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The Shame, Glory and Persistence of Learning to Mountain Bike

—by guest blogger Jeanne Eisenhaure 

Let’s get this out of the way: I’m a beginner mountain biker with just two seasons under my chamois. I’m here to share a perspective that I rarely received while getting started shredding the trails.

For a bit of context, I live in Boulder, Colorado. This is a town where I’m out biked by 6 year olds, athletic gear is often worn to business meetings and every athlete I meet (AKA everyone) has been doing their sport for a minimum of 10 years.  A quick note for those who have been ripping for 10 years—you don’t remember what it is like to be a beginner. This leaves us beginners feeling terrible and wondering what’s wrong with us for not being able to keep up.

I’m two seasons into mountain biking, which for me means that I still truly remember what it’s like to be a beginner, and secondly, that I’m actually starting to have fun. I am hoping my experience will help the beginners out there keep trying.

Season 1 

My psych level was high when I began my mountain biking journey. So many of my friends love knobby tires and I was eager to get in on the fun. Then the reality of starting a new sport in adulthood begins.

To start, I hit the trail wearing all hand-me-down clothing and gear, looking about as fashionable as I did wearing my older brothers hand-me-downs when I was 8, but feeling about 10 percent as cool.

I begin with a few patient friends on easy trails in Boulder; I get off my bike more times than I can count. I crash, I tip over and I feel like a total a-hole. I hate holding up the group, and my ego is in shambles over being so bad at something. All of a sudden, mountain biking on even easy trails becomes something I dread.

I mean WTF? I’m athletic and I bike commute every day (and even write about it for my blog Bike Stylish). Why is mountain biking so scary?

I’m embarrassed of getting scared and walking on the sections my friends cruise through—this is hard and I kind of hate it. Yet I continue to go out and experience moments of joy in a sea of stress. I think of this stage of learning to ride as Type 2 Fun. What I mean by Type 2 Fun is fun that is only fun in hindsight, but may be horrible and stressful in the moment.

I wanted to give up, but I kept seeing how much fun my friends were having. So instead of stopping, I figured, “If I do this enough, at some point it will be truly fun.”

Season 2

Is it possible to progress backwards? If so, that’s the way my second season began. Time off the bike during the winter seemed to make me more timid and stiff than I had ever been before.

With season two I was almost back to the square one, but with two differences. First, a small change was switching back to platforms from clipless pedals (the pedals you clip into; as a non-techie cyclist, this is the most confusing/dumbest cycling term ever). For me, getting comfortable on the trails without being attached to the bike made a huge difference in my confidence, creating a less committing environment in which to learn to ride.

Second, I committed to ride more frequently. Regular sessions on the local beginner/intermediate trail systems above Boulder, and visiting Valmont Bike Park, made a huge difference. The Ten Thousand Hours rule applies to Mountain Biking too. Meaning, if you want to get better you have to do it a lot. You have to push through your discomfort, get the miles in, and laugh at yourself A LOT.
 
Finally, in the middle of last summer on a road trip out to Oregon, a trip with numerous mountain bike days in a row, there was a switch. All of a sudden, mountain biking became fun. That’s Type 1 Fun, i.e., REAL FUN, fun in the moment, fun like I’m racing down the trails feeling like I’m on a speeder riding through Endor’s forest (Star Wars anyone?).

Now just because I hit a tipping point doesn’t mean I don’t still get off my bike, feel embarrassed, and have times when I cry while mountain biking. But at least the embarrassment and crying don’t happen on every ride. My best piece of advice is go to your local bike trails, use whatever equipment you have, look dumb, laugh at yourself and just keep riding. Trust me, before you realize, the fear you feel now will be transformed into stoke.

If you need a little more inspiration, I recommend checking out a short film I made about Dan Proudfoot and why he’s inspired to get outside and push through his discomfort. Watch it all the way through, he gives some great advice. Without further ado, check out Dan IRL.

— An entrepreneurship junkie, Jeanne Eisenhaure is excited by innovation that improves the world. She has been described as aggressively social and thrives from the energy gained from connecting people, ideas, and good old fashion hard work. Jeanne works with her creative agency Jett DIGiTAL to produce video content and strategic communications campaigns for businesses who want to change the world for the better. A master storyteller, idea maker and most importantly a doer, Jeanne makes things happen. Jeanne’s vision is to help businesses do WELL and do GOOD. A cycling advocate, she started Bike Stylish as a blog focused on advice, DIY solutions, and gear reviews to help everyone commute by bike. Connect with Jeanne on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and her favorite platform, YouTube & be sure to follow her biking exploits on Bike Stylish’s Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.
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Comments

Thanks

I'm a newbie with only one season and only a handful of rides under my belt. I have only gone on one group ride. It caused me so much anxiety because I held up the group, no matter how gracious they were. I think I have finally found some easy trails to get my feet wet and am looking forward to getting back in the saddle as soon as possible. It's nice to know I'm not the only one, thank you for your post.

The Next Level

As a male and new to the sport (this was my 3rd summer) it is no different. I crashed a lot, switched to platforms and was the tail end of every group ride. It went from evolution (ride a lot and you'll figure it out) to revolution after I took a Better Ride clinic . http://betterride.net At 58 years of age I felt like a real nerd going to "camp", but it dramatically changed my skill level and my level of enjoyment. Andy Winohradsky was the instructor. http://www.dirtsmartmtb.com I still do the drills he shared with us. I am faster, have greatly reduced the number of crashes and absolutely love it.

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