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Many times when I talk to other people–people who don’t mountain bike–about the sport of mountain biking, they seem to think that it’s like some sort of hobby that I have. Perhaps it comes up in conversation that I’m the editor in chief for one of the largest mountain biking websites in the world, and then they begin to think I ride for work, because it’s a part of my job. What they never seem to understand—what even my immediate family still might not understand—is that mountain biking isn’t a hobby.

It’s not a pastime.

It’s not something to do in my free time.

It’s not even just a job.

Rider: Greg. Photo: delphinide.

Rider: Greg. Photo: delphinide.

Granted, there are some mountain bikers out there who do approach mountain biking like a hobby or a pastime, something they do every once in a while. But to be honest, to most of the riders that I’ve rubbed shoulders with and that I ride with, riding is so much more than a hobby. And to those of you who tune in to Singletracks during your work day to get your mountain biking fix and who are now reading this article, I’d wager that it’s more than a hobby to you too.

Mountain biking is a lifestyle.

Those of us who define ourselves as “mountain bikers” know that riding isn’t something that we can simply not think about, or an activity that we engage in when we might find some spare time in our schedule. Rather, an embarrassing majority of our waking thoughts are dedicated to this sport that we cling to. Rides aren’t “fit in,” they’re planned days or weeks in advance. Or, alternatively, they aren’t really planned anymore—they just happen, because that’s what you do every Saturday morning, Tuesday night, Thursday night, and maybe every damn day after you clock out at 5pm.

Rider: Greg. Photo: delphinide.

Rider: Greg. Photo: delphinide.

For most of us, though, we have to answer the calls and the responsibilities of everyday life. We have to work, we have to pay bills, we have to take the kids to school. And the reality is that we often can’t ride every day, as much as it pains us. Or if we do try to ride every day, the days will eventually come when the weather is too poor to ride or injuries confine us to the couch for weeks or months at a time. When these evils of life get in the way, do we do what normal people do and focus our attention somewhere else? Do we take the opportunity to be efficient and get things done around the house, start a project, take up a real hobby, or get proactive and creative at work?

Hell no!

Instead, we get our MTB fix vicariously. We hit the trail database to plan our next ride. We surf the internet forums and get in online arguments about what the best wheel size is. We log on to social media to look at pictures of beautiful trails and watch videos of other riders hurting themselves (so you don’t feel too bad about your own broken arm). Instead of turning our attention elsewhere, we do research on the latest gear, read reviews, stay tuned to press releases, read race reports, and then hit the trail database yet again and discover a slice of singletrack gold that’s just waiting for our knobbies.

Now you might think to yourself, “how is mountain biking different from any other sport out there? Can’t any sport become a lifestyle?” While sure, there are tons of athletes who live and breath all kinds of sports to the point of obsession, I don’t think any other sport can provide the level of dedication and addiction equal to the mountain bike lifestyle. I’ve unfortunately had to take some time off the bike recently due to physical ailments, and as I’ve been partaking in other sports and activities—and pondered other sports and activities that I love—I realized that none of them was as deeply rooted and all-encompassing as mountain biking.

Team Sports

Photo: Jonathan Gleich, via the Flickr Creative Commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/28198273@N05/

Photo: Jonathan Gleich, via the Flickr Creative Commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/28198273@N05/

Right off the bat, I eliminated any form of team sport from the list of lifestyle choices. You know what the problem is with team sports? You have to gather a large number of people to do them! Then, you need to find a field or a court in which to play, get organized, form teams, follow rules, etc. Even for the most dedicated of adults, going through this process week in and week out will only result in one evening of game time per week. Sorry, but something you do just once a week doesn’t count as a lifestyle.

Also, team sports have rules. Personally, I hate rules. Give me freedom over rules any day.

Running

Runners are a dedicated bunch. Many of them run at least 5 days a week, which even by mountain biking standards is a lot. Many runners have strict training plans and diets, and dedicate a lot of time and energy to the sport. However, while it’s definitely a lifestyle, it’s just not as involved and doesn’t require as much dedication as mountain biking.

Photo: Warein, via the Flickr Creative Commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wareinholgado/

Photo: Warein, via the Flickr Creative Commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wareinholgado/

First, running requires much less time commitment. Even if you’re training for a marathon, the longest of training runs might only be 3-5 hours in length. Heck, a 3-5 hour mountain bike ride is only average for many of us. If you want to start talking about long, hard rides, 8-12 (or more) hours isn’t out of the question.

Second, running is cheap. With high-end running shoes only costing around $200, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to mountain biking. Heck, I have $400 mountain biking shoes… and that doesn’t even count the $10,000 bike! While some might list this as a strike against the mountain biking lifestyle, I take it as evidence that mountain bikers are supremely dedicated.

Third, thanks to the speed of mountain biking, riding allows you to explore more of the world in a shorter amount of time. And thanks to the energy efficiency referenced two paragraphs above, you can spend more time exploring at a higher speed, thus maximizing your exploration of the terrain around you!

Skiing/Snowboarding

Skier: AJ Heil. Photo: Greg.

Skier: AJ Heil. Photo: Greg.

The ski bum is famed for his dedication to the sport, quitting his life and spending a full season shredding the pow. But you know what the problem with skiing is? The season is guaranteed to come to an end. Unless you hop a plane to New Zealand or South America every summer, there’s no way to ski all year round. And yet for many of us, we do mountain bike all year round—and with fat bikes now on the scene, there’s absolutely no excuse not to push pedals 12 months per year. Even a moderately-dedicated fully-employed rider can log as many days on the bike in a year as a ski bum can log in a season at the mountain.

Paddling

Photo: Stefan Schmitz, via the Flickr Creative Commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stefanschmitz/

Photo: Stefan Schmitz, via the Flickr Creative Commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stefanschmitz/

River rats are another famed group of people who thoroughly embrace their chosen lifestyle. However, I see two major issues with viewing whitewater kayaking or rafting as a lifestyle more involved than mountain biking. First, every time you hit the river, (unless you’re just playing in a hole at a whitewater park) you’re going to need a shuttle. You’ll either need to coordinate with a friend, or thumb a ride. Either way, it’s a lot of work and hassle. Secondly, similar to skiing, the season is gonna end. Either the water levels will drop too far to be viable or entertaining, or the weather will get too cold. Either way, unless you migrate to a different river every winter, you’re limited by the weather.

Backpacking

Photo: AJ Heil

Photo: AJ Heil

Backpackers, especially thru hikers, undoubtedly live the lifestyle every minute of every day. Spending 3-6 months on the Appalachian Trail requires sheer dedication! But the problem with the backpacking lifestyle is that once most backpackers have completed their thru hike, it’s back to civilization. Then, the best they can hope for is to get away for a three-day weekend in the mountains, or to quit their jobs again next summer and do it all over again. See above for why mountain biking never ends. Plus, who said you can’t combine mountain biking and backpacking anyway? Ever heard of bikepacking? Then you’d have the undying dedication of living out of your pack, while also covering exponentially more terrain every day!

Rock Climbing

Climber: Greg.

Climber: Greg.

Dedicated rock climbers can undoubtedly turn climbing into a lifestyle, but it still doesn’t measure up to mountain biking. Why? Unless you’re bouldering all the time, you need to have a partner to go climbing. Sure, finding one partner to climb with is way easier than getting together two teams to play soccer, especially if you have other equally-crazy friends, but the truth is that schedules often just don’t align. There are only so many times you can get the people and the gear together to get out on the rock.

Also, climbing usually involves a drive to access the rock. Sometimes it’s minutes but oftentimes it’s hours. We drive to mountain bike, sure, but for most of us we have a ride that we can do from the house during the week when we don’t want to get in the car and waste time driving and money on gas. Try starting a rock climbing route from your back door.

Living the Dream

While the mountain biking lifestyle can be demanding in terms of time, money, and overall life commitment, those who’ve embraced the two wheeled dream can attest: while it might cost you all you have, the mountain biking life will reward you with a wealth and variety of experiences that few people in this world can claim. Mountain biking can and will take you places that you never dreamed possible—all you have to do is swing a leg over the top tube and start pedaling!

Rider: Greg Heil. Photo: delphinide.

Rider: Greg Heil. Photo: delphinide.

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# Comments

  • Fitch

    Love it. I often say the same thing about being a drummer compared to other musicians — it simply takes more involvement and dedication. Mountain bikes are the drums of the sports world to me!

  • roadandmud

    I couldn’t finish the whole article. Some where after the first few sentences I got distracted trying to plan my next ride.

  • Ghosty@USA

    This reminds me of our race in Durango Greg! Make me come back and just ride :-)) Cheers Mikki

  • Bubblehead10MM

    Ya! Like when did I quit riding to loose weight, and start cutting weight to ride better?

  • Jared13

    I agree, mountain bikers are the most fanatical, but at least one team sport is close to that level, from what I’ve experienced. I was part of a paintball team that practiced and played more than once per week, on average. We also did things related to paintball that wasn’t actually playing (marker maintenance nights, drills, virtually walking fields etc.)

    Granted, I also got into mountain biking because I moved away from said team and needed another outlet. Now that I’ve been bit by the mountain biking bug, I don’t miss paintball at all. I don’t need to rely on others to make it, I don’t need to drive anywhere to enjoy it, it’s better for my overall health, and mountain biking could cheaper too! (Depending on you buying habits for both, of course.)

  • stillfat

    To your point, it’s 2 degrees in Denver right now, but I’m still buzzing after a return from Fruita two days ago and currently getting an electronic bike fix.

    In the somewhat distant past, I lived the whitewater lifestyle and river days stretched well into the hundreds for a few years. In the last decade, skiing has become a welcome diversion from December into April and I frequently get up at insane hours of the morning to beat Colorado ski traffic in order to get fresh tracks on powder days. BUT, it’s definitely been mountain biking that’s stood the test of time. I’ve been riding 23 years and the “bike bug” still hits hard each Spring, reaching delusional proportions by late September when the Aspens are going off. With the demands of job and children, mountain biking is not so much a “lifestyle” anymore, but it’s definitely something that continues to shape my life. Once you’ve been bitten by the bike bug and have lived on the road riding for days on end in mountains and deserts, sleeping in a van with a homemade roof rack and eating mac n cheese and instant mashed potatoes, the lifestyle kind of sinks in – you’ve become permanently infected. That’s kind of a cool thing. At least better than Ebola…

  • SlimL

    And that is why as soon as I retire in 2 years, 7 months, and 10 days I am going to grab my truck and trailer and head out to hit all the places that I have read about. But I am having a terrible time deciding whether to hit Driggs, ID first and ride the Tetons, or head south to Oregon. Right now I can only ride 3 days a week. Obsessive? Who? Me?

  • Ernie Medina Jr

    True! We have a group of homeschoolers who are fanatics–riding 6 days a week at 7 AM…and some will ride in the evening time as well! Fortunately here in SoCal, we can ride year round and we do. 😉

  • bravesdave

    Lifestyle? Guilty as charged. It’s November, and here in Ulaanbaatar we face the long bitter Mongolian winter ahead (-40F to -50F at some points). Yet, I am already planning my rides for next spring in Mongolia, and then next summer in CO (Doctor Park, Reno/Fish/Bear/Deadman’s, Monarch, Kenosh to Breck) and next fall in the midwest and possible a little in the south. =)

    • Greg Heil

      Woa, stay warm this winter!! Are you returning to the US temporarily and then heading back to Mongolia, or moving back to the states? Hit me up when you’re heading through Colorado… I live less than two hours from all of the rides you mentioned, and Monarch is virtually my back yard 🙂

    • bravesdave

      Yes, I knooooow where you liiiiiiiive =) … … well, I know Salida that is. I’ve been through Salida/Poncha Springs many a times. I’ll be back in the US for a few months and then return to Mongolia. I’ll let you. You are a far better rider than me. So if we did a ride or two together, let’s just say you would get ample opportunity to enjoy the beautiful CO scenery. =)

    • bravesdave

      So adding to Greg’s idea of lifestyle, I think all of us mtbers who are married either have spouses who are mtbers themselves or who are totally wonderful awesome understanding spouses. My wife falls in the latter. After 29 years of marriage, she knows I need some sort of extreme outlet for all the testosterone that runs through my veins. LOL. I am 52 years old and just started riding a few years ago at the prompting of two of my sons. My wife tells me all that time that I should have started riding years ago.

    • Greg Heil

      Haha, well definitely let me know! And +1 on the spouse: my wife is awesome! It also helps that I was crazy before we ever got married… she had a lot of warning and knew what she was getting into!

  • ktmdrz400

    I agree totally with everything you mentioned. I come from an Enduro motorcycle background and can say that biking is my newest and now most favorite addiction. Motorcycling has taken a back seat primarily because Mtb is much easier to get prepared for and I can get a quick ride and some Cardio in at the same time leaving my house at 5am. Never thought I would be cutting trails in the woods with pedals instead of an engine underneath me ????

  • troydawe

    Hey Greg, I ride all year long which is not a small feat as I live in northern alberta(Canada), the winter rides take a little more preparation and some unexpected riding gear like and axe and fire starter! Lol just love being on a bike with the headlamp burning and knowing that I’m almost the only one in my area that’s doing it down a winter wonderland trail. Last night it was pushing a cool -25C and my eyelashes were starting to stick together! Love the life!

    • bravesdave

      Yes, I knooooow where you live =) … … well, I know Salida that is. I’ve been through Salida/Poncha Springs many a times. I’ll be back in the US for a few months and then return to Mongolia. I’ll let you. You are a far better rider than me. So if we did a ride or two together, let’s just say you would get ample opportunity to enjoy the beautiful CO scenery. =)

    • bravesdave

      Hey Troy. We live in similar climates, but I think you might get top dibs. We were about -21C last night. In the middle of winter I’m afraid to take my mountain bike out for fear that things might start breaking due to the extreme cold. I’m even concerned about the vulnerability of my carbon frame. Last winter I started running in the mountains through the winter. It was just beautiful, however, the toe rubber on my LaSportiva trail shoes cracked due to the cold. It was -30C some mornings.

  • troydawe

    @ Bravesdave, good to here buddy! At least I have a kindred spirit out there! We typically run temps in the -30 to -40C range here when it’s full on winter.
    I am running the new Norco Bigfoot6.1 fat bike this winter, but the biggest thing in my winter arsenal is my new Lenz battery powered socks. I now have the luxury of a way lighter boot, these socks changed everything for me.
    Keep the rubber side down buddy, stay safe and warm! 😉

    • bravesdave

      I try not to run in the -40+ weather, just for concern of the risk. I draw the line around -30. LOL. When I run in the winter, it is in true back country, quite steep, and I run alone; so a little caution and preparation (paper, matches etc.) are in order. But the payoff is huge — exceptional BEAUTY and tranquility. I’m done with doing anything competitive on foot or bike, but I love the challenge of the mountains and time alone in the solitude. My wife and I are talking about getting some snowshoes, so we can actually get out together a little in the winter.

  • runbikedistance

    I’m a runner and a mountain biker and competitively with both. I think that those are the closest in comparison. You might not have to spend as much money for running as you do biking but it is way easier to do and there’s plenty of people who spend 8-12 hours on there feet training for races that are way longer then marathons. Don’t get me wrong I love mountain biking and it provides a lot more of an adrenaline rush and is a lot of fun to go and sred with a group of buddies. But running is a lot of fun too. And I’m with Steve Raney down below there’s no reason biking has to be better then the rest. You can do all of them all the time if your up to it.

  • rdr1962

    I never had an interest at all in mountain biking. Last year shortly before my 51st bday a good friend of mine talked me into going mtbing using his sons Scott 29er. We went to a beginner/intermediate trail system nearby. It scared the crap out of me but at the same time was the most exhilarating fun thing I’d ever done. I told my friend I couldn’t wait to do it again. I was immediately hooked. I’ve since gotten my 59yr old brother hooked. I don’t get to ride near as much as I’d like due to a major time commitment at work but it’s all I think about. I wish I’d tried it years ago but it’s never too late to have fun!

  • kguerra

    Fully agree. I just got back into riding after a long hiatus. Totally obsessed now and have even considered moving to get get closer to my local trail. This article made me feel less crazy!

  • Schmo

    I totally agree Greg. You just can’t stop thinking about mountain biking . It’s so infectious and there is no cure. You can get your fix but there is no getting rid of it. If I’m not riding I’m on singletracks or strava keeping tabs on the rest of the world. I’ll clean my rig, do a gear check, charge the batteries in my garmin – light and camera, research my next ride, look at gear on the web, or just head to the bike shop to browse and chat with my pit crew. My wife get’s a noid but that’s who I am.

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