A Brief Escape From the Routinization of Riding

Spontaneity just might be the most convenient variable for adding a dose of adventure to a stale mountain bike routine.
Photo: Matt Miller

As I stared at my new bike one evening in my LED-lit garage, I thought about how excited I was to ride it the next morning. I’d put the matching seat post clamp on, my bottle and GPS mounts, set the saddle height, and tire pressure. Yep, tomorrow morning was going to be sweet, I thought.

It was 8:30 P.M. and a little bit of sunlight still lingered in the dark blue sky. My fiancée was at dinner with some friends and I’d just got home from a drink with a friend. I had nothing to do, but plop down on the couch, which was entirely my plan. It’s also what I’m usually doing most evenings. I glanced over at a handlebar light sitting on my work bench, which I usually use as a flashlight when I need to check something out in the crawl space. The light had a good charge on it. What if I just put some socks and a helmet on, and went around the lake?

The idea shouldn’t have seemed as monumental as it was, but about 98% of my rides these days are a part of my routine. They are planned, with a trail in mind, a bike in mind, a friend in mind. Rarely ever, I realized under the white glow of my garage’s interior, do I say, “Well I’m doing absolutely nothing, so I’ll go for a ride.” That should change.

That’s not to say that my current routine and rationalization for riding is bad. Usually I’ll set out a few times per week to burn calories, challenge my technical ability, get miles on something that needs to be reviewed, get some in-person socialization since I work from home, or go for a longer ride on the weekend when there’s time for beer with friends after. But it is just that: a routine.

A few times per week, I’ll see my neighbor returning from work in his branded van. Within a half-hour or so, he’ll be decked in Lycra, lurching from his driveway to do his “usual route. It’s about 18 miles,” he says.

It’s a little ironic that a sport that was founded on the principle of adventure has turned into a routine for many including myself. I suppose that’s a testament to how big mountain biking has become. Local networks and trailheads are akin to a local health club in a strip mall. When I was interviewing my local county’s open space department last year, they mentioned the diversity between parks when it comes to peak times, and parking rotation. Ideally, in certain trailheads they will see a car park, a rider depart, and within one to two hours that rider will be back at the car, leaving the trailhead and reopening the parking space for someone else. The relationship between network mileage and parking lot size is something they keep in mind so there is as little overflow as possible.

Often, I will only deem a ride an adventure if something bad or challenging has happened. Maybe we ended up off-route, had an encounter with wildlife, or a tricky mechanical, or just tried to plan a really long route for the sake of the challenge.

But, spontaneity just might be the most convenient variable for adding a dose of adventure to a stale routine. The feeling of freedom is cited frequently as one of the most rewarding feelings that come from riding a bike. Breaking out of a routine every once in a while might be what we all need when we feel a little too tethered.