My MTB journey has seen me learning to ride a bike as a child with next to no assistance or practice. I created stolen opportunities in my childhood to ride my older sister’s Malvern Star in the 1970’s, or my friend’s brother’s bike on the cul-de-sac where she lived. As a young teenager I got my hands on a second hand road bike which I took on a youth bike camp across the Lockyer Valley; I rode it on Guide ‘bike hikes’; and I laboured to ride it occasionally round the paddock where I lived in a fringe urban area that was once thriving farm land.
As a young adult I enjoyed riding my bike on the road and bike paths with my husband who was an experienced road and track cyclist. But the back and neck aches that followed made it difficult to stay motivated. Longingly I eyed off these new-fangled bikes with flat bars so you could ride in a more upright position. I was truly grateful for the new position and comfort that my new bike provided, and continued to ride on bike paths and quiet roads in my neighbourhood.
A few years gap between rides took place when I was a young mother. I didn’t feel comfortable having a baby strapped to the back of my bike, and I definitely felt far from stable or safe!
When I did finally get my bike out again, I was living in a rural area, and with no paved roads or bike paths in coo-ee, I found, quite shockingly, that it was really easy to fall off on bumpy ground, and to be covered in bruises all over. Jeepers! That put me off riding for a bit too!
Fast forward to middle age and the dilemma of continuing to be a ‘MTB widow’ vs suck up the courage and give it another go myself. Hmmmm, well it wasn’t easy and it still isn’t. But over time with support from my trusty team at home, I’ve stuck it out and have progressed my skills, confidence and enjoyment of cross country riding. I’ve discovered that having front suspension, a lighter frame, chunky tyre tread, a well-chosen saddle and good quality kit all contribute to the overall enjoyment of riding MTB.
This summer I’ve struggled to keep that spark burning. The past 12 months have seen me undertake some coaching sessions, overcome some of my fears about specific trail features, and I even entered in a couple of newbie races and went in a couple of group rides. I practised a lot and improved my fitness as well.
Then it got hot. Really hot. The flies and snakes came. I fell off a couple of times and lost a lot of skin, some blood, and most of my confidence. My son injured himself (not on a bike) and had to take a couple of months off riding, and my plans to get to the nearby trails a few times a week over the Christmas school holidays went AWOL.
Last weekend’s family ride was a good time to reflect on where I am on my MTB journey. Those voices in my head were telling me once again I’m always the slowest, least capable, most scared rider of the lot; that no matter how much I’ve ridden or how much I’ve practised over the last year, I’m still no better; and that I’m a burden on everyone who rides with me. Where’s the joy in that?! So you can see that the inevitable choice was made to give it up. What’s the point in continuing if you’re not enjoying yourself AND you spoil it for everyone else?
With misery came an empty feeling of letting myself down as well as my family who’ve encouraged and supported me in so many ways. Being with misery gave me space to reflect and hear and see things differently. There is so much I love about MTB but it seemed so far away.
As I went through the motions of watching a MTB video last night (I wasn’t really paying that much attention!) I heard a voice say that if you only get out on the trails a couple of times each week, then you’re not going to get better at riding.
Of course, it’s pretty darn obvious isn’t it? Here I am giving myself such a hard time but really I’d only been riding a maximum of once a week for the past few months. I didn’t feel like I was enjoying it as much because my skills weren’t improving in addition to the other obstacles I’d faced – in fact it felt like I’d gone backwards. I felt like I wasn’t progressing because I wasn’t progressing, every ride felt difficult and I lost a big chunk of my inner fun each time.
So today I began the Great Experiment to test my hypothesis that by riding a few times a week, I’ll progress my skills and confidence, and I’ll rediscover the joys of MTB.
Our local trails are a long drive away, so I’m fortunate that my family has gradually been building our own mini-trail on our small rural property. I figure I can commit to a couple of practices around home each week as well as the longer family trail rides further afield on the weekends. I’ll document my experiences over the next few weeks on this blog and also by video. Stay tuned as a I embark on this new part of my MTB journey!