Learning to Ride, Again

I have three theories for why I am timid and incompetent when mountain biking on technical terrain.

  • Theory 1: About twelve years ago, I started mountain biking. My friends, however, started mountain biking three years earlier than that. By the time I bought a bike and started riding in earnest, they had learned the basics and got their legs, so that I rarely–if ever–actually saw them during the ride. They’d drop me at the beginning of the climb. We’d regroup at the top and begin the descent, at which point they would immediately drop me again. As a result, I am pretty much a self-taught rider.
  • Theory 2: I never approach people with technical skills and asked them to teach me.
  • Theory 3: I am a clumsy oaf with no natural grace, coupled with a very vivid imagination; I am very good at picturing how I could be injured by the impending obstacle.

Needless to say (and yet, I am saying it), these theories are not mutually exclusive.

There’s not much I can do about my biking history, and there’s not much I can do about my lack of natural grace, but–as of yesterday afternoon–I am getting some instruction on basic technical skills.

My mentor? One of the frequent commenters on this blog. Yes, I am taking mountain bike lessons from a guy who calls himself “BotchedExperiment.”

If that’s not confidence-inspiring, well, I don’t know what is.

Here’s what I learned yesterday.

Lesson 1: My Saddle is Too High
Ever since I started riding, I’ve kept my saddle height adjusted according to a formula that works really well for road riding. I get good power with this height, and can ride all day without my knees getting sore.

So the first thing Botched did was drop the saddle about four inches. Now when I’m riding I feel like singing “Lowrider.” I assume this tendency will fade over time.

The point, says Mr. Experiment, is to make it easier for me to get way back off the saddle, to hang my butt over the rear wheel and rest my chest on the saddle. When I am in that position, says Botched, it is virtually impossible to endo.

He then had me practice riding around this way, getting comfortable with speed, with turning, with wheelie-ing, with riding down short flights of stairs. 

Lesson 2: Tripod
Next, Botched had me learn to stop. Skid the rear tire out, turn pivoting around your strong foot. Put the foot down, and now you’re a tripod. Most kids learn to do this in first grade. I just learned how last night.

Oh, and it turns out I’m goofy-footed.

Lesson 3: Wheelie and Lunge
Botched can do massive wheelie-to-bunnyhops that allow him to clear practically any obstacle. Last night, he had me work on the wheelie first (imagine, he says, you’re hoisting a bucket of water onto a high shelf), and then the accompany lunge upward and forward.

This is where my natural awkwardness really became manifest.

I can do a simple wheelie. I can even do a simple lunge. But chaining them together into a bunnyhop was…erm…problematic.

You know what, though? At least now I know what the motions are. I figure if I do them often enough, they’ll eventually seep into my subconscious and–eventually–it’ll become a natural motion.

Next Up: Shin, Knee, Elbow and Arm Guards
At one point yesterday–as I was practicing wheelie-lunging onto a flagpole platform at an elementary school–I turfed pretty well. Today I’m sore in a number of places, and my left wrist is all swollen.

Botched says I need to buy some courage, in the form of body armor.

Do I think I’ll ever be a technical wizard on the mountain bike? No. Will I be as good as my riding friends? No. But do I expect, eventually, to appear less the buffoon on mountain bike moves and technical descents?

Why, yes. Yes I do.

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