2015-01-06 Ride-With-a-noob

Noobs take a lot of heat in the mountain bike world.  They are constantly getting passed and maybe dissed in the process.  We “expert” bikers scoff at their lack of skills and fitness.  We disparage their lack of trail etiquette and general knowledge of the care and feeding of a simple bicycle.  For some, the further we get from our own experience as noobs, the further we get from being a useful member of the mountain biking community. Ego can be a dangerous thing.  Ironically, the further we get from being a noob, the more we need the noob.  Here are four reasons we should all be thankful for the noob.

(Note: In this article, by “noob” I’m not referring to the absolute first-timer, but rather someone who has a few rides under his/her belt and has caught the bug but is still clearly a novice.)

1.  The Thrill of Discovery

Remember when you were just starting out and every ride was a revelation?  Each saddle session seemed to yield some new capability or allowed you to achieve something you had never achieved before.  Maybe you made it to the top of that big hill with all the loose rock for the first time, or you cleaned that pesky switchback without dabbing, or floated across some rock garden wondering why you had ever thought it difficult in the first place.

For most of us, mountain biking has had a pretty steep learning curve which has leveled off some time ago. We’ve spent recent years chasing less and less grand of leaps. “Ooooh, I just shaved 3 seconds off my lap time!” I don’t mean to belittle these accomplishments, because they are the result of much hard work, but they are indeed minute in an absolute sense.  Each new accomplishment by a noob is likely to be an order of magnitude greater than anything he/she has done before, and even if it isn’t, it will feel like it.  Once we reach diminishing returns, our mindset changes–it becomes more jaded, more intense, more structured, and less free and open.  We can never recapture that frequency of joy.  But we can experience it vicariously by riding with a noob. I love cleaning some great obstacle for the first time, but I get even more excited by the great boundless joy of a noob who has crossed a threshold in ability and just can’t contain him/herself as a result.

I’ve now ridden well over 400 distinct trail systems.  Finding new trails is like a drug for me, and the more I get, the more I crave. This has led me to some great discoveries and adventures, but it can be unhealthy at times.  But hitting that old standby for the thousandth time with a noob creates a whole new experience.  Seeing an oft-used trail through someone else’s eyes can help recapture the newness the trail once held for you.


After a hundred trips down the Kessel Run, it may start to lose some of its luster. If so, ride it with a noob and you can’t help but revisit that sense of joy.  (photo:  David Darling)

2.  The Fun Factor

This reason is closely related to number one above, but the benefit comes from a slightly different place.  Unlike you, jaded old mountain biker, the noob is just out to spin some cranks and have some fun in the process.  He has no bike envy.  He doesn’t care that his frame material is badly outdated and isn’t the latest ultra-lightweight, ultra stiff, high modulus carbon fiber.  Heck, he probably doesn’t know they even make bikes out of carbon fiber and has no idea what “high modulus” is.  He has no interest in debating the merits of Horst Link vs VPP vs Switch Infinity, etc.  He just wants to ride, and is going to enjoy that ride.  While you’re getting all eaten-up about your Strava time, he’s got a smile on his face.  You want to recapture the pure, unadulterated fun that mountain biking is supposed to be about?  Hit the trail with a noob.


Group rides are a great way to enjoy riding with riders of mixed abilities–and to enjoy the thrill of their discovery.

3.  Opportunity to Teach

Without being a pest or holding yourself out as some sort of guru, you can still offer the benefits of your expertise to a noob.  Most are eager to learn and willing to accept anything from a casual tip to an intense practice session in pursuit of their newfound joy.

Why do I say this is a reason for you to be thankful for the noob, rather than the other way around?  Because often, the best way to learn or improve yourself, is to teach.  When you go through the pains of breaking down a particular skill such as a bunny hop or wheelie drop, it forces you to reexamine it yourself.  When you slow it down and focus on each individual component of a skill, and demonstrate it for someone else, you build into your own muscle memory a more complete and accurate imprint of that activity, which will yield benefits to you out on the trail.  Even the most advanced athletes in every sport continue to drill themselves on basic skills. This is a necessary part of what keeps them sharp.  Most of us are too busy/lazy/undisciplined to continually drill ourselves on the basics.  Helping out a noob, in addition to being emotionally rewarding, will also add to those physical benefits we might otherwise miss out on.

4. Future Guardians of the Trail

Each and every noob is a potential ambassador of the sport.  Ever since hikers and equestrians discovered mountain bikers, they have lobbied hard, and often successfully, to keep bikes off of a disturbingly large amount of trails at all levels, from local municipalities to the nation as a whole.  Mountain bikers have been at a great disadvantage due to smaller numbers and far less effective organization.  Even IMBA is no match for the Sierra Club, Wilderness Alliance, and so many more organizations that include anti-bike elements in their platforms. But mountain biking is increasing in popularity and its advocates are growing in strength. This is a trend we should like to see continue.

Mountain bikers face an uphill battle with regards to public image.  Having “normal” cyclists (as opposed to the totally rad–but frightful to other trail users–Red Bull crowd) who share a love for the outdoors, demonstrate proper trail etiquette, exchange friendly greetings with other trail users, and most importantly, put their sweat equity into trail maintenance and construction, is the mountain biking community’s greatest strength.  I have stood shoulder to shoulder, swinging pulaskis and mcclouds, with noobs who scarcely know a crankset from a crankpot, yet were out there donating their most precious resource–time–in support of trails for everyone to use.

Lasty, remember a noob need not be a kid. I didn’t get my first bike until I was 35.  We’ve recently had threads on this site like “Newbie at 52,” which is exciting.  Not only do they indicate more people enjoying the sport, but these people are more likely to be mature, articulate, and have the purchasing power that the rest of the world values so greatly, as well as the power of the vote, which our leaders value.

While I wouldn’t advise a diet too high in noob-coddling as it will definitely degrade your skills, the fact remains that some noob time is highly constructive for both you and our entire community.  Don’t shy away or be stingy with your time and experience–get out there and ride with a noob!

# Comments

  • Julie H

    It’s all about paying it forward 🙂 I am so grateful to those who rode with me when I was a “noob.” Without the guidance and support of more experienced riders, noobs would have a much harder time improving their skills and finding new trails to explore. I’m always happy to take out new riders; what can be better than seeing others find as much joy in a sport as you do?

  • Gdb49

    Powerful artical, brought back memories of those exciting times! Wasn’t that long ago for me, been riding for just over 2 years. When I was climbing, one of my favorite things to do was to be at the top when a new climber made their first ascent. Often belayed from the top just so I could be their to see their excitement. When I began riding, several local, very experienced, riders helped me out and paying it forward is a core belief of mine in all aspects of life. Love to ride with “Noobs”, and be part of their excitement and feel their exhilaration. Your point on getting more riders will actually benefit the sport should be taken seriously- we are out numbered on the trails! Was a Noob at 49 and have the resources you spoke of, it matters. Thanks John.

  • jhunt1911

    I myself am very much a noob @ 45 (less than 6 months in the saddle). Learning from my own mistakes and developing skill along the way. I started off riding alone due to my lack of skill and I fell in love with the sport the first time I hit the trail. I had so much fun, that I bought my 12 yr old son a new Giant Revel 29er for Christmas hoping that he would appreciate the trail as much as I do. That gift was the best decision I have made in sometime. I get almost as much enjoyment from seeing him enjoy being out there on the trails as I get from riding the trails myself. So we’ll learn together and have a blast doing it. Looking forward to hooking up with the local IMBA/SORBA guys first chance we get.

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