The 10 Habits of Highly Effective Mountain Bikers

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Have you ever read the best-selling book with a very similar title and three less habits? Neither have I, but the title alone peaked my interest enough to generate some thought on what might be some common characteristics among mountain bikers that are motivated, productive, and highly effective. Rather than a list of how to wax mad trail skills, training rituals, or pro tips from champions whose sole concern it is to win races all over the world, I came up with a list of 10 behaviors that many simple, yet driven mountain bikers share. These habits enrich the overall biking experience, give meaning, and even transcend our sport.

Goal-Minded

Being effective simply means producing a desired result with as little loss or waste of energy as possible, and it starts with setting a goal. Ask yourself what you will do, where you will do it, when, and why. Whether it’s pounding out 2,000 miles this year, occupying some real estate atop the podium, exploring 30 new trails, building new trails, learning to build or repair your bike, adapting a different biking discipline, or just spending more time biking with your kids, form a plan by working backward from the day you envision accomplishing that goal. Beyond this advice, there are many, many ways to tackle your goals and much of it will depend on how lofty and specific your goals are, so the take home is: set those goals and make a plan.

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Aware

Given the ever-changing environment in which we recreate upon objects we subject to a hurricane of abuse, a highly effective mountain biker must remain vigilant, perceptive, and resourceful. She is mindful of her component’s service intervals, aware of trail conditions, sensitive to the needs and limits of others she rides with and cognizant of her own, and she appreciates the physiological impact of riding in varying conditions. To become aware, a highly effective biker regularly inspects her equipment, communicates trail conditions, logs ride time, draws inferences from experience, and reflects on what went wrong to make changes to her practice. This ear-to-the-ground mindset will keep you out of trouble, prepare you for when problems arise, and facilitate sound decision-making.

Responsible

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We’ve been granted access to the great outdoors and trail-slaying machines, but the highly effective mountain biker also understands that, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required…” (Luke 12:48), or, as uncle Ben in Spiderman paraphrased, “with great power comes great responsibility.” As consumers of the land, we are responsible in presiding, providing, and protecting it, those we ride with, and other trail users. A responsible mountain biker packs in what he packs out, communicates with uphill and slower riders, understands for what type of riding a particular trail was intended (and rides thusly), respects others, and values safety over the KOM. The office of a mountain biker carries the burden of trail ownership and inherent caretaker duties that, if not fulfilled, may be to our own detriment.

Hungry

While a highly effective mountain biker will certainly work up the physical appetite to match her output, by “hungry,” I’m not referring to a post-ride pub session. Effective mountain bikers are not complacent. They don’t idle waiting on fair-weather friends and the weekend to align in perfect harmony, but crave the ride so much as to seize every opportunity to turn the cranks. Not only does this mean seeking unfamiliar trails and new destinations, one more lap, a little more climbing, or another session, but riding whenever possible.

Hungry mountain bikers ride at night, in the bitter cold, the hot and humid, the rain, and on snow and ice. When you hunger for a ride, you embrace “the suck” even when said suck is intended. Effective riders find that riding as far, as long, as big, and in as many conditions as possible enormously rewarding. It’s in those soul-crushing experiences ambitious riders discover their limits, cross them, and outline larger ones, making them stronger than they were without them.

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Diverse

Applying for a job, school, scholarship, or promotion can be a rigorous process wherein each candidate is judged not only on the amount, but types of experiences, with the nod usually going to the one who has diversified best. Diversifying has also been shown to augment wealth, enrich one’s education, and foster a satisfying and productive workplace. So, what does your mountain bike portfolio look like? How many and what types of trails have you ridden? Have you ever tried fat biking, dirt jumping, bikepacking, or (gulp) e-biking? How about turning left at the fork instead of always going right? Broadening your biking horizons provides insight and experience that empowers you and, if nothing else, makes you a much more interesting person.

Educated

A highly effective mountain biker is a life-long learner. He wades through tech manuals, calculates gear ratios, watches “How-To” videos, gathers trail beta, listens to podcasts, examines leverage ratio charts, and doesn’t knock it until he tries it. He does so to make smart purchases, be self-sufficient, develop skills, be a responsible rider, add to the growing body of mountain bike information, and to simply know stuff for the sake of knowing. Educated mountain bikers seek understanding and answers to the problem, come up with their own solutions through trial and error, and fear not the unknown.

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Self-Sufficient

Armed with the right tools, foresight, and know-how, a highly effective mountain biker rides anytime, anywhere, and for as long as she wants without having to phone a friend. Self-sufficiency is a mountain biking habit that is rarely disputed. Grave bodily injury and death in mountain biking is quite rare, yet the possibility of a ride-ending mishap during any ride is very high. As a responsible biker, you accept this and should also prepare to handle whatever might happen. While it’s beyond the scope of this article to discuss exactly what is needed to be self-sufficient, sufficeth to say, your level of preparedness should be directly proportional to the likelihood your ride does not go as planned. What’s more, no one likes riding with someone who isn’t prepared, so don’t be that person.

Charitable

A highly effective mountain biker gives back to that which has given him so much. He gives up the shred for a shovel, donates time and money to the local bike club or trail association, mentors youth and novice riders, spends an afternoon down at the local co-op, gives away his last master link to the broken-down, and tips his mechanic. Not surprisingly, when we give back to biking, biking continues giving back to us, which is why this goodwill hunting is seen among effective mountain bikers. The trail in which you invested gets better, the trail crew you supported builds more, and the mechanic you tipped will keep hooking you up, brah! But even if your generous investments result in zero return, this altruistic attitude is born of the pure love for mountain biking and is simply the right thing to do.

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Photo: Tim Maddux

Advocate

A highly effective mountain biker supports political issues surrounding our sport in order to conserve the history, protect the present state, and promote the future of mountain biking. Advocating for mountain biking can be done with written (now typed) word, physical presence, and money from as far off as Washington, D.C. to as near as the screen you’re using to read this. While you or your thoughts alone may not reach those who are directly involved in decisions that shape our future access, your vote adds to a growing voice that can affect change. If you need a little kickstart, visit the Sustainable Trails Coalition.

Connected

Despite being self-sufficient enough to ride for days in the backcountry, informed enough to build, maintain, and repair their bike, and hungry enough to tear off into the sunset solo, a highly effective mountain biker understands the importance of developing relationships of trust with others. There are certainly merits to being the lone wolf, as riding alone provides a connectedness with oneself, but it takes a village to raise a mountain biker. Local bike shops, trail crews, mentors, race or other event organizers, clubs, books and online resources, have all somehow directly or indirectly made an impact on your experience. Because these groups need you just as much as you them, fostering a connection strengthens the entire mountain biking community.

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Notice this list is void of any trail-slaying skills, strength-building techniques, or rigorous training steps–there are lists for those things. Instead, I’ve outlined broader beliefs with a bigger picture in mind that focus on you as a mountain biking citizen. These are principles that separate people that ride mountain bikes from mountain bikers, if you will.

Although not practicing any of these behaviors may not have any direct or immediate damage, adapting any of them can positively impact you or someone now! What’s more, think about the long-term consequences of a person who opposes these habits: an ignorant, irresponsible, selfish, needy, and oblivious rider. And it’s probably a good thing he doesn’t diversify so I know how to avoid him. Don’t make me avoid you!