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Trail Cubist
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Mountain biking is dominated by testosterone. Going fast, riding hard, and overcoming technical obstacles rule the sport. The language of the sport shows this clearly: aggressive words like "rip" and "shred" and "attack" are as common as any other.

I'm not immune to this aggro stuff: there are times when I love going fast. And I get a tiny thrill when I make a logover smoothly. And sometimes I'll ride for no other purpose than to punish myself.

But the reason I really ride is to be outdoors in nature. Not to experience nature as a high-speed blur...but to hear the birdsong, to notice the plants and flowers, to see the patterns in the bark of trees, to study the terrain—both around me and far away.

Why don't I just hike instead of ride? Well, I do hike—but I ride so I can experience more of the outdoors in the same amount of time.

But there is definitely a point of diminishing returns. Go too fast on the trail, and it really doesn't matter whether you're on singletrack or riding rain gutters in a parking lot—it's all a blur. Go too fast, and you're only competing—with yourself or with others or with the trail.

Back in the late 1980's, I was obsessed with racing—but on water, not land. I was a whitewater slalom racer. I trained twice a day, every day. But even then, I thought it was tragically sad when a training partner said "Ya know, if I didn't race, I wouldn't even be paddling." For me, being outside, in nature, on the water was the reason I was training and racing...competition really didn't have anything to do with it. Racing just gave me a built-in excuse to get out on the water every day. (And no, I didn't win races—never cared to. Just wanted to do reasonably well.)

I'm not saying any of this to suggest I'm "better" than riders obsessed with speed and daring and conquering epic trails. I'm just different. I say this because at age 52, I'm beginning to realize that life sucks when it's an endless competition.

Which is why now, whenever I'm on a group ride, I'm usually happiest at the back—not because I'm the slowest (sometimes I am, sometimes I'm not), but because I tell people "If you look back and I'm gone, don't worry—I'll catch up. I like to stop and take photos, feel a rock, smell a flower, ride my own ride...and just be outdoors in nature.

That's my passion.

Scott
 

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Self Appointed Judge&Jury
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Sounds like my reason for riding as well. Sure I enjoy speed and technical riding but my true enjoyment comes from the nature surrounding me and just pure solitude. I enjoy riding alone by far compared to being in a group. Of course I've always no been a huge wildlife and nature buff. The perfect sport for me to stay fit and enjoy the outdoors at the same time.
 

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I was on my way to Canton last year on my road bike, I missed my turn and ended up in Collinsville. I realized it too late, it wasn't worth turning around. I could not figure out why the 'trucks use low gear' sign was in front of me. Kind of hard to drift off when you are dodging rocks and trees. I try to watch the scenery, I am still too much in my head.
 

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Cool writeup. I agree, I think it is silly not to take advantage of being in nature. I too will stop just to look at things or take in the scenery. It is very important not to take any of it for granted.
 

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Me too. I try to avoid riding with people who race because they can't seem to help but try to turn it into a competition.
 

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Self Appointed Judge&Jury
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Oh and I also meant to add in my GoPro mount. There's no way I could film with it mounted on my helmet. The view would be of all my surroundings as I pass. Instead I found a handlebar mount works best for my filming. ;)
 

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Professional Crastinator
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I hear ya!

I was comparing my riding to my eating. I eat slow, and enjoy and savor my food. I never eat fast, and I leave time so that I don't have to hurry.

As far as riding, I like to savor and experience the whole trail. I ride rigid, and while I am capable of speed, I prefer "just riding" as opposed to racing. I'll session a tough section even if I've cleaned it, just because I'm savoring it. Going fast is just used to get more trail in less time, or to get to the next challenge - I don't like to waste time. Then I can stop and smell the roses once in awhile.

-F
 

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Great read, thanks for sharing. As an ex-runner I found biking after back surgery stopped it and added weight and lack of fitness made me find another way to get a workout in.

At 61 there are days I push but most recently I'm just enjoying my surroundings. Yesterday I rode 3.5 real slow miles with my wife and son. It was so relaxing to be riding and talking and laughing. They went to her parents and I continued on a lil faster but not much. I got to watch a blue heron fish, a young fox get a drink and then head for the trees. This was along a canal path I ride less than a half mile for row homes. Headed to a lake area and ran into to sets of deer. They were feeding prior to a rain shower. I stopped and watch them walk and eat. What a relaxing ride.
 

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I think ski culture is way worse, not sure why but spend a day over at the TGR forums and you'll see what I mean.

I find that a balance of 'gnar' and mellow, site-seeing is a good balance for me, no matter what it is - biking, paddling, or skiing. My primary goal with any of it is to be outside, seeing beautiful sights, smelling the plants and trees in the air, observing wildlife, and getting from A to B, especially if it's a 'trip' that involves sleeping out overnight.

I understand the fun of going fast, doing something difficult and challenging, and scaring the yourself and getting a huge adrenaline rush thinking you cheated death. But I think the OP is right, at least IMHO - if it's all competition with others and yourself, you are totally missing the point. You might as well ride around a stadium track instead of outdoors. It's really one big reason I avoid resorts for skiing and biking - put enough testosterone hyped, jocky dbs in a concentrated area and it sucks the fun out of anything.
 

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Trail Cubist
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Discussion Starter #10
Great responses all—glad to know I'm not alone! Truth is, if you aren't aggro, then mountain biking (or any other semi-extreme outdoor sport) can be a lonely path to follow.

I've been a dedicated "Multisportalist" for two decades. Partly just because I'm ADD (LOL), but also because I love learning and getting good at outdoor sports. I kayak whitewater, fly hang gliders, flyfish, snowboard, road/mountain bike...and also pursue several less-physical things like music and birdwatching. :)

I've wondered for a long time if my lack of xtreme aggro in any one of these activities is because I don't need the adrenaline to keep from getting bored—I just go do another sport? Put differently, I wonder how much of the macho/adrenaline thing is a result of one-sport people just getting bored? If all I did was mountain bike, I might be tempted to go for big air or become a DH SuperStud.

I also know adrenaline can be addictive. I've had a few good friends killed over the years (specifically in hang gliding and whitewater paddling), and it's motivated me to promote a new acronym to replace YOLO. Mine would be "YODO" (You Only Die Once), and it would serve as a reminder that death sucks—and means game over.

Anyway, I'm digressing. If I'm on a ride with tough climbs (like I was last weekend), and I have to get off and walk while my super-fit ride companions sprint up at high speeds, I'm perfectly happy—I have no sense of disappointment whatsoever. My nice ride just turns into a nice hike (with a bike, LOL).

Scott
 

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I'm going to revert to this signature of mine because there is a lot of truth to it: "I was never very athletic, academic, or handsome - so I rode bikes."

Seems at a certain age everyone rode bikes - I'm talking like pre-teen era of your life. In my days it wasn't MTB, it was Freestyle or BMX. Actually biking offroad on trails was a fairly obscure thing, and not many people I knew did it. A few people had OK mountain bikes, but they didn't ride them much and certainly not on trails. Not sure why they did except it seemed to be an increasing, but still fairly obscure, fad over having a '10spd' as an adult bike.

A few of us kept with riding bikes throughout high school and college, even though at times it really wasn't the cool thing to do. Having a car, being a jock on whatever sports team, impressing colleges with honor societies or chasing girls/boys seemed to take precedence.

Biking, and MTB in general always appealed to me because it's hobby/sport that you can progress in any way you want. It's not like a team sport where you need a certain set of skills to be playable, you can go out and tackle stuff as you advance and move at your own pace. When I first got into I was way more about riding fast, racing, and challenging myself. The older I got, the more I realized what I really liked about it: getting away from the BS of everyday life, solitude, personal challenge, endorphin mixed with adrenaline, meditation and reflection.

It's one thing I really like about XC skiing off trail and flatwater paddling is shutting off the mind and going into a trance like state when you are just chugging along... that happens in biking as well climbing or non-technical flats where your body is working harder than your brain and life's worries drift away - then you mix in some descents or scenery to bring you back to reality and it's enough to keep the excitement alive.

It's moderation, like anything... you can't have all highs, you need to balance. If you don't enjoy all the aspects then I'm not sure you are really enjoying it - you're just plugging through to get to your next high, no different than a drug addict. You see the most extreme cases are the same - people keep pushing and pushing their limits until it kills them.
 

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EAT MORE GRIME
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there is either --- on a bike

or

--- not on a bike

details and minutia are irrelevant
 

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Snow Dog
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I am the same way as well. to me, being on the trail is an escape that I don't want to end. I also do more distance/bike packing, so for me the end of a ride is sometimes also way off the path. I will go fast if I am going down hill, or is I need speed to get over roots or rocks, but I don't just blaze the whole time.

As some have mentioned, I sort of do everything at a slower pace...eating, reading, sight-seeing. I hate to fly. I always drive on trips b/c there is so much to see and do ON THE WAY.

For me, a successful ride is measured in miles logged and experiences, not in speed.

We rode up near Lake Placid NY this weekend, and there was one trail that the LBS guys said would only take us about a half-hour to ride....it took us about 2 b/c there was soooo much cool stuff to see, hear, and smell (love the natural balsam scent up there!)

Many times riding is the activity that gets me as close as I can get to heaven (the other is drumming), so I need to make it last
 

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Mountain

But there is definitely a point of diminishing returns. Go too fast on the trail, and it really doesn't matter whether you're on singletrack or riding rain gutters in a parking lot—it's all a blur. Go too fast, and you're only competing—with yourself or with others or with the trail
Scott
No doubt.
I have to add something here, I am a small bit older than OP and have always been an 'outdoorsman'. I however, love pushing my bike and skills to the limits. I almost never go slow unless I'm simply beat, and then it is hard to notice the beauty around me. I ride as fast as I can 70% of the time, the other 30 is spent hanging back to watch other riders' line choice and technique. Why does a guy going on 60yrs ride like a kid? Complicated answer I'm sure, but mostly because it's FUN. I laugh at both drifting AND sticking (traction). I get a thrill to huck small air over a drop, and really enjoy big air. Adrenaline or some psychological need; whatever the motivation, I have for decades ridden with guys who do the same. I still love nature and enjoy stopping to watch deer or sunsets, but if I'm pedaling...
 

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Trail Cubist
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Discussion Starter #19
More good posts! Here's a question: has anyone ever been on a group ride (and rides with your family don't count!) that was completely NON-competitive? Where nobody tried to be out front or go fast...and everyone was saying "After you!" and everyone stopped a lot and took their time and walked up steep climbs together?

I don't think I've ever been on a group ride like this. Maybe a few, but they're rare. Which suggests there is some sort of group dynamic that kicks in on those rides, and people start being competitive (even if not outwardly). And THAT'S the thing I dislike. It's almost like I want to make a speech to the group before the ride and say..."Hey—Olympic riders can kick all our butts, and nobody here impresses anyone else, and in fact, if you feel like you've got to be out front then we'll give you a 15-minute head start so we don't have to ride with you." LOL

That sounded more negative than I intended...but the point is, people tend to be more laid-back when they ride alone—so why not in a group too? What is it about the group dynamic that makes people want to start waving their d*cks around? :) I know people who are borderline a$$holes in a group ride...but if they're alone or just in a group of 2 or 3, they act normal.

Scott
 

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Same thing happens in any group dynamic. Haven't you ever had friends who were cool one on one and then turned into complete a-holes when you went to a party or hung out in a large group?

People as individuals are smart and caring. People in groups are panicky, domineering herd animals...

I think I learned that on MIB ;)
 
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