As I return to the fold of mountain biking, it is quite like a fresh start. I used to ride a lot, beginning in the late 1980’s on an old Diamondback Ascent, and graduating to front suspension in 1997, I got quite proficient. However after a several year layoff, it is indeed like starting from zero. I have to remember and relearn all my skills and instincts.
I thought it would be good to highlight some learnings, and hopefully help some other newbies to not get discouraged. This will likely run to several parts, so strap in and get ready for a ride:
- Fear – Unless you only ride flat trails without any real topography or obstacles, you will have some natural fear. This is your brain telling you that you aren’t ready for the challenge you face. It is telling you to slow down and work up to it. If you do not feel any fear, you are likely a sociopath, and probably have a GoPro camera mounted to your helmet. As a beginner, don’t sweat it.
- Condition – Even if you spend a lot of time at the gym, or riding a road bike, the odds are high that your general state of condition will be wrong for mountain biking. You use different muscles, and very few exercise machines can get you ready. Don’t rush it.
- Shame – If fear grabs you on a trail or obstacle you are attempting to negotiate, there is no shame in getting off and walking over it. Trust me, no ace mountain biker will give you any crap for it. The alternative, a nasty crash and possibly injuring yourself is not worth the risk. There is no shame in backing down.
- Safety Gear – While you might argue that you don’t need a helmet on the road (a crazy assertion), there is no way you can make the same case off road. If you ride dirt, if you do anything challenging at all, you WILL fall. Wear all the gear. Helmet, glasses, gloves. If you fall a lot, consider elbow or knee pads. Nothing sucks worse than being miles into the wilderness and getting hurt. Walking out dripping blood is no fun. Be smart.
The thrill is still there, and the reflexes are (slowly) returning. I have gone back to being a total newbie, riding trails that I know, and it is a joy to learn the basics again.
As my condition returns, and as I gain confidence/skills, I will again glide over obstacles that are giving me pause today. And that is OK.
I will never be a GoPro Hero, and that is OK too.