By Sarah Maloney EBS Contributor
The first day I threw on a full face helmet and went downhill mountain biking was tantamount to the day I met my husband. Even though skiing was my first love, mountain biking will be my last; and like anything worth loving it hasn’t always been an easy path. Now, I make a living making it look easy and convincing people that they, or in fact anyone, can take a lift up a mountain and make it down safely on a bike.
Often when I watch people bike for the first time, subtly coaching and putting them at ease, I wonder what it would be like if I could go back in time and tell myself all the things I know now. You readers lucky enough to be rifling through the pages of this newspaper, now have the benefit of learning from my years of hard earned bruises and scrapes.
The first lesson is a simple one: This sport is not for everyone. You spend the whole day dressed like road warrior, attached to a 40-pound Shake Weight careening down a mountainside. If you are worried about helmet hair and dust finding its way into the most intimate of places, this is not the sport for you. For everyone else, there is only one way to truly find out whether you will enjoy down-hilling—just get out there and give it a try.
I am not suggesting you go buy the top-of-the-line carbon bike, invest $300 in pads and take off. Instead, I encourage you to dip a toe in the water. Rent a bike and take a lesson. Renting is a lot more inexpensive than buying, and a coach will give you tips and make sure that you ride within your ability.
This brings me to the next no brainer: Do not take lessons from your significant other. I could tell you one of the multiple horror stories of husbands or girlfriends trying to push their personal biking beliefs on their soon-to-be ex-loved ones, but I only have 700 words for this article and no divorce is that simple.
So, now you’ve taken a lesson and like many before you, have become enamored with the greatest sport ever invented. Now it’s time to invest. You will need a bike, lots of pads and a season pass to your local mountain. The general rule to bike-buying is this: cheap, light, tough; chose two.
Pads are also very straight forward. The minimum requirement for new riders will always be a full face helmet (impact rated for biking), knee pads, elbow pads, gloves and eye protection. As for the pass, choose an area that allows you to start easy and progress in your riding. Nothing is more frustrating than starting on terrain that is too difficult or riding trails that provide no challenge.
There are some basic, but often ignored safety rules to lift access biking. The list is long, but here are my top three. The first is to never ride alone. The age-old buddy system has proved itself time and time again. Being a lone wolf can be cool until you get stuck in a trap and have to chew your own paw off to get free.
Next, be realistic about your ability level and never let outside influences push you beyond your comfort zone. The last rule, take care of your bike. Bicycles are simple machines and for me that is a part of their enduring appeal. But don’t be fooled, your bike needs maintenance. Familiarize yourself with your bike’s maintenance schedule (often dependent on usage) and how to maintain its particular components. Finally, check through your bike before every ride and wash it thoroughly after.
I never expected that the first day I padded up and loaded a rental bike on a lift that the rest of my life would naturally fall into place, but it did. I met my husband riding bikes; I supervise a bike shop for a living; and I spend every spare moment riding. Maybe what I’ve found in downhill biking isn’t what everyone will find in the sport, but you’ll never know until you give it a try.
Sarah Maloney is a supervisor at Different Spokes Bike Shop at Big Sky Resort. She lives in Big Sky with her husband and dog and has been downhill mountain biking for six years.
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