A month or so ago, my sister-in-law Jen asked me a question I never thought I would hear come out of her mouth: "Will you take me mountain biking?" I have to admit that I nearly fell on the floor. Given all of the bumps, bruises, flesh wounds, and broken bones my family has seen me get as a direct result of mountain biking, it's not every day that one of them will ask me to take them mountain biking to see what it's all about. And it's because of all my injuries that my brother's stern warning to me right after she asked me to take her riding went something like, "Please don't kill my wife!"
Of course I jumped at the chance to potentially convert another willing soul to the dark side of dirt. I wasn't really sure what to expect. Jen has been taking spin class for the past year or two, so I knew that physically she would be fine. What I was more worried about is how Jen would do riding over rocks, down hills, and up steep descents on the dirt. For those of you how have taken a noobie out on the trail for the first time, you know exactly what I'm talking about. It's a whole other ball game than spin class or cruising the neighborhood streets.
I decided to take Jen to Lake Hodges; it's a fairly mellow out-and-back trail with a variety of terrain. There were still a few little sections that would likely freak her out, but for the most part the trail is beginner friendly.
The day before our ride, I grabbed a Sonix Comp from my demo fleet at work so she'd have a nice, full-suspension bike that would make her first ride more comfortable and fun. We met at the trailhead in the morning and had a little pre-ride lesson about shifting, braking, body position, trail etiquette, and basic riding skills.
When it was clear she was catching on pretty quick, we took off towards the trail. The first 1/2 mile is pavement, so that was no problem. We hit the dirt, and I fully expected Jen's pace to slow as she negotiated the uneven terrain. She took to the dirt like a trooper and kept up just fine. About a mile or so up the trail, there was a stream crossing. I coached her about just keeping her momentum up and looking ahead as she crossed the stream. Again, I sort of expected to see her to slam on her brakes and walk across the stream on the rocks...but she sailed right through it. Right after the water crossing is a fairly steep hill strewn with baby-head rocks...she just motored right on through it all without blinking an eye. Wow, 2 miles in to the ride and I'm already impressed!
We kept cruising along and chatting away. The weather was just wonderful (about 85 degrees), so it was a perfect day for a ride. Ever since the hill we just climbed, the trail has been pretty flat but we had a little descent ahead. Nothing major, but for a new rider, it could be intimidating since there were a few little ruts in the trail. I looked back and Jen was cruising right along as if she had ridden the hill a dozen times before.
As we meandered around the lake, the trail eventually turned to singletrack. A few little ups and down, but really fun. As we approached a little rock/root section, I warned Jen that she might want to walk the section. But I also gave her a little coaching on how to negotiate the section if she wanted to try it. I rode rode down the section and looked back...and Jen rode the section like a champ! I was shocked...I have seen beginners eat it on this section ot get off and walk. Wow!
It was pretty clear that Jen was completely "getting" the whole mountain biking thing. On our way back after the turnaround point, we stopped at the rock section and I made her ride down it a few more times so I could take pictures. We took a slightly different way back to the trailhead that invloved a really steep hill that's not easy to climb. It straight up sucks...I have seen many experienced riders walk the entire thing. Jen made it halfway up the hill before getting bounced off line and having to put a foot down.
We definitely took the harder way back to the trailhead, and Jen rose to the occasion. At one point, as she just sailed down on off-camber descent with some ruts in it, I told her, "You don't even need my advice anymore...you already know what to do!" It was really cool to see someone who have never ridden off-road before take to it so easily.
To make a long story short, we had a great time. Jen didn't crash one time and walked very few sections. She at least tried to ride everything before deciding that maybe it was a little too soon for such advanced terrain. I fully expected at least a couple of crashes...and possibly some scraped-up knees or elbows. But that never happened. I am so proud of her!
So is Jen hooked? I think so. I got a text message from her this morning asking if we can go riding again on February 1st before the Superbowl. She wants to meet at 8am...I can't remember the last time I was on my bike before 9am. But of course, I said yes. It's great to have a new riding partner!