Big Fat Tire: Is mountain biking a lifestyle, or just something fun to do?
How am I supposed to write about riding mountain bikes when I’ve hardly been riding? I don’t like to complain or anything, but my seat time on dirt has been sorely lacking this summer.
Last year, I wrote about health issues limiting my dirt mileage. I also talked about how difficult it was to come to the realization that I wasn’t 28 years old, or even 38 anymore.
This year, although I’m still not 28, my lack of miles has more to do with life choices and career demands. For the first time since its inception, I did not help in any capacity with the Breck 100, even though I love the event.
This has had me thinking.
I read a fair amount of mountain bike literature and Internet content. There is always a lot of word count devoted to “passion” for the sport and the “mountain bike lifestyle.” Over the years I’ve enjoyed a lot of outdoor sports, some with more staying power than other: white water kayaking and canoeing, rock climbing, hiking, trail running (very short lived — I suck at running) backpacking and, of course, cycling both on and off pavement.
Of all those activities, mountain biking has by far had the most staying power. I took up the sport in 1985 (I was even younger than 28!) and have devoted huge amounts of time and a ridiculous amount of money to it. From devoting a serious amount of time and effort to racing in my 20s and 30s — I was not talented or disciplined enough to make a living at it — to helping create the Summit Fat Tire Society, to promoting races and to help other promoters put on their races, it is by far the sport that has held my attention and taken up a lot of my time.
This year, I have life changes: moving into new house and renovating it into a home that I’ll be sharing with my beautiful fiancé, and as a further time suck a major career endeavor. You can always tell how long it’s been since you’ve been on your bike when you go to ride — and your tires are almost flat, but you have no leaks. My tires had time to go flaccid between rides.
So… back to thinking. As much as I’ve loved mountain biking, I’ve never thought it was the most important thing in the world to me. As much effort as I’ve put into trail access issues, hundreds and hundreds of hours building and maintaining trails, it’s always just been riding a bike. There are many fabulous benefits to riding mountain bikes, from fitness to immersing yourself in the most sublime moments of raw nature, but for me, at least, is it a “lifestyle?”
When people say, “I’m a mountain biker” (or anything else, for that matter), I’ve always been a bit puzzled by that statement. I’m a human being and a lot of things matter to me, and if I’m looking at myself honestly, then mountain biking, while important, is far from being the most important.
Maybe that’s why I’m not supportive of allowing mountain bikes into U.S. Forest Service wilderness areas. When someone says “we” should be allowed in wilderness, I don’t equate “me” exclusively with mountain biking. “We” can access wildness — we just can’t do so on our bikes. I don’t identify so closely with an activity that I can’t separate myself from it.
So where, I wonder, does that leave me? I can’t imagine another sport taking the place of mountain biking for me, but I think I am at least somewhat comfortable with the semi-sabbatical from the bike while I attend to other, more important life milestones. I’ve spent a lot of my life goofing off and now is time to settle down a bit.
Now, none of this means mountain biking is going to fall out of my life. Just a few evenings ago my lovely sweetheart ordered a new mountain bike. It’s been a long time since she’s owned a mountain bike, so we’re not going to be schralping the gnar, but I’m very much looking forward to easing her back into the sport on the easier trails and dirt roads. I’m excited to be her support and coach and to see the sport, with all its challenges and rewards, through her eyes.
In a lot of ways, it will be fun to be a beginner again. If she comes to embrace the sport, then my best friend and life partner will become my best riding buddy. If not, then that’s OK too. I’ve come to the point in my life where some things are more important than riding my bike — and when life is bliss, with big or small miles.
All that said…
It’s prime time to be out. The recent rains (if you can dodge the thunderstorms) have the trails in prime hero-dirt condition. There has been just enough rain to make the dirt tacky, but not muddy enough to worry about trail damage, with pesky localized downpours excepted). Alpine wildflowers are in full glory and days are long. Lots of folks have been posting about doing the big epics — the circumnavigation of Guyot, Lenawee Trail, the dirty triangle (Resolution Creek death march!), Wheeler along the crest and down into the recent burn in Miners Creek…
I gotta check that out. I’m a forest succession nerd. And even though I’m in a temporary lull for more important things, those trails will be there for me when my life events allow me to get to them. But I still won’t call it a “lifestyle.”
Mike Zobbe is lifelong gearhead and longtime mountain biker originally from Indianapolis. He serves as vice president of the Summit Fat Tire Society, a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to access, maintenance and stewardship on local trails.
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