Riding with Newbies
By Jay Bartlett
Let’s assume you’re a seasoned mountain biker and you’d like to introduce your friend or significant other to the joys of getting out into the beautiful desert or mountains aboard one of the most fun machines ever built. Well, it can go one of two ways. Either fun will be had by all, or it will turn into an ill-tempered forced march where the only outcome is frustration, bruised egos (and possibly body parts) and an unwillingness to ever do that stupid mountain biking thing again!
Remember, as an experienced biker, even though you still work hard to motor up a climb or have to concentrate sharply to clean a section of trail, you have a skill set that allows you to manage your efforts. Things that seem easy to you can be quite daunting to someone just getting started. In other words, you have forgotten how it was to be a beginner.
Too many times have I heard the tales of woe from someone whose “buddy” took them on their very first mountain bike ride some place like Gooseberry Mesa — a place that most would consider upper-intermediate. Needless to say, when you’re faced with having to sprint up a ten foot tall slab of sandstone when you don’t even know the proper gear to be in, or how to distribute your weight on the bike to maintain traction and momentum, the chance of a spill greatly increases, and the fun quotient goes way down. What’s worse perhaps, is when said trail is tackled with equipment the newbie isn’t familiar with. Things like clipless pedals — the type where you are connected to the bike via a cleat on your shoe that needs to be disengaged with a “learned” movement of your foot. Again, a recipe for frustration and maybe injury. It’s really not much fun to push a bike around all afternoon… you might as well have gone for a hike!
So, when you take someone out, plan on slow speeds, maybe slower than what you consider slow. Even a person who is quite fit, like a runner, will more than likely feel challenged by the unfamiliar movements and efforts they find riding a bike, and don’t forget the lack of skills that will tax them even further. That’s not to say you can’t still have a good time. There’s always slow-speed skills you can work on — like trackstands or other balance-oriented drills. You can seek out more difficult lines that can make you work harder while going slower, or even sprint ahead for a short distance and ride back to rejoin the group. A good rule also, whether with newbies or not, is to stop at all intersections to make sure everyone is on the same trail. Getting lost or looking for someone is tiring and rarely fun. Also, if you do sprint ahead and wait for the “newb” to catch up, remember that the last person at the stop usually ends up with the shortest break since the fast guys may have been waiting (and resting) for several minutes. Make sure the beginner gets plenty of rest, even if you’re chomping at the bit with “bike greed!”
When it comes to tutoring your newbie, give pointers and go in-depth only when sessioning a certain problem, but contain yourself from giving too much info overall too soon. You can’t teach someone years of knowledge in one ride. They’re only going to digest enough to (maybe) figure out one or two things per ride, and even if they do get what you’re teaching, it will take practice.
With patience and a kicked-back attitude, the newbie (and you) can have a great time hanging out and riding bikes and will want to come back for more!