Mountain Biking is More Than Just Riding: Tips on Staying Sane at Home
Contributed by Mountain Bike Atlantic Advocate for Newfoundland, Andrew King
When news first broke of a new coronavirus emerging in Asia, mountain biking was the furthest thing from my mind. It was nearly Christmas time, and I was looking forward to some time home with family. Fast forward to April, and snow-covered trails are finally opening up to pleas from officials across Atlantic Canada to stay home and stay inside. Medical officials, surgeons, professional athletes, and mountain bike companies the world over have been calling on riders to stay off the trails.
Most of us have taken these calls with a grain of salt. A leisurely pedal on a flat trail, or a slower lap around trails you trust can be good for the soul during these odd and oddly serious times. The bottom line, however, is that the fewer of us who are taking up valuable hospital beds, the better.
Luckily, this is something I am very experienced in – both taking up hospital beds, and being forced to stay off my bike. Two consecutive fractures of the same bone in my right arm have kept me off my bike for virtually all of last season, all ski season, and I am guaranteed to be forced to the sidelines for most of this upcoming season. Given my recent experience in staying off my bike, there is some wisdom I feel can help us all during these tough times: mountain biking is more than just riding.
Being forced to stay off the bike, I found myself taking in the action from behind the computer screen. I watched a lot of videos from the pits of World Cup races, and couldn’t help but notice that all the teams had an espresso machine in their pit. There is no doubt that mountain bikers prefer quality. We are boutique folks with as much sophistication as muddy shirt backs and bloody knees. We certainly love coffee. Fancy, high quality, boutique coffee. Learning to use an espresso machine, or nerding out over the perfect french press routine, are great ways to stay connected to mountain biking while staying home.
I recommend starting your day mindfully. Enjoy the first cup (if you’re a 2-in-the-morning person like me) or half cup in total zen. Enjoy the scent, feeling, taste, touch, and sound of preparing and enjoying your caffeine-infused beverage; wake up. Once you are feeling alive and whole, enjoy the second cup (or second half) while reading the latest bike article or industry news. I enjoy a series that really makes me think and reflect on more than just riding. Check out Lines In The Dirt, Scorched Earth, or the Mountain Bike Atlantic Blog!
Bike maintenance is a huge part of mountain biking. My riding buddies and I like to joke that a bike costs about ¼ it’s full price in maintenance and upgrades each season. While I am a firm believer in supporting your local bike shop, and still get my most complex work done there, I also maintain that maintaining your bike properly will make you a better rider. Learning to do these tasks yourself will make you more intimate with your bike. In turn, a clean and totally dialed bike will perform and handle better, improving your riding. Working on your bike is a more direct way to stay connected to mountain biking, without actually riding.
Physically, we may be isolated, but it is as easy as ever to stay socially connected. Facebook, Instagram, Zoom, Hangouts, Houseparty, Snapchat, the list of social apps goes on. Even when you can’t ride, staying in touch with your riding buddies is essential.
When I broke my arm the first time at the beginning of the 2019 season, I was unsure if I could mentally withstand being around my friends in the bike community. However, I found myself itching for that near-obsessive conversation on the latest bike gear everyone needs to have, or the condition of that one turn on that one trail…you know, the one with the rock at the other end of the berm. I especially missed the fun-poking camaraderie of enjoying a meal and beverage after the ride.
I found myself turning up at the local watering hole after group rides just to catch the latest gibberish, or make light of my own misfortune. The social connection certainly helped. It reminded me that I am part of such an amazing community, even though I can not ride. While we all can’t or shouldn’t ride right now, we can still stay connected and maintain this community which made most of us fall in love with the sport in the first place.
If you are itching to get on a bike – I know, sometimes we can’t help it – but still morally or legally not allowed to ride your local easy trails, then practice skills at home. There are many to perfect: trackstands, manuals, hops, braking, to name a few. I have seen countless riders (myself included) shred the PRs and confidence ceilings just by focusing on skills for a while. There are tons of exercises you can do at home, inside, with no consequence which will certainly help you when we get back out on the trail.
In the picture above, we narrowed off a small square area of floor space in the shed. The exercise is to ride around the space, staying within limits, without putting a foot down. Start with a big area, and then mark the margins smaller and smaller. You will quickly find that this exercise turns into a track stand, balancing, brake control, cornering drill.
So take it from me, starting my second consecutive season off the bike, when I tell you that mountain biking is more than just riding. It is a lifestyle of health and activity, wellness and connection to nature. It is ethical values, and appreciation for quality, fair products, and protected lands. It is a community of people just as looney as you or me (because come on…who else would spend $8000 on a toy just to put $2000 of repairs, upgrades, and maintenance into it the next year). I would argue that this community and its values and lifestyle are what make most of us truly fall in love with mountain biking in the first place.
Remember this the next time you get that itch to go ride, but know you shouldn’t. These days, staying at home could save a life.