Why I Mountain Bike

Mountain Biker

Photo: Pond5

About two months ago, the mountain biking tour company Sacred Rides released a video compilation created from mountain bikers’ photos, video and voiceover content (below) about why they ride mountain bikes. In the video, one biker explains his reason for riding as the “several moments of perfect focus” in each ride. Speeding down a hill at 30 mph or railing a turn, you hear your tires rolling on the dirt, feel every contour of the trail and see every rock and root as they approach, with your mind instantly calculating whether to go over or around each one to avoid disaster. But when those moments of clarity come over you, it all makes perfect sense. It’s why we ride.

I fell in love with mountain biking about 13 years ago at age 30 on a trip to Northern California. I decided to go purely on a whim and hired a guide since I had no idea where to go or even where to rent a bike north of San Francisco (the web was barely functional in a hotel at that time). As my guide took me to some fire roads on Mt. Tam, I cursed the fact that I lived in New Jersey without any mountain biking at my disposal. How could I ever mountain bike in a state with no real mountains?

As an avid skier, I’ve always loved the American West and after discovering mountain biking, I decided I needed to spend more time outdoors. I searched for jobs that would enable me to move my family to Colorado. After some ebbs and flows, in 2008 I found a great opportunity, but as we were finalizing an offer and looking at houses, the deal that enabled it fell apart. I was despondent. My (now ex-) wife, who never really fancied the idea of moving to Colorado, suggested there must be mountain biking closer by.

The next weekend, I found Lewis Morris Park, a mere 25 minutes from our home in Summit, New Jersey. I rode an old “mountain bike” that barely survived the ride, but I was immediately hooked. In line with my “go big or go home” inclination, I bought an $1,800 mountain bike the next weekend that I’ve ridden at least once per week over the past five years. I spent a lot more money on a second mountain bike,  subscribed to two mountain biking magazines, and got socks with bike chains on them. I began riding a folding bike to work.

Jeff Mountain BikeMountain biking has made me appreciate nature even more (except when I almost rode directly into two black bears last month!). It’s created new friendships. It’s led me to explore other parts of the country — I’ve now ridden in 22 U.S. states. It’s made me healthier and fitter. It’s taken the edge off some negativity and cynicism that were present in my personality until the last few years.

I’ve given a lot of my free time and focus to mountain biking over the past five years, but it has given me so much more in return. When I finish a ride and see anywhere from zero to five other mountain bikers out there with me, I ask myself, “Why the heck don’t more people do this?” I’m outside. I’m getting exercise. I’m experiencing the very definition of fun. Mountain biking has changed my life, truly. What’s keeping people off the trails, whether on foot or on a bike?

If I can ride 10 to 15 miles and climb 1000 to 2000 feet in New Jersey, clearly there’s mountain biking to be found all across the country. And with the International Mountain Biking Association’s list of “epic” rides now including trails in non-Alpine states like Michigan, Florida and Wisconsin, there are very likely some truly great rides within your reach. So get outside, get on a bike (a $400 one will do fine) and go for a ride — preferably on dirt. Maybe you’ll gain those “moments of perfect focus,” feel like a kid again, or simply feel more alive. As one mountain biker in the video puts it, ride “because life is too short not to.”