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Tips for shining on and off the trail
By Dave Robinson
First you hear a hoot echoing through the forest. Next the mechanical buzz of a free-wheeling rear hub. Then you spot the bright flash of a jersey through the trees as a rider bursts from the grove in front of you. Their bike is laid down at a 30 degree angle with the rider slung low, inside foot extended hovering inches above the ground as their suspension compresses in the apex of the turn. They pedal out of the corner with the front wheel lifting under the torque of their power as they blast past you. Moments later all that’s left is the dust hanging in the air around you. Was that the best rider on the hill?
Maybe, or maybe not. To many it isn’t the person who climbs fastest, descends quickest, or goes biggest. The best riders are the ones who personify the ideals that drive us to excel day in and day out, on and off the bike. They are the ones who ride with passion, who show interest and concern with everyone they meet on the trail, and put in the hard work it takes to maintain and develop new trails. Not surprisingly, these are the folks who are surrounded by some of the nicest people on the trail as well.
Mountain biking is undergoing explosive growth in California and as such there is a risk that our swelling numbers will negatively impact public perception of our clan. Fortunately we are also seeing growing interest in trail stewardship by mountain bikers and a new type of rider is emerging, the advocate.
We all want more trail access to challenge ourselves and to share with our fellow trail users. The people who are making this happen are the true dirt heroes. They are the ones who attend the local mountain biking club meetings, step up to volunteer at the public events that portray mountain biking as a healthy, non-destructive outdoor activity. They attend the meetings on public land use and voice our need for more, sustainably built trails to our elected representatives. They show up on work days. They contribute to fundraisers and at annual giving. They are the lifeblood of mountain biking. And it isn’t taking up all their free(ride) time. Here is a quick primer on how you too can be a dirt hero.
Communicate clearly with fellow riders and other trail users
Your squealing brakes are not necessarily an introduction — consider a bell or better yet kindly announcing your presence on the trail to hikers. Examples include “Beautiful day isn’t it?”, “Rider up” (rider approaching), “Rider back” (overtaking rider), “Just three of us” (three in our group). These messages improve the experience and safety of everyone in your group and others with whom you are sharing the trail.
Be aware of horses
Every animal is different just as every person is so ask the rider as you approach how they would like you to pass, particularly if you’re approaching them from behind. Don’t be offended if they ask you to dismount your steed, it is for both your safety and theirs (trust that they know their animal.)
Give way to climbing riders
It sounds utterly ridiculous to state the obvious but there are still individuals who don’t. We don’t care if your Strava time will suffer, we all suffer when trails are closed due to bad behavior. Conversely, if someone is coming up behind you at a quicker pace pull aside and let them pass, don’t be that guy on the highway who hangs in the passing lane.
Don’t ride singletrack if it’s sloppy
With any luck we’ll get some moisture this winter and with moisture comes the opportunity for our trails to recover. Your tires digging a furrow into the trail isn’t recovery, it’s damaging. Seek out sandier soils, they drain far better and recover quicker. If you don’t know where those trails are, ask at a shop or on the bike forums.
Ride within your limits
Riding out of control puts your riding future at risk (crashing) and trail access for others at risk as well (think trail closure due to bad behavior and excessive rescues). If you’re feeling sketchy then take a lesson; a few hours with a pro will totally change the way you feel on a bike and make you far less of a hazard to yourself and other trail users.
Ride with protective gear
Use your head, don’t roll out of the driveway without your lid on. This is a non-starter for me; I won’t ride with folks who don’t wear a helmet and I’m certainly not going burden my ride crew with hauling my lifeless carcass off the trail if I go without. Consider pads if you’re pushing your limits. Get into your local shop, ask the team what they’re using, and have them fit you in the right stuff. Elbow pads need to be well designed and snug so they don’t slide up into your armpit when you slide out in a corner. Consider a full shin and knee combo pad if you’re dialing in your flat pedal technique. Lastly, don’t be put off by the cost of protective gear. If you calculate your insurance co-pay and factor in potential lost wages from missed work then it’s one of the very best cycling investments you can make.
Pick up a shovel and/or attend a meeting
“It isn’t my thing. I don’t have the time. It’s another clique that I’m not a part of.” Wrong. If mountain biking is your thing, then contributing two hours to discussing the issues is the least you can do to support it. How many hours a month do you ride anyways? Are you willing to admit to not being part of the clique because you’re not willing to put in some effort to develop and maintain legal singletrack? Add your voice to the your local mountain biking advocacy organization, and pitch in to help build/maintain your local trails. Visit the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) website at imba.com to find a club near you.
Membership in IMBA and/or your local trail organization is about thirty bucks and funds advocacy while growing membership rolls prove public support for more trail. Whining about a dearth of local singletrack is weak, donating dollars is powerful so demonstrate your commitment to the effort. Trails aren’t free and your dollars support advocacy and paid professional planning which results in better public perception. Do you wanna be remembered? Trust me, your Strava KOM is going down this week, but your name on the sign board over that incredible singletrack you funded will be praised every day by appreciative riders. That’s a KOM that will stand the test of time.
Turn off the office. Turn a friend on to the trail. Appreciate public lands. Recharge your batteries. Take your time. We will all benefit from you being the person that you want to be. Bikes can be the answer.
Extra Credit: Know your first aid
Be a trail superhero, brush up on your first aid and take a Wilderness First Aid course. Excellence on the trail can take many forms and caring for a fallen rider places you amongst the best. One of the greatest things about mountain biking is how quickly we can travel into the wilderness far from civilization. It also creates a huge challenge – what do you do when someone gets seriously injured out there? How do you stabilize someone with a debilitating injury and transport them out of the woods before things get really bad? The prepared mountain biker carries the tools to repair their bike but what tools do you need to save a life? These are the things that you’ll learn in a dedicated Wilderness First Aid Course.
Backcountry Medical Guides offers mountain bike specific Wilderness First Aid Courses in Santa Cruz in conjunction with The Ride Guides: backcountrymedicalguides.org. REI offers training at many of their stores around the country: rei.com, and Bay Area retailer Sports Basement also provides training: sportsbasement.com.
Dave Robinson works for The Ride Guides, a local mountain bike guiding and coaching service based in Santa Cruz. He is a staunch advocate for the environment and is passionate about developing inspired stewards via outdoor recreation.