My first mountain bike ride

Posted by SuperClydesdale on July 15, 2010 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

I had a great new experience today that may change my life:  I rode a mountain bike.  I’ve been riding bikes for years, but outside of cruising around a campground, I never rode a mountain bike.  Today was different: a real mountain bike, mountain bike shoes, and a trail off into the hills.  And the star thistle.  And the poison oak.  And the rocks – lots of rocks.

It certainly wasn’t the easiest trail to take for my first ride – the Darrington/Salmon Falls Trail just North of Folsom Lake in the Sacramento Area, and where Salmon Falls Road crosses what had been the South Fork of the American River.  These days, it’s just a finger of Folsom Lake.    Salmon Falls Road itself and the ascent from the river is a very popular, albeit difficult, ride in the Sacramento region.  The 2010 Amgen Tour of California went right past the parking lot at the trailhead.

The beginning ½ mile of the Salmon Falls Trail has some very narrow, steep sections with plenty of rocks, some massive ones that the trail hugged, with a steep drop on the other side, and others jutting up from the trail.  There were also countless rocks lying loose on the trail — anywhere from the size of my fist to a watermelon.  Don’t have a lot of that in my road rides – even here in El Dorado County, California.   Actually, there is a road about two miles from my house that has a big rock sticking up right in the middle of the road, but that’s very unusual – and beside the point.  On this part of the ride, I could see that one wrong move, and I could tumble 50 feet down a cliff.  I found out later (probably a good thing it was later) that a guy actually died about three years ago at that same point.  He fell off.  That was about 50 feet into my first ride.  I probably should have picked an easier trail for my first ride.

But, after that first stressful 1/2 mile or so, the trail was reasonably tame.

The ride report can be quickly summarized as this:  It was perhaps one of the funnest things I’ve done… outside.  This mountain bike thing could be addictive.

While exciting and fun, my first ride was also a bit humbling.  The pace was slow at times.  Really slow.  As a morale boost, I got passed by some runners – I’m sure they were world-class endurance runners training for the Western States because no mere mortal could have run past me.  My excuse, in addition to the rocks and the fear of imminent death, is that I was still learning to shift – mountain bike shifting isn’t tough, but making a fast decision going down a steep, tight turn is going to take time.  Worse yet, not being in the right gear when you hit a sudden steep (and rocky) rise is death — I ended up getting stranded in the wrong gear a couple of times and had to step out of the pedal.  For some reason, that feels really stupid — I am assuming that as I get more experience, I will be able to anticipate my shifting needs a little better and keep my stranded moments to a minimum.

If you climb over some nasty terrain, the Viagra speed drops to near zero.   I feel like I’m on an indoor trainer – pedaling feverishly, but not going anywhere.  The good part:   it’s all leading up to an exciting (and potentially terrifying) descent.

Some of the climbs are so steep that my front wheel was coming off of the dirt.  Weight transfer is really critical.  Being able to quickly transfer forward while climbing, and back – way back – while descending is a key skill to master.  Standing up on a steep climb seems to mean that you’ll spin out.  Just lean way forward over the handlebars and crank it.

Mountain biking is also dangerous.  If you enjoy speed – and I do — you are going to crash.  It’s just a matter of time.  I can see that this is very similar to snowboarding in that you really need to constantly be studying where you’re going and start making decisions based on what’s coming up.   Also like snowboarding, I can see that soon I will feel familiar enough to start picking up my speed, and that could lead to some spectacular and painful crashes.  At that moment when you start to lose respect for the situation and the consequences, you’ll do something stupid and have an incredibly painful reminder that you’re not ready to do that quite yet.

After my inaugural ride, I think a couple of immediate changes are  in order:

  1. Getting rid of the egg-beater pedals.  The bike has Crank Bros egg-beaters in the middle of a pedal platform, and it makes it difficult to click in.  I used to ride my road bike for years with mountain bike pedals and the Shimano SPD system is so easy, I can lock in without looking.  The eggbeaters are just not that simple.  I’m sure just plain eggbeaters without the platform around them would be easier, but I don’t want to pay for another set of pedals when I know that SPDs work well and I have a couple of sets of them just sitting around.
  2. Getting a remote-adjustable seat post.  I was coming down a couple of steep sections and had to get way back, to where the seat is right in my stomach.  In that position, I lose some maneuverability.  If I could drop the seat without stopping, lower it so it’s not in my gut, then raise it after the descent, I think I would get more confidence descending.  I saw a Crank Brothers Joplin on-line for $200.  That could work.
  3. Padding?  Would that make me look like a total dork?  Some of those rocks are freakin’ sharp!  If I’m hauling ass down a steep and narrow descent, the idea of pads sounds pretty good.  I’ve not seen cross-country mountain-bikers with padding.  Bleeding, yes – padding, no.   Downhillers are the ones wearing all the pads.  I recall going up to NorthStar at Tahoe in the summer and seeing all the guys with their downhill mountain bikes taking the chair lift up.  Those guys looked like they were preparing for some sort of nerdy modern day gladiator battle.  They also didn’t look very fit, many of them.  Good thing they were taking the chair lift up, I don’t think some of those guys could climb a flight of stairs, let alone ride up a hill on a mountain bike.

Add A Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.