If you’ve done this sport/lifestyle/modus operandi long enough, you begin to collect pieces of cycling. Mud on your tires, bits of random bike skeletons in the parts bin, god-awful bike-event t-shirts, and if you’re doing it right, you also gather Bike Friends.
Your Bike Friends are not like those other friends. These are not intended for public consumption. They are often the rag-tag misfits of their other social circles, the fringe dwellers of the mainstream that are only truly home with their own kind. Bike Friendship is a secret society. A backwards Eyes Wide Shut world where mountain biking is when we take our masks off and show each other who we truly are amongst the only people that will really understand. By most metrics that society measures, Bike Friends are terrible friends.
They are the people that your mother warned you about.
They will get you lost in the wilderness.
They will leave crumbs in your freshly vacuumed car, grease on the seats, and probably leave the dome light on.
They will drink all your beer.
They will keep you out all night and expect you to ride with them first thing in the morning.
They will convince you of completely unrealistic time frames for your return home and consistently anger your significant other.
They are the devil on your shoulder that encourages you to go bigger, faster, further than you know you should.
They will get you into trouble.
They will convince you terrible decisions are good.
You might find yourself on a fixie at 3a.m. skidding sideways down an ice-covered street evading the capitol police after sessioning the local college football stadium. For example.
You might watch in horror as they steal your cruiser for a naked criterium around your house.
You might be bamboozled into a cross-country road trip to watch the mountain bike World Championships and “check out Vail” with exactly 15 minutes notice.
They will laugh when you crash.
They will laugh when you snap your frame, taco a wheel or detonate a tire.
They will laugh at your blood.
They will teach you bad habits. If you meet them early enough in your life they will corrupt you forever. With enough exposure they will become the best friends you will ever have because it is the unconventional metrics of our particular sub-culture which matter more.
You will find them at your side as you experience the most beautiful places on the planet.
They will be looking back at you with goofy unarticulatable understanding as you attempt in vain to translate into meaningful words the intersection of speed, challenge and ability as you recap that awesome descent you just nailed. They are there with you at the mountaintop of those bad choices, the hike-a-bikes gone horribly awry, the missed turns, the faded maps, the therapy sessions when you’re low, the celebratory rides when you’re high.
They tend to be there when you need them the most, and have whatever it takes to save your ass; be that a spare tube, a spare link, a cold-one in the parking lot or a Personal Locator Beacon to call in the cavalry.
They are spirit guides from an ethereal plane who vibrate down to human frequencies and blur reality with road trips and big rides enough to remind us that the true outsiders in the world are the sad masses who never live like we do. Passionless, safe, vanilla existences with boring friends and no good stories to tell.
Before you know it, 20 years have gone by and you’ve grown up and you’re still chumming around with the same rough crowd. And you realize that YOU TURNED OUT JUST LIKE THEM. The deviants and miscreants. The outlaws and mutants. Brothers. Sisters. All linked by an unlikely and simple machine. Even with perfect strangers there can be an almost instant connection. A tell-tale sticker on a water bottle. An empty bike rack atop a car. Cycling socks worn with business shoes. Weird tan-lines.
The bicycle sews together lives in strange and beautiful ways. The Mountain Bike Life is best lived as a shared experience. If none of this makes sense to you dear reader, if the bike people you know are all very responsible and civil and respectable than it is quite possible that you are a Triathlete and none of this will apply. Don’t bother trying to relate this to your Garmin Connect Contacts. You are excused from fun. Go back to your powermeter and swimming lessons.
For the rest of you… your homework is to gather your Bike Friends and go crank out some bad ideas. Plan a trip. Ride something over your heads. Wobble on down to happy hour and challenge some locals to a curb-slide contest. Go be the best (worst) Bike Friend you know how to be and dare someone to do the same for you.