Near my house there is a bridleway that is popular with all kinds of users: walkers, dog walkers, families, cyclists and equestrians. At the weekend this lane can be fairly slow going with all the people on it. It can become boggy through the winter but it’s definitely the best way to get from our house to the countryside. Which is why I was there.
As I approached it I saw a chap and his son out for a bike ride. For a potentially muddy uphill lane, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an ill-equipped pair. Son was on a BMX that didn’t really fit and had small block urban tyres. Son was also off and pushing before he even got to the mud because it was too much hard work to get the pedals to turn without spinning the tyres. If anything, dad had made an even odder choice: what appeared to be a flat-bar carbon road bike (from a popular Italian brand in their signature blue). This was complemented by skinny-skinny tyres and, most bizarre of all, only a single gear. What on earth was he thinking?
It seemed that what he was thinking was that attempting to unclip from your pedals whilst looking over your shoulder will lead to you landing unceremoniously in the bushes.
You’re doing it wrong
Dad trying not to fall in the undergrowth. Son pushing his bike whilst trying to catch up. Son complaining that it would be quicker to walk. Dad trying to persuade him that it wouldn’t be if he pedalled faster.
It would be easy for me to adopt the superior attitude of the experienced mountain biker and sneer at the roadie being hoisted on his own petard.
Except that both of them appeared to be having fun.
They were both out in the countryside “enjoying” each other’s company. It didn’t really matter that their bikes were utterly unsuitable for what they were doing: they were spending time together, in the open air, getting some exercise. They even seemed to be enjoying their argument.
So I left them to it and went for my walk.
Watching them struggle and flail in the mud got me thinking though. It’s very easy to look at someone else and say they are doing it wrong.
The other way!
I often see people out riding those trails the “wrong” way. There’s a very strong part of me that wants to stop and ask them if they’ve considered riding the other way: it’s much more fun. And then you can link it to that trail, which brings you out…
Another, luckily stronger, part of me reminds me that it’s their ride and they can do whatever they want. After all people would probably look at some of the bits I love riding and think I was bonkers. So I smile, say hello and wish them the best of luck with their ride.
It just shows that I need to think less about some things, sometimes.
Live and let ride
Part of my job is to help people enjoy their riding more, to give them confidence. Not to tell them they are wrong: just highlight ways they could get more out of it. One of the ways I do this is to start to unpick long-held beliefs about the right way to go about things. Another is to suggest that their bike may not be set up quite right.
It can be a difficult transition. I know that when I have flaws in my technique questioned I’m pretty resistant. It can be hard to let go of things that I’ve been doing for years and embrace a new way of doing things. Eventually, though I can see that the new ways work better than the old ones, but it can take a long time before it becomes normal.
When it does take root, it can make an enormous improvement to confidence and enjoyment. It can make a huge difference to how easy some things feel. But it takes time and energy to make it stick.
Another part of my job is knowing when this advice will be positively received, and knowing when just shutting up and riding will allow a client to have more fun.
increasingly, I am coming to the conclusion that people being out riding at all is more important than them doing it right.
It still pains me to see people suffering with their saddles too low, or sitting down as they ride through obstacles, or riding a bike that’s too small/big for them. I can, now, let it lie and just rejoice in them having fun on two wheels.
I can watch them having fun and just accept it. Not fixate on how they are doing it wrong.
So, my lesson for this week is simple: just get out and ride. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing it right or wrong if you’re enjoying it.
In fact, if you’re enjoying it, you’re probably doing it right. Doing it better can make it more enjoyable, but only when you’re ready for it.
Son was right though: it was quicker to walk. It took them about fifteen minutes to catch me up.