The Mountain Bike Life

In this high-profile world of full-page glossy magazine photos taken in ever more exotic locales it is easy to lose focus on the trails in our own backyards. It seems that the natural progression of our sport has pushed the boundaries to an extreme that it requires riding on a glacier into a fjord shuttled by clydesdales during an eclipse on next-years prototype bikes to get noticed anymore. It can make our local trails seem more than mundane. Maybe even a little…. dare I say… boring. I have fallen for this greener-grass-ism myself. As a middle-western expat I spent my youth dreaming of the places I had never ridden, far-flung bicycle meccas beyond the horizon. Cycling never-lands that captured my imagination and paled my local trails by comparison. It was easy for me, as an impressionable youngster to believe incorrectly that somewhere out there were the “real” trails, and that somehow the hype and publicity of those other places invalidated the riding that I was doing. My flat little 10 mile loop of twisty rooty Wisconsin singletrack seemed a little vanilla. I was fixated on the Prom Queen, and forgot all about the Girl Next Door.

Home Sweet Home

In overlooking the proverbial Girl Next Door we rob ourselves of one of the great joys of mountain biking. The deep personal knowledge of a particular trail. Complete intimacy with a trail. Understanding of each berm and switchback; the exact price tolled by the climb and the precise value of the descent on the other side. This is not a trivial gift: it is the bounty of many hours and days, sometimes over the course of years. Paid for in sweat and sometimes in blood. It is an advantage given against an unfamiliar yet evenly-matched rival, or a chance versus and unevenly-matched one. It is a yardstick by which personal progress can be measured. It is more often than not this trail is the anvil upon which a rider is hammered, and the garden in which skills and speed and stamina are cultivated. Many of the miles spent here are gratuitous. A booty-call of convenience not necessarily of preference. The trail we ride because it is close to home or on the way home from work, easy to get to or easy to meet up. But these are the base miles and the known features. Here we redo that techy move on a climb again and again until we get it right. We practice a blown corner or challenge ourselves to clean an entire climb- no breaks, no dabs. We refine our lines, try out new gear, make adjustments and become more perfect riders thanks to our imperfect trails.

Start them early

There will always be shangri-la bike destinations on our bucket lists, places just beyond our immediate reach to tempt us. But it’s the trails in our own backyards that make us who we are. Next time you ride where you always ride, take a fresh look. Ride it the other direction. Ride it as slow as you possible can. Give the Girl Next Door a second glance. She might impress you.

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