Learning To Mountain Bike

Chinese Peak, West Trail

Chinese Peak, West Trail

I have spent the vast majority of my cycling time on the road.  It’s useful (in terms of commuting), it’s easy, it’s a great workout (in terms of those wonderful weekend road rides), and there’s very few variables involved to throw off it’s sheer simplicity and ease.  Most of the time, road cycling in Pocatello involves nothing more than scenic miles of endless country roads and your ability to traverse them on your road bike.  It’s so pure and simple.  I love it.

However, I would venture to say that most cyclists in Pocatello love this area for it’s world class mountain biking and it’s vast network of trails that range from easy to insane.  It would be a shame to spend all your cycling time on the road in such a rugged and mountainous place.  But getting out on the trail usually involves hopping on a mountain bike and traversing terrain that is absolutely nothing like a smooth, flat section of pavement.  Oh dear.

I’m convinced there are 2 kinds of mountain bikers:  naturals and panicky wimps, and I am of the latter category!  I know, I am sure there is a whole spectrum of mountain bikers out there, but it appears these are the 2 categories I’ve observed so far in my beginner-to-intermediate mountain biking history.  I’m sure I’ll change my opinions after I get more experience.  I always do that with everything it seems, but there’s nothing wrong with jumping to conclusions too early, is there?  This is a blog after all!  :-)

A few friends of mine, Jeff Selfa and Dan Lloyd, are quite experienced at mountain biking and have offered many times to go on a few rides with me and help me out with my technique.  This seldom happens though since A) getting people together for a ride just adds more complication to the hop-on-your-bike-and-go feel to cycling and B) I like learning by myself most of the time, even if it takes me longer to learn.  That’s just me.  :-p

Ok, enough background history, let’s talk about 3 recent mountain bike rides I’ve done!

The Cedar – Center – Buckskin Route

Cedar - Center - Buckskin trail map

Cedar – Center – Buckskin trail map

Jeff recommended a fairly short trail close to town that is fun to practice mountain biking technique on.  It is shown on the crudely drawn route map to the left.  There is one steep section of the route where you do have to hike your bike up a rocky part, but other than that it is pretty nice and easy.  It’s so close to town that it’s a trail you can ride to from your house and traverse it within an hour easily.

It was on this ride that I attempted to try a few different things to make steep downhilling easier and less scary for me.  I lowered my seat a couple of inches, hung my legs down over the front of my pedals to lower my center of gravity as much as possible (probably not a proper technique!), and made my way down a steep section with some loose gravel on it.  It was surprisingly easier than having a higher seat and keeping my feet on the pedals, and therefore felt less like I was going to fall over the front of my handlebars.

 The Two Chinese Peak Rides

After feeling better about my downhilling technique, I wanted to try my new skills out on my arch nemesis of trails: the south side trail of Chinese Peak.  This is a fairly narrow, rocky trail that has some very steep sections near the top of it where I am forced walk my bike down due to my fear of riding down it.  And it was those sections that Dan Lloyd, in the past, had merrily rode down to my chagrin.  :-(

Also, as I have attempted (and failed) several times in the past, I wanted to finally succeed in cycling up to the top of Chinese Peak (on the regular, west side trail, of course) without stopping!  This is a feat that requires that you do 2 critical things:

  1. Cycle slowly in your lowest gear, concentrate on good form and breathing, and relax.
  2. When you encounter steep sections near the top, you must pick up your speed a lot to avoid falling over!  This is usually difficult because you’re pretty exhausted by the time you’re near the top.

My first attempt was in late October and all the lovely foliage colors were looking beautiful.  Some of the large clumps of trees also happen to be at the same location as the steep sections, so I took the opportunity to wuss out, get off my bike, and take some photos of the fall colors.  Sigh.  :-)  After getting to the top, I cycled over to where the horrifying south trail begins and there was a big “Temporary Closure” sign across it.  Secretly, I was relieved that I had an excuse not to traverse the trail, and I gleefully cycled back down the west trail.

My second Chinese Peak ride was with Dan Lloyd, and so I was anxious to show him a thing or two about scaling Chinese Peak without stopping (hopefully)!  Also, he had been running a lot lately and not spending any time on his bike, so I was curious to see how he’d do.  As it turns out, he was a bit faster than I was, but he also had to stop a few times.  I, however, slowly made it up the entire way without stopping!  Success at last!  We found the south trail not to be blocked by closure signs, but the trail was muddy and a little snow-laden, so we went back home down the west trail.  There’s always next year to test my skills on the south trail.

So there you have the end of the mountain biking season of 2012.  Here’s a brief to-do list for myself for 2013:

  1. Learn wheelies, bunny-hopping, and other nifty techniques.
  2. Practice more trail riding.
  3. Improve my general agility and technique.

I am envious of those cyclists on YouTube videos that seems to use their bicycles as a natural extension of their bodies and can make it do amazing things, and I yearn to explore that almost completely missing part of my cycling experience!  As always, I’ll let you know how I do by recording my experiences in this blog, probably more for your amusement than for your information.  ;-p

2 comments to Learning To Mountain Bike

  • Jeff Selfa

    You hung your legs down over the front of your pedals?!? So you were seated while doing that?!? Good God, Man… let us help you! I am quick to argue against ride-fast-to-prevent-falling on long grinder climbs. My critiquing aside, very well done on your non-stop accent of Chinese Peak – a definite accomplishment!

    By the way, I’ve been praying to the FSM, asking for an easy route around that “one steep section of the route where you do have to hike your bike up a rocky part” and I’m pretty sure God has heard my prayers and will provide for us this coming spring. Ramen. Oh… and that section is quite rideable, but it is difficult (and does benefit from ride-fast-to-prevent-falling).

  • Fine, fine… I’ll make some time to do some trail rides with you and you can teach me a thing or thirty. ;-p

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