Old Dogs and Revelations

I started riding back in the days when cantilever brakes were rad, suspension was something that squeaked on my old rust bucket car and handlebars were measured in feet.  Back then, there were things you just didn’t do on a bike, like taking air – well at least not intentionally.  As the ad says, “Baby, you’ve come a long way”.  Nowadays brakes will stop you on a dime (too fast sometimes!), suspension is damn near measured in feet and the limits for what you can do on a bike is based more on YOUR abilities than the bike.

Char on Race of Spades

It’s amazing that after nearly 20 years of riding, mountain biking can still offer so many new and exciting things to learn, see and do.  This sport has constantly evolved and changed so much that it keeps me coming back for more.

I’ve ridden in many amazing places – Moab, Fruita, Sedona, Rossland, Revelstoke, Golden, Fernie, California, Whistler, Squamish, New Zealand… and probably others that I can’t even think of right now.  I’ve ridden cross country, all mountain and road (although you would never catch me admitting that to my roadie buddies).  And yet, this year I discovered there is still a whole new world of riding out there to explore!

Revelation #1 – taking a course really CAN improve your riding!

I took the Dirt series late last year and realized that yes, Virginia, riding style has changed dramatically in response to the improvements in technology with bikes.  By modifying how and  where I position my body on the bike, how I brake and where I accelerate in a corner and a few tips and tricks for straight line riding I can do so much more than I ever thought possible.  By changing the foundations of how I ride, it’s taken me to a whole new plateau and so many more opportunities for riding super fun stuff.  And, because I liked it so much I took it again this spring to really hammer in those fundamentals and make sure they stick.

Tanya on Race of Spades

In the course they split you into groups according to your ability.  From there they do workshops to break down the techniques of compression, extension, braking, balancing, etc so that you can more effectively do the things you want to do – high speed cornering, jumps, drops, riding wood, climbing, etc.  After that you get to go play and practice what you’ve learned on trails.

Ok, so I learned some good skills in a course, so what?  The cool thing is that I can see a huge difference in how I tackle the technical.  I’m ripping up the corners and letting the bike do what it’s designed to do.  I’m riding structures that I had always been nervous about trying.  I’m taking on steep descents and cranking through rollovers, roots and jumps.  But you want to know the even better part of that?  I’m eyeing up stuff that I would never have considered before, which brings me to the next incredible revelation of the summer.

Revelation #2 – Downhilling is SUPER fun!

Ok, ok, so it’s been around for ages and most people already KNOW that, but being a mainly xc \ all mountain chick I just never got around to it because I actually DO love doing trails and climbs.  But what I realized this summer is that, similar to skiing back country versus resort skiing, if you really want to improve your downhill technical skills, downhill seriously is THE way to do it.

Sale Mountain Martha Creek

After doing just a couple of downhill rides in Revelstoke and Squamish as well as a day at the Whistler bike park, I could feel the bike \ body separation far more than ever before and catching air doesn’t terrify me like it used to…ok, so I still need to work on that one.  That’s next on the list.  I’m actually starting to think about donning a full face helmet, some armor and checking out some of those wicked descents.

I think I’ll always be an all mountain girl at heart, but who knows…..you never know where life will take you….

Charlene Belanger


  • Sue Petersen Gallon

    I enjoyed your article. Can you give me any advice for learning how to mountain bike? I am 50 years old and way out of shape but love riding my bike on paths until I tried a mountain bike trail in a local park and crashed down a ravine, lol …….. Now I’m wondering if I’m just not athletic enough to pull off mountain biking. Where would I begin to build up my skills or is this a sport best for young people who are in shape?

    • Hi Sue, thanks for your comment and questions. I’ll let Charlene field this one, but I did want to say it’s never too late to begin mountain biking. I’ve seen people as young as 65 take up the sport and loving it. It’s always inspiring to see retired couples on the chairlift at Whistler heading up for their first run. Depending on where you live, there are a lot of great cycling clubs to get involved with to learn the ropes. In Calgary, you can look to the Spin Sisters (women’s mountain bike club) http://www.spinsisters.ca/

      Happy trails!

    • Charlene Belanger

      Sue, Thanks for your reply and I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the article. First off – mountain biking is definitely
      not a sport that is only for young superathletes! That’s one of the things I love about this sport – there are so many different challenges, levels, and types of riding that you can pick the style that best fits you and then you can change it up depending on what your interests are or how you are feeling. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind if you are just getting started, whether you are 7, 27 or 67…….

      #1 – A good attitude goes a long ways. While riding is fun, there will be times that it will be hard. If you can find the fun and humor in it then the fun parts get even better…and I can guarantee you will have some great stories to tell! The fact that you crashed on the
      ravine and still want to check it out – awesome!!!

      #2 – Bone up on your skills. It’s one thing to learn by trial and error or with well meant tips from friends, but by taking a course it will pole vault you leaps and bounds ahead in your skills. By shortening that period of learning to ride you can get out and feel confident in tackling stuff. Also, courses are a great way to meet other
      people who are at a similar skill level to you so you can push each other at a pace you are comfortable with. At the
      last Dirt Series course I ran into some friend of mine that are in their 50’s and just getting started as well, so you are not alone.

      #3 – Find the style and level that fits you. A lot of people get started on XC riding because it feels more comfortable, are more similar to the bike paths and are a great way to explore places while downhill bike parks allow you have a great time, challenge yourself on the technicals and really improve your skills. They are all fun, just different. Regardless of what style you want to try I would suggest starting easy and then as you get more comfortable notch it up a
      bit. Check out the trails here on bikepirate.com, ask friends or bikes shops for some suggestions to get you started and then get out there! Here’s a video that talks a little more about MTB Cross Country vs Downhill (for beginners) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8pDBM56Gt0

      #4 – Sometimes it is about the bike. I would never proclaim to be a gear geek by any stretch, but having the right bike for the type of riding you are doing will go a long way to improving your confidence on the bike. You can get out on pretty much any bike, but the right bike will make it easier and help you feel more comfortable riding challenging terrain.

      #5 –
      Practice. They say it takes 10,000 to become an expert in anything – riding is no different. As Pete mentioned, the Spin Sisters or Pink Pedals in Calgary are women specific clubs that have rides in all levels. If you check the bike shops, they can usually point you to other clubs as well.

      Best of luck and I hope to run into you out on the trails!
      HappyTrails, Char