I can manual therefore I'm 100% a mountain biker.

In over twenty years of riding off-road perhaps 18 or so people have come out with me on a regular basis. Some last for a summer, others for a few years. What, apart from eventually stopping their self induced torture, have they all shared in common?
  • 100% of them never bothered to invest in a map, or even consult one. Really, not a single person I ever rode with actually knew where they were at any given time.
  • 95% were not mechanically minded. Only one was really, but he was a nuclear scientist.
  • 50% were surprised that cycling off-road involved hills. One actually collapsed onto the ground after a very moderate incline. And I mean moderate, like 5%.
  • 70% had issues with the weather, often being surprised to find the trails wet.
  • Cotton is the material of choice for most people.
  • Quite a few got half way, stopped for a brew, then realised that they'd bought no spare clothing to stand around in.
  • One claimed to have ridden to Greece, yet this same person, on one ride, caught the train back after eight miles riding, and another got his wife to pick him up one mile from home. Another time he got three miles away before calling for collection by car.

Now this sounds negative. I don't mean it to; it's just how it was. At no point did I diss any rider for lacking map reading skills, or have issues with them wearing cotton t-shirts and shorts in the rain. I always took the pragmatic view that if I didn't mother these people to a degree, then I'd always ride solo. But in reality there must have been 'looks' or sarcastic comments, as 18 partners in twenty years is a poor show isn't it? I'm probably an hard person to get on with. But even so, I think it poor form that people - and here I'm talking specifically about AD or KD - come out for rides week in week out for years, and never bother to buy a map. There's following people, and then there's being a lazy git expecting to be constantly mothered, and then getting all huffy when you finally stop and ask them to man up.

But really, it did seem that a lot of people figured that mountain biking was a joyful, youthful thing to do that didn't really involve too much committment to learning rather basic, off bike skills. People would come out, and be rather surprised by just about every element of a ride. Map reading? Listening to a weather forecast? Getting fit? Cleaning a bike and oiling a chain? Surely none of that applies to riding around in the woods does it? I rather suspect that when it finally dawned on these people that one day, just one day, they may well need to involve themselves in one of these tedious chores, then they gave up.

Yet the magazines simply promote the notion that you can be 100% gnar if all you do is learn to manual, or buy a flash bike. Sorry people, but if you really want to get something out of this mountain biking mallarcky then one day you really do need to invest a bit of time in what are seen as the more boring aspects of the sport. But do you know what? On a cold, snowy winters' evening it can be a great motivator to sit down with a beer and study a map, or seek out new routes on Google Earth. Or that learning some very basic maintenance or repair skills will pay you back big time out on the trail, giving you the confidence to ride solo now and then. Listening to the weather forecast may well mean you beat the elements and actually have some fun instead of getting cold and wet. You never know, learning these basic things may well mean you having a proper adventure one day instead of pretending to. It's one thing to follow, but another entirely to take ownership of a ride and lead.


  1. Great post! Great blog!
    I think I saw you last Sunday coming down from Colley Hill (I was going up). One of these days maybe I'll try to get in touch and try to ride with you.
    All the best!

  2. It was a great day to be out though wasn't it? I don't bite, and am always happy to play. Thanks for the positive comments - it's just a bit of fun this thing, but it's nice to know people actually read the thing.


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