So, I’ve made some comments in the past that I hadn’t tried mtn biking, yet. That changed last Saturday afternoon. My LBS was hosting a demo with Niner bicycles up at a popular mtn bike trail not far from where we live. I was a little uncertain of the whole endeavor because over the years, my hubby has come home with some pretty nasty bleeding cuts, bruises, abrasions…and even broken bones. I swear, every other time he would come home from the trails, he was bleeding. So if you saw something like that, wouldn’t you be a bit wary, too?
Anyway, I had worked up the bravery, recently. Part of that came from the grief of the road biking season coming to an end. While I haven’t quit riding outdoors completely, both the frequency and length of my rides have taken big hits. I’ve been needing another way to get my “riding fix”. That aspect alone swayed me the most. Plus, many friends had commented that they switched to mountain biking during the winter b/c the wind (and therefore the temps) wasn’t nearly as bad in the woods. They, also, felt that mountain biking not only kept them strong but made them even stronger. Hey, I’m all about that! That point was the cake topper. I was ready and chomping at the bit to give this new type of riding a try.
We started the day with an early but “short” road ride (only 25 miles). It was a bitter cold start to what would end up being a perfect, sunny, mid-70’s day. After coming home, changing, and eating another breakfast, we headed up to the trails. Once we got there, I let the Niner rep know that while I’ve been a roadie for a couple of years, this was my first mountain biking experience. He, immediately, suggested I try the single speed One 9 bike.
“Single speed? Me? Are you sure? [translation: “Are you NUTS?“] Gee, won’t that take a lot out of me?”
These were a few of the questions I had. He assured me that every other person, especially women, who had tried the bike so far loved it! He, then, went on to point out various features and why it would work for me. “Uhhhh…okay, ” was my rather shaky response. He ignored my uncertainty and went about setting the bike up with raised teeth flat pedals (b/c I don’t have SPD or “egg-beater” cleats). My hubby grabbed another bike to try, and it was time to get rolling.
…Except! I can’t remember a time since I was a kid (when I first learned how to ride a bike) where I felt so uneasy about just getting rolling. After all, these are flat pedals. What’s so hard about that? That was strange. Then, I realized that I’m so used to the fear instilled from road riding when one sees some gravel (or, worse, a dirt road) that I unconsciously thought I’d instantly “hit the deck”! I’ve had my share of nasty falls b/c I couldn’t unclip in time and experienced the whooping bruises that blossomed later like magnolias on my hips and legs. Not fun! Very painful! This time, I’m on gravel which means if I did fall, cuts and scraps would accompany those magnolia-sized bruises. Course, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t clipped-in (which was the reason for all those falls in the first place), and I could easily put my foot down to steady myself if need be. “Oh duh,” I realized. So, I took a big breath and turned the pedals.
“Hey, I’m still upright!” Strange…the things we let fear us.
Now to get my “sea legs”. First, we did a short, straight stretch of a wide-open, heavily graveled pathway just so I could practice steadying myself on the bike and get used to a whole new set of sensations. It’s quite different from road riding. These wheels are 29″ high and have wide, knobby tires The bike, itself, was quite light, too. (It’s even lighter than my road bike – that light!) Very quickly, I felt the ease of the bike and confidence it has on such uneven terrain. I was, now, ready to hit the beginner trail.
My husband lead the way, slowly, into the brush and trees. On this trail, you can go bi-directional anytime. However, I went from a wide-open space to a narrow trail. So, right away, my first obstacle was riders coming in the other direction. I used a road biking tactic which was to stay to the far right as I could manage and simply not pay much attention to the guys as they passed me. Pretend as if they aren’t even there.
Then, we went by and around trees at close proximity, over bumps and roots and over rocks. Then midway through that trail portion, we came to a very short but very steep “upsy-daisy” (as I would call it). I had walked this trail a couple times last year. That little upsy-daisy never hit my radar. It’s so small! Why would it? Ha! Sitting atop a mountain bike, it looked like a monster…and remember…I’ve only got one gear!
I heard my hubby call out, “Go faster! Pedal hard, and just hit it as fast as you can!” After a split-second hesitation, I followed his directions and lo’ and behold! I made it up the first time! Since a friend of mine who is also new to mountain biking couldn’t do that her first time, I counted that as a great success. I was buoyed.
We finished this trail and turned around to go back on it in the other direction. So far, I’d managed everything without problem. Then…we came back to that “upsy-daisy:…except, now my perspective had changed. It was a whooping, straight-down drop. (At least, it seemed like that to my beginner eyes.)
My husband had warned me that I couldn’t be too far forward on my bike or else I’d have the center of gravity in the wrong place. I knew what he meant. I didn’t need to land mid-way up on my front tire, near the level of the hub. If I did, an “end-over” or some other movement un-natural to cycling would happen.
Crap. I stopped and hesitated for a few moments both trying to figure out exactly how I would tackle this and trying to work up the courage to do it. Behind me, I heard other bikers coming. That was the push I needed, b/c I had to get the heck out of the way! So, I put my weight as far toward the rear of the bike as I could, spread my arms nearly straight out in front of me and held my butt off the saddle…and down I went!
That was scary. I was a little ungainly. My technique was the right one but could use some refinement. I ended up with two more chances on that nasty little drop and by my third overall attempt, I had my balance and position figured out. It no longer feared me but had, in fact, become fun!
In a couple of spots, I ended up earning my first mountain bike “battle wounds”…or “medallions of honor”. (Call it what you wish.) Although, they didn’t come from a tree, a root, a bush or a rock. Nope, they came from my very own pedals. Once, my right foot slipped off the pedal, and my shin pounded and, then, scraped against the pedal’s teeth. The second time, my hubby went to check what the a certain sound on the brakes was by turning the pedal, except he forgot to make sure my left leg was out of the way. So, both of my legs ended up earning beautiful, deep, blue bruises and a few small scabs, too. I’ve been initiated, and it didn’t hurt too badly ;p
With my confidence raising, my husband took me on the next level trail. The bumps were bigger. There were short, narrow, little “bridges” (only 2′ wide). There were more bridges that had angles in them and chicken wire, so your tires wouldn’t just slip right off them, especially when they are damp. Still more bridges! These were a bit wider but had 2′ high steep climbs to get on them and off them at the other end.
I held my breathe–a lot.
Regardless, I sailed through all of it fairly easily–well enough to stay upright, that is. Although, I had figured out that in several instances I needed to use my rear brake, only, lest I end up on the ground with the bike on top of me. Furthermore, the bike’s confidence was wearing off on me. I was getting more comfortable with having my bottom off the saddle for much of the ride; so, I could use my body’s position to naturally absorb the trail’s bumps and knocks. Before long, I was getting to the point where I could look around as we went along (instead of just looking down at the trail a few feet in front of me).
The sun’s rays were cheerfully blinking through the leaves of the trees. A light wind caressed my face and tickled the hairs on my arms. It went on to play in the trees, inspiring the leaves to dance with it. At the top of a knoll, I stopped to enjoy the moment.
A smile crept across my face.
Growing up, I used to take walks in the woods of our family’s farm, frequently during the spring and summer. I’d see and hear all kinds of animals. I’d hear the woods, just as it was meant to be heard. The sounds of “man” and “civilization” were far enough away to be forgotten. I felt soothed. I felt peace.
That’s what I felt that day riding the single speed mountain bike, too. Now, add the fact that I’m experiencing the beauty of the woods atop a bicycle, an instrument that has brought me great joy these past two years, yeah…reel me in, baby. I’m hooked.
I swear, I had a smile on my face for the rest of the day. The experience was so impacting, I even dreamt clearly about being on that bike and being in those woods for the next two nights. This type of “reliving” dream in that manner is quite rare for me. I can’t stop thinking about it.
I can’t stop thinking about that bike, either! I LOVED the single speed! Why? B/c I could focus on the experience of the trail. I could rest in the steadiness of the bike and the assurances it gives you. I didn’t have to interrupt my riding experience by trying to figure out if I was shifting in the correct direction or wonder if I could be better served in another gear. I wouldn’t have to be annoyed by the sound of the derailers*** b/c I was stretching the chain range too much. As a beginner mountain bike rider, there are plenty of mistakes one can make, but on this bike, I made fewer because of the bike’s simplicity. Is the single speed limiting? No, the bike is so light that it’s nimble and easy to maneuver, even on climbs. Especially on climbs! Plus, I loved the ultra wide handelbars. They seemed odd, at first, until the rep pointed out to me (before the ride) that the geometry of the handlebars to the wheels and frame made it steadier. When I looked at it from a math standpoint, I realized quickly that he was right, and my experience on the ride further validated that axiom.
Later in the afternoon, my husband and I visited the bike shop. At first, we looked at all the other types in stock. There weren’t any other single speed mountain bikes out on the open floor at the time. They were all geared bikes with different arrays of suspension or a complete lack there of. I took several out and lifted them up. I was floored by the difference in weight. All of them were much heavier than the single speed I had ridden earlier. In fact, it wouldn’t have surprised me to find that many of them were twice as heavy as the Niner bike I’d tried.
Had I used a geared, suspension bike on my first ride, I’m not so sure I would have done so well or would have had as much fun. I could see how some folks would feel like the extra weight gives them more steadiness on the bike. However, it takes more effort to move a bike that heavy around. I don’t think I would have successfully taken those tight and/or narrow spots so easily on such a bike. Furthermore, I feel like a heavy bike would have deadened the riding experience for me.
So, remember my forum post a couple months back where I delved into the question of which type of road bike to purchase next? Well, I still want a new road bike, but thanks to last Saturday’s ride now, I want a new mountain bike, more.
Of course, I have find out how much these babies are…and how many pennies I need to save. Although if you happen to have an extra Niner One 9 in frame size small sitting around your garage that you’re not using, send it over my way! I promise it will go to good use. ;-)