As you know, I’ve been thrashing around on my mountain bike a bit this year. Nothing fancy, but mostly finding some decent singletrack trails surprisingly close to home.
But it has become apparent to me that my lack of technique is preventing me from riding the way I’d like to. So when I saw a notice that the Austin Ridge Riders mountain bike club was hosting a beginner’s clinic before their Sunday morning ride, I signed up.
I’ve had good luck with clinics before. When I started road biking years ago, I attended one, and was very pleased with what I took away from it. I was hoping for similar results here.
The clinic was at Walnut Creek Park, one of Austin’s top mountain biking destinations. I hadn’t been there before, because it’s in far north Austin, and I live on the far southwest side of town. So, I was looking forward to getting out on the trails at the park.
After signing in, and paying my membership dues for the Ridge Riders, I joined about eight others at a nearby outdoor basketball course for some quick drills.
The instructor had only an hour before the group ride began, so he drilled us on only a few skills. First, we practiced the “attack” position. On a flat basketball court, it was easy, although as we made pass after pass by the instructor, he called out little adjustments we needed to make. My back wasn’t flat enough.
Then, we did some cornering drills which were essentially the same as turning a road bike. Lean, look ahead in the turn.
Finally, we jumped curbs, just to see how much travel we had built in with our arms bent about 90 degrees in the attack position. It does make rolling up over an abrupt obstacle like a curb an easy task.
But just like that, it was over, and we met the rest of the riders for the Sunday trip on Walnut Creek’s trails. The ride was divided into three groups: advanced, intermediate, and beginner. Each would travel the same basic route through the park, the main difference being the amount of distance traveled. The advanced group expected to get about 18 miles in, while the beginners were looking at eight to 10.
Some of the beginners had been on the ride before. One guy lived only a block from the park, and rides it frequently, but still classifies himself as a beginner. Yours truly is something less than a beginner.
I gotta say, these are some nice trails. But they’re also tricky. As I told the woman who was sweep for our group, “Every turn is new to me,” since I had never been here before. Some of the trails are notable for tight, twisty turns that keep speeds way down. It was pretty easy to smack into the trees that hugged the narrow path.
Other trails were rocky. Nothing I hadn’t seen before elsewhere; it’s just that these went on a lot longer. I forced myself to maintain the “attack” position as much as possible, and it saved my bacon a couple of times. If I hadn’t had my weight back, I could easily have endoed when a tight turn led into a quick drop.
But at one point, not even the attack position would have worked for me. We came to a steep drop of about 15 feet down a rocky trough. One by one, riders stopped, looked the situation over, then propelled themselves over the edge and own. One woman thought better of it, and walked her bike down the hill. I think I waited too long at the top, letting some others go on ahead of me, and by the time it was my turn, I had talked myself out of it. I walked, too.
By this time, the morning was heating up, and I was feeling the effects of forgetting my sunscreen. We stopped at a road crossing, and the ride leader explained some upcoming trails, but said we could get to the parking lot via a short uphill section. I opted for the latter. I was pooped. Climbing abrupt rises in a super low gear is done easily on a mountain bike, but it still takes a lot of effort, and I was panting for breath at the top of most of the hills.
When I checked Strava at the parking lot, I was astounded to see we had gone only 6.8 miles! They were the toughest 6.8 miles I’ve ever ridden.
Will I ride with this group again? Sure. Every Sunday, the club puts on a ride here. On Saturdays, they go to one of the many other spots around town. But because of the traveling distance for me, I doubt I’ll ever be a regular. And I’ll find places closer to home to work on my hesitancy about steep, rocky drops.
You know, i keep reading a lot about cyclocross. Being that im a budget rider i have 2 bikes. One is a beach cruiser built up with a flat bar and 3 speed hub. It serves as a klunker more often than not and i love to hit singletrack on it! But my MAIN bike is a “commuter”. Single speed road bike. Its rigged with 42/16 gearing, a rear rack for work cargo, moustache bars, platform pedals with plastic toe clips (makes the around town errands easy) and 32c tires with a herringbone tread. Now, thats not a CX bike but i swear ive been down almost as much singletrack and launched almost as many jumps on the skinnyish tires than i have the 2 inch knobbies. Is one more challenging than the other? Of course! Is that challenge a huge part of the fun? Of course!! When its all done and the bike is back in the garage, a beer and some reflection is what will weed out good rides from bad rides. Take stock in where your smiles land and ride on!
Sounds like a good introduction to the off road world. While I’m a committed roadie, I find mountain biking is a good mental break from time to time and is great cross-training, especially for road climbing. Thanks for the post
Bike Noob says
I agree. It’s a lot of fun, and I have a lot to learn. I still consider myself a road biker, though.
Walnut has some of the best trails in Austin. But some of the best trails are closed off right now during all of the bike path construction. Another great place to ride that is not full of rock is Rocky Hill Ranch in Smithville. It is worth the drive and has over 26 miles of great singletrack in the pines. I have never really gotten used to the limestone rocky trails around here as I grew up in Georgia and I really miss those trails in North Georgia and North Carolina. Another great beginner spot is McKinney Falls State Park which has added some new trails. Happy trails!