Tuesday, April 6, 2010

40 years and counting...

About 13 years ago, just after moving back to Western PA from Aurora Ohio, I started mountain biking in Brady’s Run again. After a few months of solo riding I came upon a few people I knew from my youth growing up in New Brighton. I was still riding my 8 year old steel Paramount Series 30 and these guys were riding the latest and greatest aluminum rigs with, gasp, suspension forks! They also had clipless pedals!!! This was eye opening to me as I hadn’t changed a single item on my bike, aside from a few tubes and brake shoes, in 8 years. Yes, that’s not an oversight that I neglected to mention tires. I was running 8 year old tires that, I hate to admit, were full of 45 lbs of tire pressure (no wonder my neck hurt so much!).

Anyway, despite these guys being newbies to riding mountain bikes, I couldn’t keep up with them. They were a few years younger than me, but still, I figured it had to be the latest in bicycle design that was the difference. This was 1997 and Gary Fisher had just come out with his Genesis geometry bikes, and I figured it sounded pretty good to me. I picked up a beautiful blue Big Sur that year and I was amazed at the difference in my riding and enjoyment. My knees stopped hurting and I described climbing with the bike akin to strapping a rocket to the rear. It was indeed a genesis for me, and it wasn’t long before I was able to stay with the pack on our nightly rides. However, this enjoyment soon gave way to disillusionment as I came to realize these rides were not rides at all, at least not how I defined a ride. No, these were little races.

On my Paramount, I would always be at the back of the pack and the group would wait for me at certain spots and upon my arrival, they would immediately start riding again. But once I was able to keep up, they quit stopping as often. And on the rare occasion when we would stop, the banter would most often revolve around some lighter weight component someone had purchased, or some ointment or drink mix that was helping them ride more quickly or for longer duration. On a few occasions, after a few of our regularly scheduled rides, I would pull out a beer from my cooler and get looks of disgust from the other riders as they chugged down rainbow colored “energy recovery” drinks out of old plastic bottles. I found this odd.

I was quickly becoming disgusted with the whole scene. Immediately I began skipping the scheduled weekly rides and started sneak out for some solo rides on other days of the week. What I discovered was these guys were actually training on these other days. Mind you that none of them were actually racing their bikes in any official capacity. They were training for our weekly rides! I will never forget coming upon a couple of the guys on the access road as I climbed from the horse arena. They were coming down the main vein trail and so I waited for them and joined in as they went past and up towards Wildwood trail. Except they didn’t go onto Wildwood, they made the hard turn on the road up towards Shelter #1 (or 10 as it was in those days). I thought that strange since they had just descended from there, but thought, “oh well”, and continued to follow them. Once we got up to the top of the hill, they made the hard right onto the main vein and proceeded to blow down the main vein back to the very place where I had just joined them. At this point I had no idea what the hell they were doing, but I figured there was only one way to find out and so I followed down the hill. What I quickly discovered was they were just doing this loop over and over again. I caught up with one of them just as he was turning to go back up the hill. I hollered out asking what the hell they were doing. What he yelled back haunts me still to this day. He said “We’re working on hills tonight. This is number 4 of 10”. They were “working” on hills?!? At this point, in near paralyzing fear, I turned around and rode out Wildwood trail alone and, finally, at peace.

I never attended another of their weekly rides. Over the next year or so I ran into a few of them on occasion. I’d stop and say hi, never, of course, asking to join in on their ride. After a few years I never saw any of them in the park again. Then one day I ran into one of them in a local bar and asked where they’d been riding. The response was “Oh, we all sold our bicycles and bought dirt bikes”. I guess there’s only so much “work” one is willing to dedicate to them thar hills.

Ride on,

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