I’m relatively fit. Not cross fit fit (which should be called ‘goddamm furious fit’ if the Youtube videos are anything to go by) and I don’t Bant because of a condition I have called ‘enjoying life’. But at least fit enough to dust off my old bicycle and spend a week mountain biking, I thought.
So I headed up to KwaZulu-Natal to sniff out some great mountain bike trails (full story in the December issue of Getaway). I rediscovered my love for singletrack and the great outdoors. I also rediscovered the definition of hard work: mountain-bike fit and normal-human fit are two very different things. Those trails, in the beginning at least, whooped my ass. But as the week progressed, I met more riders, I got a little fitter, a little faster, and began to enjoy it even more than I imagined. Aside from their sadistic sense of fitness, I also discovered a few other everyday things that mountain bikers would probably be better at than most.
1. Telling fibs
I’ve been told that a lot of lawyers have taken up mountain biking recently, which might have something to do with my recent findings, but if ever you find yourself riding up a hill with a group of mountain bikers, trust no one. You’re not almost at the top. There’s no lovely downhill just over the next crest and the pain is not all in your mind. It’s literally happening to your body and you are, as you feared, in hell. Don’t let anyone tell you the burning in your thighs is you getting stronger. It’s not. It’s actually fire, being blowtorched into your Lycra shorts by Beelzebub himself. The pain is real. This is your life now. Remember, you decided to do this.
2. Doing unpleasant errands
Here’s the thing though: once you bring yourself to lift your head from cursing at the useless meat socks you thought were your legs, you’ll see that you’re not the only one in the seventh circle of hell. Mountain bikers love pain. I’m not sure what sins they committed in their past lives but out on those trails I saw penance of Catholic proportions. Masochism is a monastery in the mountains that welcomes bikers indiscriminately. Or so I thought…
After a particularly gruelling stretch in the hills surrounding Isandlwana, I stopped under a tree and grumbled something to SuperCycling presenter Gerald de Kock (who was doing a few casual lunges to keep flagellated) about how tough the blokes in front were. He said, ‘That’s nothing. Women are even tougher on the hills. Boy do they know how to suffer.’
‘That makes sense, I mean they’ve had to endure centuries of the patriarchy,’ is something I would have said if I my mouth wasn’t full of a lung I’d just coughed up.
Anyway, my point is, those unpleasant drudgeries you do with such disdain – filing taxes, working late, walking the dogs even though it’s raining – mountain bikers do with pleasure (and a smile on their faces that sort of looks like a grimace in the right light). Show me someone who’ll gleefully martyr themselves at the dinner table with your in-laws and I’ll show you a mountain biker.
3. Justifying a shopping spree
Have you been into a bicycle shop lately? It’s like Hamleys, just with more stuff that can poke you. In this glorious world, bottles come in cages and sprockets have rockets. There are hubs and skewers and clamps and ramps. Things cleat, bleed, derail and rotorate and all of them are very important. It’s a chromatic assault on the senses and impossible to leave without something shiny. It’s also worth noting that the price of that something is inversely proportional to how much it weighs. I’m no pro and even I’ve started an emergency account for any time I walk past a bicycle shop because there’s always something in there that’s really important to ‘my riding’. No, I’m serious. It’s vital. And I must have it.
4. Using the word ‘lube’ in earnest
Behind every great industrialisation there is an even greater lubrication. It’s true. The modern world would be nothing without moving parts and moving parts (mostly) don’t move unless they’re lubricated. Lube, dear friends, is the glue that holds us together. Mountain bikers know this and care nothing for your immature sniggers when discussing its uses. They also know that a cyclist is as much a tool as their bicycle and if one requires lube, then so does the other. Sometimes they can be heard early in the mornings, out on the trails, asking fellow riders one very serious question:
‘Did your oil your tool this morning?’
5. Sartorial conviction
Let’s be frank. Off of their bicycles, mountain bikers look a bit ridiculous. I’ve heard the term ‘mountain prawn’ bandied about and while I’ve yet to see a prawn with two legs that’s not in an Ocean Basket advert there’s definitely something extraterrestrial about a walking cyclist. The wonderful thing is that most don’t seem to care. I’ve seen a grown man turn an Uber around because he didn’t realise how pink his shirt looked in ‘street light’. I’ve also sat next to a mountain biker in a bar merrily eating peanuts and drinking a beer with their helmet still on. You tell me who’s winning here…
6. Actually getting back up again
That motivational MP3 that you listen to on the way to work every morning is wrong. Learning how to ‘get up’ after metaphorically falling down is about as useful as learning how to cross-stitch your way out of a gang fight. Do you know who actually falls down? Mountain bikers. They fall down all the time (some more than others). Mountain bikers know what forests taste like. They also still make regular donations to the tooth fairy and, when feeling frivolous, will sometimes wrap themselves around a tree like a bacon oepsie. They always get back up again. Almost always.
7. Never skipping leg day