MC Escher's Crystal Ball

In the early 1980s I saw a mountain bike (MTB) for the first time and I bought it immediately. It was great fun, at least theoretically. But there really was nowhere near me to ride it to take advantage of its rugged design, so after a few years I sold it. In the years that followed, mountain bikes became more and more popular, but I paid little attention to them. I had a “been there, done that” attitude toward them, and still assumed that Cincinnati was not the right place for them. As a diehard road bike rider I felt there was an “Us and Them” separation between the two bike genres and I was definitely an “Us”.

About three years ago, I was working, working, working… business was too good (this was before WTB). I was getting burned out. In the middle of a project, I started questioning why I was putting myself through such stress. The answer, of course, was “money.” But with a wife, two kids with orthotics, one with a big appetite, a house, some cars, and who knows how many pets, the money no longer came to me and had lost its value as a motivator. So on a whim, to give my toil some meaning, I bought myself a MTB. The immediate result was that my attitude toward the project I was working on improved amazingly, there was a reward for my labor. The side benefit occurred the first time I rode the bike off road… I was lousy at it!

I had no idea how bad a bike handler all those years of fast road riding on predictable pavement with relatively wide turns and consistent traction had made me. I fell a lot. Nothing dramatic, just low speed tip-overs from not having the skill to merely ride slow, or turn sharply, or relax when a tire skidded. This pathetic lousiness and the realization that it was just a microcosm of the “set in your ways” resistance to change that creeps into our lives over the decades, inspired me to ride my new bike in order to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone. I quickly learned that confidence was the key to MTB riding, and I was decidedly NOT confident about riding off road, so I learned to ride as if I were confident… just fake it… “Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead!”. How exhilarating! Yes I was scared, but if I forced myself to ride as if I thought I could make it, rather than hedging for safety’s sake, the majority of the time I would actually get through some pretty tough parts of the trail. I got tired of the scabs and bruises after awhile, and in desperation bought knee pads and elbow pads. These were wonderful investments that made risking fake confidence a little less risky.

This is the start of my season of Fall/Winter MTB (I go back to road riding in the spring). This year I haven’t needed the pads. I wear them every ride, but falling over just hasn’t happened… until this weekend. One of my riding buddies and I realized that we were no longer getting our money’s worth out of our pads, so we decided we needed to push our limits a bit. It was challenging, and scary and fun—and resulted in a few uses of our pads.

I had a gentleman in the bike shop last week (he was about my age) who said “I’m too old for mountain bike riding.” Well here’s my theory about why he’s not and why more of the “over thirty” crowd needs to ride off road. When you hit some point in your thirties you start putting a lot of effort into not falling down. You get so good at it that by the time you are in your eighties and you slip and hit the deck, you shatter like glass, WHY? Because bones need to be stressed to the point of creating micro-fractures in order to rebuild and stay strong. Road bike riders have low bone density according to research and MTB riders do not. Every time I fall off my MTB I’m improving my bone density! And even when I manage to hang-on, the jarring of the rugged trails still provides the impact and stress that my bones need. You are NOT too old for MTB but you may very well be old enough to need it.

Road riding is my first love, but mountain bike riding is my density…