May is National Bike Month and May 2nd is National Ride a Bike Day.
It’s a chance to showcase the many benefits of bicycling—and encourage more folks to give biking a try.
I ride a bike, but it’s not a commuter bike or a road bike. It’s not a beach cruiser.
Like many of us, I rode a bike as a kid. They say you never forget how to ride a bike. That sense of balance and engaging with momentum is something that imprints on the body. That’s true. But mountain biking is not that simple. It takes a set of skills that are different than other types of biking. It asks for a sense of courage—and the abandonment of fear.
There is no time I’m more filled with joy than when I’m on a mountain bike trail. Whether climbing a hill, descending a mountain, riding over obstacles, or simply enjoying nature, it’s a brand-new, thrilling ride every single time.
I didn’t take up mountain biking until I was 52. The first couple of years were a struggle to find my own rhythm on the bike. I rode with riders who were more experienced than I was, often much younger, and definitely more athletic. Mountain biking didn’t come easy to me. I crashed a lot. I never have been “the athletic type.” My vibe is a little more let’s-sip-tea-and-have-a-heartfelt-conversation.
I’ve earned lots of “trail trophies”—scars and broken bones from crashes. I’ve fractured my sternum, arms, ankle, and a couple of fingers. All this from an ill-advised pedal stroke or a trip over the handlebars. I’ve also faced the peril of trying to keep up with more experienced riders, taking on technical trails I should have avoided. You name it. I’ve made that mistake on the bike. I told you, it didn’t come easy to me. And still, I loved it.
I enjoyed 10 years on my bike. My memory is filled with the fun of riding local trails and taking some pretty awesome bike vacations. I have ridden the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, ridden from Bryce to Zion. Camped out for eight straight days of hard riding in the wilds.
I’ve entered a couple of races—came in first place in one, and second in the other. Don’t be too impressed. It wasn’t that I was an animal on the bike. There just weren’t many racers in the 55+ age group.
Some health issues caused me to take a hiatus from the bike for a full seven years. When I decided to get back on the bike at 69, I was tentative. I wasn’t sure I would remember how to ride. But it all came back.
It’s amazing how the body remembers what our mind tells us we have forgotten. My first ride back went like this:
These trails have imprinted themselves on my tires.
The tires have imprinted on my body.
The rolling rotations give me instruction:
What gear to engage.
When to stand.
How to pull hard on the bars to make the climb.
What line to take to avoid the crash.
How to ride elegantly through the ruts and over the boulders.
I’m thrilled that my body remembers how to listen.
I hear myself shout, “Hallelujah!”
Then I hear the hallelujah chorus
sung by the yipping of the coyotes
and the shrill call of the morning hawks.
My prayer for today is one of deep gratitude
for this canyon,
for my strong body,
for Life itself.
My bike takes me deep into nature. I’ve shared the trail with a myriad of awesome critters, from coyotes to wild burros. It teaches me to let go of the minutia and simply enjoy the fluidity of life.
There will always be obstacles—on the trail and in life. If I focus too much on the obstacle, I can become paralyzed with fear and crash. I’ve learned that if I look beyond the obstacle, I can clear it.
I’ve learned better balance and the art of using the weight and placement of my body to find symmetry.
I love sharing the trail with friends and family. But I’ve come to know that my favorite times are my rides of solitude, when I’m the only person in the canyon. I can listen deeply, undistracted, to the sounds of the trail—my tires crunching the dirt, the trickling of the creek water, the call of the birds, the yipping of the coyotes.
Mountain biking may not be your thing. Perhaps you are called to ride the streets of your city, or to ride beach trails by the ocean. Maybe you’ve been curious about what it would be like to commute to work.
My advice? Go, get on a bike!
Whatever you choose, just being on the bike will bring you joy—I promise.