From Togs to Cogs
by Scott Tinley
I can find little fault with running. Indeed, I have publicly proclaimed on many occasions that if I had to choose only one aerobic activity it would be running. In recent years, though, I have discovered an activity that not only complements its linear motion, but seems to have been invented as the perfect antithesis of running's mechanically conservative culture.
By any comparison, mountain biking is a young sport. It has existed in some form for barely 20 years, not quite long enough to acquire the tradition nor the baggage of our more mature endeavors. Yet it continues to offer a completely unique view of outdoor aerobic activity. For the runner looking to complement their training and racing with a different form of locomotion, mountain biking fits the bill.
The first thing a runner has to realize is that their image as a conservative, well-disciplined, properly-ordered individual is at stake. Not to say that you will stop by the tattoo parlor on your way home from your first ride, but realize that the very nature of riding a bike over some challenging and soul-inspiring terrain will make you question why all your socks in the drawer are color coded.
Mountain biking is not only for the multi-pierced Gen-Xer. It does, however, free up your thinking.
The first thing you will need is not a bike. No. The first item (on my list, anyway) is attitude. Not the stereotypical cavalier of a tormented youth, but a sense of exploration and wanderlust that may not be a part of the psyche that motivates your two-and-a-half-mile jog around the block. This new found attitude is not only innately woven in the subculture of mountain biking, it is paramount for performance bike handling. In other words, if you are concentrating on that tax audit as you approach a rocky, single-track descent, it is nearly impossible to relax your shoulders enough to absorb the bumps and float over tree ruts that resemble your protruding veins.
The right "attitude" is made up of equal parts bravado, complacency, respect and a proprietary form of muted fear. Act like it's no big deal only after you've done the big deal.
Once the attitude is in place, you can go on to the enviable task of procuring the rest of your equipment. This will include a mountain bike (duh), shoes and, most important of all, protective gear. Gen-Xers might be unruly, depressed and solemn, but they are NOT stupid. Any person, living or dead, who values what they have (or don't have and hope to acquire through the lottery), always rides with a helmet, gloves, padded shorts and protective glasses. It may not be the law to ride with a helmet, but it is a cultural law among the offroad set. I will not ride with a bare-headed person, and I do not respect anyone who would ride with me if I showed up without my helmet.
Once you're set up with all the right stuff, you are ready to go. Go where? What if you live in the middle of a concrete jungle? Not to worry. It's quite simple. All the best places to ride are as close as your local underground bike shop.
I'm not talking about the places where they sell skateboards and cheap mass market kids' bikes built in Burma. You have to find the place where the hard core dudes spend most of their waking hours and the air smells of gourmet coffee, incense and spray-on chain lube. Do not be intimidated. These folks are almost always friendly to a fault. Wouldn't you be if all you did all day was ride your mountain bike, drink lattes and talk shop with the boys? Go in, ask them where they ride, how to get there, which path to avoid on Thursday because of the dogs - all that kind of stuff. I live in a city of two million people, but I can go on a two-hour ride right from my front door and not see more than a handful of people (and they're cool because they don't work a real job, either). All because I have found the right places.
After you have entered this new world, a few things will become obvious. First of all, it is easy to fall down. Second, it is even easier to get up, because you probably aren't hurt (cuts and scrapes don't count unless you hit an artery) and you are having so much fun that you can't wait to get moving again. Therein lies one of the biggest differences between running and mountain biking. Mountain biking is FUN.
The other big difference is that you will now be able to cover a lot more ground than if you were simply putting one foot in front of the other. You will see new trails in a shorter period of time, especially if you go fast.
One word of caution here. You can get hurt when the telephone poles start to look like a picket fence. Pay your dues at human speeds first before embarking on uncharted territory.
So there you have it, a new sport that will add strength and endurance to your running, a few new words to your vocabulary and a few cool scars to your elbows. Please, though, leave the neon shorts at home.
Scott Tinley is a runner for life, a mountain-biker-come-lately and a two-time winner of the Ironman Triathlon World Championships.