MARCH 6, 2012

Wu-Tang Mountain Biking

At this juncture I'd like to throw out a little sample from my new book The Art of Mountain Biking: Singletrack Skills for All RidersAs you can see, it's not your typical mountain bike book. Instead of laying out a plain directional manual for off-road skills ("do this... don't do that..."), The Art of Mountain Biking digs deeper into the underlying physical and mental functions that lead to transcendent form and performance -- great trail riding. Like my earlier book The Art of Urban Cycling, this book is a compilation of bicycling wisdom from a multitude of highly experienced individuals.  I guarantee it will surprise you and change the way you think and move on the trail, whether you're a beginner or expert.

At the risk of confusing everybody by pulling an excerpt out of context, here's an early chapter called "Wu-Tang Mountain Biking" (pp. 4-5):

As is common when humans are frustrated by inanimate objects, it is easy to fall into a state of antagonism with the trail, with the rocks and dirt and the earth that spawned it. In this willful state, I have often reminded myself: "Ride the trail. Don't let the trail ride you." Pretty sharp sound bite, I always thought. This kind of instruction seems to make good sense to experienced trail surfers. Beginners may find it immediately helpful. It means, choose your own line, instead of letting the features of the trail choose for you. Don't be jostled around where you don't want to go. Take control, make it happen. As one old friend of mine puts it, "Look, decide, ride."

Look. Decide. Ride. There is a lot of willful wanting and doing in that phrase. At its core -- decide -- it sings with yang, fire, aggression. It happens to be helpful advice. And it rhymes. But does "look, decide, ride" really describe what happens when we navigate a section of singletrack? The word "ride" is a possible hint. In "ride" there is both action and acceptance.

Although the trail is in some sense alive, not entirely unyielding, and changing over time (being composed of zillions of little and not-so-little shifting components), it does a decent impression of an inanimate object, or a pile of them. We see before us the geometric parameters. There is no use arguing with them. We mountain bikers can talk about willful choosing all day long, and it sounds pretty good to our own ears. Ultimately, however, our range of choices is determined by the trail. We cannot force our bikes to roll anywhere we'd like, only where the geometry allows. The only thing to do is flow with the trail. And with this flow we are back over to the yielding yin side of things, the empty vessel, the so-called feminine energy, versus the masculine yang of "decide."

No experienced trail rider who thinks about it for a minute or two could deny that the sport involves a mysterious combination of active and passive elements. Only by appreciating and cultivating both sides of the circle can the mountain biker develop and improve.

The application of "soft power" is a common but often sneakily hidden feature in many areas of modern life. The term is commonly used in international relations, for instance, to describe just about any method of influence other than coercion through military force. A different kind of soft power is important in our popular sports, although it takes a back seat to hard hits and other explosive movements, and casual fans may not even notice it. Some basketball players are said to possess a "soft shooting touch." (Try shooting a basketball any other way.) Football receivers and hockey players are occasionally praised for "soft hands" amid the intense violence of those sports. Soccer players need "soft feet" to trap and control hard passes -- very Tai Chi.

More so than any of these activities, and almost as much as Tai Chi itself, trail riding is inseparable from soft power....

Spellcheck still doesn't fathom singletrack. Probably a good sign. 

I go on to discuss the science of relaxation and balance, how to attach yourself to the bike, the importance of controlling the weight of the head, how to use the eyes, the philosophy of line choice, pitfalls like hazard fixation, et cetera. Along the way I compare mountain biking to other sports, from rock climbing to horseback riding, motorcycle racing, surfing, skiing -- even bowling -- to see what we can learn. In addition to the holistic approach to trail skills (teach a man to fish and feed him for life) there are specific instructions and tips for certain important moves. There is also discussion of logistics, like what to bring on a long ride and how to keep a group together. The end of the book gets into the big picture stuff, environmental impact, trail maintenance and access, among other issues, and wonders about the future of the sport.

Thanks for reading. I hope you liked that enough to purchase 1,300 or more copies from your local independent bookseller, like TATTERED COVER, or POWELL'SFailing that, one of these guys: AMAZONBARNES N NOBLE.


See  THE INDUSTRIALIZED CYCLIST NOTE PAD  for juicy chunks of information related to transportation, energy, war,  bicycling, Mayans, helicopters, jackups and Ku-Maloob-Zaap.