I watch mountain bike videos occasionally when I am supposed to be working. They are stunning, featuring people blasting down trails or flying through the air. While in the air, the riders twist their bikes this way and that, as if they wish to examine them from all angles before they land. Every few minutes someone chugs a sugary caffeine potion, then faces the camera and screams the word “Extreme!” with such force that cords in his neck stand out and forehead veins emerge.
If you wish to get faster or better on a bike, you have to ride outside your comfort zone. Often when you do this, you find out that you have more ability than you thought you did. Sometimes, though, you find out what it’s like to bounce off a rock with a bike pedal prying your ribcage apart from the back. No amount of energy drinks is going to make you feel better if an x-ray of your rib cage looks like Pac Man laughing.
Luckily, I don’t wish to be any faster on a bike. Going fast isn’t why I ride. I ride because I like it. I also just like being in the woods. I like getting exercise, and I especially like having a taste of cold beer after the ride. I like doing all of this without bleeding.
In short, I am slow and I love it. If you want to be fast, hey, that’s your business. I applaud you, and I will watch your video when it comes out. I’ll even bring you craft beer when you can’t move due to a broken everything.
If you want to get on the slow bandwagon, though, here are some tips.
Slow Tip 1: You shouldn’t have to dress like the love child of RoboCop and a Stormtrooper.
Simply put, if you have to strap this many pads on yourself, you are asking for trouble. Riding slowly means that even if you do fall down, you aren’t likely to tumble too far or hit too hard. Of course, you always want to wear a helmet even when riding slow style, but body armor isn’t needed.
Also, you should never have to shift your weight so far back that the saddle could easily hit you in the tender vegetables. Saddles are for sitting on, not for getting emasculated by.
Slow Tip 2: Never leave the ground.
I am a master of staying on the ground. Show me a sick pump track or downhill run, and I will show you how to ride all the way around it. No one makes more contact on a tabletop than I do. Mind you, in my younger days I loved flying through the air on a bicycle, but no more.
Pain is temporary, but the expense of visiting the hospital is forever. Sure, I have health insurance, but I have a writer’s health insurance. My copay is higher than my car payment. Well, it would be if I could afford a new car.
Slow Tip 3: Know when to use your brakes.
When riding slow style, you want to use your brakes often, but you can’t just squeeze them willy nilly and hope for the best. For best results, brake when you’re going in a straight line, so you’re less likely to have the back wheel try to pass the front one. Tires have a finite amount of traction. If you ask them to turn hard and brake hard at the same time, they’re likely to do neither.
Skidding is out of the question. Even if you don’t swap ends, skidding the rear tire is poor form and to be avoided. We want to enjoy the trails, not scar them up.
If you’re going through a flow section, brake in the valley of the flows when you and your bike are pushing against the ground. You have more traction then. Even a little bit of speed will cause you and your bike to be slightly lighter at the crest of a hill. Go easy on the front brake, and brake when you’re heavy.
Mind you, I’m heavy all the time because of my shapely love handles and jiggly belly, but you know what I mean.
Slow Tip 4: Have no shame.
I rarely ever ride alone, because the best rides are social. I love riding and chatting. Occasionally, though, my friends have a few derogatory things to say about my propensity for hike-a-bike, or my careful navigation of jumps.
“I enjoyed your review of those mountain bike wheels,” they tweet. “Did they roll nicely as you were pushing the bike?” Hey, look what’s in my backpack. It’s a multi-tool, and one of the tools is shut up.
Let them laugh. With my slow style, I get to enjoy my ride and they get to enjoy poking fun at me. Everyone wins, and I don’t have to take out a bank loan to have titanium screws installed in my newly busted right clavicle (I already busted the left one).
So come with me, my brothers and sisters of the mountain bike. Let us be slow. Let us stay firmly on the ground, and live the good life. It is sweet, not extreme!