I swore off mountain biking forever when I was 24 years old. It was my first summer living in Colorado and one of my best buds took me for an “introductory” biking adventure on the trails of Telluride, CO. It was, in fact, an epic beat down; 400 million bajillion miles long, all uphill (except for a few sections of straight down), I ran out of food and water in the first 32-seconds, and I was on a single speed bike that had a cheese grater for a seat. I did not have fun.
This past summer, a decade later, I started mountain biking again. Though my first two-wheeled experience in the mountains was as much fun as an leprechaun dancing a jig on my no-no zone, there were a few reasons why I wanted to get back in the saddle. My knee surgeon suggested that my lower body bendy parts would appreciate it. Trail running for long distances hurts too much. Hiking had run its course. Rafting will always be a favorite, but the float-n-eat part of that passion led to an increase of jiggly bits. But most of all, I was tired of being afraid of being new to something.
However, being new proved to be a helluva deal during my first ride this summer. I chugged along an intermediate trail in Prince Creek near Carbondale, CO. It's where I was told to cut my teeth, but I felt like I had bitten off more than I could chew. Picture a red-faced, sailor-mouthed, hyperventilating Irishman, whose curse words were only stifled by gasps for air, exhaustion, and personal disappointment. I got my ass handed to me during the uphill and, during the downhill, I ended up in a high-speed summersault shrub incident.
The beat-downs continued throughout the summer. During one afternoon ride where I felt particularly struggle-tastic, I noticed something weird about my shadow. A branch had wedged itself in my helmet like an idiot antler. It had most likely been there for the entire climb. Then there was a ride where I finally felt I had successfully navigated my way past some rocky-n-rooted areas, up a few step-ups, and around some sharp switchbacks. What's this, a sense of accomplishment and confidence? One minute later, I was lying on my back, in a bush, in a tangled mess of bike, branches, and bro.
Those were at least solo experiences. I rallied with some of my pals too, and public mountain bike flogging is harder to deal with than private. In any and every group, I am the slowest, the one who struggles the most, the one who is asked, “Dude, you look like you're gonna puke. Are you okay?”
Being bad at something is not easy for me to deal with, especially when that something is a mountain sport. The keystone of my identity is being a member of the outdoor community. But I feel a certain twinge of trepidation when trying something new outside. I worry that if I completely suck at an outdoor activity adjacent to skiing, the sport I identify with most, I will somehow lose my credibility and my membership will be revoked. Maybe exile is a bit drastic, but maybe, just maybe, torch-toting mountain folks will hunt me down like Frankenstein's monster.
Not wanting to try something new is really my desire to not look and feel stupid. I'm afraid that the way I see myself – as a rugged mountain hombre – will be proven to be false. I want my identity (and my ego) to be given a boost. I want to be able to pick up a new sport like it’s a football lying in the grass, spin it in my hands a few times, and throw a perfect spiral right away. Any way you measure it, I suck at mountain biking. But here’s the deal. I love that I suck at mountain biking.
I love new things, even when I hate them. They keep me honest. They keep me humble. And honesty and humility help me to grow, and I think they keep me on my toes in the mountains. My character, my identity, isn’t amplified when things are easy. I think we’re gifted power through challenge. And the destruction of the fear of something new is paramount to our growth as people and mountain adventurers.
After a few months of biking, I started to smile more during rides. The tiny victories got louder, the tiny defeats were easier to deal with, and the space between them stretched. I think I’m always going to suck at mountain biking. And I hope I suck at a lot of things in the mountains, because if I don't try new things then I can't have any new fun. And I love fun. So the next time you're on a bike trail and you hear trees falling over and curse words and what sounds like a congested elk trying to pass a Nerf football-sized kidney stone, don't worry. That's just me trying to have some new fun. Let's go bike riding, friends!
Here’s the Gear I Use to Suck at Mountain Biking
(Note: This gear does not suck. It is great. I suck.)
I love this bike, and the level link suspension system is the reason. It creates a dynamic feel and smooth power transfer. The bike is powerful during the uphill, stiff and sturdy enough to climb aggressively while still maintaining the ability to suck up trail undulations, rocks, roots, etc. During the downhill, the bike becomes a flowy and easily maneuverable fun-seeking missile. Kudos, Diamondback, kudos.
The Hulk of hitch racks. The T2 Pro XT is easy to install, simple to use, and is quite literally bomb proof. I ended up on a 4×4 road in Moab this summer, bottomed out my Subi more than a handful of times, and smacked the rack on rocks. My bike didn't move an inch and the rack was completely unharmed. I also love the locking mechanism on the rack. It makes for an ease of mind when my car is parked out of sight. My bike is not going anywhere on this sucker.
Packs can too often be an after thought for some mountain activities. I began my mountain bike suckage with a 10-year-old backpack. It was too big, shifted weight constantly, and made my back turn into a river of sweat. Back swass is a bad look. The Vital sits low on the back and doesn't move. It's comfortable, tough, and can store a ton of gear, snacks, and water. The magnetic strip running down the hydration hose (ReTrakt hose return system) is key, making hydration super easy while you're pedaling.
I fall a lot. I think it's because Mother Nature loves huggin' me. Whatever the reason, I need good noodle protection that's not bulky, fits perfectly, and is lightweight. This brain bucket is great.
It's nearly impossible to talk about mountain biking without mentioning Yeti. When it comes to all things two-wheeled, they know what they're doing. Their trailwear is just like their bikes, incomparable.
Outdoor Research Tee ($20-$40)
Dear OR, thank you for making an XL that actually fits like an XL. Also, this sucker refuses to hold sweat.
Backcountry Tee and Shorts ($50-$65)
I've never used Backcountry apparel before. I was very pleasantly surprised. Super comfy, lightweight, and tough gear.
Specialized 2F0 Flat Mountain Bike Shoes ($50)
I hit and kick a lot of things, hard things, pointy things. My feet have never been harmed in these tanks.
Sock Guys Rad Socks ($13)
These are neon green and say "rad" on them. 'Nough said.
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