When I started mountain biking a few years ago, I was strictly a solo rider. I didn’t know anyone else who rode mountain bikes, and, even if I did, I was too ashamed of my bike handling skills, or lack thereof, to ride with anyone. Also I am an introvert, so I naturally tend to avoid doing things with people.
I did make the effort to go on one group ride that was put on by my local bike shop. To their credit, the shop employees who led the ride made a conscious effort to make sure I was not left behind when it became obvious that I was not at the same skill level as the other riders in our group. Still, I didn’t enjoy the experience of a group ride and decided that, from that point on, I would avoid riding with others and just work on my mountain bike skills by myself.
Then I met Bryon.
Bryon is in his early 50s, and has been an avid bike rider since he was a young boy. Not only that, he’s one of the fittest human beings I know. Bryon can easily ride circles around me without even breathing hard.
Yet Bryon is a very kind and patient person when it comes to riding with a partner. He is a natural-born instructor who willingly takes the time to teach me the fundamentals of mountain biking, helping me continually improve as a rider. Even though he is much faster than I am, Bryon has never left me behind, no matter how slow I go. He constantly encourages me on our rides and praises me when I nail an obstacle or get faster through a difficult section of the trail. I have grown so much as a rider in the 3+ years we have been riding together, much more than I would have ever grown by continuing to ride by myself.
I’m now convinced that riding with a partner is well worth the effort, even for an introvert like me. Here are the four main benefits I’ve found.
There is safety in numbers
The saying, “there is safety in numbers,” is quite applicable, especially when it comes to mountain biking. I tend to do the majority of my riding in the early hours of the morning, when there is little or no daylight. I’ve never encountered any problems, but I have become a lot more aware of the potential dangers that could befall me while riding solo at that time of the day, especially after becoming a father in 2014.
Having Bryon ride with me adds a level of security for both of us, as well as our spouses. We know that help is at hand if something were to go wrong. When Bryon’s rear hub broke a mile into one of our rides, I didn’t hesitate to coast back with him to his car to make sure he made it there safely. When I face-planted into a root, Bryon helped me get back to my truck, and convinced me to go get stitches for the cut on my upper lip. (He was right — I needed five.)
Thankfully, those are the most serious mishaps that we have had on our rides to date, but knowing there is someone there to look out for me puts my mind at ease so I can relax and really enjoy the ride.
A good partner demands accountability
This past January Florida experienced some of the coldest weather on record. On the evening of New Year’s Day, I was contemplating whether we should brave the cold and do a ride the next morning, as we had planned. I texted Bryon to see what he thought. He quickly texted back the following: “Sounds like you were looking for an out. Nope, not going to give it to you. We are going to ride and we are going to be warm (power of positive thinking).”
We did our ride the next morning as planned. The average temperature during the ride was 18 degrees, which is extremely cold for North Florida. After the ride that morning, we took a selfie wearing our balaclavas — “murder masks,” as his daughter called them.
Completing that ride, along with a couple of other rides in similar conditions that same month, really set the tone for the year and pushed me to get even faster. Bryon has an uncanny ability to know when I am slacking off during a ride, or not trying hard enough, and he will not hesitate to push me. He’s nice about it, but he’ll do it, and I am appreciative. He forces me out of my comfort zone, and pushes me to my limits at times.
Now I’m not knocking solo rides. I still do them from time to time. Sometimes, being alone in the woods is a good way to decompress from the world. But it’s nearly impossible to for a rider to reach their full potential by simply riding solo.
Partners learn from each other
The trails I ride with Bryon are the same ones I have ridden hundreds of times by myself. But each time I ride with him I gain a little more knowledge about the sport I love. That’s what happens during a ride with someone else. Each person has their own approach to a trail, and their own way of tackling the obstacles on it. Thanks to Bryon, I have learned how to conquer rooty climbs, the proper way to do a drop, and even how to manual, though I have a long way to go before I look like a pro doing it.
Through my rides with Bryon, I’ve also learned to brake before entering a turn and how to choose the perfect line through tricky trail sections. I’ve even learned what not to do, often at his expense, like the time I watched him try to bunny hop on sand-covered asphalt (ouch!) or when he got a little too close to a tree while entering a turn. In all seriousness, if I had never ridden with Bryon, I would still be struggling in many respects when it comes to the skills needed for being a good rider.
Riding with a partner is therapeutic
Like the sunrise above, I have seen some really beautiful sights on my rides with Bryon. But I get a lot more out of our rides than just great views. Bryon and I have had some really deep and meaningful conversations while whizzing through the woods. We talk about things like our jobs, our families, religion, and politics. We don’t do it every ride. Some days it’s all we can do to just breathe and focus on keeping our bikes upright. But when we do have a chance to get real, it strengthens the bond of our friendship, and serves as a cheap form of therapy.
Talking about life struggles, and finding out that someone else has the same struggles, or has faced the same problems, is so helpful. I’ve come away from many of our rides feeling a lot better, both mentally and physically, than I did before the ride, and I know that Bryon has felt the same way. It’s just not possible to get that from riding solo. If the other three benefits I listed aren’t enough to convince you to find a riding partner, I hope this one will. It’s so rewarding to bond with someone while engaging in an activity that you both enjoy.
Find a partner
It was hard for an introvert like myself to step out of my comfort zone and start riding with someone else. Oftentimes, I felt embarrassed and apologetic because of the disparity in our skills. But Bryon has had a lot of patience with me, and continues to teach and encourage me during our rides together. I owe a lot of my growth as both a rider and as a person to my rides with Bryon over these past few years.
While I still enjoy riding solo every now and then, riding with someone else has become more enjoyable to me. I hope that everyone has, or can find, a mountain biking partner that will offer the same benefits that I have received.