really separate the men from the boys.

  20. Comment by Michael | 04.5.2006 | 1:25 am

    Cool Brooklyn vintage Roger De Vlaeminck jersey!  Isn’t it a contradiction to rave about Mountain Biking while wearing such a great Classic Road Jersey?  I’ll scan ya a picture of De Vlaeminck and Eddy Merckx together if you like, you can’t get more Road than that!

  21. Comment by OC Trucker | 04.5.2006 | 1:47 am

    Hey Fat Cyclist — I just wanted to thank you for inspiring me to finally start my own blog. I also have almost the same "weight issues" as you do (or non weight issues, as some would say — 5′ 8" and 175 – 200 lbs depending on the scale and time of day. Well, okay, the 200 lb reading was from a truck scale, so that shouldn’t count, even though the operator swears the scale is dead on accurate. In any case, my recommendation as a general rule is not to weigh yourself on a truck scale.)
    Now I’m trying to find the motivation to start riding my bike again, even if it is only a $75 bike from Target with brakes that barely work. (Too bad my wife dropped a cement bucket off the roof of our house onto her bike’s front wheel — this is another thing I recommend not doing.)
    But I’m so out of shape, it’s pathetic. You really do have to be in pretty good shape to ride on hilly terrain. When my wife & I go riding, we always have to be careful not to go so far that we can’t make it home without collapsing. Maybe after we finish the bricklaying project I talk about in my blog, we’ll be able to tackle the mountains of upstate NY. Hey, that gives me a multi-sport event idea:
    1. Fill a truck with bricks
    2. Drive the truck somewhere (to my house, for example)
    3. Unload the bricks
    4. Make the bricks into a courtyard
    5. Ride a bike
    (Okay, admittedly, the bike-riding part doesn’t really fit in and I just put it there as a feeble attempt to obscure the fact that I’m trying to get someone to lay my bricks for me by calling it a sporting event. But you can see where this could have incredible potential if used creatively….)
    Anyway, thanks for the inspiration.

  22. Comment by Unknown | 04.5.2006 | 2:25 am

    For me the difference between road biking and mountain biking has always been the type of satisfaction that each provides.  When I do a road bike ride that is n number of miles with x thousand feet of climbing, my satisfaction comes from the sense of accomplishment felt after I have finished.  When I ride my mountain bike, the satisfaction comes from the joy of the ride itself.  It is about being on the trail with my friends – I don’t care how many miles I’ve gone or how it fits into some training plan.   When I finish a road bike ride I’m glad to be done.  When I finish a mountain bike ride I wish it would have lasted longer.

  23. Comment by Gregory | 04.5.2006 | 3:40 am

    what kind of bikes do you guys have? i tried searching your site but i couldn’t find a search box.

  24. Comment by Tyler | 04.5.2006 | 5:25 am

    First of all, seriously, Al, how do you do it?  I honestly don’t read all of your comments because they have SO MANY WORDS.  They’re well-written and all, but how do you TYPE so much?
    Fatty – Sucker.  Road biking is better.  Or at least, it’s harder.  Not more DIFFICULT, which goes to the MTB.  But what I want to know is: do your mountain bikes have … depleted uranium chainrings?  How do you use them as a saw-toothed wheel to help you pedal over obstacles?  THAT is a trick and a half!

  25. Comment by Nick O | 04.5.2006 | 6:13 am

    Hey Man,Cool Site, make sure to check mine out. I blog very often, got some cool pics, and building up lists.All you too! Lv some Feedback.Zip Pzzzzzzzz.

  26. Comment by Andrew | 04.5.2006 | 2:54 pm

    Dear Swaggering Sultan of Steatosis,
    I’ve pondered the difference between mtb and road biking for some time now. If I get passed on the trail, it doesn’t bother me because both the other rider and I are in a struggle with a common foe, the trail.
    When I get passed on the the road, it just pisses me off.
    Therein lies a profound difference, but I’m too lazy to develop it.

  27. Comment by Kenny | 04.5.2006 | 3:25 pm

    Al, I loved your comment.  I feel like that what you are saying is that you are in love with racing, not necessarily road riding.  Racing on a MTN bike is as much a challenge or more so than racing on the road. Having done both, I can say that, for me MTB racing is much more of a personal challenge, with an end result that is much higher or lower than racing on the road.  In any given mountain bike race the fittest person wins the race… Not the guy with the best team or the best tactics.  And you don’t have to stare at the back of some guys wheel for hours on end.

  28. Comment by Tom Stormcrowe | 04.5.2006 | 8:28 pm

    Kenny, speaking as the guy who tracks Al’s mileage and stats for him, I gotta say, this! Al is one of the most improved riders I’ve EVER had the honor of sorta meeting! He and BigMike are a couple of serious road dogs of the 1st magnitude!

  29. Comment by Tom Stormcrowe | 04.5.2006 | 8:31 pm

    I just gotta get this off my chest! I personally am very happy that Mr Maviva is a roadie and not so much into mountainbiking! I mean, I can only stand so much abuse, first it’s the Democrats, and then I get my butt whupped out on a DC trail……MY ego just couldn’t handle it!

  30. Comment by bradley | 04.6.2006 | 12:31 am

    I read just a few of the comments, so I don’t know where the others, ‘cept POTUS that is, stand. Me, I prefer the road. Mountain biking, as much as I enjoy it, and at least where I end up riding most of the time, is too much like interval training, frying my brain, heart and lungs on horrific climbs. At least when I do this on the road, I get to recover while the blood pounds in my skull. Might not be a "yippee!" moment, but it’s sure nice to know I’m not going to fall over dead.

  31. Comment by Teresa | 04.6.2006 | 1:03 am

    Didn’t the leader of the free world run his bicycle into a Scottish policeman?  I seem to remember something like that happening; talk about abuse!

  32. Comment by Scott | 04.6.2006 | 5:12 am

    I ride both as well, but am a confirmed Roadie.  There is just something about the pure speed of the road bike that is more attractive to me.  But a good singletrack on the MTB can be nice too.  The down side of MTBing for me is the whole crashing thing.  I think I am around a 50% kill ratio on that lately.  Some sort of blood or bruising involved.  Maybe I should try to develop some skills.   But I don’t have that with road riding.  Wet roads, gravel, whatever.  I can handle it on the road.  But put me on a dirt path with roots sticking up and trees on both sides and I’ll find a way to AOTK or just fall over on my side. 
    Did that clear it all up?  Cuz I’m just as confused as before. 

  33. Comment by Jill | 04.6.2006 | 6:18 am

    If I could ride logs with the style and grace you guys have, I would never leave my MTB behind.

  34. Comment by Unknown | 04.6.2006 | 1:05 pm

    I’d choose mountain biking, too.  There’s just more variety, plain and simple.  Plus, you get to play in the dirt.
    Thanks for entertaining me with your blog.
    P.S.  If people don’t claim their prizes, you can send them to me.  :-) (The prizes, not the people). 

  35. Comment by Zed | 04.10.2006 | 4:35 pm

    Greg LeMond said that if mt biking had been popular when he was 20, he’d have never won the Tour de France.
    BTW, how much you wanna bet that the George Bush comment came from Tom Stormcrowe?


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