Monday, May 11, 2015

Dear Beginner

Disclaimer: I'm writing this because I was once a beginner who could have used the below conversation, not because I believe myself to be in any sort of advice-giving position.

Dear Beginner:

I know, the title is a little awful. But really, it's only because my creative consciousness has something equating to the flu right now. Please forgive me. 

Anyway. Where were we? Oh, yes. 

First of all, welcome to mountain biking. You've pretty much reached outdoor sports nirvana. It's a great place with fantastic people and arguably the best way to spend spare time and extra pocket change. Wait, scratch the 'spare' and 'extra'. It's simply the best and I'm delighted you've discovered it. Secondly, I love you. Yes, beginner, you. I love your enthusiasm and your bravery. I love that you've jumped into this crazy and overwhelming world and that you're ready to experience everything bikes have to offer. I love that you're willing to try something that ultimately, may take over your life and might actually become your one true love (side note: we're not a cult. I promise). I love that you've courageously chosen to pursue something that terrifies so many people and that you're open to making new friends. I love you.

My new friend, let me tell you something very important: regardless of who may 'vibe' you, please know that we passionately love our sport and sometimes that translates into aggression when a new wolf starts hanging around our pack. It's not about you. It's about us. Please be patient with us. On that note, please know that like any group, we have a few a*sholes. Ignore those guys. They're a*sholes. Unlike other groups, we have less a*sholes than scientific ratio should demand, and that is because bikes are awesome. Our ratio of awesome to a*sholes is A LOT:not a lot at all. 

Another thing I'd like to mention is to be patient with yourself. Don't try to rush progression (even though you will anyway), and understand that sh*t happens. Also: you're gonna fall. Pretty much always. I don't know anyone who doesn't fall on a regular basis. Yes, even the pros. Just be patient. You'll progress as you progress and it's only for you. 

Beginner buddy, as you navigate your way through trends, online information, trail days, bike parks, scenesters, pissing contests and ego trips, try to remember that mountain biking is about you and your bike. How you feel at the end of a ride is what matters. That feeling is going to translate into giving back to your new sport, which is another foundation of being a mountain biker. Give back. Give as much as you can, and then give a little more. Build trails, volunteer for shop days, show up and cheer, make new friends and ultimately, invest and give yourself time to ride. 

Beginner, please don't try to buy the perfect bike the first time around. Know that you will come to both love and hate your first bike; it will have things you adore and problems you abhor. Take those notes and put them into your second bike, but understand that your first bike is probably going to suck for a few reasons, like economic priority, lack of understanding, inaccurate assumptions of what you want from a bike. With rare exception, this is a grounding principle of our sport and true in almost every situation: you'll get better as you go along. My suggestion? Go to your local shop, shoot the shit, ride as many bikes as they'll let you and then pull the trigger on whatever you can afford. Because your first bike rocks, I suggest you keep that bike. You'll want it to tell stories about later. 

Donate blood and donate often. Falling is good for you! Failure keeps you humble, reminds you of your mortality and gives you something to strive for. Wrecking yourself and breaking a bike part (please, no bones or body parts if you can help it) is recommended at least once a year. Not only will it allow for perpetual upgrades, but it will teach you gratitude for an operational, functioning body. Always wear a helmet; you'll want to remember this in 50 years. Ride everything you can set your wheels to, and ride it as fast or as slow as you like. Walk what you can't ride and don't worry about changing the trail; you'll change the more you ride it. Don't stress about something that scares you, but just do it. The more you focus on a slab or a drop or a jump or rocks or roots, the more power it will have over you. Along those lines, my new buddy... Don't be afraid to get slightly in over your head. I'm not talking about hucking 50-foot road gaps on a BMX bike but instead, maybe signing up for a DH race or going to the bike park with people who might be slightly more advanced than you. I'm suggesting trying new trails, getting a little lost and (rhetorically) sending it into the blind once in a while. Take some risks, face your fears and push past walls that might hold you back. I promise that you'll appreciate it later on. 

Don't forget to educate yourself. YouTube is your best friend... Until it's not (you'll understand that one later). You don't have to be a self-taught mechanic, but do learn how to properly change a flat, patch a tube, fix a chain and keep your bike running smoothly. Google is a beautiful resource, as is nicely asking someone at a shop. You might get vibed out for a second, but stick around. Be nice, stay humble and ask real questions and any shop dude that isn't a douche will be more than happy to help you out. Another awesome educational tool: forums. Not the hater 'my-dad-is-tougher-than-yours' kind of forums, but reputable forums. And understand that asking questions isn't bad. It's a sign of an inquisitive mind and a person who's open to improvement. Be ready and willing to learn. Don't be afraid to take a mechanical clinic or attend ride days at your local mountain with companies who come through. 

Last of all but certainly not least, respect everyone. Every trail user, every rider. That means any gender, any bike, any and everyone. We're all out here, we're all friends, and we're all awesome. But don't be a doormat... Don't be afraid to speak up and be nice. You're one of us now, and we try to do the right thing. I'm sure you'll be nothing but rad, and we welcome you to the family. 

Oh, and one more thing: don't forget to have fun. When it stops being fun, it's time for a break. 

Sincerely, 

Your New Friend