Daz was our ride leader for the evening, so he got to deliver the pep talk at the top of the final descent – a rocky start with a rollercoaster grassy singletrack lower down that got faster. It was one of our local favourites, but a couple of riders had never ridden it before so Daz filled them in on some of the hazards. A little overkill normally but, hey, it was pitch black.
“It starts rocky and awkward, but then opens out onto a grass ride where you can go flat out. Mind some of the grass corners though or you’ll grease out.”
‘Greasing out’ – what a phrase! But we all knew exactly what he meant. As regular riders, we share similar experiences and, while probably none of us have ever talked about greasing out, it instantly evoked a mental picture (probably with a sensation of sliding off a wet corner and into the reeds beyond).
When I picked up my first mountain bike magazine, in the late 1980s, I didn’t have a clue what was going on. This looked like being a hugely exciting new sport, but the terminology and the names of the riders and the brands were completely unfamiliar. Such was the enthusiasm of the writers, that I persevered with this alien world, learning a bit of the lore and the lingo with every copy of MBI or MBUK.
I imagine our sport is still impenetrable to many newcomers. Talk of suspension damping and head angles and this or that personality or trail feature will still confuse, but the underlying enthusiasm for playing on bikes in the mud is still there and hopefully still as inspiring and alluring as ever. Taking those steps from ‘having a mountain bike’ to ‘being a mountain biker’ are small and imperceptible, but with every successful ride (and even with every unsuccessful one) you learn more about the sport, about how capable even the humblest of hardtails is and how much fun you can have playing around on bikes in the woods.
As you progress – or is that regress? – into true immersion in the sport, that knowledge becomes second nature. Bike components no longer intimidate and trail features intimidate a little less than they used to. You pick up that slang and that trail shorthand and, best of all, you begin to feel truly at home on the bike. You’re no longer just a passenger, but an active rider (mostly) in charge of where your bike takes you.
As we took off down the trail that Daz had warned us about, headlights shining, I could feel my bike moving under me as I rode over the slabby rocks and the slick grassy surfaces between. The optimistic semi slicks of the summer should have been swapped out weeks ago, but I’d not had time. I could feel the bike crabbing across the off-camber slopes and there was that noticeable delay between rider input and actual movement, suggesting that my tyres were skating over the surface without having much to hold on to.
Instead of terrifying, though, the sensation delighted. In the absence of daylight, being able to feel the bike moving under me felt natural and the reactions needed to keep the bike upright were equally reflexive. I didn’t ‘grease out’ on any of the corners and I finished the descent even more in tune with my bike, and my chosen sport/lifestyle/calling than ever.
It might still seem a strange and complex world from the outside, but once you’re in, you’re in for good…