The Relief of a Fading Infatuation to Mountain Bike and Why the Off-Season Should be Embraced

The mountain biking season is close to an end, for better or worse. Matt looks back on his relationship with mountain bike moderation and balancing his obsession over the years.
Photo: Matt Miller

During the last ten years that I’ve mountain biked, I’d say the first half of those I have been genuinely upset about the onset of winter. Mountain biking feeds much of my needs as a person from spring through fall; my physical health and the little guy in the back of my head that screams at me to exercise; my mental health, through spending time with friends who also mountain bike. And, since we’re moving under the sun, I glean the benefits of vitamin D, frequent serotonin boosts, and a sense of belonging when we’re climbing, or pushing our bikes uphill to the top of a mountain.

In the first few years I started mountain biking, it was all I talked about. I spent extra money on bike apparel or components and mountain bike trips, and my friends and I messaged each other mountain bike video edits over Facebook. When we weren’t mountain biking, we were talking about mountain biking.

The mountain biking bug was as infectious as any wintertime flu, and to friends and partners over that course, I likely sounded like a broken record. “Mountain biking, mountain biking!” My wife recently called it a “singletrack mind,” an apt and punny description. Others might call it “obsessed.”

It’s easy to fall head over heels for a person or even an activity when it makes you feel a certain way and the bursting feeling of excitement that happens after plummeting through a slope of wildflowers or a petrified sand dune with a group of friends and recapping it all over beers back at the trailhead is a worthy feeling to chase. You can chase it in any season or hemisphere, before work or on a “sick day,” over eight miles or on a five-day bikepacking trip.

When I started mountain biking, that’s exactly what I did. I felt that to call myself a mountain biker, I needed to ride a lot and riding as much as possible, wherever I could was the key to progression, not to mention that seeing yourself progress rapidly in the early years of any sport is a feedback loop.

I think I remember when I felt this start to break. In 2019, I rode BC Bike Race. I finished the seventh day in Squamish elated. It was one of the most physically challenging things I’d done and probably the best bike race I’ve done. The next day on our way back to the airport as I ravaged a plate full of pancakes and sausage with a friend, another friend texted me.

“Hey dude, are you back in town? Want to ride tomorrow?”

“Ha, no I’m good,” I told him. “I need to rest a while.”

“C’mon man, why not? It’s summertime, you can rest later.”

“I rode my bike for 30 hours this week,” I told him. “Mountain biking is the last thing I want to do.”

I went home and took a week off before I hopped on a saddle again. Not only did my body have a chance to rest but like a video game character bruised in battle, my little life-meter recharged too. I regained my motivation to ride and I was excited to put my new level of fitness back into a ride.

The majority of my friends, as do I, move to a different sport in the winter; skiing or snowboarding, or they put the mountain bike up for a set of skinny tires. The changing of seasons necessitates a change of interests. But, I often wonder, even if I lived in a place where I could mountain bike year-round, would I actually want to? Or, is a break from the activity as constructive as time spent riding?

I believe too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. When my wife and I got married, we ordered hundreds of miniature bundt cakes for desert at the wedding. Little pink and yellow lemon raspberry cakes, white chocolate raspberry, chocolate chocolate chip, all made by a little shop down the street. They were rich and sweet and delicious and our guests ate a lot of them, but we still went home with at least 20-30 of those little bundt cakes that night. For the next week, I had one with my coffee, one with lunch, and one for desert.

After a week, I couldn’t even look at them anymore. They’d become standard, not special. And though they lit up my taste buds they wrought havoc on my blood sugar and I likely gained a few pounds. I grew up in a house where wasting food was as bad as shoplifting, but with a handful of bundt cakes straggling in the white box, I hucked it in the trash can without thinking twice.

A few months ago, we celebrated our anniversary and after a two-year hiatus, a little bundt cake sounded pretty good. I bought only one this time. We split it with a glass of milk and I remembered how much I liked them, rather than how much I grew to dislike them.

As December approaches, I look back on the year of riding I’ve had with appreciation. My appetite has been satiated. I mountain biked with dozens of great people in a few new places and a lot of old places. It wasn’t the most miles I’ve ridden ever, but that’s alright. Not every year can be a PR and I think that’s an important thing to remember. Life changes. Some years you ride more and some years, mountain biking takes a back seat when you’ve got bigger, more important things to do. I can’t think of a healthier way to hang my helmet for a few months than that.