5 Lessons I Learned from a Beginner Mountain Biker

My wife always swore she’d never be a mountain biker.

Coincidentally, many of our earliest rides together—each one of which I was sure would be the one to change her mind—involved lots of swearing. We even got one of them (my 28th birthday) on GoPro.

She hated everything about it: Her racing pulse, the unpredictable terrain, and anticipating that she could lose control at any moment.

But somewhere along the way (and who knows why?) it clicked. We rented a handful of bikes and borrowed one from a friend, which she fell in love with and later bought: a hardtail 29er, a Salsa El Mariachi. Today, half the times we ride together, it’s because she asks, “Where are we going to ride this weekend?”

Yes, having a partner who rides is as incredible as I’m sure you’ve imagined it’d be. But that’s another article altogether.

Despite her passion, every ride still has its ups and downs. There are moments when she remembers all the reasons she hates the sport, and there are moments when she’s amazed to discover just how deeply she loves it.

Every ride is a learning experience–not only because of the skills we develop as we ride, making us better bikers, but because of the bike’s uncanny ability to teach us things about ourselves.

Here are a few of the things she’s taught me as I’ve watched her learn to mountain bike:

1. Not every ride is about going fast.

I’ve always been a competitive person, so when I fell in love with mountain biking, it wasn’t long before I also fell in love with racing. It’s not the chance to win that I love—I’m mediocre on my best days—but the feeling I get when I push myself to my limits. For her, the place to push herself is running. The mountain bike is a means of getting out on the trail, into the mountains, and away from the rigors of our 9-5s. In that way, more than anything, it’s a means of slowing down. That’s okay, too.

2. Any trail can be intimidating.

Especially in Boulder, Colorado, where I’d probably be right more times than wrong to guess that everyone that I encounter on the trail has won the Leadville 100, “easy” is a moving target. As we develop, it’s easy to forget how insurmountable those flow tracks and gnarled tree roots used to be. Instead of quickly moving on to newer and harder trails, it’s better to get your partner comfortable on a trail that’s within their skill level. Once they’re ready, they’ll tell you when it’s time to move on and try something new.

3. Your bike will go where you’re looking.

My dad must’ve said it a dozen times at the rehearsal dinner the night before our wedding. The longer you stare at the rock in the middle of the trail, the more likely you are to hit it. But of course, he meant it metaphorically. Attitude is everything. If you’re excited to get out and ride, you’re going to have a great time. If you’re not, you won’t.

4. A good pair of knee pads is a must.

Anybody who says equipment doesn’t matter hasn’t seen the confidence that protective padding can inspire. In my wife’s case, it’s a pair of POC Joint VPD Air Knee pads that we picked up after a nasty crash riding outside of Nederland. Will they keep her bones from breaking in the event of a gnarly wreck? Probably not. But will she push herself to try new things knowing that the little ones won’t hurt nearly so bad? Absolutely.

5. Few things are more rewarding than seeing her overcome her fears.

Trying new things is hard, and trying scary things is harder. I know the exhilaration I feel when I get the guts to attempt—and finally clear—a feature for the first time, but it’s hard to describe the feeling I get when I see that same excitement in her. As she wrote on Instagram following a particularly challenging ride this June, “[I’m] finally starting to realize how good this sport is for my challenging the perceptions I have of myself.”

What could be more valuable than that?