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Photo: Leo Ranta www.hillsidecycling.com

Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.

I love the dawning of a new year. The passing of the old and the genesis of the new always brings with it inspiration and motivation for change and improvement in my own life. I reflect on the year that’s just concluded—the goals I met, the ones I didn’t—and work on honing my priorities for the coming year.

The problem is that January 1, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, is one of the worst times of the year to set a year-long mountain biking goal.

As every mountain biker knows, carrying momentum is the number one key to being a faster, more effective mountain biker. This applies to physically riding singletrack, navigating steep climbs and descents, technical obstacles, and more, but it also applies to the practice of the sport at large. My wife often says that one major reason she doesn’t mountain bike more is because it seems like to be a good mountain biker you have to ride at least twice a week—minimum–just to stay in shape and keep your skills fresh.

She’s not wrong.

Carrying momentum is critical for clearing gaps. Rider: Kelly McGarry. Photo: Dean Treml / Red Bull Content Pool

It’s tough to go for a mountain bike ride when you haven’t been on the bike in a month. It hurts like Hades, which is why I choose to simply never stop riding (surgery excepted). If you ride 3-5 (or more) days a week, summoning the motivation to kit up and hop in the saddle is easy. It’s a habit, a ritual that you adhere to week in and week out.

The same rule of momentum applies to long-term mountain biking goals. Starting a year-long mountain biking goal in the middle of winter, when just getting out on the bike requires drawing on deep reserves of determination, only amplifies the difficulty of the goal and makes it more likely that you’re going to fail. The data supports this: only 9% of people report being successful in achieving their New Year’s resolutions, with 42% failing before the end of January. Keep in mind that these statistics refer to all New Years resolutions, including ones that don’t involve getting outside and pedaling a bicycle in arctic temperatures or drizzling rain.

Winter riding is fun, but it can take a lot of motivation to get out the door. Photo: Norpine Fat Bike Classic, Grand Marais, Michigan

What if instead of making your mountain bike goal a New Year’s resolution, you started a year-long goal at the beginning of July? That way, you’d be able to carry momentum into your goal. You’d already be stoked on mountain biking, would probably be enjoying the beautiful summer weather (unless you live somewhere like Florida), and (hopefully) would already be in decent mountain biking shape.

If you started your goal with momentum in the summertime, as winter approached you’d be able to more easily maintain your momentum, riding the wave of a successful summer through the hard times that accompany the cold, snow, and darkness of winter. Instead of having the most difficult portion of your year-long goal take place right after you begin your challenge in January and February, you could instead tackle the difficult hump after you’ve already built up months of successful riding.

So will I personally circumvent New Year’s resolutions in 2018 and instead opt to begin a new goal during the middle of the summer? Maybe, but probably not. The symmetry of beginning and ending a goal in rhythm with the calendar year is a tough temptation to ignore. Just to be safe, I’m going to at least try to begin now!

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# Comments

  • Jeff Barber

    Any Australians, or others who live in the southern hemisphere care to weigh in? Are MTB goals easy to stick to, or do you find yourself overcommitting? I could see myself setting a big, overambitious goal in the summer when the weather is nice, but then being hit with reality once temperatures finally drop. 🙂

  • rmap01

    So the question is whether more people would be more successful in achieving their annual goals if they set their goal at a “more favorable” time of year. It’s an intriguing question Greg and it would be interesting to see if anyone has ever studied it from a scientific perspective. My guess is that it probably doesn’t matter when you set a goal. What’s interesting about January (in the northern hemisphere Jeff 😉 is that setting goals, especially outdoor goals, adds a level of complexity because of the weather. But aren’t people more apt to do put in more effort in when they first set their goals than say 6 months later if they set that same goal over the summer?

    I believe it all comes down to three things:
    (a) setting a Realistic and Measurable annual goal
    (b) breaking down your annual goal into a manageable Monthly/Weekly Plan
    (c) Measuring your progress, i.e. holding yourself Accountable, to that monthly/weekly plan.

    For example, if I want to ride over 1k MTB miles this year, I need to average roughly 20 miles/week (85 miles/mo). Because I set my goals in Garmin Connect and track all my rides I can tell where I am relative to my annual goal at any point during the year. Because of the weather, I know I’ll likely be a little behind over the first few months but that actually motivates me later on in the year when the weather is good to ride more. I’ve been out riding (or running) more than once on new year’s eve just to make sure I’ve achieved my annual goal.

  • mongwolf

    I think rmap is mostly right — reasonably measurable goals with a good strategy. Personally, I don’t plan to start working on my riding goals until the first of March because January and February are such a wash in Mongolia. If I get some riding in before March, it’s a plus. I also think keeping it fun helps a ton. I have been increasing my mileage goals each year. I always do fine with those goals because much of the year I am having so much fun in Mongolia, exploring the small mountains for new trails. The miles just seem to happen. The other thing we “discussed” about a month or so ago is finding ways to extend your riding season if you can. Buy a fat bike or at least widen your tires, so you ride more on the snow if snow is shutting you down. You might also take a couple of trips in the winter to warmer destinations and get some riding in. Due to my work, each year I return from Mongolia back to the US in early November, and that is just as it starts to get really cold in Mongolia. I can add a couple of months of riding to my season in CO. And in 2017 I was in the Phoenix area in January. Wow, did I ever get a good start on my riding goals for 2017 in Phoenix. =)

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