The default in Christmas wish lists is for stuff. Toys. The output of a capitalist society. That which results from the means of production. As a kid, I never wanted clothes, just more toys. I might not have changed much, in some respects.
But this Christmas I want to consider less the stuff that we think about all year long, than what you can do with that stuff. Sure, you may be waiting for your squeeze to give you that set of trick wheels, but being out in the world, which is where all this stuff leads us, hopefully, well that’s the real point.
Herewith, a few suggestions:
Got a hankering for Europe? Try something different. I’ve got a feature coming on my recent trip to Corsica and I have to say it was one of the more delightful places I’ve ever ridden. The climbs that I encountered weren’t overly long and generally adhered to grades that didn’t make you think about your life insurance policy. The roads small, the terrain picture-worthy and the ease of getting out of cities was a delight. I could easily go back and hole up in a small town for a couple of weeks.
A Mountain Bike Skills Clinic
There are a number of outfits out there like Ninja Mountain Bike Performance that offer clinics that sometimes go for an entire weekend. The better outfits will offer clinics with different targets, like just the fundamentals or a jumping how-to. Some even do women-only camps in order to keep the testosterone level more manageable. Most of us have achieved a certain level of competence in our riding and have, in all likelihood, stagnated. Tackling greater challenges is much easier when you have a controlled environment and an instructor who can help you with expectations and technique. And unlocking a new level of skill can reinvigorate riding like little else. The Googles will help you find one in your area, or at the site of your next vacation.
I sometimes wonder just how many cyclists out there think they have a good fit, but would confess some pain five hours into a ride. Nevermind whether or not their fit is allowing them to produce good power in the drops, are they really that comfortable? I had the good fortune to be introduced to the concept of optimal fit early in my bike shop career and it’s something I’ve studied ever since and have been amazed at how much more we know about fit today and how much better we are at helping riders achieve good fit. Want to do yourself or someone else a favor? Give them a session with a great fitter.
About the closest thing that people residing in North America can get to the experience of attending a cyclocross race in Belgium is the KMC ‘Cross Fest, which recently relocated from Providence, Rhode Island to Thomson, Connecticut. Even if you don’t race ‘cross, it’s an event that has something for quite literally everyone, so long as they dig bikes. There’s a gran fondo, there’s the expo, the Builder’s Ball where you can meet legendary frame builders (and other cool people), and of course, there are the races which attract some of the greatest ‘cross talent this side of the Atlantic—not to mention a few from the other side. The courses are a legendary test of more than fitness; you’ve got to know how to handle a ‘cross bike. Plus, it’s New England in the fall.
The opener of the Grasshopper Adventure Series is the most fun I’ve had with a number pinned on. Only the 8-Hours of Wente (also known as the Boggs Surrogate) even came close. Old Caz loops through a combination of dirt and paved roads in Western Sonoma County roughly between Occidental, Jenner and Cazadero (from which it draws it’s name). Its the sort of event that will cause locals to discuss tire choice for weeks on end, and at 50 miles, your day is short enough that the thing most likely to slow you down is a flat. There are bigger, badder, more demanding races out there. What makes Old Caz fun and different are the descents, of which there are several, and the chance to remember how much fun riding a bicycle can be.
For most of my life, Arkansas has been a cycling backwater; not a cesspool, mind you, but an alcove of nothing well outside hotspots like Boulder, Philadelphia and San Francisco. I can say this because I grew up on the other side of the Mississippi River. However, for the last few years, I’ve been hearing rumblings about Bentonville. It began with a friend who worked for Competitive Cyclist back before the purchase by Backcountry, when they were still based in Little Rock. He made a couple of trips up to Bentonville (in the Ozark Mountains in Northwest Arkansas) and told me of flowy trails cut expressly for mountain biking. More recently, the IMBA World Summit was held there and the locale was hailed for the quality of its riding. The area has more than 100 miles of trails as well as a bike park. Oh, and accommodations are stunningly affordable.
Want to shake your riding up? Pick a goal other than the pedaling to build a ride around. I used to do rides into downtown Los Angeles just to check out all the murals and other public art. Do an architecture ride to check out beautiful buildings and homes in your city. A friend once put together a ride that included every dead-end cove in Palos Verdes. I once did a literal Donut Ride (unlike the longstanding thrashfest in Southern California), in which we rode from donut shop to donut shop. Recently, a buddy took me on a tour of three local parks. I needed a gravel bike to get through all the off roading. Sometimes a destination is enough, like going to see an injured friend.
A Hope Pass
The event promoter Bike Monkey was a big driver in my decision to move to Sonoma County. And before I go any further, I need to admit that it’s strange to me that I would write such a sentence. An event promoter inspired me to move? Well, yeah. It’s not just that the events are so well run and so friendly you feel like you’re attending less a bike race than a party with a lot of aerobic activity. It’s also that the events take place in locales where you actually want to ride your bike. I spent too many years doing crits in smoggy corners of LA I wouldn’t otherwise have reason to visit. Life’s too short. So Bike Monkey gives me a chance to slay myself on terrain I adore. And you can, too. The Hope Pass grants you entry to every event they put on, save Levi’s GranFondo. It’ll keep you busy for about nine months, giving you the perfect reason to make another visit to Sonoma County. (The 2017 edition of the Hope Pass isn’t yet on the site, but it will be soon.)
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