Riding bikes is about movement. It’s about getting from here to there, or about the fun you have while you swoop round that corner, or bounce down those rocks. It’s not about the stopping. Stopping is bad – it means something has broken, and you need the something to be fixed as quickly as possible so you can starting going again, before you get cold. Maybe you have a planned stop, at a cafe, to refuel – but the point of this is so that you can keep that movement happening for longer, more, further, faster. Go faster stripes, speed blur, going for the thrill and the rush.
It’s all very well if you are a speed demon and adept at imitating the marketing shots and videos, but if you’re more of a mid pack mortal, you might find that chasing speed, or flow, or stoke, leaves you feeling a bit inadequate.
But what if there is another way? A way to enjoy riding a mountain bike that uses its ability to take you into the wild or away from the crowds, but doesn’t need you to ‘push your limits’. A way that ignores much of the marketing to go faster, lighter, blingier, newer.
What if you just stop?
What if, as you’re pedalling through the landscape, you take a moment to be in it? Not because there’s anything forcing you to stop, like a gate or a puncture, but just because you can. You’re here, or there, and right now you’re going to stop pedalling.
Get off. Choose a rock and maybe sit down. Don’t get your phone out. Just sit. Listen, smell, breathe, and look. Feel the sun on your face, or the breeze on your cheek.
You’ve pedalled this far, maybe you’ve done this route many times before, but have you really taken it in, this spot, right here? When you were pedalling past, could you really appreciate the little red eyes on the end of the green tentacles of lichen? What about the mexican wave of the grass in the breeze? Had you seen how the colours ripple? Have you laid on the ground and heard the fizzing of the damp peat under your weight?
Embrace the stop, lie back, close your eyes, let your breathing settle, and listen.
Now your blood flows more gently, can you hear the skylarks? Maybe you’re in leafy green woodland and there’s time to notice the call and answer between two cuckoos? Is that a faint cheeping of nest bound bluetits? Open your eyes and follow the sound, stay still and silent and wait, keep your eyes on the source of that hungry chirping…wait…and with a flash and a flutter lunch arrives – not boring bluetits but a woodpecker. Great or lesser spotted…who cares, it’s great regardless.
One of the brilliant things about mountain biking is that you can ride to places where you’ll be alone. You can ride beyond the runners and the walkers and out into the empty, or get there before them. You can stop in peace, sitting with your eyes closed, without anyone else passing by and disturbing you, making you feel self conscious, or asking if you’re Ok.
Obviously if you ride with friends, they’re going to need to be up for a bit stopping too if you’re not to quickly finding yourself riding alone. If they’re out to get fit, get round and get on with their day, or get back in time for something, then you’re on the wrong ride for dawdling. But stopping on a group ride can still be a pleasure. Strip off your socks and put your feet in that stream on that hot ride. Hell, strip off everything and swim in it – how often will you be beside a beautiful glistening clear pool on a hot day? Don’t pass it by. Is that setting sun setting the sky alight? If you’ve got lights, don’t race it, embrace it.
Bikes can take us to amazing places and are the tool that can put us in the right place at the right time to experience something wonderful. So whether you’re pootling on an ancient frame, or shredding on some latest and greatest gnarpoon, don’t just press on to the next descent. Take a moment, embrace the stop, and find out what you’re missing.