Ok, I know some of the people who know me and the Thursday Night Fight Club group I regularly ride with will already be laughing very hard at my uncharacteristically lovey dovey / happy clappy opening. We’ll park that part of my psychosocial assessment of MTB until next week though because this week I rode with a very different group.
From Facebook to singletrack
Like most places, we have a local mountain bike group on Facebook and the number of people in it is far bigger than I’d have thought for a relatively small town. It’s a meeting and planning place for all sorts of random rides and adventures with a healthy serving of banter. It’s also host to a huge amount of helpful sharing of information on routes, maintenance, shops, kit sales etc. and it’s become the go to place for new riders or new to the area riders.
As I generally ride during the day in a frustratingly erratic way – as I repeat test sections while tweaking settings, stopping to swap components and clothing, taking photographs, shooting video, etc. I hadn’t ever turned up to one of their group rides. My daughter Freya and I needed to test out some kit choices for an upcoming event though and a local, social ride was just what we fancied.
So we rolled down to the meet point to find a splendidly diverse mix of riders and bikes. Everything from skinny tire old school hardtail MTBs to state of the art enduro e-bikes ridden by everyone from keen young dads with all the gear, to blokes in football shirts and trainers. A bunch of people who’d probably never meet socially and who I mostly knew nothing about – except that we had all met up in the same pub car park to go for a ride.
Two and a half hours later we were back in the same car park, at the end of a super entertaining slip and slide round a mix of local trails. Some of which were totally new to some of the riders, while others could have done them with their eyes shut. The fast lads blasted the climbs and hopped and popped around while they waited for the slower riders to catch up. We split onto different sections at various points so we all rode stuff we were comfortable with. And if it was too techy people walked or tried and fell off. Nobody pointed, judged or whispered about the abilities of others, we quickly sorted ourselves into a running order that meant everyone could ride at the level they wanted. Simpler, wider or road sections were spent chatting and getting to know each other or talking about bikes (come on, this is a group based on an internet forum) and a group that looked like a massive mismatch clicked into sync like a wireless groupset.
The great thing is that this certainly isn’t an isolated incident. In fact, most mountain biking groups seem to be run on a super tolerant, social pace, wait for everyone basis. Helpfully, for the sake of a bit more added content and a second opinion, Matt from MTB Fitness was talking about how he went on his first group ride in ages this week. Again, he rolled into a massively diverse group with everyone from ex-national DH champions to near novices, but a couple of hours later they all rolled back in from the ride as new mates bonded by bikes. Another friend of mine, Heather, was all set for her first ever day at Bike Park Wales with her normal riding crew this week, until her friends’ car broke down on the way. She told me she nearly turned around too, but she didn’t want to waste the ticket so she rolled out to the uplift solo. “The other riders I met were lovely, the staff amazing. I was riding flow trails but there was a bit near the bottom when the trails merged and I swiftly realized I was slowing a group up. I looked over my shoulder and said, ‘I’ll pull over when I can’ but the young rider behind me said ‘not to worry, ride your own ride’ which I thought was very generous." Heather’s story lines up with all sorts of tales about strangers saving rides with lent kit, to showing newcomers the best trails, helping them out with their riding etc too.
Be nice, say hi
So while Freya and I will be sure to meet a bunch of mates and familiar faces when we rock up to our event, we’ll also see a whole lot more people we’ve not met before. And whether we’re wandering about before or after the riding or out on the trails we’ll be chatting, chilling, encouraging or cheering with as many folks as we can. So if you see us, come and say hello and if you’re a rider wanting to join a group but are worried about the reception you’ll get, don’t be. Because whatever your experience level, skills, fitness or what bike you ride or kit you wear it seems that mountain bikers are generally a very friendly bunch.
There are some groups like Thursday Night Fight Club that don’t operate a complete ‘open door’ policy though, so what’s the deal there? Surely I’m being completely hypocritical with all this talk of mountain biking being a super welcoming sport, if the group I normally ride has been called "Elitist" Well that’s something I’m going to talk about next week because right now I need to go and fit some DH spec mud tires for tomorrow's ride because obviously that’s the go to choice for summer in the UK!