Canadian Cycling Magazine
Remembering how to ride trails in minutes
Acouple of months ago, I travelled to Arizona for our annual company retreat. This was when the weather was at its worst at home. I was excited to escape the frozen tundra and spend a few days recharging in the sun.
As is our standard practice at these retreats, we had three days of activities planned. Most of our time was devoted to business updates, games (pin the tail on the cfo was my favourite), and team-building exercises, such as bobbing for grenades. Wisely recognizing that all this productive camaraderie would be exhausting, the organizing committee included a half day of free time. By “free” I mean “choose your own activity.” The selection was amazing: a cannabisinfused massage, a hike through snake-infested scrub brush, an event called
the Interactive History of the Cactus led by the local ladies’ auxiliary or an afternoon of golf.
As appealing as each of these was, you’ll understand my relief when our ceo, Bart (whose column appears adjacent to mine in this issue), suggested that he and I spend the afternoon mountain biking. I immediately said yes. He set about arranging a guided three-hour ride for the two of us, bikes and helmets included. All we had to bring was our shoes, pedals and enthusiasm.
I should mention that I hadn’t been on a mountain bike in more than 15 years. Truth be told, I hadn’t been on any kind of bike for more than a 30-minute ride on the trainer in the previous couple of months. But I was confident I could handle the three hours. My fitness was excellent from running, strength training and half a winter of cross-country skate skiing. I knew my backside would get sore sitting on a bike for an afternoon, but otherwise I assumed I would be fine.
As it turned out, I was mostly right (and certainly right about my backside). What I hadn’t counted on, however, was the staggering decline in my technical mountain biking skills. Taking 15 years away from an activity leaves one a little rusty. It’s not “just like riding a bike,” as the old saying goes. Well, it is, but it’s like riding a bike over rocks the size of prize-winning pumpkins while trying to avoid crashing into Old El Paso-style cacti. And that, loyal readers, is even harder than it sounds.
But I prevailed. I wisely let Bart lead the way. Or I should say, I wisely let Bart follow our guide, and I followed Bart. It took me a few minutes to unlearn my roadie habits and remember the fundamentals of riding a mountain bike.
Early on, I realized that it would be smart to leave more than 2 cm between my front wheel and Bart’s rear wheel. Hydraulic disc brakes are good, but they’re not that good. Second, I had to relearn how to throw my weight fore and aft when climbing on loose terrain to keep rear-wheel traction. Finally, I remembered how to loosen up my grip on the handlebars and let the bike “float” beneath me as we sped over pea-size gravel and through sand traps.
It took me about 90 minutes to start feeling comfortable on my full-suspension rental bike. The technology has changed dramatically since my days of careening through local forests on a steel hardtail. All these advancements felt fantastic – the dropper post, the single-chainring groupset, the plush suspension. Now I had found my flow. Now I was like liquid on the bike, running along perfect lines through the desert, all the while doing the mental arithmetic to figure out where I could cut spending on the children so that I could add a new mtb to my stable.
And then the inevitable happened. At the peak of my cockiness, ripping up a short, steep climb strewn with boulders, I lost momentum. My front wheel jammed between two large rocks, the bike stopped dead, and I fell sideways, still clipped in. I reached out with my left hand to brace myself and my thumb took the full weight of my fall, bending backward at an angle that defied the laws of both geometry and human flexibility.
As is my custom in situations like this, I let out a stream of expletives. Bart and our guide realized that they were down a man, and they had come back to see if I was still alive. I sat up, somewhat dizzy and with my hand in excruciating pain, and rested for a few minutes on one of the rocks that had been my downfall. I could still move my thumb, so I knew it wasn’t broken. Although it hurt like hell, I managed to grip the handlebar securely enough to finish the ride.
Back at the resort, my thumb submerged in a mojito to reduce swelling, I reflected on what I’d learned. First, I learned that Bart is a far better mountain biker than I am. Second, I learned that the Arizona landscape is not to be trifled with. Most important, I learned that I shouldn’t try to do complex arithmetic while doing a dangerous sport. That’s just asking for trouble.
Speaking of asking for trouble, my accountant says I can afford a new mountain bike. It just means the kids won’t get to go to summer camp and Mrs. Cranky will need to go back to making her own clothes. I’m sure they’ll all understand.
“I shouldn’t try to do complex arithmetic while doing a dangerous sport.”