The Bike That Started It All
I remember the first time I drove a car. More clearly, I remember the first time I crashed a car (wet road, hair-pin turn, blew a ‘racing shift’. You get the idea). I still remember the first girl I said “I love you” to, as well as the long and sordid story behind how that crashed and burned. I couldn’t tell you the first time I crashed a bike (though I do have a glorious memory of playing “how slow can I go” down a log step at ~6 years old. As it turns out, not quite that slowly), but I can certainly remember when I fell in love with riding, and the lovely little bit of metal that made it happen.
The bike, like many things as kid number 3, was a hand-me-down. She was a beautiful piece of aluminum, purchased by my dad admittedly because he liked the colours on this one more than any other at the shop. By today’s standards, she’s almost garish – bright green, transitioning into a deep blue, sun-faded and rock-bitten. It also has an integrated 120mm stem, something for which I seem to unavoidably get laughed at by the people I ride past in B.C. Occasionally, though, I’ll come across some of the Old Guard, people that actually stop on the trails and ask to check her out.
It was fantastic, finally reaching the point where I was good enough to handle myself on this thing. I came from an absolute tank of a Hardrock (my own fault, I was enamoured with disc brakes and wasn’t experienced enough on trails to understand why I might not want a chromoly mammoth), and ho lee shit was there a world of difference. You know how perfect your bike feels the instant you hop on, after being away for a couple weeks? That’s what the Attitude felt like. Even with my dad’s old Bontrager racing saddle and hellish uncomfortable SPD pedals, this thing just felt right. I think the first time I actually rode it was about halfway through one of our annual vacations to Sunriver, when my older brother decided against coming with us on a trail ride. The first serious downhill made me consider whether I had made a smart decision – going from chromoly with 140mm front travel and mechanical discs to a rigid aluminium frame with cantilevers is … difficult, to say the least. The first uphill, though, was absolutely fantastic. 27 pounds “heavy”, and probably about as close to complete energy transfer as you’ll ever get off-road. Everything in between the ups and downs was great, too: the gearing on this thing goes from 46:12 to 24:28.
As anyone that rides knows, bikes need maintenance (especially when you live in the PNW). As an unemployed high school student, there really aren’t an awful lot of choices when it comes to getting the work done. A: it doesn’t, or B: you do it yourself. Perhaps it was my habit of procrastinating, my love of getting absolutely filthy, or maybe just my odd habit of personifying objects so I feel guilty neglecting them. Whatever it was, I decided I would take everything I could apart, clean it off, figure out how it worked, and put it back together. It was a long, difficult, dirty, and somewhat bloody task – not much had been done to the bike, short of the occasional coat of oil. Undoubtedly worth it, though. I think I must have learned more just taking it apart than I did in my entire course on mechanics, and putting it back together (without any funny noises or spare bits) was just as enlightening. Readers that are new to riding, I would suggest y’all get started on this. Once you’ve taken apart your rear derailleur, brushed it to within an inch of its life with a spare toothbrush, and put it back together, you will have both a much better idea of how it works, and why whatever is going wrong is going wrong. If you’re really lucky, you might even know how to fix it, without needing to yell at anything!
If you’re looking for a take-away message from this post, the best you’re gonna get is “take your ride apart every now and again.” I’ll be honest with you; this was mostly just a trip down memory lane for me. I doubt the feelings are unique to myself, though – I’m pretty sure the majority of you lovely readers have at least a vague memory of when you realized riding was going to be a major part of your life. Mountain biking is so much more than just something we do for fun, and our bikes are so much more than just a tool. Drop me a comment, tell us your story!