I keep getting older and mountain bikes keep getting better.
I pedaled my mountain bike up a Foothills trail as a navel-orange sun dipped into the horizon. It was a sublime moment that even protesting legs and sweat beads dripping down my face could not dampen.
It brought a moment of unexpected introspection. Yep, I almost got poetic and philosophical, but caught myself like a metaphysical dab of the foot to regain my mental balance.
It got me thinking. I’ve been riding mountain bikes for more than 20 years, and I’ve learned a lot, even if my mountain biking skills don’t necessarily reflect it.
As I rode along, I started a mental checklist of what I’ve seen, experienced and learned in two decades of churning pedals up mountains.
- Bike technology is beyond my wildest dreams. I never got the jetpack I expected in the 21st century, but I got a 27-speed, full-suspension mountain bike that is lightweight, comfortable and so efficient even I can pedal it up a long, steep hill.
- The mountain bike industry is in an arms race with my wallet, and the industry is winning. I swore the bike I bought three years ago would be the most I would ever spend, but every time I step into a bike shop, I feel my resolve deflating like a cheap tire in a goathead patch.
- Having said that, you can’t buy your way to expertise. It takes fitness and saddle time to be a good mountain biker. A bike is only as good as its engine, and its engine is you.
- Never stop trying to improve. Trying to get a little better at dissecting a rock garden, hopping water bars or carving corners always keeps the game fresh.
- The hills don’t lie. My friends will accept my excuses for being out of shape with a sympathetic nod, but the hills don’t care. They will get their pound of flesh, and I have to accept there are no shortcuts.
- Accept the pain as part of the game. I’m going to hurt sometimes. It’s the bargain I made when I decided to pedal up a trail, but ….
- Age has not diluted the pure joy of flying down hill on two wheels, and it never will. If you want to unleash your inner child in a healthy, positive way, get on your bike.
- Keep an open mind. I’ve seen a lot of biking fads come and go, but without progress, we wouldn’t have 30 speeds, six inches of suspension, disc brakes, dropper seatposts, bike computers, and other cool things.
- A creak, squeak, clank or other weird noise from my bike is never what I think it is. I was ready to tear my bike apart when I realized the weird noise I heard was ice cubes rattling in my water bottle. True story.
- 29ers live up to the hype. I didn’t take my own advice about keeping an open mind when it came to big wheels. I recently bought a used one, and I’m having a blast on it. It hasn’t replaced my trusty full-suspension bike, but it’s a great second bike.
- Don’t overcomplicate things. Another piece of advice I’ve ignored and ended up not riding because changing into biking shoes, shorts and filling a Camelsback seemed too big of a hassle. My 29er has flat pedals, a water bottle cage and tire repair kit stashed under the seat. It’s always ready to ride.
- Even the most expensive, high-tech bike is going to ride like a junker if you don’t maintain it. Mountain bikes require routine maintenance to keep them trail-ready.
- If you ride a full suspension bike, learn to adjust the suspension for your weight and riding style. If you don’t want to learn how, pay someone to do it for you. It will make a big difference.
- Periodically ride with better riders. I use their skill to motivate me. Even if don’t reach their level, I improve some aspect of my riding.
- Stop and enjoy the views. It’s easy to go straight from the pain and suffering of the climb to the giddy descent, but stopping and enjoying the view with your pals adds another element to the ride.
- Mountain bikes are my favorite blend of fun and exercise, and I can add an element of adventure if I want to go deep in the mountains, or I can just take a leisurely cruise on the Greenbelt. Either way, it’s always fun to ride.