Learning to Ride

I thought I knew how to ride a bike, but riding a mountain bike is a totally different experience. On the road, I avoid potholes, debris in the shoulder, and look out for drivers all while riding fast and holding my line. I corner and brake properly and know how to climb massive hills. My body is narrow and the pedals are spinning as fast as I can go. Not much of what I know about road cycling applies to mountain biking; however, riding a mountain bike will make me a better roadie, and it will make you a better cyclist too when you head for the trails.

Fortunately, Deborah Leedale-Brown of dlb2-Full Potential was ready to teach me the basic skills needed for tackling some of the local trails with ease. We started in sloped field filled with cones and a sky blue ramp that didn’t look all that intimidating until I realized that the ramp is about as wide as the handlebars on my new Fuel EX 8 GX, and every time I approached it, I noticed the downward grade to the nearest tree. I would like to avoid hitting trees and falling off the ramp entirely. The ramp was only a foot high, but when Deborah took off the 2nd ramp that drop seemed much, much higher off the ground.

Of course, I didn’t start on the ramp. She reviewed everything from proper body position on the bike with my heels down and wide knees to how to shift and brake while I slalomed in and out of the cones. I soon realized that on my previous mtn bike ride, I was gripping the brakes with all available fingers–white knuckles all the way down. When I did ride the ramp, I practiced different positions on the bike, and was able to do a nice peak and push when that second ramp was removed, placing the front wheel where I wanted it to go. I surprised myself when I did it, jarring my brain a bit the first time.

At the end of the lesson, we did ride some of the trails nearby. Rocks and roots were scattered about like forgotten toys. Logs crisscrossed the path, and I had to pay attention, holding my line and ignoring the drop off to the left. I didn’t second guess myself and knew so much more about how to handle my bike thanks to Deborah’s expert coaching. Mountain biking allows me to be comfortable and take up more space as I roll over all the obstacles in my way. That’s why I love it. And, I’ll be signing up for another lesson soon.

The Ride

The knobby tires rolled over tree roots like a fat thumb over the whites of the piano keys. If I could see my knuckles under the two glove layers, they would be white and bloodless with the way I was gripping the Top Fuel as I bounced down the single-track at what I thought were breakneck speeds. Suddenly, the trail went straight up, and I squeezed the brakes when I should have shifted to a bigger ring while picking up my cadence. Instead, I balanced on the bike with the pedals at 3 and 9 o’clock for a split second before tipping to the side.

I put my foot down and breathed. My legs were shaking uncontrollably.

Colleen was at the top of the hill, having rolled over those roots effortlessly, using her bike like some nimble monster truck crushing cars like soda cans. I walked the rest of the way until the trail leveled off, and I could get my foot back on the pedal to start once again. I knew then if I hesitated, I was finished.

So for the rest of the ride, I tried to make a quick decision and stick to it when descending or climbing this trail I could barely walk on, let alone ride a bike over all of those rock gardens and long sections of tree roots strung across the trail like garland. If I took too much time to think, I failed. I had to trust the line I chose and follow it through.

For a few fleeting moments on the ride, the trail flowed below the bike like water as I stood up with level pedals and weight slightly forward. But then, there was no trail, just a stream six feet down, and I thought I was going to die and be buried right then and there because I was too scared to cross the narrow frosty bridge to the other side where a sharp uphill topped with a rock garden greeted me. I didn’t die. I just fell off my bike a few times. Thankfully, the ground was soft and met me half way.

Once I get another bike, I’ll return to the trails because I might just be part daredevil.

And now this…

I think I have found a fourth sport I like: mountain biking. With my masters’ team on hold for the time being, I snagged this fun demo bike from my shop and plan to hit the trails on Monday. So far, I rode it around the neighborhood, over a few curbs, and up and down the alley behind my house to test out the full suspension frame of this Trek Top Fuel. Yes, it has SPDs, and yes, I clipped in. If I really get into this sport, I’ll use flat pedals to work on my skills that I’m clearly lacking.

As soon as I heard the click of my cleats, I was off and flew down the alley. I soon felt like a little kid tooling around the neighborhood as I rode past other moms at the playground while bouncing up and down over obstacles I would usually avoid on my roadie.

So, I know the fourth and fifth sports of triathlon are transition and nutrition, but I think this triathlete can certainly benefit from the strength of mountain biking. Wish me luck on Monday! Yikes!