Recently my friend Brad invited me to go with him mountain biking around Cypress Hills National Park. Brad is an avid mountain biker and this would be my first experience. I quickly said yes, having no idea what to expect, or what I was getting myself into.
Soon after arriving we found ourselves starting to cycle and immediately were faced with the first climb of the day. I sized up this climb and imagined as if it were a paved road and thought to myself “no problem.” I started to climb, but a whole set of new problems came my way. Now I was hitting stones, and roots, and crevices in the road that quickly began to interrupt my normally pavement-smooth pedal stroke. I had to mash down on the pedals harder and pull up on the handlebars to get leverage to push down on the pedals harder. The pulling up on my handlebars then started a chain reaction that I was not at all prepared for. The first thing that happened was that my front tire lifted off of the ground which caused loss of steering. The loss of steering caused me to panic and stop pedaling. Stopping pedaling quickly caused me to stop altogether, which made me start rolling backwards. Clumsily, I jumped off the bike, one foot caught on the top tube, the other foot on the ground barely keeping me upright. I hit the brakes on the bike and used my arms to keep it upright. It was everything I could do to make sure that the bike and I didn’t tumble down the hill to the bottom. There I stood, in an expert level yoga-like pose, balancing on one leg, the other leg caught on the bike, one hand on the brakes and the other hand in the air like a bull rider half for providing some balance while also providing some flair for not falling. All of this happening in the span of less than one second.
This taught me that I need to shift forward to keep my weight on the front tire to prevent this from happening. Ok, Round 2. So I managed to untangle myself from the bike and straddle it to get going again but I am still half way up this hill on a steep incline. In an effort to get going again, I get my one foot on the pedal and push down. I only move forward a couple of inches before gravity takes over and before I can get my foot on the other pedal to continue my forward momentum. Again I came to a stop, began to roll backwards, hit the brakes, jump off the bike, once again getting my foot stuck to return to my ‘not rolling down the hill while holding a bike’ yoga pose. I shuffle back on to my bike to attempt to get the bike going again. But the hill was too great for me and I did what no mountain biker should have to do. Push his bike up the hill.
I get to the next flat section and promptly start pedaling again into the next climb. Not to be made a fool of again for Round 3, I move my weight forward on the bike to keep the front tire firmly on the ground. I made good headway up the next portion of this hill until I learned that my back tire needs some of the weight as well. I had shifted my weight too far forward and due to a loss of traction my back tire spun. During this my foot quickly found the bottom of the pedal stroke and my other leg was not prepared to take over the load of moving me forward. I abruptly came to another stop, which again became rolling backwards. Instinctually, I jumped off the bike, again catching my foot on the top tube and quickly returning to my ‘not rolling down the hill’ pose I had perfected earlier. After a few feeble attempts at starting the bike on the hill, I hung my head, and walked my bike up to the next flat spot where Brad again patiently waited.
Fortunately I didn’t get much more practice pushing my bike up the hill as I started to get the hang of going up a hill while on the bike. But as they say, “what goes up must come down” and Brad and I had to descend down every inch we had climbed. Brad would fly down the hills like his bike was on tracks, weaving through the trees with precision. I tried to follow and found that I didn’t have the wild abandon that he did. I started off alright while following Brad, barely squeezing between trees, slowing down just enough to make hard corners, and jumping over roots. Then it came to me that the penalty for making a mistake of inches would result in extremely painful crash. The fear of crashing got into my head and I couldn’t stand to get any decent amount of speed down the hills. After this point Brad and I agreed silently to test our limits. He would test the limits of his ability to cycle, I would test the limits of the ability of my brakes to slow me down.
Overall the ride went well and I had fun. I can say that I have done it and I would do it again. I learned about climbing hills, descending though trees, and how to stop your bike on a hill without falling and look good doing it.