Have more fun on your bike by trying something new, and become a better mountain biker by doing it.
Riding mountain bikes is supposed to be fun, which is why we all started doing it in the first place. But the truth is, after too many years of doing something, we run the ever present perils of burning out, developing bad habits, and taking things to seriously. If each one of us is to survive as a mountain biker, we need to protect ourselves against a few dangers – evils that threaten to extinguish our fire and steal the sense of enjoyment that we started the sport with. We need to continually add challenge to our rides, to never stop learning. We need to try new things, and explore new places. Some say the best defence is a good offence, so instead of just doing enough to keep the fire going this season, try throwing a few pallets and a tank of gasoline on it! Here is a list of things you can do to stoke the flame:
Go Night Riding. See your favourite trails in a different light! Riding at night is a great way to raise the fun meter. Not only does it vastly expand the riding time available to you, especially in the fall as the days get shorter, but it also basically doubles the amount of trails you have available to ride. The thing is, riding a familiar trail at night is such a completely different experience from riding the trail in daylight that it might as well be a new trail. The first time you ride a trail at night, you will be amazed at how different it actually looks. Lights cast all sorts of eerie shadows, and with a good helmet lamp, you find yourself riding this beautiful ribbon of trail surrounded by a complete abyss. Where the light goes, you go, and you can’t take your eyes off the section of trail your light illuminates. Riding by light automatically forces your focus on only the task at hand in a meditative bliss that allows you to ride with a new feeling of flow, with any potential distractions cast into empty darkness. You may find yourself riding so much better as the darkness surrounding you changes your perception of the terrain. Steep things don’t feel so steep when you take the mountain side out of your peripheral view. When you no longer have those reference points to judge the angle of things, your mind, with less information to filter through, has an easier time “just riding”. Add to this the spookiness of noises and glowing eyes of creatures of the night, and the otherwise unknown, you don’t need to be riding fast and dangerous to feel the flow and get a thrill.
Bike in the Snow. If you live in a northern climate, there is a good chance that you have put your bike away during winter months due to snow being on the ground. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you have never ridden your bike on snow, than I, for one, feel sorry for you! If your skills are up to it, you will discover that riding bicycles on snow is probably the most fun you can have on a bike. I know that is a huge statement to make, but its true. Avoid leaving your cycling life incomplete and try snow biking for yourself this winter.
Build Your Own Trail. Perhaps the best way to change the way you look at a trail is to go through the process of building one yourself. There are many benefits besides the obvious one of creating the trail of your dreams. Building a trail is hard work and a great workout. Once you realize first-hand how much work goes into some of your favourite trails, you will most certainly adapt your riding style to ride with as little impact as possible! Building your own trail, on your own or with other fellow trail builders is a fantastic way to give back to the sport that has given you so many great times. Nothing can fulfil your life as a mountain biker more than helping to build something for others to enjoy!
Session Something. To “session” something means to spend an amount of time in one place and focusing on riding one particular feature. The feature can be anything from one tricky section of trail, a park bench, a jump, or even a side-walk curb. The point is to practice a specific skill as long as it takes before you get it, or get sick and tired of trying. Out on the trail, many of us fall into the habit of walking past any section of trail that has caused us to fault, and pick it up again when the going gets a little easier. This is behaviour is fair enough when in a group, and trying to keep up the pace, but if you are riding by yourself, give the sections that trouble you a few more attempts. I believe in the three strike rule, which is simply to try three times or until you succeed at cleaning that section. You can also use sessions to enhance your creativity and flexibility on the bike. For example, spend some time with a set of stairs and try too see how many ways you can hop around on them or ride them up and down. The whole world is your bike trail. If you look at it that way, there is no limit to the skills you can learn and the fun you can have.
Ride the Wrong Bike. Having the latest and greatest gear is always nice, and as a cycling enthusiast, it never hurts to have the perfect tool for the job. However over the years most of us have probably grown picky and a little snobish when it comes to bikes. Sometimes one trivial little annoyance, such as a noisy brake or a creaky pivot, will flip the switch on our complaint mechanism and have us whining and worrying throughout an entire ride. The important thing we all need to be reminded of is that the bike is just a tool, and the fun is simply being out there. To help us remember this, I think it is a great idea to deliberately take the “wrong” tool for the job on a ride every once in a while. For example, I have had a blast taking my shitty old 10 speed out for a ride on one of my local singletrack loops. I didn’t break any land speed records on it, but it was a really good exercise in precision and control. I have also had the same cheap thrills doing my favourite downhill trail on my BMX. The main theme here, once again, is to be creative and just try to have fun. Words to live by!
Find a New Riding Partner. If you always ride by yourself or with the same group of individuals, than you will eventually find yourself in a comfortable place in your riding. Nothing wrong with that, but for learning purposes, you need to venture outside of you comfort zone, and the best way to do that is to ride with someone that has a different skill set or is at a different riding ability. The easiest way to learn new tricks is to watch other riders and then copy what they are doing, a lot of this happens on a subconscious level too, meaning you don’t really have to think about it. Simply by riding with new people, you will be learning new techniques and expanding your riding background. Riding with better riders will, by association, make you a better rider. Just as important as riding with better riders is riding with beginners. Riding with a novice rider may not exactly push your limits, but it will remind you just how far you have come as a rider as well as remind you how much fun biking can be. Not much beats witnessing the laughter and smiles of a rider discovering for the first time the sport that we have enjoyed for so long. It really helps put things into the proper perspective.
There are countless ways to break out of our crusty old biker habits, and jump start our passion for riding. The bottom line, and this can never be stressed enough, is to ALWAYS remember that riding bikes is supposed to be fun. For all of us, save maybe a few professional athletes, riding a bike shouldn’t ever need to feel like work or be taken to seriously. Do your best to recapture that childlike feeling of freedom and joy you began this journey with and have an awesome summer of biking!
Interested in riding your bike at night? Start of buy buying a good set of lights.