Gotta get a little bit sideways
August 28, 2013
BikeMonkey PostOnce upon a time I used to try to go fast on a mountain bike. Now and again. The picture here is not of “some random white guy you pulled off the internet” as a certain ex-intern once remarked to me. This is towards the end of a race held on a ski mountain where the cross-country course was basically UP, across, DOWN and zig zagging down the ski slope face was always a blast. I don’t do the stupid stuff anymore. In no small part because of mini-waccaloons that will depend on my brain functioning more or less normally for another several years. But…..I never was an idiot and if you look at this picture with an educated eye you’ll see that I have the rear locked up a bit too much and could have been making better time. Oh, hell, take a listen and I’ll meet you after the jump
Somewhere in the middle of the college years one of my friend’s parents were dumb enough to let him have the Jeep Cherokee for a weekend* or something. This was in the beginning of the grand democratization of the four-wheel drive sport utility vehicle and off-roading was not yet much of a general phenomenon. And most of my friends were suburbanites anyway and did all their teenage stupid-driving on the [paved] road.
You don’t want to get sideways on the road.
Anyway, we loaded up four guys or so and went up into the hills on a dirt road. I don’t know if I was third or fourth guy to get behind the wheel but…off we went with me driving.
Let me preface this with the full admission that I am, and have always been, pretty risk-averse. It was my brother that had a life pass at the local emergency room, not me.
Anyway, I’m tooling along and getting a feel for this whole sport-ute thing…never had driven one and any four wheel driving I’d done had been in an actual work truck where you were going slow into a hayfield or woodlot or something. Stupid driving was not a four-wheel drive experience in my teen days at all. We did our learning in various cheap ass hatchbacks and coupes with dinky engines that emerged from a prior oil crisis.
Eventually I stop and the other three guys are quiet. The guy whose parents owned the car looked kinda freaked. Then someone said, a bit weakly “Um, so you’ve done a lot of four wheeling, huh?”.
I was all “What the fuck are you talking about?“…..and then I realize we must have got a little bit siiiiiideways (and in fairness airborn but jeez, only just technically so) back down the road.
So yeah, the risk averse thing? I was then and still am. I only came close to cracking up a vehicle on the road the once in my stupid days because I overcooked a corner and was all over the other lane. But I also grew up sort of rural. And we had a few dirt roads we had to use to get from here to there….and especially when late to work or a certain girlfriend called maybe, just maybe, we hustled it a bit. And you tend to get a little bit sideways in a shitty econobox.
When you get a little bit sideways you learn how to actually drive a damn car. You learn how it handles when the front end breaks loose (yikes) and when the back end slides away (yaaay!!!!) and what to do about either of those things. You learn gas control and the right steering reflexes. You learn how to find traction on the drive wheels whether that be front or rear wheels pulling go-duty.
You learn what in the heck a differential does.
…and you get down the road a little faster.
There’s a canyon trail suitable for mountain biking that isn’t too far away from my house so it is greatly overrepresented in my occasional riding in my advanced age and current life/work “balance”. One route goes up gently out a canyon limb and then terminates on a road, making it an out and back trip.
It’s downhill enough on the return leg that even out of shape I’m working the big ring action. And even if I am not particularly planning to I tend to get a little sideways, especially right about here. If I’m not paying attention, and I’m usually not these days, I’ll let the front end go away a little bit and jack the fuck out of my heart rate while I try to keep it upright and out of the thistles. If I’m in the mood to be hustling a little, the back end will step out just a bit and straighten it out for the next curve while the old faithfuls pour on the power just like the [ …cue music….]… Ahem.
The mountain bike ride is a great place to remind yourself of the benefits of getting a little sideways now and again. It’s fun. You learn how to ride a bike properly, how to apex a corner and how to feather the brakes. You learn about gear and setup and just where you want your tire pressure to be and what your fork settings need. You start to understand those online tire reviews and manufacturer PR copy are for crap and what you really need to do is find out what works for you. (In general riding there is no substitute for the Panaracer Smoke under your ass but the alleged companion Dart never did anything for me.) Maybe you find you don’t like the hard-shoulder and quick breakaway over the edge of a classic tire setup and really groove a nice round profile like my favorite racing tires in the day.
You learn to counter steer (fizzicx warning) and throw your weight around and how to get on the gas without clipping a pedal on the inside.
You learn how to ride.
And you end up with a big ass smile on your face.
As always, somewhere in here is a critical lesson for a science career.
*This was back in the DarkAges, first of all, and my friends tended to be of middle class sensibility. So it wasn’t like this guy was given a car of his own.