Bring together your two greatest loves: riding and spending time with your partner. Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it. But combining the two ain’t always easy.
When I first started mountain biking, my partner Chris did most of his riding on the way to work. He’d earnt his stripes on the streets, or wings, or whatever it is your local city council owes urban riders who brave rush-hour traffic. But riding singletrack, that was my domain.
For four glorious months, I was the fitter, stronger and more skilled rider at our house. But I was determined to inflic- oops, I mean share my new-found passion with Chris.
My lad’s integration to mountain biking was a work in progress. We had some hurdles – our first race together almost didn’t happen because he wanted to go car camping. (Some speculative tales about growing spider and snake populations at the campsite got him to review that decision.)
Even now, Chris politely rejects my every suggestion about bikes and kit – from dual suspension to lycra knicks – only to ‘come up with the idea’ himself some time later. And then spend months telling me how great idea they are.
But, hey, it’s a system, and it works. And the bottom line is we get to head out and have fun on the bikes.
If your partner (boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, lover, soon-to-be-lover, etc) is still warming to riding singletrack, there are some things you can do to help make your partner’s introduction fun and give him or her more confidence on the bike, so you both have a blast from the get-go.
1. Know your goals
Think about what you really want to achieve.
If you want to ride with your partner, choose tracks and trails with the kind of obstacles your partner will find challenging but possible. If you want to go hard and push some boundaries, like you do when you hit the trails with your friends, go ride with your friends.
2. Get your partner a bike
You know your old hardtail? You know the bike I’m talking about – the one at the back of the shed. Yep, that cruddy old grinder you used to ride. Do not try giving that old clanger to your partner – unless you want your ride to end in disaster. There’s a reason you stopped riding that old bike. And those reasons stand.
Get your partner on a good bike; one that fits them properly and is made for the kind of riding they are trying. Actually, get your partner on the best bike you can find.
Beg, borrow or hire – or put it on Visa.
All those arguments you use to justify buying newer, lighter bikes for yourself should come into play here. But this time, they are not going to add up to a new bike for you. If your partner is to have any hope of keeping up with a hill-climbing mountain goat like you, they will need every technological advantage the bike industry can offer.
3. Wear yourself out
I know it’s counter-intuitive, but if your partner is new to riding, he or she will struggle to keep up with you, even if you go as slow as you can manage. So do everyone a favour and go for a nice long pedal before you head out with your other half. Getting rid of some beans will calm you down a bit and it will reduce the disparity in energy levels between you and your love.
If a 50-kay pre-ride ride doesn’t do the job, try some self-sabotage.
Choose harder gears, try some impromptu single-speed riding or do dreadful things to your tyre pressure. Do whatever it takes to make it harder for you to gap your partner.
Oh yeah, and don’t tell your significant other about these self-imposed handicaps. So no gloating in the post-ride debrief, and definitely no bragging to your friends later. Very uncool.
4. Look the part
Getting your partner in riding gear that feels comfortable is crucial. But before you go dragging your new riding partner through the lycra section of your local bike shop or buying all things pink or black on eBay, give your partner a chance to make some decisions.
There’s feeling comfortable, and then there’s being at ease. Some might not be ready to be seen in public in the latest lycra cling-wrap cycling jersey splashed with logos from your favourite bike brands.
She might want to wear her favourite yoga top or she might want to wear baggies over those expensive knicks you bought her. He may not like those bright colours you found that perfectly match his bike. They might not be your idea of ‘proper cycling kit,’ but does that really matter? If they feel comfortable enough to leave the house, it’s all good, I say.
5 Keep it fun
I know – what could be more fun than screeching down dirt tracks?
But trust me, learning to mountain bike is about giving those personal limits a nudge, and that can be exhausting. So you need to make sure your partner gets some positive reinforcement to complement the countless charges of adrenalin and ‘oh-shit-I’m-gonna-fall/die/look-silly moments they will get.
So try this three-pronged approach.
Make it easy to succeed. Do not fall into that trap of pushing your partner to try something beyond what he or she feels confident trying. Choose the easiest rides you can find and work your way up. Head out on a super-easy loop for your warm-up lap, and slowly increase the challenges in terrain and duration, so your partner has a chance to build their skills and confidence. That way, they will feel like they’re achieving right from the start.
Don’t drag it out. Your partner is new to mountain biking. This is not the time to head out on that 60-kay loop everyone says is easy. Give your partner lots of options. A concentrated network of trails is best, because you can do lots of short loops, meaning you and your partner can adapt your plans to suit how your partner is riding on the day. Trailheads with cafes are even better. (It’s an established fact that, taken at regular intervals, coffee and cake can have a significant positive effect on riding performance.) And call it a day as soon as you notice your partner is getting tired.
Finish with a treat. As well as spoiling your partner with regular stops for coffee and snack, schedule in an established treat for your partner after the ride. This is really important. Your partner just tried something new – because you asked them to. So now you need to give back. Take your partner to their favourite sushi or beer garden or vegan lentil bar or whatever, and kick back and have a laugh. If your partner wants to talk about the ride, keep the conversation on your partner’s riding; talk up their achievements. Make sure they know how proud you are and how much you liked sharing that ride, and with a spot of luck they will be keen to go out riding with you again.