Further proof that mountain biking is the fountain of youth

By Sarah Hansing

Smiles for days. Photo by Bruce Dorman.

Smiles for days. Photo by Bruce Dorman.

The start of the ride wasn’t incredibly a-typical. Nervousness and lack of confidence are often an unfortunate side effect of trying new things, after all. And here were a group of women brave enough to come into the bike shop on a Saturday morning, allow themselves to be put into the hands of two ride leaders that they did not know, and be led off down the street towards a mountain bike trail they were unfamiliar with.

One woman in particular stood out to me, though.  

She was a 60 year old woman who had driven about an hour to get to our shop Girly Ride, and had brought along her older comfort bike to ride on the trail. She told me this was to be her very first mountain bike ride ever. Now, our ride welcomes riders of all skill levels, with just about any relatively suitable bike that they would like to ride on the dirt. However, this particular bike was probably not going to do her any favors. We set her up on a rental mountain bike from the shop with nicer suspension and more up to date geometry, tires, and components in an effort to give her any advantage to trying this new (to her) adventure.

At least three times she waffled;  she wasn’t certain she wanted to do this any more.

She wasn’t sure she could do it.

She was intimidated by the other women who had much more trail experience (being anyone who had ridden their bike on dirt at any time, for example).

She was all too aware of the current bicycles and cycling equipment the others had invested in as they rolled into the parking lot for the ride.

She was worried about her age.

But true to the mountain bikers creed, she was welcomed into the fold and assured that she would be just fine; in fact, better than fine. We weren’t going to leave her behind in the woods, and we would help her feel confident on the singletrack as best we could.

To be honest, my co-ride leader and I actually DID have the slightest trepidation about taking a (let’s be reasonable here) older woman who had NEVER ridden on dirt out onto a (totally do-able) but slightly technical trail, with a reasonable amount of elevation gain.  No one wants to be responsible for an injury, after all …

As it turned out, NO one should have worried about a thing: not her, not us, not anyone.

This woman who – at 60 years old – had decided to try mountain biking for the first time, kicked the ever-loving crap out of everyone on that ride. She KILLED it. She was right behind me as I led the group up the trail; kindly stopping when the more “experienced riders” needed a rest. She rocked over the roots, climbed like a goat, and descended like she had been mountain biking for years. She whooped and hollered and laughed as we passed at least three men on the way down the trail. In all of my 15 years of leading group rides I have NEVER see anything like this. This was beyond a slight proclivity for riding; this was one of the coolest things I have ever witnessed.

At the bottom of the trail (as we waited for the rest of the group) we high-fived and laughed. And waited some more. Several minutes later, the other women rolled back to the trail-head.

And I had been schooled. Bike riding is a sport in which you should never assume anything about someones ability. I had made a mistake. I had judged preemptively, as many of us do.

The thing is, everyone with enough courage to get out on the trail has the potential to be great. Maybe (and most likely) they will not have the freakishly amazing skills that this woman displayed on her very first ride on the dirt, but then again … maybe they will.

Remember: Someone took YOU out on your first ride. Someone had the faith that you would survive, and the hope that you would get hooked on the wonderful sport of mountain biking.

So have a little faith. Do your part. And certainly don’t judge anyone that’s new. They might just show you a thing or two.  


​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.)