made for fun
EDITORIAL

Tools To Make Mountain Biking Fun

Words Andrew Major
Date Jan 17, 2019

"When you're serious about having fun, it's not much fun at all!" - Calvin

Tools You Own

It's only early afternoon but already it's primevally dark in the trees. I'm slouched comfortably on my favourite bike, a collaboration between Waltworks and Toxik Harald that makes me smile every time I look at it. My WTB Koda saddle provides the perfect amount of padding for my leathery undercarriage and my one un-clipped foot rests against a cedar stump a hundred years older than I am. I'm surrounded by ferns and moss of the brightest greens.

I'm hurting bad, my lungs feel full of tar and my legs are leaden but it's a crisp winter day and I've already run into a handful of folks I know. I find myself in a friendly debate about a mutual friend who's no longer having fun mountain biking.

Sad.

nsmb_2017_marin_wolfridge_7mesh-6904-46.jpg

On a busy day, a solo ride can actually sometimes take me longer than a group ride. I'm a trail-side chatterer and there's a lot of interesting people in our community. Photo: Dave Smith

I've seen plenty of riders lose their sh*t over the years and I know more than a few folks who've quit mountain biking because their easy love turned into obsessive loathing but that's never going to be me. I keep it fun, keep it interesting, and keep it light. "No Garmin, No Rules" as my friend Terry would say. I also keep it nostalgic and whether it's going to my secret place when I'm deep in the pain cave, remembering fallen soldiers long quit, or recalling solid advice, part of keeping things fresh is the history of passion I have for riding.

Marin Rift Zone SS AndrewM

A bit of bike experimenting can help keep things fresh and interesting. My Rifty is currently built up as a single speed and it's farcical fun.

I have nothing but great rides but sometimes I need to rely on a few tools to maintain that frame of mind. You probably already have similar ones and the great news is that backward compatibility is not an issue. If you're having a hard time maintaining a smile out on the trails then put them in your pocket and pull them out anytime a ride starts going sideways.

Solid Gold

My friend Sean straddles his bike. The year is 1999. It's a new-to-him Schwinn 4-Banger. Orange. Hayes Champagne disc brakes. Easily the nicest rig in our crew. He's sporting a cotton t-shirt, half shell, and a pair of full-length Roach leg pads. He's ready to let fly. Or, well actually...

The trail is called Woodlot Gold and Sean's at the peak of the very first feature. It's a big looping overpass that's a cross between the PNE Coaster and a Hotwheels track. Having ridden from up and around on a spiraling ladder bridge he's left with three options. A steep wooden exit with the rungs spaced such that it actually resembles a ladder, a four-to-five foot drop to a flat landing, or a larger launch with a slight transition.

I've skipped all the three options and I'm down around the corner trying to build up the courage to pedal my bike across the massive trestle-bridge ladder span. The rungs are spaced wide enough for my size-43 shoes to fit easily between any two, so it's literally safer to ride. Our other friend Ryan lacks that cautious little voice in his head and he's already hit all three exits. He's standing at the bottom shouting up words of 'encouragement'.

RAF 3

Sometimes even the shortest bit of woodwork makes me feel like I'm staring down Jordie's tree roll. Photo: Rough A.F. 3

Big surprise, the 'encouragement' isn't helping. Sean's got a long fuse but when he finally snaps there's a ruthless silence. He steps off his bike, grabs it by the rear wheel, spins himself around, and sends that beautiful assembly of aluminum, carbon, magnesium, and steel flying in Ryan's direction.

It sails through the air in the slow motion and when gravity finally gets a firm grip it bounces back up half the height it was tossed from, lands on its wheels, and rolls forward coming to rest serenely against a tree as if someone had purposely leaned it there. The seat rails have both punched straight through the top of the saddle. Otherwise, the bike is as new.

AMajor_XFusion_NSMB_KazYamamura-5.jpg?resize=1600%2C1067

I don't hit this roll on Boogieman every time I ride the trail. When I skip it I always think about my friend Sean, clear my mind, and move on to having fun on my bike. Photo: Kaz Yamamura

Ryan turns to me and, with an impressive sang-froid, announces: "I don't think Seany-D is having any fun." I have to agree but I don't get it. Ride it or don't, but just ignore the background noise - internal or external. There's no point in getting down over trail sections left unridden. They'll be there tomorrow. Or they won't.

Anytime I find myself walking around a greasy skinny, skipping a steep drop-in, or otherwise choosing a more sanitized option, I think briefly about Sean and how many great adventures he's missed over the years because he didn't skip one sketchy wooden stunt.

I can always look at it again tomorrow.

My Secret Place

Many years ago I was riding in the snow on some moto-trails in a network called McNutt. I was using a pair of Speedplay Frog pedals which uniquely had an elastomer clip-in mechanism as part of the cleat rather than the pedal. I'd been walking up a steep fire road in the snow for a while but finally, it had turned downhill enough to jump on the bike and get some snow surfing going.

At the bottom of the descent, there was a dip before the rocky road headed back up into the trees. It was a deep pit filled with water and, other than the thin coating of ice on top, said water was still barely in a liquid form. Halfway across I hit a rock and stalled. Despite my most herculean attempts I couldn't convince the f***ing elastomers to compress enough to let my shoes release from those pedals.

HT X2 Pedals AndrewM

Thankfully, whatever your flavour all pedals on the market these days are pretty decent at clearing snow and function when cold.

Snow Rides AndrewM

Clipped-in or riding flats, sometimes a frame of mind is the only way to ensure that they're all good rides.

I'd love to say I Ryan-Leeched that sh*t but I neither managed to rear wheel hop or yoga myself out of the situation. Instead, I fell over sideways into two-feet of ice water where I managed, with some effort, to not drown before one of my buddies could help haul my soaked ass out. I set about shivering violently and we continued to push our bikes up to our favourite McNutt trail 'The Chute'.

Whether I'm underdressed on the coldest, wettest, gloomiest days or hurting hard from an unplanned meeting with the ground, or experiencing a rare bought of bad company, I just go back to that moment in time. I can feel my ice-cold saturated chamois against my Flite saddle, hear the pluft, pluft, pluft, of my soaked Dickies slapping my legs, and I can feel the sandy embrace of the tiny vinyl seat in the back of my friend's sister's Mazda B-Series truck as the heater whined violently trying to bring some feeling back to my toes.

When I go to my secret place on a ride nothing can phase me mentally and it's easy to pop back out when the conditions or company improves.

Do You See It?

Crashing both sucks and is inevitable. That's mountain biking. But, before I roll into anything sketchy I can always hear my friend Al's voice in my head.

I'm sitting at the top of the log-ride exit to 7th Secret for the first time. Left foot clipped-in, right foot resting on the log, and both hands on the bar of my Balfa Minuteman. I take a deep breath. I'm doomed.

I look around and meet eyes with my new friend Alan. He smiles and says "do you see yourself at the end of that log?" to which I can only reply with a long sigh. "If you don't see yourself at the end then give it a pass. When you're ready for it you'll know."

But what if I'm never ready?

"It will be there."

NMSB_2017_gearreview_transition_patrol-5037.jpg

Sometimes it helps to follow a more confident rider in. Sometimes I'm just not ready. Knowing the difference is the tricky part. Photo: Dave Smith

Aspects of my bike handling still progress every year and some of that comes from pushing my own boundaries, but if I can't visualize myself exiting a section of trail with the rubber side down, then I know I don't have the confidence to hit it. It's not that I don't ride over my head. I crash plenty thanks. The difference is if I'm not confident dropping in I know I'm going to crash, whereas when my form and brake control are on point it's a lot less likely.

I'm probably over-cautious by nature, but having the confidence to know when it's time to walk is a tool that has helped keep riding fun for me. News flash, when you get to the coffee shop/pub no one really cares who was first or rode the most gnarly sh*t. Mountain biking is for fun.

And there you have it. My tools for suffering and survival that ultimately keep it light.


How do you make sure the fun doesn't get too serious?

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Comments

Kelownakona
+5 oudiaou Jitensha Kun Skyler Andrew Major AJ Barlas
Kelownakona  - Jan. 17, 2019, 1:43 a.m.

Great article. Totally agree. In the past I used to get hung up about features I bottled but now if there something I don't feel like giving a go I treat it as sonething to work towards in future and in a way it's quite good motivation to hold a goal like that. It'd be pretty boring to be able to clear everything in every local ride.

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AndrewMajor
+1 Mammal
Andrew Major  - Jan. 17, 2019, 8:01 a.m.

Thanks! 

There is something remarkable about features I skip, which then become my nemesis, and then when I finally ride them it’s anticlimactic every time! Every damn time.

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fartymarty
+3 AlanB DanL Andrew Major
fartymarty  - Jan. 17, 2019, 8:07 a.m.

As I get older (into mid 40s) my nemesis's (sp?) are now super techy sections of climbs rather decents.  Which is kinda good as I am less likely to hurt myself on climbs.

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AndrewMajor
+2 DarioD IslandLife
Andrew Major  - Jan. 17, 2019, 8:14 a.m.

Ha! My worst endos in recent memory have all been chargin’ uphill! I’ve managed to eat my tire and have my rear wheel buzz my head! Safety third.

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mammal
+2 Sanesh Iyer Andrew Major
Mammal  - Jan. 17, 2019, 9:12 a.m.

Ha ha, I'm with you on the uphill endos. I thought I was the only one.

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jitenshakun
+1 Andrew Major
Jitensha Kun  - Jan. 18, 2019, 12:12 p.m.

I ride trickier stuff on the road then I do at home.  Riding around a gap for 8 years means there's a lot of baggage whenever I contemplate hitting it.

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fartymarty
+1 Andrew Major
fartymarty  - Jan. 17, 2019, 8:04 a.m.

I have learnt the same thing the hard way.  

It was explaining to my 3 year old daughter why my face was smashed up and I was missing a tooth that woke me up.

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Mjmiller613
+1 Andrew Major
Mjmiller613  - Jan. 17, 2019, 6:48 a.m.

Fun read

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DanL
+1 Andrew Major
DanL  - Jan. 17, 2019, 8:20 a.m.

Great article/writing.

I enjoy facing down the mind games brought on by woodwork - the sudden horizon before a drop that in reality isn't too crazy and you feel a little silly about balking. Then again, some others are getting the combination of guts and technique working correctly - some of the natural ones on ladies for example - and then the payoff is huge for me.

I was discussing with a friend the way to stop the plateaus and going-through-the-motions feeling brought on by constant riding and how to make it always feel like the first time. There are many ways to approach trails and riding them, but it does take a little mindfulness to figure out why and what to do about it instead of just smashing down and feeling a little unfulfilled.

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AndrewMajor
+2 AlanB IslandLife
Andrew Major  - Jan. 17, 2019, 9:28 a.m.

Thanks! It’s funny, I know lots of folks who’ve bought shorter travel bikes recently based on that same line of thinking. New geometry is so good it’s inpressive what can be ridden well / confidently with a short travel bike while still keeping this spicy enough.

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MikeMc
+1 Andrew Major
Mike McArthur  - Jan. 24, 2019, 6:57 a.m.

The Surface I picked up a few years back did just the trick for this. The lumpy climbs were the bits I won't miss on the HT, but loved threading the HT down many Fromme trails.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 24, 2019, 2:53 p.m.

I’m obligated to suggest that the next step on your path to nirvana is to single speed that Surface!

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MTBrent
+1 Andrew Major
MTBrent  - Jan. 17, 2019, 8:48 a.m.

I'll be trying the SS FS experiment soon, as well.  My HT was ridden on all but a couple rides last year, mainly because of it being SS.  Put me in the 'addicted' column.

Are you happy with the Pinion tensioner?  Have you tried any other setups?

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AndrewMajor
+2 OwenFoster MTBrent
Andrew Major  - Jan. 17, 2019, 9:25 a.m.

The issues with the Pinion tensioner are that it isn’t ISCG compatible and the huge spring it runs (not visible in photo) is the constriction point with the tire.

I’m running a smaller tire (2.35 E13 SS) which lets me tuck the tensioner up more than in this photo. I’ll also be drilling new holes in the back plate I have it mounted to to change the position a little - it’s a work in progress. 

That said - zero dropped chains, the system is very low drag (very efficient) and it moves with impacts so I feel it will prove to be more resilient.

I’ve used all manner of tensioners over the years from the Paul Melvin to the Alfine. 

Most recently I was using an old non-clutch XTR derailleur. A clutch isn’t needed for retention in this application.

Cheers!

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IslandLife
+1 Andrew Major
IslandLife  - Jan. 17, 2019, 10:43 a.m.

I'm always curious when I see pics of your single speed set-ups... how do you deal with sustained steep climbs?  Or do you just use this bike when those won't be ridden?

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AndrewMajor
+1 IslandLife
Andrew Major  - Jan. 17, 2019, 12:53 p.m.

Some of it comes down to gearing. I run an easier gear here (30-22 to 32-21 is my normal range of options) than I would in flatter places.

Once that’s sorted you stand up, grab the bar, and turn the pedals. Somewhere between debating dead relatives about European efforts to sign trade deals enforcing regional trademarks for cheese names and a heart attack I’ll stop and take a break or hop off and push. 

Not saying I get anywhere fast but I’m really happy with how much pedaling (vs walking) I do on this bike. It’s much harder to pull the Rifty through the pain cave compared to my hardtail but a lot of that comes down to just climbing my own climb.

I ride my SS bikes everywhere I ride geared bikes and usually with riders on geared bikes.

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IslandLife
+1 Andrew Major
IslandLife  - Jan. 17, 2019, 1:14 p.m.

Huh... thanks for the explanation... food or cheese for thought.

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taprider
0
taprider  - Jan. 17, 2019, 3:28 p.m.

how much chain do you need to wrap?  should  not be more than 2 links

how about an old Huret Jubilee or Campy Record using just one pulley?

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OwenFoster
+2 Pete Roggeman Andrew Major
OwenFoster  - Jan. 20, 2019, 7:49 a.m.

Non-clutched is a winner. A few years ago I set up a Chromag Aperture as a 2x1. Using a Zee short cage/DH mech with no cable to both tension and allow the growth between a 30t and a 36t narrow wide 104 ring (bolted to each other sandwiching the tabs)

The 20t Surly cog out back made for a reasonable, mostly seated climb at 20/30 but with a hand shift at the top I'd have a great charge gear for down or around town at 20-36. 

It was an odd solution but allowed for a very versatile big with the fun of SS. 

Its fun to craft a franken toy.

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AndrewMajor
+1 Pete Roggeman
Andrew Major  - Jan. 20, 2019, 6:49 p.m.

No boring bikes!

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pete@nsmb.com
0
Pete Roggeman  - Jan. 21, 2019, 2:07 p.m.

Dude, that's cool. We need pics.

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cooperquinn
+1 Andrew Major
Cooper Quinn  - Jan. 17, 2019, 12:32 p.m.

You shouldn't ever really feel like you have anything to prove to anyone. Its recreation. Feel like skipping or walking something, even if you've ridden it before. There's no shame in that. A bit out of shape, and need to walk a section of the climb? Who cares. 

I always think of two phrases, BC Lotto's "Know your limit, play within it" 

AND

On a warm summer's evening..... on a TRAAAAIN BOUND FOR GEORGIA...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hx4gdlfamo

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AndrewMajor
+1 Cooper Quinn
Andrew Major  - Jan. 17, 2019, 12:47 p.m.

Pretty sure that train was bound for nowhere... either way, definitely “know when to walk away and know when to run” is pretty solid advice for most things in life!

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cooperquinn
+1 Andrew Major
Cooper Quinn  - Jan. 17, 2019, 1:28 p.m.

Right? 

That guy was on to something.

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xy9ine
+2 Cam McRae Cooper Quinn
Perry Schebel  - Jan. 17, 2019, 12:56 p.m.

MY FRAGILE EGO, THAT'S WHO CARES.

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cooperquinn
+1 Andrew Major
Cooper Quinn  - Jan. 17, 2019, 1:27 p.m.

I'd suggest you work on that fragile masculinity, and switch to Gillette razors, but its pretty clear you wouldn't get a lot of use out of 'em.

But to your point... yeah, it's frustrating to walk things sometimes. But I always figure its better to walk a feature I've ridden before, or save a new one for a later date, than to end up in the ER, y'know?

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taprider
0
taprider  - Jan. 17, 2019, 1:40 p.m.

"you wouldn't get a lot of use out of 'em."

^Santa Claus?

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cooperquinn
0
Cooper Quinn  - Jan. 17, 2019, 10:27 p.m.

We (well, Andrew) has dubbed Perry "Fit Santa" 

so, yes?

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xy9ine
+2 Andrew Major ZigaK
Perry Schebel  - Jan. 17, 2019, 2:03 p.m.

THE RAZOR, IT WILL NOT FLUSH.

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xy9ine
+3 Cooper Quinn Andrew Major Mammal
Perry Schebel  - Jan. 17, 2019, 2:13 p.m.

but yeah, the transition towards old(er) age / heightened responsibility is an interesting one. ie, shying away from some of the big boy lines one used to ride. i've come to grips with that now, but that initial realization that you're past your prime (at least in regards to more consequential actions) is an odd thing to come to grips with. thankfully, my ability to not give a shit has ramped up alongside, so i'm in a good place these days.

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cooperquinn
+1 Mammal
Cooper Quinn  - Jan. 17, 2019, 10:27 p.m.

Agreed. My ability and/or desire to ride consequential lines and desire to ride tomorrow and/or give no f*cks have traded places nicely. 

I like bikes. And riding them. And its all selfishly entirely for me, and I don't care if other people are riding cooler harder shit. F 'em.

IslandLife
+1 Cooper Quinn
IslandLife  - Jan. 18, 2019, 10:28 a.m.

Ha, yep... I kinda also feel like getting a bit older has given me a kind of "hall pass" to walk some things vs 10 or 20 years ago when I would have been torn to shreds by "my bros" for "not being a bitch and just sending it already".

Now it's like we're all kind of relieved - "Oh you're walking that?  Uhh ya, I guess if you're walking, so will I."  "ya, me too."  "Me too" "you guys are bunch of pussies, but... if you're all walking..."    A different kind of train has emerged, ha!

...and then the 12 year who rips in and crushes it says: "Ya, you guys are too old for this."  To which my monkey brain reacts by promptly turning around, hiking back up, sending it very sketchily... so sketchily that it further cements the good decision my friends have all made in walking it that none of them attempt it and just keep going.

It's a continuum...

blackbird
+2 Cr4w Andrew Major
tw  - Jan. 17, 2019, 6:43 p.m.

Drew, I’m still using Frogs. (Over 20 years now) 

The secret is worn cleat on a new pedal or worn pedal with a new cleat. I wouldn’t dare using a new cleat with a new pedal anywhere on the shore. 

And great article. Some healthy advice here.

tw

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 18, 2019, 7:04 a.m.

Thanks! I had a look but I don’t have mine anymore. I love old gear still loved stories. Is that your one BITD component?

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craw
+1 Andrew Major
Cr4w  - Jan. 18, 2019, 9:16 a.m.

Andrew when you and I met I was running Magnums, which were the precursor to Frogs.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 18, 2019, 9:21 a.m.

I remember! My red & black DX pedals died a few months later and I figured what the hell?! So really you’re to blame for my almost drowning!

In all seriousness, my set of Frogs held up really well (bearings and axles) and I ran them long enough to wear out a few sets of cleats and I had to replace 1/2 a pedal body after I cracked it. They owed me nothing wherever they are.

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blackbird
+1 Andrew Major
tw  - Jan. 19, 2019, 7:43 p.m.

I don’t use the originals but still have them. I’ve bought a few pairs off of PB so I have a supply im case I break the shell. 

But it’s not my only BITD item. Still have my Ibis Mojo steel (you know the one). It doesn’t get any riding time though. The Chilcotin is just too good.

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AndrewMajor
+1 tw
Andrew Major  - Jan. 20, 2019, 6:55 p.m.

Man, right now more than ever the bike industry needs some send-ups like MOReONtheends butted tubing.

I saw that Scott Nicol has a signture colour Giro helmet and I had to laugh a bit.

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blackbird
+2 Pete Roggeman Andrew Major
tw  - Jan. 20, 2019, 7:53 p.m.

...and the handjob cable holder was pure gold.

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AndrewMajor
+1 Pete Roggeman
Andrew Major  - Jan. 20, 2019, 8:28 p.m.

It's the combination of persnickety attention to little details and in turn, playing down the industry's obsession with overselling features that made IBIS such an amazing brand. 

The owner of the first shop I worked for had a couple of Szazbos and a Cousin IT Tandem. The first thing I noticed was how awesome the paint quality was - I think IBIS never got props for their paint quality because the focus was so heavily on Klein. 

yish
+3 Pete Roggeman Cam McRae Andrew Major
yish...  - Jan. 17, 2019, 6:47 p.m.

Thank you so much for this article. I haven't ridden my bike in the last 6 months. I remember that log ride on 7th Secret...the "woooooo!" I let out when I reached the end of it probably woke some bears. You will be responsible for me dusting off the ol' Banshee Phantom, lubing the chain, and head out for a ride this weekend. Will be having a cold beer after and sending you gratitude vibes. Cheers!

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cooperquinn
+2 AlanB Andrew Major
Cooper Quinn  - Jan. 17, 2019, 10:29 p.m.

And I think that means Andrew finds the whole thing worthwhile! 

Its not what you ride. It's that you're out there somewhere, riding!

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 18, 2019, 7:01 a.m.

That’s awesome. Thank you & Cheers! Have a great ride!

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TonyJ
+1 Andrew Major
TonyJ  - Jan. 17, 2019, 9:59 p.m.

Ahhh, Woodlot Gold, I remember that 3 exit stunt all to well, and the epically long and high bridge/log ride (that was intimidating). 

Similar experience falling backwards/headfirst into the Ladies Only swamp at full depth (wasn't terraced in the old days, just deep and muddy beside the teeter), only thing that was dry were my feet, but I had to stand up, so..... Cold winter day, rode the rest of the ride soaked all the way down to my saturated skate shoes. I don't think I'll ever feel that cold again.

For inspiration, I offer words sung by the Specials;

"Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think"

Thanks Andrew, I enjoyed that.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 18, 2019, 7:03 a.m.

Thanks Tony, I’ve fallen in the pond but just part way. I’ve seen some epic soakings though and it’s a longer trip out from there than it seems.

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craw
+2 Pete Roggeman Andrew Major
Cr4w  - Jan. 18, 2019, 9:21 a.m.

My big challenge these days it to try and roll through spots where I usually stop to rest. Even if it just means slowing right down, it breaks the habit of stopping there, mentally working towards doing the whole thing in one shot. This counts for every climb. And eventually dropping straight into descents without stopping. It's not exactly fun, but it turns climbing into less of a slog and builds some minor goal setting into it, which helps distract me from the suck. It helps builds the logic for breaking through boundaries and ultimately whatever tricks you into more fitness sets you up for more fun later on.

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pete@nsmb.com
0
Pete Roggeman  - Jan. 21, 2019, 2:10 p.m.

Of course, if you believe in the adage "it never gets easier, you just go faster" then it doesn't exactly work out that way...however I enjoy suffering less on a climb, all things being equal, which pays off when climbing with your regular group.

OTOH, fast is fun, up or down.

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bart
+1 Andrew Major
bart  - Jan. 18, 2019, 1:29 p.m.

Thank you for this!  Keeping it light and stress free isn't always easy - I think I struggled a lot last year to stay motivated, rode a lot of the same trail but did it to be out in the woods and in the trees.  The trail is usually pretty well ridden by families or people newer to the sport and most of the more experienced riders stay away for that reason(people in their way as they try and get the top strava time).  Frankly people new to the sport have an amazing outlook and their vibe is infectious.   It got me through the season, brought me back to feeling what I used to when I started. Keep it light keep it fun!

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Jan. 20, 2019, 6:57 p.m.

How many Andrews are you working with right now? We still haven’t pulled off the big road-trip All Andrew’s ride!

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AlanB
+1 Andrew Major
AlanB  - Jan. 21, 2019, 9:52 a.m.

Yup! Mtn biking allows you to see the future. If you don't see yourself riding off the log cleanly, give it a pass.

It's taken me far too many crashes to learn that it's not what you can ride, it's when you can ride it.

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earleb
+2 natbrown Andrew Major
earle.b  - Jan. 22, 2019, 10:22 a.m.

Click bait. 

I came here looking for an article on actual tools. Like new quick links pliers, or the best circlip pliers for rebuilding my fork form a brand I've never heard of. Damn click bait ;)

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