Went for a mountain bike ride yesterday. Back in the day (circa 1993…*cough*) I bought a GT Zaskar LE frame and then spent the next year (and entirely too much money) building it from scratch. The only things I didn’t do to it were press on the headset and build the wheels. Other than that, I did all the work. I then subsequently spent the better part of the next two years putting well over 5000 miles on it in the mountains around SoCal. For all the ugliness that is SoCal, it’s wilderness (yes, there is a substantial amount) is spectacular. Then a horrific back injury took me off my bike and put me on the couch for nearly 10 years. Through various attempts to get back in shape, my mountain bike mostly just sat there. It was sad.
When we moved to Missouri in 2006, I started running again to get in shape, and still the mountain bike sat. Through another difficult injury in 2008 and into the launch of my triathlon career, it sat. The only time I touched it was to pull the saddle and pedals off of it to put on my new cross bike as I tried to build it into a triathlon bike.
As the triathlon season came to a close in October, I began to make plans for offseason training. One day while driving to work, I went by a familiar trail called Bear Creek that leads to a huge park. The back side of that park has some really cool mountain biking trails on it (Rhett’s Run). I have run and walked these trails many times. It all got me to thinking about that old mountain bike, now nearly 17 years old.
That weekend I pulled it down of the rack, took it downstairs and put it back together. Surprisingly after all that time, a little oil and a few small tweaks were all that was needed to get everything working again. It even shifted nicely (better than my new cross/triathlon bike!) after all that time. I took it out and rode it around the yard a bit and it still seemed pretty sound. Granted, the tech on it is still 17 years old. Air/oil shock (Rock Shox Mag 21), XTR, cable brakes, etc. But it worked. I put out a call to the triathlon list to borrow a set of spd pedals (mine were not compatible and there are no cleats available for them anymore) and got several offers. The next day the bike was complete and ready to rise from the ashes.
That was two weeks ago. I have ridden the bike 4 times since then. Once on a local trail and three times at Rhett’s Run. Several things became apparent on these rides. First, this is still a SOLID bike. Second, I do still love mountain biking. Third, I have become very tentative in my old age and will need many more rides to find that comfort level I used to have with mountain biking. And finally, I have found my offseason cross training.
Yes, I suck at mountain biking. I miss shifts, miss turns and have forgotten everything about riding position, climbing, descents, etc. I’m lucky to get out of the parking lot without falling. But even with all that, it’s awesome exercise, beautiful and tons of fun. The bike, even though very sound, is still very old. The shock doesn’t rebound anymore and the brakes are sketchy. Falling seems to hurt a lot more than it did 17 years ago. Nevertheless, I’m pretty excited about getting back on my old bike again. I don’t pretend to think I will ever go as fast as I used to (back in the day I hit 52mph through the speed trap at Mammoth Mountain in California) but I don’t care about that anymore. It just feels good to get back on that bike and ride again.