I can still vividly recall the day I learned to ride a bike. I removed the training wheels and taught myself by riding back and forth on our deck on an old banana seat bike. A few pedal strokes at a time. I was a determined kid. Years later I would employ a very similar technique when teaching myself to ride a unicycle, but that’s a story for another day.
We (my 5 siblings and I) grew up out in the country in northern Nova Scotia at the top of a big hill overlooking the Northumberland Strait. We had forrest all around and lots of hills to rip down on our bikes. One particular day I decided to follow my older brother up the mill road behind our house. He was on his mountain bike and I on the old banana seat cruiser. He went almost to the top and then pedalled the whole way down. Very impressive. I decided I would do the same thing on the old cruiser. I made it all the way to the bottom before spotting that one rock, you know the type of rock you can’t stop looking at. That was my first lesson in where you look is where you go. Coincidentally also my first over the bars (OTB) experience. That rock met my front tire and I was sent soaring through the air after which I came down harshly on the gravel road. I crawled the 50 meters back to the house where Grandma bandaged me up.
Over the years I got pretty good at crashing. Even imagining that all too familiar feeling of being in the air, completely out of control waiting for impact can still send chills down my spine. My much older and much stiffer spine. A sentiment that I believe 99.9% of mountain bikers can sympathize with. It seems my determination also translates into being determined to learn most things the hard way.
During those early days I constantly worked on the important skills like cat walks and sweet tire skids. Eventually I would break most of the bikes in the house. Then came that fateful day that I bought my first real mountain bike… or so I thought. It had suspension which was a big deal. It was a dual suspension Supercycle (which would later be termed the Supersucky). By this time I had started watching some of the earliest freeride mountain bike films such as Kranked and New World Disorder and was ready to start sending it on my new bike. I had scoped my line dozens of times and there was nothing left to do but to drop in and go for it. Down across the lawn I came, focused my huck to flat which was a massive 1 foot rock wall. Luckily I sent it deep because it was the one and only huck I would get out of that sweet sweet ride. On impact the rear wheel exploded, literally sending spokes flying across the yard.
My first actual mountain bike was a Giant Rincon, purchased from the local bike shop. Man was that bike was bulletproof. I rode it off everything. 5 foot wheelie drops to flat concrete, kickers onto the side hill that would launch me at least 8 feet in the air and cliff drops in the local provincial park. I can remember one day my two older brothers were watching from the deck and telling me I was going to break the bike because it wasn’t made for that kind of punishment. They were right of course but somehow the bike held together. That moment remains a point of pride for me, older brothers telling you you’re going too big! After the Rincon I owned various other bikes from a 2000 Norco 4hun to a 2003-ish Santa Cruz Bullit to a 2008 Specialized Demo 8 to a 2013 Trek Fuel EX8, to a 2016 Rocky Mountain Altitude. All of these bikes have since been sold but I remember each of them fondly. I raced downhill (DH) on the 4hun, the Bullit and the Demo. I wasn’t the fasted downhill racer but man did I have fun. Part of my downfall was that I would always favour hitting the sweet jump over finding the fastest line. I did however manage to nab 2nd place in a mens sport category at one race. In 2012 I started racing cross country (XC) with the Fuel which was another completely new world. Again managing to nab 2nd place in one mens sport category race.
The Demo 8 holds a very special place among my past bikes. It’s the bike I purchased in North Vancouver while on a co-op work term for my engineering degree. I had dreamt of riding the North Shore since those early freeride films. It took me 3 months to pay for the bike and I spent 3 weekends on the North Shore before heading back to the East Coast for another semester of school.
I finished university in 2011 after which I worked in Nova Scotia for several years. During this time I continued to race DH and this is when I took up XC racing. I also volunteered with an association called Positive Action for Keppoch (PAK) aimed at developing an old ski hill, the Keppoch, in my home town of Antigonish as an outdoor recreation hub for Northeastern Nova Scotia. I had skied at the Keppoch with my siblings and cousins as a young child. Unfortunately we only got one or two seasons in before the ski hill shut down. Fortunately old ski hills are great for mountain biking and this is where the local downhill races were hosted. While part of this volunteer association I was very fortunate to have an opportunity to attend a mountain bike instructor course organized by PAK and facilitated by Shaums March. I became certified as a mountain bike instructor and guide. My accreditation has since lapsed but the skills I learned have carried on and I have had many opportunities to informally coach others. Note that the Keppoch has continued to be developed as a year round outdoor facility and it gets better every year. Check out their website here and if you are visiting Northeastern Nova Scotia it’s a must stop for outdoor enthusiasts. I love that I got to play a small part in something that has become such a success thanks to the dedicated volunteers that have continued to push the project.
All of these past experiences (and past bikes) tell my personal mountain biking story. Each time I would think I was getting pretty good I would have a very humbling experience. This continues to this day. I have been in Alberta with immediate access to the mountains for almost 8 years and I’m still learning. Learning new skills, learning new trails and learning how to be humbled all over again. One lesson in particular stands out. That lesson is to make sure you keep your ego in check. Letting your ego make decisions on the trail is a recipe for disaster. If something is feeling off it’s okay to skip the drop or the sketchy line. There’s always next time. And honestly, it’s very rewarding on the day you do feel good and nail that drop or line you’ve had your eye on for some time. The older I get the more I realize it’s about consistency. Being able to ride consistently while having a blast is my main goal now. I don’t want to give the impression I’ve gone soft. I like to think I’ve just gotten wiser. Yes I’m still sending it and yes I’m definitely still learning the hard way (aka crashing).
Side note: I’m currently riding a 2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude Alloy 50 and I absolutely love this bike. It is foolishly capable on the downhills and pedals really well. It’s well suited to my current style of riding which is geared more towards all mountain / enduro (coincidentally this style of riding combines the fitness of XC, the rush of DH while allowing for exploration of amazing mountain landscapes – all things I love).
Some years the amount of riding I have done has been limited as a result of injuries or work commitments. There was a string of about 3 years where I tore my ACL/MCL, recovered, had surgery, recovered again then broke my scapula. During this time my work commitments were also extremely heavy with 60-80 hour weeks for months on end. I’m a bit embarrassed at how little I rode during those 3 years but I’m a firm believer that you need to experience difficult times to truly appreciate the good times.
The past 2 years have without a doubt been my best mountain biking years to date. My riding has been strong and confident. The confidence did take a while to get back however after the various injuries. I have been able check several bucket list trails off my list and have continued to explore new trail networks every year. I’ve got several friends that I mountain bike with who, even though they only started biking during my time in Calgary, have caught up and surpassed my riding level in some areas (again… humbled). Having a solid network of people to ride with is extremely motivating and it’s also super fun to take long weekend trips into interior British Columbia (BC). BC never disappoints when it comes to sweet terrain and awesome mountain bike trails. I’m constantly blown away that I can take a day trip or a weekend trip to places I could only dream of when I was younger. At least once during every ride someone in the group will just shake their head and utter “man, mountain biking is awesome”.
If you made it this far through my meandering reminiscing I hope you enjoyed it. I’m borrowing another recommendation from one of my favourite authors and podcasters (T. Ferriss) with this blog thus far and ensuring that I at least have an audience of one. Meaning that no matter how much (or how little) traffic I get to my blog I am enjoying the process immensely. My hope is that others enjoy the read and are inspired to get outside and enjoy the beautiful landscapes Canada, and the world, have to offer. Maybe you have been daydreaming about an outdoor pursuit you enjoyed when you were younger. Possibly, as in the case of my mountain biking buddies, you will pick up a new sport and accelerate past your friends that got you in to it in the first place (honourable mention for Bid Daddy Z). Or maybe you have a similar story to mine where you have that sport you have loved since childhood and continue to enjoy to this day. Whatever the case may be, get out there and have a blast!
Happy trails, and remember mountain biking is awesome!