Writing on Riding

Writing on Riding

Get a bicycle. You will not regret it. If you live. – Mark Twain

A Pedaler’s Tale

About a year ago, at age 43, I took up mountain biking. Now I have hundreds of trail miles behind me and can’t wait to add more. I’m still improving and learning. It all started on a borrowed Mongoose, but that comes more than 30 years later in this story.

When I was about 10 years old–maybe slightly younger–we took a family trip to see relatives in Plano, Texas. They were avid bicycle motocross (BMX) riders, and inspired us to ask our parents for bikes. We were fortunate enough that they bought a bike rack and two bikes to take with us on the way home. They weren’t discount store bikes, either. We had a Torker and a Jag, with Skyway Tuff II wheels. They didn’t have gears and featured a coaster brake.

(click on any image to enlarge)

With a little experience and several issues of BMX Magazine behind us, we customized the bikes with new stems, seats, handlebars, grips, and other parts to make them lighter and flashier. We learned how to clean and re-pack our wheel bearings. We built ramps and took to the sky, sometimes with our dad and his Nikon at the ready.

We spent countless hours on our bikes. During summer breaks, Dad sometimes racked them up and took us downtown, where we used his office as a base. We rode all around town and made drops out of the city park’s terraced slopes.

We added motorcycles and a three-wheeler to the mix, and wore down a “track” around and up the middle of the pasture. Between sunrise and sunset, were were on the pedals or on the throttle. All added to our skill base.

Once we both learned to drive, we were able to leave the house at will. Entertaining ourselves at home became a lower priority, and consequently so did our bicycles and motorcycles.

My brother and I didn’t hang out a lot after that. We roomed together for one semester in our fraternity’s house, but even then we ran in different crowds.

I hadn’t touched the pedals for at least seven years when for college graduation my wife bought me a Huffy Rock Trail mountain bike. I recall a sticker on it that expressly stated, “Not intended for offroad use.” I rode a few times with college buddies, on gravel backroads and wooded cattle trails just outside our University’s town. After that the bike gathered dust and rust for about 15 years.

When our son reached riding age, I depended on that old Huffy to ride around our Texas neighborhood–and my son rode my even older Jag BMX. We covered all the sidewalks and neighborhood streets, and formed a weekly ritual out of riding to the local donut shop for a glazed. A few times we took the bikes to local paved trails in parks, but the one time we ventured offroad he had a frightening crash that made me realize he was not ready yet for steep offroad hills.

I’m sure that back in college my wife never could have envisioned that her gift would be instrumental in helping me form a bond with our son–not yet even a glint in my eye.

In April 2014 we decided to move back to Arkansas, where I would live near my brother again for the first time in more than 20 years. In the interim, we had lived in various cities never closer than a three-hour drive and rarely had seen one another outside family holidays. Despite our both being over 40, most of our history together was rooted firmly in our childhood.

My brother said that he wanted to get back into mountain biking, something he had done a little bit over the years. On a visit during our moving process, I rode a Mongoose he had, just to see whether or not I might like the sport.

I loved it from the first moment we hit a trail. I felt more coordinated and in control than I ever had on my Huffy mountain bike, and I suspected its frame size was too large for me. It seemed like I was a kid again.

The Huffy didn’t make the move back from Texas. We put it on the street corner with a “Free Bike” sign on it, the same day a woman recruiting church visitors had brought her children along. A tall teenaged boy gratefully accepted the Huffy. “This is awesome!” he said. I doubt it will serve him for 20 sporadic riding years as it had me, but he got it for a price that can’t be beat.

Shortly after moving, I discovered that I could ride that borrowed Mongoose about six minutes to reach the great local trails at Blowing Springs. Within a month I had picked out my new KHS 2500 650B bicycle, built for me by local bike shop Mojo Bicycles.

My brother and I have used Bella Vista’s Blowing Springs and Bentonville’s Slaughter Pen Hollow as our home trails for the past year. They are perfect for building up from beginner to intermediate, if we’re even at that level yet. There are several advanced technical challenges if one knows where to look.

IMG_5616_benjamin_pan_riding_bike_sm_fbOn rides organized by Mojo, we have taken on some of those more advanced elements, while learning much from experienced riders. After gaining some of those skills and getting our legs in better shape, we decided to expand our riding territory.

We didn’t have to go far.

Within an hour’s drive we found Hobbs State Park and Lake Atalanta near Rogers, Lake Leatherwood Park at Eureka Springs, and Mt. Kessler in Farmington–just outside Fayetteville. All offer trails that are well-maintained and fun in their own ways, and we’re going to explore more trails in northwest Arkansas before expanding into other parts of the state.

It only adds to the fun that my local riding buddy is my own brother–the same guy who helped teach me how to ride a bicycle and who unknowingly inspired me to push myself to do the things my older brother could do.

It was no surprise to us that the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) recently chose northwest Arkansas as the site for its 2016 World Summit, a biennial event that brings enthusiasts and advocates from around the world.

In addition to developing our own riding skills, we have ridden several times with our sons. Those family ride days are fun, and the boys are progressing, too.

0714151753_sm_fbOn two of our visits back to Texas, I took our bikes along. My son and I rode together once and I got out alone twice each week we were there. While the trails in the Dallas area are better described as offroad than mountain, they are fun. To be fair, the trails most highly-recommended were closed due to massive flooding damage in the spring. Regardless, the overstuffed parking areas and mostly flat terrain made me realize how fortunate we northwest Arkansas mountain bikers are. Although the area is growing, I don’t see us reaching a metroplex population of 6 million any time soon.

Riding relaxes me, challenges me, and thrills me.

Our father recently reiterated a statement he made several years ago: those BMX bikes were one of the best investments he ever made. I believe the same applies to the bike I ride now.

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