Sunday, 18 November 2012

MTB - Familiar but Different

In the context of my blogs purpose, I didn’t think that I would be riding a Blog post on Mountain Biking.
12 months ago (to the day) I set off on my Giant Cross City with my Reason to Ride being raising money for Cancer research and to complete the first Melbourne Ride to Conquer Cancer. It was a one year plan. One year ago after my first ride, I couldn’t see that it was going to take me down the road it has.
And my first experience with Mountain Biking was very similar to my first experience with road riding. I felt out of my comfort zone, felt like I didn’t belong, overwhelmed with what was lying ahead, but this time I was familiar with how I would deal with it. Familiar, but different.
As this is a long one, I want to summarise by saying that I am so grateful that I have such supportive friends and family who encourage me to push out of my comfort zone. This past weekend was yet another shining example of the support I get to pursue my dream of making a difference. Support from my husband and kids who give me the day off, support from my new “bike mates” who have made this ride so much more than it was intended and support from all my friends who ask how my riding is going and genuinely show interest.
My reasons to ride have not changed. In fact, the reasons just keep getting bigger. What has changed is me. Riding literally has changed my life, and as Jo from Giant Bikes would say, it has given me “a whole new way of living”
With that said, here is my experience with the Liv/giant MTB Demo Day.
I arrived at the Liv/giant demo day with my chauffers Tracey & Corinna. Without their support and confidence in me, I probably would not have been here. The Liv/giant Demo Day from my perspective was to give girls the opportunity to have a play on the new range of mountain bikes in a try before you buy fashion. Because really – how else can you really test a bike out without putting it through its intended use.
And here was me. The fish out of water again! I had never sat on a mountain bike, let alone ridden one. And I was at the mercy of these hardened girls who all knew a thing or two about this sport. OK – they owned the sport of women’s mountain biking!
Familiar, but different.
The Liv/giant girls were all there and this was all familiar. But there were these big dirty dusty bikes (compared to the roadie standards) all lined up ready to be let loose on the tracks. Unlike being a roadie where you clean and polish your bike before you set out, clean your shoes (or is this just me), pump your tires, complete your bike check and then set off after a strong flat white in the local coffee shop, Mountain Biking meant pulling up to a dusty gravel car park out the back of nowhere, the bike check included picking your bike up and dropping it, and then off you go, with no coffee!!

So a deep breath in and head first I jumped! Dirt &dust … I had that covered. Afterall, I was the boy in my family growing up. While I made mud pies and built jump ramps down the middle of the street, my brother styled Barbie’s hair.
So I helped attach front wheels to bikes, adjusted my own peddles and sought assistance from Jess Douglas on bike set up. And here was the moment of truth – to ride this rig! I felt like I had stepped out of my Porsche and into a Mack Truck. But from my Avail Advanced 2 to the Anthem X 29er 1 – I took off to see how the fit was. I was comfortable, so I guess that was OK. Then I squeezed the brakes and realised how different this was. Disc brakes – they stop you QUICK! So with a big skid and frantic moment to unclip before saving myself from a spectacular fall 5 meters into my MTB experience, I felt the panic rise. Inner thoughts said “Breathe Bec. You will be fine”

Tracey and I - just before we headed off in the morning

Familiar, but different.
So, with all girls ready to roll, we went through some intro, MTB bike checks thanks to Jess & Liz from MTB Skills and off to the tracks we went. Single file, one by one, we headed for a path through the trees. And here I was. Familiar with pedalling. But everything else was different. This was not Kansas anymore. This was not the smooth surrounding of Beach Road. This was not the long flat straight Plenty Road. This was not even the rolling hills of St Andrews and Arthurs Creek. This was a thin trail where I had no idea what the next 5 meters would bring me. Pedal, left, right, up, down … oh no …. Hump, crack, stick, branch … TREE, brakes, skid – unclip, no, keep pedalling … and through to a fire trail. Ahh, I made it. I had survived my first minute.

The Drop Test
Here in the open gravel, surrounded by bush, Jess & Liz lead us through some basics. The first question was “Who sat down and rode in that small section” asked Liz. 2 of us put our hands up! We were identified as “Roadies” … and this is where the differences were all pointed out.
Attack position and unweighting the front wheel were the 2 skills that we went through. As a roadie, you don’t stand that often. Really, it is only required when you need to put a bit of extra effort in. Used to get through a traffic light or to climb a short hill, but not to ride for a long period of time. But here on the tracks, you needed to be up and ready to attack. It was also more comfortable. And unweighting the front wheel – that was going to be used to get over a branch or rock …and this is again where I started to internally say “what am I doing here?”  On the road, you just ride around it!

Jessica Douglas shows why she owns this sport!
So a few turns to practise getting the feeling and being at one with the bike, and we broke into 2 groups. Experienced and beginners. I felt beginners was even too advanced for me, but off I went. Knowing Jo was back in the car park, it was almost tempting to go and keep her company for the morning.
But it is at this point I can say thank god I didn’t. A session doing corners, elbows out, pointing the girls, flowing and trying not to ride the brakes was perfect to build some confidence. After 3 or 4 times of completing a small section of track, I was starting to feel a little less petrified. And I knew that the bike I was on was going to absorb all of the bumps, roll over the rocks and sticks and was not going to throw me into a tree – if I let it do what it was designed to do.
So now it was time to do Lizzie’s Rock. OK! So we headed up another path. Here I realised that going up steep inclines was quite easy on a MTB. Until you pedalled and the wheels just skidded around. But I kept going and then bam .. a big rock. I just stopped, got off and walked my bike around it. And then watched everyone else ride over it. Ah – different again! And then we all stopped at what would be known as Lizzie’s Rock. Our mission if we chose to accept it was to ride off it. My head said “NO WAY”, but gut said “NO WAY” … and I am one who usually trusts my gut. After watching 10 of the other girls conquer their fears and ride off it, I thought I would give it a go. After all, they all survived! My head said “Don’t be a girl”, but my gut kept saying “You are a mother with 3 little kids. Don’t do anything crazy” … So I went back, jumped on the bike and started the approach. And all 4 times I attempted it, I stopped dead at the same point. I couldn’t do it.

Lizzie's Rock
 And here was one of the highlights and selling points of this type of day. Every single girl came up to me, encouraged me for trying and didn’t push me to do anything I was not comfortable with. (OK, except for Corinna … and I welcome her pushing me, because eventually, she will get me to go off that rock! Just not yet! )
We all headed back for lunch via another path where again it was pedal, left, right, up, down … oh no …. Hump, crack, stick, branch … TREE, brakes, skid – unclip, no, keep pedalling and finally out to the area we had started in.
Here was Jo, in her nice new Liv/giant kit and a wonderful BBQ lunch was ready for us. Rolls, salads, bangers, lollies, soft drink … all our needs were catered for. (NB – This roadie was looking for the coffee vendor but settled for Coke)
Time to share our morning stories, reflect on what we had learnt and then out again together. The afternoon ride was perfect. I had a little bit of comfort (not confident, but not completely shitting myself) and as a whole group we headed off. Lucky for me, Jess, Liz and all the girls knew where we were going. To them, the You Yangs and the tracks were like Melbourne CBD is to me. So I just knew if I followed, I would be OK! So more pedalling, left, right, up, down, elbows out, attach position, unweight the front, elbows out… oh no …. Hump, crack, stick, branch, duck, elbows out … TREE, brakes, skid – unclip, no, keep pedalling, elbows out and climbing. Never did I think I would appreciate uphill over downhill, but going up I felt more in control. And with this ride was also the familiar element of chatting! You can’t chat much when riding, but after you get through a small part of track and come to a clearing, we stopped to chat.

Made it to another clearing where the paparazzi awaits

So after a good ride in the afternoon, it was back to catch up on some maintenance of the bike, observe a tyre change literally performed by the gorgeous Jess & Liz and it was done and dusted. My brain was overloaded, my body was tired and I was exhausted. And this roadie was desperate for a coffee!
With my Liv/giant girls who I have got to know well over the last 6 months, I helped pack up bikes while I waited for hubby & kids to come and collect me. And here was the difference for them too. They too were out in the middle of nowhere to pick up their dusty mum.
So, what did I learn from my Liv/giant MTB Demo Day?
I learnt that it is something I am going to learn to love. It is familiar but very different to road riding. Trying to draw a comparison is easy. If you were swimming it is the difference between a pool and the surf. If you were running it is the difference between the treadmill and getting out on a gravel path. Similar, but very different.
Physically, it is harder on the body. I was told 12 months ago that I could not engage in any activity that caused impact on my hips. No running, no walking long distances, no carrying heavy things (including my daughter) etc. Right now, I am confident my orthopaedic surgeon would cringe knowing what I got up to this weekend. So if I was to do this regularly, I will need to get my hips restrung. So at least I have found a reason to have the surgery that I require.
Mentally, it is harder on the brain. There is no time out to think about anything other than your next 5 meters. Unless you are a trained professional like Jess who can use it as a form of meditation! I can see how it can be very relaxing … eventually. But what it did allow was for me NOT to think about anything other than my next 5 meters. That for me is something that I need to do more often.
Socially, it is exactly the same, just minus coffee! Or maybe it was because I was with my bike family. One thing that Liv/giant road or MTB rides have provided me with is a great bunch of women who love to see new girls out on bikes giving it a go. They are patient, they are encouraging, they are supportive and they are a whole heap of fun. Liv/giant promotes A Whole New Way of Living and I am defiantly proof of that!  
So road or trail – I’ll be back. As for the trails, it will depend on how the hips go. And if physically I am unable to do it, I’ll set up a mobile coffee van and still go along for the experience. I’ll cook the BBQ next time and Jo can head off on her bike - because I saw how much she loved it.

Jo Hall showing off her stuff - and the new kit!
A special thanks has to go out to many ladies.
To Corinna and Tracey : Thanks for encouraging me to give it a go.
To Jo Hall – for everything you do for women’s cycling and providing me the opportunity again to get out of my comfort zone.
To Jess Douglas – you are a champ on and off the bike. And to be guided on and off the bike by such a champ is something that I will forever hold close to my heart.
To Liz, Nicci and Courtney  the MTB Skills & Liv/giant MTB girls - thanks for your guidance and skills sessions on Saturday. And thanks for the support when my gut was over-riding my head.
And thanks to Giant Bikes Australia for the opportunity to take such a cool bike out on an experience I never thought I would have.

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