I joined a road team this year. I think it had something to do with trying something different. My local club were keen to get a women’s development team going and it seemed like a good way to keep fit.
I wasn’t so much interested in events in a competitive sense, but I liked the idea of working with a team. And I had a secret desire to Jens Voigt myself – dig as deep as I could to help someone across the line who cares about winning more than I do. I like the idea of discovering how hard I can push myself if I don’t have to keep something in reserve for the last few sections of singletrack.
The Jensing hasn’t happened yet; a matter of having picked the wrong races or the wrong categories, perhaps. If I’m on my own, a flat road just doesn’t motivate me to pedal the way the promise of sweet singletrack does. In fact, what I’ve learned most from the road is how proud I am to be a mountain biker.
Things I thought were common to cycling more generally are actually more particular to mountain biking. Perhaps I’d lost sight of the forest for the trees.
So, six things I forgot I love about mountain biking:
1. That you’re always guaranteed of having fun on a ride. Unlike other forms of cycling, how much fun you have doesn’t depend on the pace of the group. You can punch hard through some singletrack, practice new skills, try to see how far you can go without touching the brakes. There’s always something new to discover whenever you hit the trails, and this always makes you a better rider as a result.
2. People don’t care so much about how you look. Despite keeping an open mind about roadie stuff, people keep reminding me I’m a mountain biker. I’ve been told it’s weird to wear jeans on the podium, asked to remove the visor from my helmet 15 seconds before a race start, asked to remove my hat for photos. Someone told me the backpack I was wearing on a bunch ride created wind drag. Good. Cause the bunch ride was really slow. And in my bag was everything I needed for the rest of the day. Like jeans and a hat.
3. You can be self-sufficient at a race and still have a chance. I like being able to leave a few biddons on a table, fix my own mechanicals, and carry spares on my back. Self-sufficiency is valued on the dirt. And being self-sufficient doesn’t mean you’ll loose sight of the bunch and wonder whether you should DNF to save your legs.
4. Event websites give you a good idea about the atmosphere you can expect on the day. I keep reminding myself that people new to mountain biking probably find it hard to find out too much information on a basic club race. But of the road races I’ve entered, I too often end up asking other people about the rules, where to go, what to plan or expect. I can’t seem to find it out online. Having said that, the events I’ve entered have cost a lot less and the infrastructure fairly basic.
5. I love that if I rock up to a mountain bike ride I can completely knacker myself whatever the overall speed of the group. Do this on the road and you’ll leave everyone for dead, or be left for dead – knackered by default, just for trying to hold on. A mountain bike race is my own personal time trial. And social rides are more start/stop, which keeps everyone together. Plus people bring different skills and speed to different sections of trail. I’ve never ridden behind someone I didn’t learn from.
6. There are categories at races for women. That doesn’t mean that there are always people competing in these categories, but at least they are there. You can race with the guys, but feel valued as a female. And if you’re lucky to land on a podium, it’s a really nice way to meet other riders who are into the sport in a similar way to you. I came second in a fictitious women’s category at a road event recently. It bummed me out that I never got to shake hands with the winner, say g’day and compare thoughts on the day.
There is still a lot that I’ve really enjoyed from discovering a different way of riding: new friends, new pacing strategies, riding in a large group, different event challenges, tactics and dynamics. But it’s nice to be reminded that the six simple things above are as important to the fun, inclusive feel of mountain biking as knobbly tyres and a big, dusty grin.