Column: Moving On – mountain bikers don’t need to ride to stay fit

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Jason Miles has moved to another country. Well, Scotland. 

I’ve very recently moved house. It wasn’t a particularly straightforward move – we upped sticks and relocated from Manchester to a fairly remote part of southern Scotland, but it’s quiet, friendly and the cycling here is incredible. For a few months before and for a month or so during the moving process (I said it wasn’t straightforward), I hardly rode my bike at all and I certainly wasn’t racing, so at the back of my mind I was thinking about how much fitness I was losing. 

You know, thinking about it as though it was important. Which in the grand scheme of things – moving house for a better life, trying not to leave anything behind, trying to make sure that nobody involved in the whole process wasn’t ripping us off, worrying about the kids starting a new school – it’s not that important at all. 

A nice safe place. Leave me here.

When you’re watching your mates having fun on their bikes and staying thin and fast though, that hurts. Nobody wants to arrive in the spring like a blubbery splodge, as much use to a big bike ride as a chocolate teapot so the move finally happening couldn’t be soon enough. 

We’re here now though, surrounded by our flock of anonymous cardboard boxes. I opened a box earlier today and found it was full of food. I was starting to wonder where all that had gone. As for bikes – well, I know where they are because I moved them myself (does anyone really trust removals men that much that they wouldn’t take care of the bikes themselves?).

What I’ve noticed since I’ve been able to get out on my bike more regularly though, is that I feel pretty good. ‘Great’, even. I was expecting to be an overweight, unfit jelly and while I’m admittedly carrying a few pounds of extra timber after all the rushed meals (takeaways and Greggs, in other words), as it turns out I’m only slightly unfit and I’ve suddenly discovered a rich seam of autumn motivation. That’s probably just the new surroundings though. 

Being a bit thick, I couldn’t work out how I’ve not crumbled and become as weak as a kitten. But then I remembered! Running up and down stairs with heavy boxes! Putting heavy boxes in a van and taking them out again! Moving heavy boxes from one place to another so I could fit more heavy boxes in the same space! Filling empty boxes and turning them into heavy boxes! Yay for heavy boxes!

My back’s pretty sore (in spite of watching that John Cleese health and safety gone mad ‘this is how you pick stuff up’ video at work years ago), but it turns out that mountain bikers don’t need to mountain bike to stay fit. And it’s been quite a handy reminder at this time of year, which is why I’m telling you all this now. You thought I was just boasting that I’d moved to Scotland, didn’t you? 

This time of year is, frankly, rubbish. It rains a lot, it’s cold and it’s dark all the time. If you have a job (and I assume you do if you can afford luxuries such as mountain biking magazines), then you’re probably at work while it’s daylight so your riding is presumably done in the dark. Motivation? You’ll be lucky. I bet you’re forcing yourself out of the door and hoping to get ‘the text’ from your mate so you don’t have to go. 

Don’t go then. Do something else. Why turn your normally cool thing into a massive chore?

If you’re struggling to stay motivated, why force it? Unless you’re very young, plain daft, a professional cyclist or just utterly in love with everything to do with pushbikes, if you spend the winter pretending to be as keen as you were in the middle of summer you’ll probably be a bit burnt out by the time the bluebells are popping up anyway. 

Go running or visit your local swimming pool more often. A friend of mine joined a rowing club in the middle of Manchester. She loves it and it’s really, really hard work and it’s about as different to mountain biking as it gets. Apart from the huffing and puffing. And sweat. And invariably getting soaked. And the very expensive equipment needed. 

But apart from those things, it’s totally different and when she starts riding her bike more regularly it’ll be like finding a cardboard box full of forgotten biscuits, crisps and Bara Brith. Like the one I found earlier. Familiar, but not boring.

I always run regularly in the autumn and winter just to do something else. I’m not very good at running and most years I pick up an injury that makes me walk funny, but somehow it gets me through the winter with a smile on my face so to me it’s worth doing. 

If you’re not digging bike riding right now, do something else for a bit. You’ll not forget how to ride your bike and it’ll probably make you enjoy it more in the long term. It’s that simple.

 I categorically DO NOT recommend the heavy boxes/moving to a new house thing though.

Not recommended.

This article was originally published in Issue #116 of Singletrack Magazine. Keen to read more? Subscribers get access to our electronic archive.

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