A couple of summers ago, I participated in a mountain bike clinic in Eagle, Colorado. As a novice rider who hadn’t been on anything but a bike with a basket for basically all of time, I learned five important lessons that day and one that even made me a better mom.
1. You're gonna need a better bike
If you think you’re going to zip up that first hill (what’s a little hill, right?) on a 10-speed or a hardtail from 2000, think again. Bikes have changed a lot in a couple of decades and while the bells and whistles (like disc breaks or suspension) might seem superfluous to those of us who remember tearing up the asphalt on our banana seat Schwinns with the rainbow streamers, they aren’t. Mountain biking is not the same as taking hot laps around the neighborhood or cruising paved rollers in your floppy hat to the farmers market. Yes, it’s biking, but it’s also on a mountain. A mountain. There are rocks and roots and death traps around every hairpin turn. And like a car, you want a bike that can handle that shit. You wouldn’t take a Fiat off roading. Same with bikes. Moral of the story? If you want to give mountain biking a try, either throw down on a good bike (and say goodbye to whatever you were saving for your kid’s college) or demo one that makes you feel like the confident and courageous bike-riding beast you are.
2. Shoes are just as important as your bike
One option is to lock your feet into your bike using cycling shoes and look like a cow slowly being tipped over when you can't clip out. The other option is to ride on flat pedals and use a flat, rigid shoe with some grip so you don’t fly over your handlebars as you dive down the descent. There's a lot going on during the downhill. You're standing up, weight balanced, holding on for dear life as the fat on the back of your arms knocks around like a fistful of marbles in a martini shaker. You contemplate your life choices. You wonder if a mountain lion is just giving you a head start. At the very least, you vow to work more on your triceps at the gym. Trust me, you don't need to worry about your feet coming off the pedals as well. For those reasons, I like my Five Tens. Whatever you decide, one thing I know is that your mountain biking shoes shouldn’t double as your gym sneakers. That would kind of be like skiing in jeans.
3. Mountain biking can get dirty
And I’m not talking about the thin layer of dust you’ll have lingering on your skin after a long ride or the sweat that’ll soak your sports bra. As our pack of wonderful women cranked up an incline, our coach Alison would periodically yell out cues like, “Go anal!” or “Boobs to Tubes!” to get us in the right position for the effort. Since saying, “get your butt back against the tip of your seat and your chest down towards the handlebars” is too much of a mouthful mid-mountain, our instructions were brief, but effective. I’m sure any passerbyers who could hear Alison’s orders thought we were in the adult entertainment industry and not just a bunch of middle-aged women huffing our way up a hill.
4. Bike shorts are meant to be worn without undies
While the old ones had the tendency to feel like diaper with a load, the new ones are quite sleek and meant to fit snug. Layering them with your favorite cotton skivvies causes chafing. Plus, no one wears the liners on their own, so with a loose pair of shorts on top, it doesn’t really feel like you’re going commando. Believe me, you won’t want to be picking a wedgie while your wheel is just inches from a 20 foot drop off. I’m partial to the Zoic Navaeh Shorts and Liner, which, by the way, I WON at the clinic.
5. You’ll do it, hate it, then do it again
As a glutton for punishment, I’ve made myself learn a lot of new things in my later years. I was in my 20s when I first strapped on a snowboard. Ten years later, after I’d caught an edge for the last time, I learned to ski. I was 33 and couldn’t keep up with the 3-year-olds. As a grown-up woman, I’ve learned to kayak, paddle board, cross-country ski, hike a 14er, and mountain bike. Am I good at any of these things? No. I’m mostly terrible. I crash and I bleed and I’ve cried (and there was one particular tantrum I threw on the side of Vail Mountain that almost caused a divorce). But I do these things because I want Skinny Jeans to see me fall, get up, and try again. Because if I don’t, she won’t. And that’s enough for me to, literally, get back in the saddle.
To the moms who allow themselves to be uncertain, to hold onto a hand as it reaches to drag you off the ground. To the moms who get it wrong on the first (or seventh) try. To the moms who can’t keep up, gasp for air as they clutch their lungs. To all the moms who brush off the dirt and the doubt, the guilt and the guessing.
I know it doesn't feel cute.
I know it feels like you won't make it to the next turn, to the top, to tomorrow.
But this is temporary.
The burning in your legs, like the baby you're holding, the child you're consoling, the teen you're fighting, won't last.
And while the descent will allow you to regain your breath, it will never be as rewarding as climbing to the top.
This adventure fits: Women looking for a boost of confidence and who aren’t afraid of a skinned elbow or two.
What to do:
Skiing, biking, rafting, and fishing camps for "real women and girls who want to focus on skiing and/or biking and not filet mignon and yoga." Participants learn from hand-picked coaches who are champions in their respective sports and certified either nationally or by Rippin Chix. "Be prepared for some foul language and loads of funny terminology. We train our coaches in our baby step methodologies, which enables even the most timid gal to conquer her fears."
COLORADO MAMAS: Check out the Eagle Outside Festival June 1-4 where you can demo a bike and take a Rippin Chix Skills and/or Singletrack Camp. I've demoed bikes and have taken both the skills and singletrack camps--totally worth it! When you're done riding, be sure to hit up the Bonfire Block Party on June 1 and 2 with 9 bands, 2 stages, Bonfire beer, food vendors, and a bike valet--everything you need to forget about the aches and bruises from your ride.
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