Think You’re a Mountain Biking Expert? Think Again.


Picture this: You’re renting a mountain bike for a trip to Whistler or Park City and on the rental form, they ask you to rate your riding ability: beginner, intermediate, advanced, or expert.  It turns out that plenty of people end up checking “expert,” despite the fact that most, if not all, the guys and girls working in the shop (who are way better than you, by the way) don’t even classify themselves as experts. Why not? Partly because even great riders know at least one rider who is better than them, but partly too, because science.

If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers (or listened to Macklemore’s song 10,000 hours) you’re familiar with the idea that 10,000 hours of practice is what it takes to become an “expert” in a given field. But what does 10,000 hours of mountain biking look like–and what does it take to achieve it?*

Becoming an expert mountain biker


Does every mountain bike ride count as “practice” time?  For me, honestly, it doesn’t–most days I’m just on autopilot and not really thinking about progression (other than fitness perhaps). I would also argue that road bike hours don’t fully count toward becoming an expert mountain biker, since it’s not really the same thing (though again, the fitness carries over).

Our illustrious Editor in Chief, Greg, lives in Salida, CO and rides a lot of mountain bikes. For Greg, 2013 was a pretty good year, having logged about 400 hours in the saddle; but at that rate, it’ll be 25 years before he gets to 10,000 hours of saddle time!  (If you use Strava or a similar ride tracking service, you should be able to pull up annual time stats to check your own progress.) Four hundred hours in a year works out to 1+ hour per day, which is more than most weekend warriors can fit in. Even if you squeeze in 2 hours of trail time EVERY day of the year, you’re still looking at 14 years to become an expert mountain biker by Gladwell’s definition.

Still, 5% of respondents to a recent Singletracks survey rated themselves “expert” mountain bikers, while roughly the same percentage (6%) rated themselves beginners.

Becoming an expert on mountain biking


Quick! There was just a huge mountain bike explosion and CNN needs a “mountain bike expert” to get on air to explain mountain biking to viewers.  Will you get the call?

Perhaps. You probably like to read mountain bike articles since you’re reading this one, and maybe you waste an entire hour of your work day, 5 days a week catching up on MTB “news” and reading how-to articles. Great–you’ll be an expert on the subject in just 40 years. (In the days before the internet, that would have meant reading every MTB magazine cover to cover for decades.)

Now, if you work in the industry, it’s entirely possible to gain expert status much more quickly, though time spent entering numbers into spreadsheets, sending emails, etc. will need to be thrown out. But let’s be optimistic and say you spend half your work day actually thinking about and learning about mountain bikes. The good news is you’ll be an expert in the field of mountain biking within about 10 years time.

Becoming an expert at repairing mountain bikes


Of the three “expert” designations discussed in this article, becoming an expert at repairing mountain bikes is probably the most attainable, especially if you work as a shop or team mechanic. Working full-time as a bike wrench, you’ll clock your 10,000 hours toward becoming an expert in just 5 years. Note: taking smoke breaks will extend this to 5+ years.

Becoming an expert mountain biker is a worthy goal for anyone who loves the sport–just don’t underestimate how long it will take or where you are in the progression. If anything, it’s exciting to think about how much there is to learn about mountain biking and that it will never get old!

*Note: I am NOT an expert on mountain biking or any other subject beyond sleeping, chewing food, and breathing. 

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