Hi. I'm not entirely sure if I should consider myself a newbie or not, but I seem to be sort of leaning that way. Note: If you don't want to read my whole story, feel free to skip to the last paragraph for the main gist of it all.
I picked up mountain biking a fairly long while ago, at about age 11 or so, after a couple of older boys in my neighborhood got mountain bikes. I went through my first mountain bike quickly; It took only about a year or so before I realized I needed a "real" bike with more gears to choose from, dependable brakes, and some quick release components for making adjustments on the trail. I imstantly fell in love with my second bike - a rigid-frame Trek 800. It wasn't flashy, but it was solid and reliable. I rode some local trails, went on one long trip through the mountains with a summer biking camp, had some fun, never really was "taught" anything but rather just kind of figured things out as I went. I rode a fair amount through my teenage years, never anything overly technical, and never raced or even did anything timed. But when I moved south to the great flat state of Florida for college, I left my mountain bike behind in the hills of my hometown.
Years passed, I missed my bike, I finally brought it down, but only ever rode it on local roads. About 3 years ago, after meeting the woman I would eventually go on to marry, I convinced her to buy a bike (a hybrid... She hadn't biked in decades and had no intention of going anywhere near a trail yet), and in the process, bought myself a new one as well. It was a cheap, entry-level hardtail, but it was my first bike with any sort of suspension, and so I was pleased with it. But it too, like my last bike, wasn't getting any trail use.
Until that one day last summer (2013) when I met a fellow at my church. He rode mountain bikes, and convinced me to go with him to a trail nearby that I'd read about, but never tried out. It had been probably more than a decade since I had done any sort of trail riding, but he was a kind older fellow (I'm in my late 20s, he's in his 50s) with bad knees (which he told me about when we played softball together last spring), and so I thought this might be a good way to ease back into things. Well, that was until I saw his bike. He shows up on a full-suspension Gary Fisher with 29" wheels, hydraulic discs, clipless pedals and more gears on his rear wheel than I'd ever seen in my life. It was then that I realized just how much has changed in the sport in the time that I've been away from it.
So we hit the trail, a 6.5 mile loop of single track that's not very technical and doesn't have anything real steep, but does offer a good number of tight turns and narrow passes, and certainly more elevation change than I expected from a Florida trail. I was able to keep up on the flat spots, but his confidence on the downhills (I kept braking) and his ability to climb and just maintain more momentum seemingly through everything than I could made me quickly realize I couldn't keep his pace for long since it required so much more effort from me than it did him. This kind old man, to put it lightly, was SERIOUSLY kicking my butt.
After one lap of the trail, I had become fed up with my incompetent entry-level components (I had a pair of malfunctions along the way to help emphasize this), I had a ridiculosly sore backside, and I had an adequately bruised ego. But I had once again fallen in love with mountain biking. And as for my friend, he had become my unofficial coach and mentor, a sort of Obi-Wan if you will. Together we decided I needed a better bike, or at lease some better components. And that I needed to ride more, to build confidence to get off the brakes and keep from putting my foot down. But he complimented my instincts and my riding style, saying that he could tell by the way I disected the trail and chose my line showed experience and a sort of comfort and familiarity that a true newbie lacks, even on an unfamiliar trail. It was all the push I needed to get me into the LBS the following week and online inquiring about suspension systems, brakes, shifters and wheel sizes.
I felt like a total newbie now, having only a VERY limited knowledge of components, but for the first time in my life, I wanted a bike that could not just endure the trails, but that could PERFORM (without breaking the bank). A couple weeks later, I took delivery of my latest and greatest, a Fuel Ex 5, and eagerly took it out to cruise around the neighborhood. It took a couple days of riding the roads and tinkering to get used to some things. The handlebars were wider, the brakes were grippier, the shifters were in a different spot and had more gears to choose from, and the medium-travel suspension which was properly set to my weight actually moved (unlike the stiff, short-travel fork I had before)! And imagine my surprise the first time I tried to pull the front wheel up to hop off a curb and the rear suspension (a first for me!) literally ate up most of the effort and the front wheel barely moved. I was literally going to have to re-learn how to wheelie!
I've had the bike about 6 months now, and I ride as much as I can. I try to ride with some guys from church when we can, and I'm proud to say that I've improved a lot from where I was last year, and that I'm much better than the third guy in our group. I still can't hang with Obi-Wan for the duration, although I think it's mostly a matter of physical conditioning now (he rides a lot more than I do) rather than technical skill. He still lays down a lap time about 2 minutes faster than me over the full 6.5 miles. But that's a lot better than what it was!
Additionally, my picking up the sport again has caused some other positive changes in my life as well. Shortly after getting my Ex, I bought another new bike for my wife, a Lush 29, after she agreed to give mountain biking a try. She demanded a full-suspension bike with the big wheels to help smooth the trail as much as possible (and then swapped out the saddle for a larger, cruiser style saddle) to increase her comfort. She's still very new to it all, and lacks any sort of confidence on the narrow single track that I like to ride, but she's taking the wider, straighter double track stuff like a determined beginner, learning to appreciate her bike, and we're working to get her stamina up for longer rides. (Right now 3 miles or about 55 minutes, whichever comes first, is about her limit.)
And what's more, this Christmas, Santa (my wife and I) brought a couple new kid-size mountain bikes for our awesome little nephews who have been begging to come riding with us. They are nothing fancy, but they are certainly better than the Walmart brand generic kids bikes they were on before, and at least now they have gears, something resembling a suspension fork, and brakes that they can reach properly and which work well when needed (the youngest was wearing out the toes of his shoes by dragging his feet to help him stop). It's enough to get them excited, get them started learning the ropes, and to promote some quality outdoor family time and a healthy alternative to video games. In fact, just this past weekend was the first time all four of us have gone out together. We had a blast!
So anyway, that's my little (yeah, right..."little") introduction. I've got quite a few miles of trail under my belt, but most of them were logged in my youth on a much simpler bike. Times and technologies have changed, but I am still only just a beginner in terms of my knowledge of components and mechanical things, and I'm pretty useless when it comes to turning my own wrench or even lubing my own chain. I, only beginning to get a grasp on some of this stuff. Fortunately, I've bought enough from the LBS in recent years that they usually help me out with my dumb questions and menial tasks without charging me anything for the most part, but this is something I obviously want to get better with myself. Additionally, I ride pretty well on most terrain, but I still have plenty of room to improve, especially on more challenging terrain or steep up/downhills (my confidence goes out the window when the hills get steep enough and I approach everything too slowly.). This is another area I want to improve upon. And lastly, I want to improve on my fitness/endurance. I went from being a star athlete in my high school years to a guy who struggles to ride a 6 mile loop without sucking wind in a hard way. I realize that age happens, but I'm not even quite 30 yet, and it's still way too early for me to be using that as an excuse for my lack of ability. I WILL catch up to Obi-Wan!
See you on the trails!
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