Listen, I get it for sure, it’s not rocket science or brain surgery or even learning your pentatonic scale: as a matter of fact, it’s just like riding a bike. You push off and jump on, crank the pedals and, I mean, that’s about it right?
Right. But also wrong, because that’s not even just the beginning. Knowing how to ride a bike and actually riding it is like the difference between knowing how to wield a knife and cutting into someone’s skull with the intension of curing them from some heinous disease. Or, just as important, knowing how to wank your G major scale and really wanting to write a song that moves folks. Riding a bike is a million times more than simple mechanics; a hundred million times more than physics and economics and industry and belief all stacked together.
You jump on and crank the pedals and then nothing less than the whole of goddamn creation opens up to you. You become a human in motion and balance. You embody poetry and energy and in that you learn a thing or two about paying attention, being here, being ok.
What you learn on a bike translates smoothly and directly to life.
And mountain bikes? Sheesh. Times a hundred million million. Mountain bikes put everything on hold; mountain bikes hold space for you in all your struggle and harsh. What you learn on a mountain bike, from a mountain bike, is the marrow of life itself. Not a word of a lie.
What you learn on a mountain bike is the very chains and rings of life’s most challenging moments. Mountain bikes are hard, dirty, joyous and angry, unwieldly and godlike. They connect you to the very marrow of every day living.
Somewhere around 1984 or so, while the folks of Marin county were really starting to figure out how to blast down a mountain side on two wheels, my pals and I in the backwoods of New Brunswick were hacking through on whatever piece of junk we happened to have. We hefted them on our shoulders crossing streams or through bogs a lot, broke spokes, stripped brakes, busted tyres, got cut and bruised and crashed over and over. Like pro cyclist Johan Museeuw once said, “crashing is as much a part of cycling as crying is a part of love” – true that, brother. And what epic crashes they were – we bled and got bruised, broke things and swore like sailors in the woods while the flies carried us away in chunks.
By the time “real” mountain bikes became part of my life, somewhere around 1992 or so, I had learned nothing in terms of technique, but understood perfectly well this formula: force plus energy equals momentum. And that’s how I rode, and crashed. In the interim I’ve gone through a lot of bikes and have, to a minor degree, learned a few things – 6, to be exact. In no particular order, here they are:
- Pick your line and stick to it. How many crashes could I have avoided if I knew this early on? How many disastrous life decisions have I made because I veered at the last moment, filled with doubt? On a mountain bike you learn to trust both momentum and your own commitment to something – you are a brave and ridiculous genius, never forget that and you’ll always roll right over top of things. Will you crash sometimes? For sure, but way less than trying a hairpin turn at the crucial moment of decision.
- When in doubt, pedal faster. Don’t take my word for it; how about American superstar Olympian mountain biker Juli Furtado: “the slower you go, the more likely it is you’ll crash”. Hilarious, I know, but as my pal Kelly Murray often says, riding through the woods is really just about momentum and finesse; which is as much to say, pedal fast, lift your butt up off the saddle a bit, and swing it! Or, do take it from me, who has crashed many times, more often than not while going very slow, looking straight down, because strangely enough this horse needs to be moving to maintain balance. I know it sounds counter intuitive, but when you are in a sticky situation, gun it! Naval gazing and overthinking don’t work on the bike or in life – if you’re going to get over that obstacle (or, as we like to call them, ‘feature’ which is hilarious, I know, when you are calling a potential death trap just another part of this lovely landscape) you need to keep on keeping on.
- Move your centre of gravity instead of thinking gravity will move for you. Simple enough, amiright? But really, how often have you thought ‘oh man, why didn’t (insert desirous thing) just happen for me? Don’t I deserve that? Didn’t I work super hard enough?’ Seriously – that’s not how all this existential shite or physics work. So, as my mentor of movement Amy says of her insanely talented two wheeled dude, “lift your ass about an inch off the saddle and then wag your tail like a mf’er”. That’s some sound and sage advice – the world will not, I repeat WILL NOT, move for you and so, knuckleheads, if you wish to clear and obstacle in life or trail, don’t just smash your way through it, shift the trajectory by changing where you put your weight. Or, in other terms, be cognizant or where you are putting your centre, what you are devoting your lifeblood to, what the cotter-pin is round which everything else revolves.
- Stay focused/ attend! Despite what your FOMO is telling you, just showing up is not enough, whether that be for the ride or getting up in the morning: you must attend, as in ‘give it your attention’. As a matter of fact, as this odd sentient being that you, who is aware, or at least can be aware, that one day there will be no more days, attention (presence) is all you really have that you CAN give. Mountain biking is great for this: sitting on the cushion, doing yoga, practicing breathing exercises, all cool, but not always a guarantee that you will actually be right there. The mind is like a lost puppy, sniffing around for scraps and whiffs of ass, and actually does need something to focus on in order to claim this gift of the present readily, and the reality of wiping out at high (or even not so high) speeds and slamming into a tree is righteous intention and tends to lazer focus one on this moment right here. Meditation, maybe even especially in movement, helps you be aware of what your emotions are doing, where your body is, what this experience of being alive is a like which, as our man of myth and long distance running Joseph Campbell says, is all we are really looking for anything. Meaning be damned, I want tyo live! Mountain biking teaches you how to do that.
- Getting dirty cleans the soul: The NY Bike Snob teaches us that you should treat your bike the same way that you treat a washing machine: “by regularly exposing it to dirt, sweat and water”. This is the thing about life and bikes: they remind you that being a kid is the promised land. Honestly, howling in the woods, metaphorically and literally, is the mainline to your eternal youth. Splashing through puddles, getting all filthy in the love of the moment, casting aide cares about what is normal or acceptable or sedentary: in the woods, says Henry Thoreau, we come “back to our senses”. Trust me, I’ve had as many hellious days as you and I can promise you this: taking the path that is going to be nothing but kidlike passionate fun will always be the one where at the end of the day you lay down in bed and go “yeah, THAT was a day” and fall into a dreamless and restful sleep.
- Always eat your Wheaties: Whether in life or on bike, fuel up! You can’t think and rock without eating well and, much as I know that it just seems like another easy ride in the woods or day at the office, you needs your nutrients. Ain’t nothing worse than bonking when you’re about to close the deal.
As our man of Sherlock Holmes and knightly disposition, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, says: “When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle.”