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Beat up that Bike

Embrace the joy of getting out beyond yourself.

I am not very nice to bikes. But look, that’s a good thing. My first mountain bike was a fully-rigid Giant Iguana, circa 1989 or so. I was working in a restaurant in downtown Boston and used the thing mostly to get back and forth to work (and I only got doored twice commuting through the city). One day a coworker suggested we go mountain biking after our shift—“use these bikes for what they were designed to do.” But they weren’t. Not really. We did have fun on them, though. We braved traffic and pedaled out to a spot just outside of the city where broken glass and used needles were bigger dangers than drops on the trail and rode something approaching singletrack. Bikes could do this. We scraped on rocks, broke rear derailleurs, and snapped chains—but did we ever enjoy the thrill and the rebellion of bringing our bikes out here. I still don’t know if they were even technically allowed. Mountain biking was still a fringe sport in places like Crested Butte. Medford, Massachusetts had bigger problems to worry about than some punks riding bikes on rocks.

When I moved out West, I brought my bike. At first, I only explored cow paths and old roads, but soon I had the experience of real singletrack. Soon I upgraded to a bike that could provide a bit more—the classic Schwinn Moab, with grip shifters. I put that ride to the test. Living in Seattle, I met Isaac Stokes who would soon not just become a dear friend but also a dedicated riding companion. I was in grad school; Isaac sort of in law school. We both had a lot of time on our hands. And, oh, did I do some damage to that poor Moab. A chain tool became our best friend and we spent what little income we had on endless tubes as we explored the Cascades from Enumclaw to Ellensburg and snake-bit countless tires along the way. But between the breakdowns, there was so much joy. Truly, there’s nothing like finding the flow of singletrack. You let the bike follow the trail, just sort of trimming the breaks. And there is the joy of getting deep into the mountains, where you really are not sure if a bike can go, and sometimes stopping and taking in the waterfalls and the views of volcanoes covered in glaciers. And sometimes breaking down and not being stressed about it. Just pull out the pump and tire irons and enjoy the respite. At least that’s what we told ourselves.

Somehow, I roped my wife, Radha, into this lifestyle too. When we moved to Lyons, Colorado, we lived right next to Hall Ranch. She had an inexpensive Specialized city bike. “Sure, you can use it as a mountain bike,” I told her. And for some reason, she believed me. When we rode Fruita for the first time, I was going to stop her from coming down a rocky spot on that thing—but she was already down. That bike rode the Monarch Crest. She didn’t know or care that it was not the right bike. Until, of course, she did get a real mountain bike—and wanted to kill me.

Some of this may be hyperbole and I now pedal advanced, beautiful bikes on the trail, bikes made for the job. But there is something I miss about the spirt of beating up a street bike in a place it really wasn’t made to go. There’s still some of that in the way I ride, I guess. I get out there. I push it. I find joy in the absurdity of biking in the woods. I don’t really advocate being mean to your bike. But I do hope you get out on the trail, on the gravel, and push it. Literally. A good push is good for the soul. Or so you say when your bike breaks down.

Photo Cover: Radha marcum flows through goblin valley singletrack.

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