I am a Shitty Mountain Biker, but...

Guest post by James Fett of Austin, TX

I am a shitty mountain biker.

The last time I tried a manual, I ended up on my ass because my hand covered the front--rather than the rear--brake. I am middle-aged, so catching air with style, helped with a bit of wu-tang on that lip, is so out of my skill range, I’m not even sure I’m saying that right. I’ve been OTB so many times, I once had to replace a helmet three times in a year.

I huck obstacles only by accident. I bunny hop roots, but not without a twinge of oh-shit. I diesel climbs, really because I have no choice, and I rail descents because by that time, I’m too tired to give a shit. My legs, elbows and torso are a continuing collection of healing bruises, healing cuts, swollen you-name-it, and fresh scrapes. I own knee pads--really two sets worth--and elbow pads, but almost never use them.

I use my brakes more than I should.

I use my dropper less than I should.

Clearly, I suck.

. . .but . . .

I’ve last pedaled two-and-a-half thousand trail miles in a year; because of rain, it was a down year. That may be impressive--it may very well may not--even if I offer that the closest trail to my house is an IMBA epic. I’ve participated in both time-based and distanced-based races. I’ve been on a team that medaled once, in a Category-4 MTB race, really because two teams forfeited due to track conditions.

Stats would say that I’m north of 40, my VO2 max is 51, I’m 6’2” and my waist is 36 by the tape. Plus, I can easily push the pedals for six straight hours. I can repair everything on the bike, or my body, save a cracked frame or femur, whether in my garage or 20 miles in the wilderness.

Skill-wise, I can navigate pucker-factor level drops, stupid WTF-was-that obstacles, and climbs that would make true-believers pissed at God. With all that pain, of course, each ride I keep inching towards better.

. . .and. . .

I’ll never be you. I have no interest in Strava. I don’t have the born-with-it strength and -skill to crush the leaderboard like you do. I’ve seen other men and women born to be on the bike, in the dirt, and can plow through terrain I just stumble through. Earn your KOM, QOM--I just love being on my bike, scaring the shit out of myself, pushing when I feel strong, slacking when I don’t.

Because, to me, it's not about the internet. It’s about me. It's about the pedals, crank, chain, wheel and tires. It's about plunging though the wilderness, catching sun and breeze and keeping Old Man Time running sweep. I recently had lunch with a friend that I’ve known for three decades and couldn’t grasp how old he looked. I’m thankful for the dirt because that’s not where I’m headed, at least not yet. I stay young because I have the trail, the bike, and just a tinge of fuck-it-let’s-do-it-live that compels me over that next rocky drop.

I am a shitty mountain biker, but I’m on that trail, grinding dirt and rock. I’m keeping that grim reaper at bay, while after each ride my friends and I settle for a post-ride pint at a local brewery.

I'm riding Every Freaking Day.

I am a shitty mountain biker, but I’ve never been as skilled as I am today, and I’ll never be as green as I am right now. . .

. . .maybe I'll try another manual, this time with my hand over the rear brake.


I wanted to thank James for letting us share this piece he wrote. I sometimes get caught comparing myself to others, focusing on what I can't do (yet) instead of what I'm able to, and how to push myself to enjoy the sport more and more. 

Michael enjoying the New Mexico view after going OTB and putting his foot through his wheel (which taco'd) during a catastrophic equipment failure.