How to teach your wife to mountain bike
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Jeff Barlett’s wife didn’t know what she was in for.
ALL I WANTED TO do was rip single track. Memories of floating airs on Whistler’s A-Line trail, flowing turns through prairie fields and grinding climbs in the Rockies ran through my mind. After four years in Argentina and two years on a touring bike, my return to Canada meant I could finally dust off my mountain bike and hit the trails.
Florescent pink and green letters advertising “All Bikes 40% Off” added an ulterior motive. I bought my wife Romina her first mountain bike.
Although she’s completed two cycle tours, my wife has never been off-road. She doesn’t even enjoy gravel roads but I figured she’d learn if she owned a bike. I’d just have to teach her.
1. Understand first impressions
I knew her first ride would be like revisiting our first date, except her palms would actually sweat. Instead of deciphering my Spanish mumblings, she’d fumble with rapid-fire shifters and body positioning. There is no dinner and a movie equivalent to taking somebody onto their first single track. Instead of small talk and awkward silences, there are flowing corners and rocky sections.
By the end, decisions would be made, and there either would be a second ride or there wouldn’t.
2. Consider past mistakes
I’ve introduced my wife to other outdoor pursuits and I’ve always gone all-in; our first hike was a multiday alpine traverse and our first cycle tour crossed the Southern Cone. By ignoring the need to start small, each first now has its own blunder that is inevitably told during dinner with my in-laws:
Romina nearly drowned in a glacier-fed river, and she blew off Ruta 40 in a gale-force Patagonian windstorm. She watched as my makeshift stove ignited our campsite as heavy rain flooded our tent. Even simple complaints of sore knees led to clipless pedals, which led to bloody knees.
3. Pick [un]suitable trails
When I bought Romina’s bike, the shop mechanic mentioned some new trails just outside of town. Built for technical cross-country races, these trails were anything but forgiving. Most people would not think them suitable for beginners, especially beginners on their first ride, but most wouldn’t consider the wind-socked Patagonian back roads as an ideal place for a first cycle tour, either. I loaded both bikes onto the roof rack, and we drove out of town.
After four years, I'm finally back on my mountain bike. / Photo: Courtesy of author
4. Give instruction
Once we hit the trails, my wife was hesitant. She struggled down steep descents and failed to shift fast enough to climb. Hell, there were sections I couldn’t ride cleanly despite a decade off-road experience.
I did what’s only natural for guys: shouted instructions.
• If it’s too steep, shift your weight back over the rear wheel so you don’t endo.
• Don’t spend so much time in the saddle; shift your weight to control the bike.
• On long climbs, drive your elbows in towards your body to help keep the front wheel on the ground.
• Try to ride faster; momentum is your friend.
5. Drive home in silence
6. Try another trail
Our next ride didn’t happen for a few days. It wasn’t the hard first experience that delayed us but rather our move. After nearly a year of waiting out the immigration process and dreaming of the Canadian Rockies, we finally moved to Jasper, Alberta.
The day after we arrived in town, we jumped back on our bikes. With the Jasper National Park Mountain Biking Guide in hand, we picked out an easy ride along the Athabasca River. Although rated easy, the trail had enough single track to provide a challenge, a few rocky ascents, and one fun rhythmic downhill amongst a herd of big horn ungulates. It took two hours and, except to comment on the scenery, I kept my mouth shut.
On our third ride, I charged down a lengthy descent, railing corners as I blinked back speed-induced tears. Riding the edge between high-speed control and out of control missile, I left Romina behind. Finally, I hit the brakes to wait where a fallen log lay across the trail.
Soon, Romina came blasting down the same hill. Standing poised above her saddle, her weight shifted naturally to control the bike. Her index fingers lightly pumped the brakes on corners. When she spotted the log, she just bunny hopped over and continued charging ahead.
With an enthusiastic hoot, I gave chase.