My First* Time Mountain Biking

That “First” has an asterisk beside it, because I can think of another occasion that was my “first time” mountain biking.  I had been on a bike tour of the “Romantic Road” in Germany and on our final day, we climbed up the Alps on the German side and rode down on the Austrian side.  My bike did not have suspension but would still have been considered a mountain bike by some reckoning.  The year was 1994 - I was 21 years old.

I don’t think there’s been much since then, really.  Getting a mountain bike has been an oft-procrastinated goal for me, since I don’t know a lot about them and wouldn't be sure what would be practical for me.  The general idea would be to get into training for an off-road triathlon (like The Muskoka Grind, which sadly won’t be taking place this year).  Based on my informal research a hard-tail (no rear suspension) would be best for that since the trails aren't too technical/challenging (compared to hard-core MTB) and it saves some weight.  A bike swap seemed like a good bet to get a bike on the cheap, and I lucked out in having a little bit of free time for the Hardwood Hills Bike Swap.  I picked up this little number.  It’s a Trek bike with Bontrager components... like my current road/tri bike, so I guess, I’m either loyal or superstitious.

I don’t want to keep it at home - the garage isn't secure enough and I don’t want to clutter the basement any further, so the long-term plan would be to keep it at the cottage and use it on weekends.  I’ve seen a few triathlon training plans that will put mountain biking as a weekend cross-training opportunity.  I think it could work for my schedule as a substitute for long rides - I’m not training for any long distance (half-iron or iron) events and short and intense works better for my family schedule, even at the cottage.  As of Easter, though, the cottage still has snow, but it was beautiful in Toronto on Easter Sunday, so when the kids went down for their nap, I decided to sample the Etobicoke Creek Trail (my main running route) from a different perspective...
View from on top of the ridge

From my sitting position on the mountain bike (which I will call by its model name, Wahoo, until I think of a better name), the experience was more comparable to my hybrid/commuter bike, so I was a little surprised to find the handling so responsive (by comparison).  The Wahoo has disc brakes, which I expected to be super sensitive; this wasn't the case, and I wonder if they don’t need adjusting.  Still, I figured they were functional enough for what I would be trying in my novice’s trepidation.

The first part of the trail is some light gravel which I manoeuvred around easily.  When I had to climb a little into the forest, I had to deal with some roots and rocks, which made me giggle and whoop as I fiddled around them.  Local construction on Eglinton has blocked off access and exits to the trail in a way I find really annoying - right here I was going to go up to the top of the ridge where I know some mountain bikers have put some ramps and bumps.  Instead I carried on North toward the airport.

Shortly before I reached the highway, I came across a hill I’m well acquainted with from running.  This hill had a lesson to teach me - climbing hills on a bike is not just fitness/performance.  This is where bike handling technique comes in.  I've climbed much, much tougher hills on my road/tri bike, but I get into the right gear at the right time, I build up some speed before-hand, and I don’t get off my seat until absolutely necessary.  On my new Wahoo... I did none of these things and had to walk it to the top, and I wish I could say that was the only time on the ride that happened.
View from the top

It was on the way back that I found a way to get up on top of the ridge, and while I didn't try any of the bumps or jumps, I did find more mud than I would have expected on high ground after 2 days of great sunshine... so I got dirty, in true MTB tradition.

I came home with a big smile on my face... let’s correct that and say a Big Kid Smile on my face, since I felt reconnected to that primal sense of fun a kid has when tearing along in abandon on a bike.  I don’t know if an off-road triathlon can be fit into my schedule this year, but I really want to make mountain biking (if only, moderate risk mountain biking) part of my training regimen.

Are you a mountain biker (of any stripe)? What should I call the bike?

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