Old Dog, New Tricks: Why You’re Never Too Old for a Lesson
By Katie Coakley
I can’t remember when I learned to ride a bike. I have this image of wobbly handlebars adorned with sparkly streamers; the sound of my dad jogging, heavy-footed, behind me and a slightly lightheaded feeling when I realized that he was no longer holding on.
I tend to hold my breath when I get nervous.
However, though the feelings and images of when I first learned to ride my bike are hazy and fractured, it’s easy for me to remember when I found my love of cycling once again. It wasn’t that long ago and it involved more padding than I’ve worn in 15 years, a bad-ass full face helmet and an incredible instructor named Woody.
But before this not-even-exaggerating, epiphany-filled morning, I had love/hate relationship with my bicycles. I wanted to love them because my friends did, both road biking and mountain biking, but mostly mountain biking. I was fine with a cruiser tour or two, but at the first hint of downhill speed, I freaked out and held the brakes so tightly that I could have been charged with abuse if bike brakes had feelings. I tried to love it: Really, I did. I took a few runs on a downhill course at the resort with my then-boyfriend (I sprained my ankle); I went mountain biking in Colombia (I almost lost my fillings with the jarring I experienced by creeping downhill); I tried once again in a more rural setting and ended up falling over, very gently (due to my lack of speed) in a giant mess of what I hoped was mud but, judging by the fragrance that was imparted to my embarrassed self and the chuckles of the farmer who watched the whole thing, was not exactly mud.
I decided enough was enough and I happily resigned myself to cruisers and flat, empty bike paths (when necessary).
But mountain biking was still there, lurking in the back of my mind: an image of an anthropomorphic bike calling me a quitter in a particularly snide tone. So, I decided to give it one more go. But this time, I was calling in the experts.
I made my way to Crested Butte Mountain Resort, home to the Evolution Bike Park. With more than 30 miles of singletrack on the resort, the Bike Park has a diverse network of trails, both lift-served downhill trails and cross-country rides, that connect to some of best riding in and around Crested Butte. The trails sorted by the same difficulty rating as at a ski resort (green, blue, black, double black), and there’s plenty of terrain to explore. Yeah, yeah—I know I could ride up to ride down, but I wanted to gain confidence going downhill and save a bit of energy, so riding the lift up before hurtling myself down the mountain sounded like a good plan.
But before I did any hurtling, I decided to get a lesson. Yes, I know how to ride a bike. Yes, I could probably make my way down the mountain with minimal scarring. However, I’ve also reached a point in my life when I realize that perhaps there’s a better way than rushing blindly into something.
After all, I’m happy taking snowboard lessons to improve my park skills; I learned that there is a better way to approach a rapid on a stand up paddleboard thanks to a lesson—why would mountain biking be any different?
I met Woody Lindenmeyr, Mountain Sports Team Director at Crested Butte Mountain Resort, at Evolution Bike Shop and explained my fear of doing downhill fast, the image that I had of catapulting over the handlebars, landing on something breakable and realizing that my insurance deductible was way too high.
Woody listened, nodded and proceeded to get me kitted out with shin guards, elbow pads, gloves and a pretty bad-ass looking full-face helmet. Then we started on our first ride…in the parking lot.
I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. I mean I do know how to ride a bike. But boy was I happy that we did. In the wide-open, fairly flat parking lot, Woody taught me the basics about downhill riding: how to cover the brake levers; how to get into—and maintain—a neutral stance; how to position your head to look ahead, not down; how to make a turn with a pendulum motion in the arms, not your entire body.
And after a bit of flatland work, we were ready to take it up a notch to an actual trail on the actual mountain. Riding on the trail was definitely different than the parking lot, but in a good way. I was able to see how the tips that Woody gave me worked in the real world; having him right there to offer encouragement and remind me to breathe (holding your breath on a bike is a bad idea) was exactly what I needed to boost my confidence. It also helped to have him point out other riders as we rode up the lift: He showed me various riders’ good technique or areas where they could improve; we also discussed trail etiquette.
By the early afternoon, I was hooked. Not only had Woody’s instruction helped immensely in my mental processes, but the gentle reminders that came floating to me in his calm and steady tone helped me to physically adjust and learn how it downhill mountain biking was supposed to feel: thrilling, but with the knowledge that you’re in control. We took a few laps on a nice green trail and I found myself going faster than I thought I could, grinning like a giant idiot when we reached the bottom, receiving a high five from Woody.
The bottom line? You can teach old dogs new tricks, especially somewhat terrified, incredibly stubborn dogs. You just need a lesson.
Top 5 reasons to take a downhill mountain biking lesson at Evolution Bike Park:
- You don’t know what you’re doing wrong until you learn to do it right.
- Everyone has room for improvement and you’ll improve faster by getting tips from experts who can watch you ride and evaluate what you’re doing.
- Safety, safety, safety: Not only will taking a lesson help you learn to ride safely for your own sake, but it will also help you stay safe near everyone else you encounter.
- An instructor can not only help you with your riding, but can also provide insight into the best trails and how to crush them.
- Your instructor is there to teach you and he or she won’t get upset if you get mad or frustrated. Can you say the same thing about your friend/significant other that’s trying to teach you? PS: Your instructor will never call you a “greenie weenie” like I heard one guy say to the girl who was riding with him.