First Time Mountain Biking

Mountain Biking First

Dispatch by Daniel Puiatti
Photos by Will Allen

Road and trail cycling is my passion, no doubt about it. I love the long distances, the undulating scenery—the slow gruelling uphills and the white-knuckle downhills.

But change is good. New experiences are the gateway to lifelong passions. So today, after seven days of road cycling across Quebec's serene Eastern Townships and mind-bendingly beautiful Saguenay region, I decided to try something different.

Prior to today, I had literally zero experience riding a mountain bike. However, since I am an avid road and trail cycler I figured, hey, how different can it possibly be?

Turns out really different.

First things first: mountain bikes are fluid. They are designed to move, bounce and spring, not anything like the fixed and rigid construction of a road bike. This fluidity is necessary to absorb shock and maintain momentum when going over the various obstacles you pass on a mountain biking trail, and while technically you could adjust your suspension to be static and rigid, it's definitely not a good idea. Better to adapt to the fluid nature. Learning to move with the bike is essential.

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Taking in the amazing view before our ride

After a few practice laps, and a ridiculous amount of bunny hopping around the parking lot, we are off. Each pedal stroke melts away a little more apprehension and soon I am gliding over minor obstacles with ease. Gravel patches, narrow sections of the path flanked by trees and muddy terrain are my entry examination. The bike absorbs each of these, and I'm immediately impressed by how effective the suspension is. So far so good.

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Getting a taste of the trail

The trail's obstacles slowly become more complicated: rocky uphills laced with tree roots, narrow wooden pathways over muddy pits and countless sharp turns and loose rocks. Then we arrive at an enormous sharply curved berm that looks lik a C shaped pipe that has been cut in half vertically. I stop. I am at a loss at how physics might allow someone of my size and weight (6'4, 220 lbs) to clear this.

I pull to the side of the trail and watch people fly along the berm with the greatest of ease. OK, looks like all I need is some momentum for this one. No problem.

I back up about seven metres and begin to pedal hard to the berm, hands gripped tight and teeth clenched hard. I hit the entry just fine and my bike floats along. Then I hesitate. I tap the rear brake and gravity takes charge. For a moment it is as if I am suspended perfectly, but something isn't right. I'm no longer moving forward. Gravity takes hold with a vengeance and pulls me down hard. The mud welcomes me with open arms.

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Moments before the mud welcomes me

With only my pride bruised I pull my bike back out of the mud and cycle to the end of the trail. I fall many more times along the way, taking a bit of the trail with me as a souvenir every time.

But you know what: if felt good to fall, it felt good to feel humbled—I think it's important.

And yeah, I probably suck at mountain biking, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat 'cause we can't get good until we learn what it is to suck at something.

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Grabbing an after ride CLIF Bar

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