I received my first mountain bike on Christmas morning 1991. It was an Iron Horse MT400R, a rigid steel frame that was a beast. I loved it. Living in the hot desert of Arizona allowed me to go for a ride on Christmas day. That day, mountain biking sparked a fire in my soul that has never gone out… but for a while it did dwindle.
I rode once or twice a week for many years. Then life started getting really busy, and mountain biking took a back seat. A church mission to Chile, an electrical engineering degree, and getting married all have a way of pushing hobbies near the door. Then entered the children, and the hobbies were kicked right out! It wasn’t until I was in my late 30s and weighed 235 pounds that I knew I needed some exercise that I could enjoy. Time to fan the flames of mountain biking!
A few months ago I grabbed my 10-year-old Raleigh M60 and committed to riding once a week. I quickly learned two things. First, I was really out of shape. I played basketball once a week, but that was about the only exercise I had been doing. Those first few rides were tiring. However, the second thing I learned was that I still loved mountain biking. The rush of the downhill descents, the challenge of the uphill climbs, and the serenity of nature filled my soul. I was physically exhausted, but emotionally invigorated.
I now ride twice a week and have just completed my first mountain bike race. Mountain biking is now part of my routine that is helping me live a healthier and happier life. If you are thinking about getting back into mountain biking, here are some tips to get you going.
- Weekly schedule – Pick a time every week that you will go riding. You may need to wake up earlier one day a week or skip the Saturday morning cartoons. Whatever you do, pick a time and stick to it.
- Start nice and easy – You may have been a downhill champion at one point in your life, but you aren’t anymore. Start with an easy trail for your first few rides back in the saddle. Don’t pick an extremely difficult trail, as it will be frustrating rather than fun. I started on an easy trail that was a lot of fun at the time. Now that I have been riding for a few months, it is no longer as challenging, and I have moved on to more difficult trails. Let your strength and skills improve before moving on to more difficult trails.
- Don’t worry – There’s a saying I heard recently: “In your teens you are really worried about what people think about you. In your 20s, you try hard not to care what other people think about you. In your 30s, you realize that no one was thinking about you at all; they were all thinking about themselves.” You may be worried that you are slower than everyone else, you don’t have a cool bike, or your riding attire does not have the right logos on it. Stop worrying and just ride. Be courteous to faster riders and get off the trail to let them pass. Before long, there will be riders letting you pass on the trail.
- Your best bike – In photography, there is a saying, “The best camera is the one you have with you.” That goes for mountain biking as well. The best bike for you is the one you already own. Get it tuned up and get on the trail. You don’t need a new bike to get back on the trail. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a new one. Sometimes making an investment in a new bike could provide the additional motivation you need to get up in the morning. However, your bike probably still has a few hundred miles left before it needs to be retired.
I hope these tips will help at least one fellow mountain biker get back out on the trail! Sound off in the comments with other tips about getting back into the sport after some time off.
Travis Cunningham lives in Mesa, AZ with his wife and six kids. He enjoys mountain biking the amazing trails in Arizona, including in Sedona, as pictured above.