Mountain biking and The Zen Of Pain

Every sport has its highs and lows.  A golfer may blast the ball down the middle of the fairway like Tiger Woods or they may just slice the ball sideways into a pond.  A cricketer might smash boundary after boundary, only to be caught behind after snicking a delivery to the slips.  A pool player might botch a simple pocket, when moments before they were potting ball after ball.  Similarly, I believe we’ve all at one point been charging down a trail, channelling our inner Steve Peat, floating over rock sections, railing turns, flawlessly taking the high line above the roots, greasing our lines perfectly, and then – bam!-  your front wheel just washed out, you’ve got an express ticket aboard the pound town express, headed west.  Do not pass go, do not collect $200, you just crashed your bike (hard), and now you’re in the pain cave. 

Words // James Prichard

It is in these times when we really question why we love to ride our bikes so much, let alone ride them at all, especially after we’ve gotten up and started picking gravel out of our forearms.  More often than not a bike crash can induce a tirade of colourful language and conversations with ones’ self along the lines of “why the bloody hell do I do this?!!” or something similar. 

Sure, every sport has its injuries, strained or torn muscles, a cricket ball to the nutsack, twisted ankles on the tennis court, but I believe there are only a few sports which come close to mountain biking when it comes to injury rate.  Pedals to the shin, stems to the chin, over the handlebars, gravel rash, cartwheeling through a dead tree, you name it, there’s a million ways our metal steeds can cause us pain.  Broken bones are almost the norm among riders who have partaken in the sport for any amount of time.  I consider myself to have gotten off lightly with just a broken collarbone over my tenure as a rider.  Suffice to say, mountain bikers participate in an activity which goes hand in hand with pain.  When you start out riding mountain bikes, it’s almost like that scene from the war movie Jarhead when the new guy joins the platoon: “Welcome to the suck”.  It’s a matter of when you’re going to get hurt, not if you’re going to be. 

With this knowledge in mind, why is it that we keep riding once we’ve stood up, dusted ourselves off and recovered from our crash? (If we’re able to stand up, of course).  Even during a long recovery from a hard slam, I believe that time off the bike only fuels the fire and the motivation to get back out there on the trails. If we think about it, I believe riders have the ability to understand pain.  We know there are going to be times when we experience it, therefore we do not dread it.  If it happens, it happens, so to speak.  If not today in the bike park, perhaps tomorrow.  We may have had a clean practice run on race day, but who knows if our race lap will have us cartwheeling next to our bike over the rock garden section?  It is this acceptance which makes all the difference.  Quite often the thought of crashing is just as bad as the crash itself.  It’s not uncommon to have a slam, get the wind knocked out of you, then ten minutes later be whooping down the trail again with your mates, roosting those corners and boosting those lips, focussed again on riding and having fun. 

“If nothing else, crashes are entertaining for our riding buddies who witness it and make for a good story back at the carpark.”

Pain can actually be a good yardstick to measure how much we may be pushing ourselves and our riding.  The silver lining to skidding face first through the dirt is that we were riding hard and taking chances, working on progressing our skills.  This in itself brings its own weird gratification.  Pain comes and goes, but the satisfaction and joy we get out of riding our bikes will always be a constant.  From a mathematical standpoint, I think we come out on top.  I believe the possibility and eventuality of crashing our bike is a fair price to pay for the amount of good memories we can create on two wheels.  To summarise, I’ll finish with the following factual statement: Pain is temporary.  Glory is forever.  And chicks definitely dig scars. [R]