Meet Mark; he’s the quintessential mountain biker. Small frame. Endurance of a four year old. Eats right. Is socially awkward. And, of course, is one hell of a talented mountain biker.
12 years ago, Mark was one of the individuals that pushed me into the sport. I had mountain biked on and off for 20 years or so, but I decided I wanted to make it part of my regular routine (thanks to Mark). Like most new mountain bikers, I was a little leery of my own skills, so I started to develop them “behind the scenes”. Often alone, sometimes in the dark so nobody would see me.
Eventually, I garnered the courage to go on a group ride that my good friend Mark was leading. It wouldn’t take long for my lack of physical fitness and my totally underwhelming skills to be exposed. I went through it thinking that this whole group ride thing frankly sucked. “Just over the next hill” Mark would say. “We’re almost there” he’d say. “Another mile or so”. I’m fairly certain he didn’t even breath the entire time, wore this silly grin throughout, and his heart rate never bumped up past 45 beats per minute. I’m sure of it. It got to the point where I literally thought to myself “I can’t trust this guy”.
Things ran through my oxygen deprived brain that were totally out of line. No joke, I was pretty sure he was going to take us into the woods and kill us like a savage beast. We’d all be lying there on the trail waiting for some bear to come find us, and Mark would be riding off into the sunset. “Just have to ride faster than your buddies” he’d yell as he pedaled off.
After my run in with my first group ride, I thought I’d never do it again; years went by. I was riding a fair amount, was feeling decent about myself, and I didn’t want to let a group ride get in the way of my ego. Well wouldn’t you know it, here comes Mark. “Hey dude, how come you never come to our group rides anymore?”
Me: “Because I thought I was going to die last time.”
Mark: “Yeah, about that: Don’t take it so personally. Group rides are fun, and everyone is out there to hang out, ride some bikes, and shoot the shit. Not a hammer fest….promise”.
Even though I didn’t trust the guy, I thought..what the hell. Let’s give it another shot. Albeit skeptically, I returned to group ride number two with several more years of experience under my belt. Hardly a changed man, I noticed something this time that I didn’t catch the first time. Everybody is there with one goal in mind; to have fun on their mountain bike. There were several new faces, tons of new routes, and good beer afterward. Was I tired? Heck yes. 14 miles went by in a hurry.
But here’s why it was different the second time. I had a few epiphanies:
- So many different levels of riding are present when you bring mountain bikers from various backgrounds. From the serious cross country rider, to the downhill king, to the family of four just looking to get some exercise. This gives everyone an excuse to either go hard or take it easy. I wish I would’ve figured this out the first time. I could’ve joined a slower group that was more my pace and probably would have been much happier. That’s the point of a group ride!
- I have learned most of my favorite routes by participating in group rides. Someone else discovered them first, I just had to follow along.
- It is great for our sport. Done weekly, group rides are not only a way for a busy person to count on some time with their bike, but also a very visible aspect of an active mountain biking community. They are one of the reasons our sport will exist in the future.
- They are (usually) FULL of great comradery, excellent potlucks, and almost 100% of the time end with a good beer and a few laughs.
With that, I’d encourage you to join a group. If there isn’t one in your area, create one. Pick a day, settle on a weekly time, and get as many people (of ALL levels) involved. I’m confident you’ll see your riding improve, your eyes opened to new trail possibilities, your contact list grow, and most importantly, a good smile at the end of healthy activity.
About the Author: Kyle is an avid mountain biker from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. With a wife that is as addicted to riding as he is and two kids that play along, it has become a pretty rooted part of everyday summer life.