BLOODY SHINS AND OTHER LESSONS
If you start mountain bike riding without ever setting foot in a bike shop—or talking to anyone who rides, or reading anything about mountain biking—you’re going to run into some issues. Believe me, I had plenty.
I didn’t know about clipless pedals or Five Ten shoes on flats, so I started riding in my tennis shoes, temporarily switching to hiking boots in the winter. As my rides became more technical, my feet started slipping off the pedals, which would hit me in the shins, drawing blood on almost every ride.
Without asking anyone for advice, I went to my local bike shop and bought another set of pedals with even bigger spikes. Of course, my feet still slipped off the pedals. I hadn’t solved the problem; I had merely increased the amount of blood involved. In those days, I accepted the shin carnage as a normal part of mountain biking. This actually went on for quite a while, until one Christmas dinner in Pittsburgh when my brother-in-law told me about clipless pedals. I immediately went home and bought my first set of Shimano XT pedals and, sure enough, there were no more bloody shins.
I was now cruising along, clipped in, without a care in the world—until the day I got my first flat tire. I was 3 miles from home and somewhat shocked. It had never occurred to me that I should have any type of tire repair equipment. My bike was a gift from my wife. It came as a surprise, with no warnings about tire care and repair. I had no pump, no CO2, no spare tube, no patches, no tire lever, and no knowledge of how to fix a flat. What I did have was a 3-mile walk of shame all the way back to my house. The next day I was at the bike shop buying everything I needed to repair a flat and a little saddle bag to keep it all packed neatly under my seat.
With potential flat tires conquered, I continued to ride, working on my technique and speed. One day I powered down and somehow snapped my chain. I was 2 miles from home and somewhat shocked (again!). I had never thought about the possibility of breaking a chain and was immediately resigned to another walk of shame—this time in the dark. Lucky for me, another mountain biker appeared out of nowhere; the first rider I’d ever seen. It was like an angel appeared out of nowhere on the trail right at dusk. The rider was a young woman, and she immediately stopped to help me. Her name was Claire, and she explained that a broken chain requires a chain-repair tool and that she always carried one with her. She pulled it out and showed me how to use it, and within minutes I was back on the bike, one or two links short. I thanked her profusely, but I never saw her on the trail again. Now that I have more tools and knowledge, I try to pay that valuable lesson forward by helping any cyclist who needs it, even when it means pulling over to help someone on the side of the road.
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