To all those people who have ever had to wait for me at the top of every hill, or at every fork in the trail – I’m sorry. After a few months where most of my rides have been with someone new to mountain biking, I now know the frustration that I put you through.
As last Christmas approached, my wife decided that she wanted a bike. “Fine”, I thought, “I’ll have a look around for a cheapie for the occasional weekend bike path pootle.” But it wasn’t to be that simple – “mountain bike” was mentioned, along with phrases like “we can go riding off-road together”.
Frankly, I was scared. You see, young Mrs Carney has never been famous for her co-ordination or sporting prowess. I had visions ranging from a bruised and grazed wife, at best, to rides ending with the Westpac Rescue Helicopter hovering overhead. Well, I bit the bullet and against my better judgment, a mountain bike it was.
The dreaded first ride came along – a few laps of the trails crisscrossing a local patch of vacant land. Admittedly, the tracks were not particularly technical and the only hills were the couple of small jumps built by the local kids, but they did present a challenge worthy of a complete novice. And I must say, I was pleasantly surprised. With no more than a few instructions and warnings yelled over my shoulder, Kylie managed to come through unscathed. And more importantly, she enjoyed herself.
The second ride saw the first crash. Carved by local trail bike riders – with the resulting ruts and roots – this trail was quite a bit more technical than the first ride. With the success of the last ride though, I felt confident scooting off ahead after offering no more than the instruction of “don’t look at the ruts or you’ll end up in them”. Naturally, that’s exactly what happened. And it wasn’t just a rut, but a ditch about a foot deep.
Seeing my wife sprawled on the ground, blood seeping from her shin and arms made me think that perhaps I was approaching this all wrong. So I dedicated the rest of the ride to giving instruction and showing her how things are done. First up was a short downhill with a few little rocks and roots. “OK, stand out of the saddle, shift your weight slightly back, knees and elbows bent and loose and just let the bike roll.” It was a very slow descent, resulting in further instructions to feather the brakes rather than grabbing a handful and our first mantra of the day – “a rolling bike wants to stay upright”.
Tackling some of the climbs at Daisy Hill saw me (yes, me) giving some hill climbing technique pointers. Although this one’s not really something you can demonstrate, and things like where to center your weight are more a matter of feel, the general tip of selecting in a lower gear and staying in the saddle rather than stomping a big gear was well received.
Anticipation was the main order of the day for the next ride. Keeping an eye on the track ahead to decide your line and avoid any problems before you get to them. The tracks we rode on this day undulate in and out of some gullies, so it was also important to anticipate what kind of gear you’re going to need to be in to make it out the other side. With the occasional little log step-down, I also had to stress the importance of shifting your weight back off the saddle to avoid planting the front wheel and going over the bars.
Thinking about it, I realised that all this instruction has had a positive effect on my own riding as well. It has taken me back to the basics, to think about how I’m riding and to correct any little bad habits that may have developed over the years. While riding on my own one day, I found myself thinking about how to explain techniques for riding the obstacles that I was coming across. A step-up approached and the instructions came driftng into my head – “lift the front wheel over the step, get out of the saddle and unweight the rear wheel�”
So, despite the frustrations of slower and shorter than usual rides, and of waiting at the top and bottom of most hills, riding with a newcomer to mountain biking definitely has its benefits. You get a chance to work on your own skills while you introduce someone else to your sport. You get a new person to ride with, and the rides will only get longer and faster as they progress. And most importantly of all – if the newbie is your wife, you no longer have to explain why you would rather go riding. They’ll soon feel the same way.