It’s been about six or so years since I swung a leg over the first mountain bike I’d ridden since I was a kid. Six years and, oh, roughly ten bikes ago. I started on a no-frills hardtail (a bright purple one at that), then moved up to a 27.5+ (shoulda kept that one), before turning to full suspension. My skills have risen with the quality of my bikes. Daily rides on the historic trails of Marin County, California, these years have firmly placed me, I think, at the bottom rung of competence. I can hold my own. If you encountered me on a trail today, you likely wouldn’t remember me the next day. I’m just…there. Not humiliating myself, not turning any heads. Perfect.
That spectrum, from total kook to the barest competence, provides a wide spectrum for snickering, ridicule, eye rolls, and outright shunning. I was prepared for this when I began. Nervous, a man in his late-30s, awkwardly spinning up trails routinely ridden by spandex-clad XC maniacs, shuddering down rock gardens passed by college kids in full-face helmets, bellying up to beer spots filled with hardened trail slayers clinking pint glasses together after a ride. I thought I wouldn’t fit, wouldn’t belong. I thought I’d bear the brunt of sidelong glances, maybe some fingers pointed at my aluminum frame.
The surf world could learn a hell of a lot from the mountain bike world when it comes to bringing newbs into the fold.
I was prepared for this because my only real frame of reference for an outdoor sport community is surfing, something I’ve devoted my life to for the past 25 years. I’ve earned a spot, should I want it, at the top of the grumpy surfing totem pole as a cooler-than-thou lifer. Well, not where I live, of course. Because of a byzantine set of rules that involve where you went to high school, perhaps where your parents did, who you say hi to in the lineup and whom you ignore, I’ll never be a local here at my home breaks in San Francisco. Forever on the outside, looking in. Of course, the moment I go back to my hometown, where I grew up surfing, it’s everybody else who is on the outside, pawing at the glass.