Story by Patrick Reynoso & Christine Terrisse Photos by Erick Salas & Nick Cruz
I swerve and spot the perfect line just in time to catch my breath before escaping down some dangerously narrow cement steps. This is a tough, mentally challenging course, and it’s taking all the focus I have to keep up my speed. But moving through the city, on and off dirt, is thrilling to say the least.
I’m here in Baja California for the Downhill Urbano Internacional for the official launch of the Dream Ride series. The ultimate goal of Dream Ride is to give kids in less fortunate and up-and-coming mountain bike communities opportunities to live out their dreams by riding in the world’s coolest spots. They have adventures alongside a professional riding mentor, and through partnerships with incredible sponsors, they also get the latest and greatest gear.
Biking means everything to me, and I wanted to find a way to give back that would give kids, regardless of their circumstance in life, a way to stay inspired in the sport. None of us got to choose when and where we were born, so that shouldn’t limit anybody. Our riders get the same level of support a professional gets, empowering them to do their very best riding!
I’m lucky enough to be an ambassador for Heart of Compassion, the second largest food bank in California. They generously agreed to provide snacks for our ride, and later, we will go out to feed people in need. The diputado (congressman) of Baja California, Marco Novelo (a muy rad dude), came out to help. I told him all about Dream Ride, and he loved it. He wants us back, so we are definitely going to put that together.
But first…Ensenada! This adventure has ocean views and plenty of urban obstacles. One of the organizers of this downhill connected me with our first rider, Ramon Peraza, and I’m honored to share Ramon’s story and passion for biking with you.
Ramon has been through a lot. He grew up in a very poor, rough part of Ensenada and didn’t know his father. His only paternal figure was his grandfather, who first got him into mountain biking. Sadly, Ramon’s grandfather passed away several years ago. He was the glue that held the family together, and his family was devastated when he died.
When his grandfather died, Ramon made a promise that he’d pursue biking for the rest of his life. It’s what has kept him happy and focused through all the hardships he has had to face. Also, biking is a way for him to keep the memory of his grandfather alive.
“Mountain biking is very important for the many things it gives back to me,” Ramon tells me. “Strength, vitality, my own space and, above all else, beautiful moments.”
That doesn’t mean biking has made it easy. Ramon had to work hard and save up to be able to afford a decent bike. He’s not able to get all the equipment he needs and wants. So, before we started our practice runs, we hooked him up with around a thousand dollars in new gear, including a D3 helmet courtesy of Troy Lee Designs. Let’s just say he had a big ol’ fat smile after that.
Ramon first got on a bike when he was 3 and says that when he rides, he often thinks of his grandfather who got him started. “He gave me my first bicycle for Christmas, and I think that I can connect with him even more when I go out riding,” he says. “It makes me really happy, because I remember him each time I pedal down the street and remember that he will take care of me like back when he was in the car behind me, teaching me how to be an independent and responsible cyclist.”
Responsible? When you eat sleep and breathe bikes, it’s not that hard to get up early for some practice runs. A big goal for me today is to mentor Ramon. He’s already good, but I still want to give him a little advice on how to choose the best lines. On each practice run we reevaluate, getting a little better each time. It’s a two-run format—the best time counts. Ramon is good enough to compete in the expert division.
On the type of terrain we will be riding, everything from the tires to the suspension has to be changed for a concrete surface. For me, that means using a 2016 carbon fiber Trek Slash with 27.5-inch rims. Typically, in a downhill race, you would want to use a downhill rig, but I chose to use the Slash because it’s more agile and lighter, and with the increased rim size, I can roll faster down stairs and over man-made obstacles.
Before I knew it, the time had come for our last run—just when the fun started to really kick in.
Ramon came in sixth out of 20, and I was sixth out of 23. It was a blast blazing downhills, on and off concrete, working around obstacles and people. If you ever get a chance to do a downhill race, take it. I highly recommend it!
After the race, we had lunch overlooking the ocean. Between his English and my Spanglish, we managed to share a little more about our lives and families. I’m really glad we met each other, and I hope I get to see him the next trip I make. Hopefully, it will be soon!
Back from Ensenada, I keep thinking of that awesome ride, and something Ramon said about his grandfather over the weekend keeps coming up: “I know that if he were here, he would be very proud of me—the person that I am now and the biker that I am becoming. That’s why cycling is very important to me and makes me happy. It allows me to be a better person every day.”
What more could you ask from a sport than to make you a better person? That is what I call biking nirvana. Now, the only question is, where will we ride next? Stay tuned to find out.
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