Wednesday, March 2, 2016

All About The Attitude- The Mountain Biking Introduction

"Because she might not like it."

I could only imagine what it's like being in the women's shoes as her significant other says she may not like something. Especially when that something is new and has a lot of perceived notions about it, such as mountain biking.

Compared to road/paved and gravel riding, I hear more worries and concerns over mountain biking than any other riding discipline.


I remember the fears I had when Travis had me go with him on an easy off-road ride on a store rental. I was scared as hell. I was still starting and stopping while seated and my handling skills were at the bare minimum. The Pines and Prairie were terrifying to me and the thought of being up and off my seat for climbs and downhills was out of the question.

For whatever reason, Travis thought I would really enjoy riding off road. Bound and determined to get me out on he trails, he put a new bike into the picture. The Surly Krampus. We made the decision to go with the plus bike option on the market at that time because I wanted beefier tires under me. I wanted to be able to plow over obstacles and take away the technical aspects of mountain biking- those could come later. Travis built the bike with quality parts, because he knew it would (under most circumstances) take more to break them than what I would put the bike thru. Full disclosure- I was not a graceful learner.

Having a great bike to learn on was 1/2 of the equation. The other half was attitude- like the bike, your attitude and the attitude of your partner can make or break the experience. If you go into the off-road introduction stating things with a negative lead such as "might not like it" some personalities may dwell on that for the entire experience. Thus, the continual worry of "I might not like it" will cloud the experience and probably make that statement come true.

Let's go back to the bike concept for a brief moment. If you are the experienced rider who is planning to introduce their partner to mountain biking, you are the "parent" in the situation. Often your partner will look to you for advice on what bike they should get. What did you start on and what are you on now? Growing up I heard: "I'm speaking from personal experience and I'm trying to save you from making the same mistakes I made." So why would you have your partner experience the same as you did when you know that it wasn't the best fit for you? The best chance of success is to start out with a bike that will instill stoke and confidence.

Learn to be patient, and when you think you are, be more patient.
You will need to curb your mad riding skills and tone it down to a level that might seem painstaking, but in the long run it will prove to be worth it. Ride with your partner, do not take them out for a ride and leave them hanging miles away. That puts them into the mindset of "I will hold everyone back, no one will wait for me, I'll be continually dropped..." which can often lead one to simply avoid rides altogether for fear they will never keep up.

Remember what seems ridiculously easy for you is likely not going to be easy for the new rider. Ride with them and show them you really want them out there with you they will be more inclined to ride.

Travis took time and initiative to roll slow. He also allowed me several rides on the same groups of trails a couple times before taking me off to somewhere new. My learning style liked visual and verbal cues- some people may find verbal cues to be too much for them (psych out) so pay attention and respect what your partner says works for them. Ask questions! There might not be an answer right away, but keep the doors of communication open.

Don't be afraid to push, just a little bit.
I was late to the off-road game and found myself extremely nervous of almost everything. Once I had 4 trails down, I was (in my head) perfectly content to ride them all the time. Travis did not want me stuck in a rut, and knowing I could ride those trails meant I could ride others. Much to my disdain, he led me to other trails, pushing me outside my comfort zone. A zone to which I wouldn't have pushed outside on my own. The key is to know when to start making those nudges- If you need to stop during the ride to allow your partner to regroup mentally, do so. Let them know it's okay to do it in steps. Eventually they may feel confident enough to go out on their own and explore- and that's great!

Let them know that accidents happen- No Judgement.
Some new riders are so worried about making mistakes, the fear of judgement can be debilitating. I didn't mind screwing up or crashing on my own, but in front of Travis I felt like the world caved in on my head. I felt the continual need to prove that I was a good enough rider to be his partner, which put a lot of pressure on myself.

I still screw up on the trails sometimes- but the concern about having to "prove my worth" is much less.

Be supportive. Don't knock your partner for making mistakes- and joking about it is not always the best route. Essentially, don't knock them when they are down. Making them feel bad for messing up or not making this or that usually does not inspire confidence.

It's not all rainbows and sunshine.
Long story short, you will probably encounter on-the-trail squabbles. One will feel their limits were pushed too far too soon or simply become overwhelmed with the stimulus of learning/concentration/anxiety/etc. Travis and I had many moments where we both were exasperated with each other. These were not "make or break" situations, and we eventually got over ourselves. Helping your partner learn to mountain bike is not a Disney movie- don't expect happy butterflies and singing critters to aid you. It can be nitty, gritty, and can downright suck...but the positives are completely worth it.

Acknowledge the concerns.
The phrase "It's just a dirt path thru the woods" will not work for everyone. Hearing that makes me cringe, really. Mountain biking introduced me to some deep fears, worries, and concerns that I didn't know I had. It also challenged me more than any other riding I had done. I felt that saying it was a "simple" dirt path was brushing off my feelings. If your partner hasn't been riding for years- mountain biking may very well be almost terrifying to her. Make sure you listen to her concerns and praise her for going outside her comfort zone. She needs to feel that you are legitimately in her corner...you believed in her enough to get her out there- so show it.


Encourage her to ride solo and with others.
I had an excellent teacher in Travis, but I will say that I learned a lot riding solo. Riding alone let me feel like I could work and session areas without worry of holding up an entire ride. I could get as frustrated or overjoyed as I wanted. It gave me time I needed to work on areas that really stressed me out. I also became more comfortable with my surroundings and getting into a groove.

Riding with others is also a great way to establish comfort levels. I really enjoy riding with my girlfriends. Sure, riding with Travis was awesome- but there is something different and equally special with being able to hit the trails with my girlfriends. Guys may wonder what the mystery is, and really I can't say other than it's different and that's good!

Also, encourage your partner to ride with other experienced riders. Everyone has something to share in terms of skills or ways to accomplish the same thing. Riding with other experienced riders can push a person in a good way (especially if those riders are encouraging of new riders!) The golden rule of mountain biking- "We've all been there."

Let her own her it.
Photo Credit: Hannah Hoglund Photography
The more comfortable I became with riding the more intrigued I was by attending events. I didn't see myself as an "excellent" rider, but I wanted to see what they were all about. Events led to new friends and experiences- and it something I really enjoy. You do not have to love events yourself, but showing encouragement and support is a huge step in keeping the experience positive. That's the beauty of mountain biking- making it "your own."

I reiterate- not all women are the same. Each individual will have their own ways of dealing or reacting- this is why attitude is vital. I feel if women are introduced in a more positive-focused manner, they will be more likely to find the experience rewarding and confidence-inspiring.


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