A mountain biking addict looks back on the thrill of learning to ride dirt

By Sarah Hansing

ASJ's Michele Lamelin (Content Development) as a noob on First Divide in Downieville, 2010. Scary. And the trail was, too ;-)

Downieville noob on First Divide.

I think that most of us can safely say that we started mountain biking because it was fun, for all of the obvious reasons: Riding a bike. outside. in the dirt. with your friends. on flowing single track. over logs. through rock gardens. around trees.

Think about how you define mountain biking now vs. when you first started riding.
Next, think about what your definition of a fun ride is now vs. then.

These differences in perspective set my mental way-back-machine in motion, and in no time at all, I was waxing nostalgic. My first mountain bike. My first “real” mountain bike ride. (I crashed 50ft into the trail). There was so much learning to be done, both on the trail and off. I lusted after the shiny things in the bike shop. Read magazines. Read reviews. Learned new lingo. Rode as much as I could. Still crashed a lot.

I remembered how awesome it was to discover this new (to me) thing.

I loved the whole tires in the dirt lifestyle, and everything that came along with it. I embraced it with enthusiasm. Yet the more I reflect upon the early days, the more I realize: it really wasn’t just the physical act of riding a mountain bike that got me hooked.

This is going to sound weird, but in a way, I really liked it because…

Well, because it was actually pretty cool to suck SO BAD at doing something. (Stay with me for a minute, here.)

The harsh reality is this: when you try something new… you’re probably going to suck.

There are a rare few that can jump on a mountain bike and just pedal off smoothly down the trail without having done their time. (Full disclosure: I sort of hate the kind of people who can do that.) Most of us have had to put some time and effort, some sweat and swearing, some blood and bruises and sore muscles (and replacement bike parts) into getting our skills and fitness to where they are now.

Because most of us are mere mortals when we start out.

We get tired. We crash. We fall over on nothing, just because we couldn’t clip out of our pedal. We feel. We feel lost. We aren’t “naturals” at mountain biking. Sometimes it feels like we’re on some demon mystery machine with a mind of its own. We can’t make it go where we want it to go, or do what we want it to do. And because of this, we are humbled a little.

But here is the part that is so COOL: the learning curve. You get to see yourself progress. crash less. ride longer. ride faster. climb better. get braver. try things that scare you. prove it to yourself.

And then one day you realize: you have learned a LOT of new skills. In fact, you don’t really suck at riding anymore! Remember back when you couldn’t clear that rock garden? (adorable, right?) And when you couldn’t make the climb without stopping? (can’t even remember the last time you stopped on it now, can you?)

YOU are the one that made that progress; no one can do it for you. (And oh god how I wish someone could do it for me, sometimes.) Whatever goals you set for yourself, they are yours. Whatever your achievements – be they small or large – they are yours. Whatever you have failed at – that’s yours too. So it goes for all of us. Remember how far you’ve come, and how cool it is to have somewhere to go. And be proud; learning new things isn’t easy. No matter how advanced we are, there is always a new thing to learn. A new thing to be terrible at; a new thing to conquer. That’s the beauty of it, really.


​Fat Tire Tuesday columnist Sarah Hansing has been slinging wrenches as a pro bike mechanic for 15 years (with the exception of a one year stint working for Trek Bicycles in Wisconsin.) Epicenter Cycling scooped her up as their lead mechanic and the shop’s crew plans to ​keep her forever. Sarah loves riding singlet​rack, wrenching on bikes, and hanging out with her jerk-face but adorable cat Harlan. (Who is a jerk.)