The trail offers every user a slightly different experience. Be it the hiker, equestrian or cyclist. Hoof and foot only touch the ground occasionally… skipping over rocks and roots when required. Stability is second nature as both feel the surface directly with only rubber or steel shoe in the way.
Balance is intuitive. The bicycle however has a unique connection to the dirt. It draws an almost uninterrupted line from start to finish. Winding around or over obstacles. Finding traction and control through handlebar input, leverage on the pedals and a skilled touch of the brakes.
For a rider, it’s about finding a flow that can’t really be described with words. It must be learned, experienced and felt. The goal is to retain momentum and conserve energy. To connect all the dots and create the art that can be found between them. There are of course infinite options available that constantly change. Focus and repetition are key. Knowing the trail. Remembering a line you took before that worked and forgetting the ones that didn’t.
There is a relationship that comes from this. Mountain bikers know the trails better than most. If a rock moves or erosion appears it revises the poetry they wrote last time. This ever changing page often demands quick decisions and adaption. The higher the speed the greater the focus. But it’s not always about besting your buddies or becoming the next KOM record holder. Or at least… it shouldn’t be.
Wheels in the dust are an amazing thing. When gravity pulls on your back one must use strength and finesse in just the right amount. Lifting the front wheel up and over steps, planting the rear and applying power at just the precise moment to assure success. Finding traction and control while your legs burn and lungs scream is as mental as it is physical.
Then the way down becomes more about anticipation and control. Finding the line you want far enough ahead to keep speed in check. This is when the continuous connection is most often broken and bike and rider occasionally defy the confines of gravity and play with it just as the ravens do. One floats and soars above the ground even if it is just for a brief moment.
The beauty of riding a bike through the woods goes beyond the obvious of everything that surrounds you. The trees, flowers, vistas and sweet smells of the forest carried by breeze. The art of riding comes also from the connectivity. The ability for a rider to blend with their bicycle. To no longer have a separation between trail, machine and pilot. But instead to become one. There are days where this feels absolutely effortless and everything just falls into place. Then there are others that feel clumsy, awkward and strained.
The great thing about mountain biking is it is a discipline that requires endless practice yet can never be perfected. For this reason it always stays fresh, challenging and rewarding. Keep it simple. Enjoy the ride and create your own perfect line.
Steve Reynolds is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Instagram at @Prescottopia. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.