Monday, 30 January 2012

The fear of riding with newbies

Several years ago I accidently started a mountain bike club at work. I say accidently - there were a few factors - alcohol, the World Corporate Games in Zagreb and the lure of entering events with company money. As a consequence of this I organised weekly rides for all comers. We had fast people, skillful people, chatty people, just-there-for-the-beer people and... new people.

I liked the new people. Taking someone out on one of their first mountain bike rides gave me a buzz, seeing their excitement at the swoopy bits and overcoming the challenges of the tricky bits. We generally finished at a pub for a drink and crisps and they all said they'd loved it and would be back out again.

Some were then abducted by Hoogerlandian pirates.

At least, that's my assumption. They were never seen again. Hoogerlandian pirates are the most likely explanation.

However, some came back. Again, and again. Some I rode events with. One has done a couple of 24 hour solos (I think her mind must have been abducted by the pirates). Eventually my riding became more training based, the regulars moved to other jobs and the Friday Rideys dribbled to a conclusion. Still, the memory of the newbies lingered.

So when Darren mentioned that he was taking out a mutual friend for her first real off-road ride, and would I fancy a bimble across the common, I agreed enthusiastically. I could fit in some intervals beforehand and then meet them for some recovery riding. I'd also not used a mountain bike for a couple of months so it would be a welcome change.

Oh, hang on. That reminds me. The fear.

Sometimes I get scared riding with new people. Not because I'm scared they might fall, crash, explode or otherwise expire. That'd add to the fun. Someone else in an icy stream? Laugh it up, fuzzball. A total loss of energy, near hypothermia and being chased by polar bears? Just makes good blog material.

No, I'm not scared of something happening to the newbie. I get scared of doing something stupid myself.

Suddenly I've lost all off-road skills. I put my feet where? Is it heels up or down when descending? How do the gears work? How do I get out of these pedaaaaaaaaaaaaaaals (crunch). What was natural is now alien. Unconscious competence to very conscious incompetence. Combine that with a few months only on the road, gloopy mud and greasy roots and you have a bill of materials for embarrassment.

I brought out the full arsenal of skill-compensation. 4 " full-suspension bike for a normally-ride-it-rigid route. Tubeless mud tyres at 25psi for extra grip. Lower the saddle. Full-face and body armour. Bubble wrap.

10:25am. There they were, newbie on the borrowed ex-team issue Kona hardtail, clean looking bike clothes, trainers and flat pedals. And Darren on his 5.5" travel Trans-Rockies proven all-mountain beast. I like his thinking.

I relaxed. I may slip off the narrow wooden bridge, wash out on a diagonal root and plummet into the drainage gully but at least I had an excuse. Underbiked. Clearly.

Of course, no-one fell, we practiced some technical sections a few times, the newbie proved that volleyball and running fitness can translate to cycling and everyone agreed to do it all again.

I hope the pirates don't get her.
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