While at 60 I should be entering a more contemplative life, I recently made a purchase that has the potential to ruin that prospect.
Cycling was one of my earliest passions, one that fell by the wayside for many years. It was resuscitated in 2019 with the purchase of a gravel bike, which helped bring me into a new era of health, happiness, and potential destruction.
This new obsession (OK, the same, but different…) began on my 60th birthday last year, when my brother and I had a joint celebration (he was born 5 years and a day after me) with a family get-together at Elk Island National Park. We arrived early, he with his lawn chair and I with my gravel bike. Prior to the arrival of the rest of the clan, I rode the Tawayik Lake trail, an approx. 15 km singletrack ride through forests, plains and gullies. Extremely enjoyable, with the only problem being that in many sections, it felt like my eyeballs were rattling out of their sockets. It had been a dry summer after a wet spring, and the trail was often studded with hardened bison tracks, as well as the usual ripple-roots and bumpy branches. It was that day that I began to ponder how nice it would have been to explore the trails on a bike that would smooth out roughness and provide a less jarring ride. In other words, a bike with suspension.
I put the thought out of my mind for a few months, continuing with road and gravel cycling, with an occasional trail ride for a challenge. Winter came in, and we turned to cross-country skiing My trusty gravel bike became a fixture on an exercise stand. However, this winter was unlike most others, with January experiencing a series of warm spells that reduced the snow pack to a crunchy icy crust, not fit for proper skiing at all. I began to think whimsically of cycling again—winter cycling. And what better bike for all season cycling than a wide-tired mountain bike?
I hesitated. Qualms about the environmental impact, both in terms of the materials and production, as well as the impact on the trails and to the people that shared them, came to mind.
I began to look into the impact of mountain biking and found it was not quite as bad as some may imagine. (See this Wakelet collection on sustainable mountain biking). Most mountain bike organizations are aware of the negative image and contribute by being involved trail maintenance, the development of bike parks and the education of MTB’rs. However, one can understand that those looking for a quiet walk in nature, to observe the birds, bugs, fungi and/or wildflowers, will not appreciate being disturbed by a train of shredding/shralping/smashing mountain bikers. (This potential for conflict is best left for another blog post.) Could I reconcile the overall costs with the benefits?
January became February, and the snow conditions worsened. Unable to shake the idea of using a bike that could handle the rough stuff, I began scanning the web, searching the inventory of local bicycle shops for an appropriate bike. COVID-19 didn’t make it easy, as most of the bikes still in inventory were either not the right type, the right size, or the right price. I couldn’t quite justify the expense of the bikes that were available, so it became another one of my pointless, and I thought, private compulsions. In my spare time, I watched mountain biking videos. and read books and magazines on the subject. I became obsessive about it, to the point that my wife (who shares my life) finally said, with a pitying look in her eyes, words to the effect of, ” It’s OK to get a mountain bike, if you want.”
If I want?!
I found one within a week or two, when a single extra-large Trek Fuel Ex 5 became available at a Cranky’s bike shop in nearby St. Albert. It dented the bank account somewhat, but I’ll survive until the first pension cheque arrives…
It’s a beast of a bike that I am now outfitting as a beast of burden for some backcountry explorations, primarily in Elk Island National Park, but also for jaunts into Edmonton’s river valley trail system. Of course, I won’t be shredding with the young ‘uns, but I hope to get into areas that I couldn’t reach before when walking, and to get back into exploring nature. (Characteristically, I’m hoping to avoid other MTB’rs and, for that matter, covey’s of birders too, with their pishing all over the place…)