What is it about riding that gets us hooked, why do so many people find the whole growing-up-thing so hard and is there a way to avoid getting stuck in a rut? After joining his childhood buddies for a ride after a gap of a decade, E-MOUNTAINBIKE founder Robin Schmitt realized he has more to learn about himself than about them.
“Hey, Robin. Sven, Maegges, Redl and the Norwegian are game for a bike ride, what about you?” There’s a familiar voice on the other end of the line. It’s Sauter, a good mate from high school, inviting me for a ride in Frankfurt. I’m on the fence about it at first, unsure about how well our riding styles or levels would correspond. I could picture the chaos already. At least half of the names that Sauter mentioned haven’t ridden an actual bike for decades, but as passionate motorbikers they’re only familiar with one approach: full gas. Then there’s the timing of the whole trip – bang in the middle of winter with snow expected to roll in. How could it go well if we have to surf the slop? I might be seeing this wrong, but as the founder and editor-in-chief of this magazine, shouldn’t I be the one setting a good example?
But what’s all the fuss about? As a journalist, I’m used to throwing myself into situations. You’ve got to be in the midst of the action to report on it; rehashing second-hand information won’t cut it on the newsroom floor. After readying myself to accept what I thought was some entry-level joke of a ride with the guys I’d grown up with, I was at least expecting to learn about their lives. But in the end, the experience turned the mirror on me and exposed the essence of life.
It’s foolish to think that a dynamite trail is what you need for a great bike ride.
Epic, rad, totally mind-blowing – sure, we’ve all got a bank of images from the bike trip of our dreams somewhere on the other side of the world, where the grass is greener, the trails are loamier, and the beer tastes that bit better. Reality check: unless you’re one of the privileged souls with a virtually empty calendar filled with nothing other than pay days and flexible zoom calls, the majority of your riding time will be on your home trails. But are they really that awful? It’s foolish to think that a dynamite trail is what you need for a great bike ride. It’s all about perspective and appreciation for what you’ve got, as you can read in our South African trail and wine tasting story. Decent company, your bike, the chance to test your nerve, learn something, or even have a slice of cake or a glass of beer afterwards: take your pick when it comes to the highlight of your bike ride and be sure to enjoy it.
These days you don’t have to go to Paris for street style points. Even your local trails will do. In some places, riding is becoming a fully-fledged fashion show, with all the bitchiness and lookism that you’d expect, well, anywhere but on the trails.
Remembering that aspect is more important than ever because riding hasn’t just hit the mainstream, it has become a full-on fashion show and is now replete with the sort of lookism that road riding is so renowned for (a topic that’s been covered in our sister mag GRAN FONDO). Within minutes of dropping into the first trail you’re scrutinised for style points: who’s on what bike, who’s wearing what kit, who’s got the skills and who’s there just for show. Joining my friends in Frankfurt, it was even more gratifyingly refreshing to realise how blissfully unaware they are of this BS. MTB’s version of hypebeast was nowhere in sight as some of them rocked up with a supermarket shopping bag over a branded duffel, clad in budget outdoor wear instead of the latest threads. Sure, we’re all guilty of falling for marketing campaigns intent on driving our desires, but sometimes we risk not seeing the woods for the trees, being too concerned with how we behave or how bright we shine in front of others – instead of simply enjoying the ride.
As humans we often tend to take ourselves too seriously. The role we adopt in one part of our lives spills over into the rest of it too – no one is ever just a doctor or an investment banker (at least not in our experience), you’re also a friend, a parent, a bike geek, a hobby philosopher or a chess master.
Forget time. Forget yourself. Be someone who lives in the moment. Dive right in and see what happens.
Who else wants to say ‘f*ck it’ to what other people think? We spend years being too timid to go wild on the dance floor, too awkward to stop and groove in front of a busker, and too wary to get loose on the trails – with or without a bike. Hell, our bodies crave this. And so do we. That sort of reckless abandon asks that you forget yourself and shake off society’s prescribed notion of being a grown-up. In that moment, there’s a shift: you are you, and nothing else. Just like back when you were a kid, skipping from puddle to puddle, letting your mind roam because everything – even the most banal things in the world – fascinated the hell out of you. Time was never an issue because that moment was all that mattered. You lived with a lightness of being that almost every adult in the western world has lost touch with. Somewhere along the line there’s been a mix-up. We’ve mistook being adult for being serious, rational, reasonable, and constantly in control. Or maybe society’s tricks have got under our skin so much, leading us to believe we can’t survive ten minutes without a smartphone and that the world will fall apart if we can’t be reached.
Big toys for big boys?
A toy Ferrari or a kid’s bike? Is it any coincidence that we want the same playthings as adults that we loved as kids, except now they’re bigger? Flashy cars and eMTBs are just grown-up toys. But just like back then, all it takes to have fun is getting outside and going into the woods. Push your limits. Try new things. Get dirty and dishevelled. The main difference now comes down to who does your laundry. Whether you’re an apprentice or a big fish on the board of directors, there’s no geriatric division that forbids grown-ups from enjoying the outdoors. It can be so liberating to reclaim those childhood elements of risk-taking, play and discovery, of riding and doing whatever you feel like, knowing you don’t have to be perfect nor orderly. Nothing is more energy-sapping or soul-destroying than having your free time dictated to you – by convention, unwritten rules, the role you’re playing, or whatever. Bring back your inner kid, switch off the rational part of your brain and be in the moment. Have a blast as you get filthy, pull skids, rail corners, try things out, hit the ground and get up again – this is life.
Yada, yada, yada – so how was the ride?
Just above freezing, snow, dreariness, one hour spent waiting as the cold seeped into our shoes because Sven forgot his helmet. In short: none of the usual ingredients that make for a good time. But if you ever need proof that dumb jokes and big grins can do wonders for a mood, this is it. As soon as we hopped on the bikes our fingers started feeling like a part of our bodies again while the pedal-assist evened out our unbalanced fitness levels – Sauter wanted to prove that his daily Peloton workouts were paying off as he opted for an analogue bike. An iced-over uphill ratcheted up the difficulty level, asking for balance and line choice in the hunt for grip, leading wheels to spin. Those that tried to find traction on the side of the trail quickly got buried in the deep snow. But we kept climbing, letting the weather douse us in the finest white stuff. As we got higher up, our patience paid off: it became a winter wonderland up there, the sun even broke through for the final stretch up the Feldberg mountain. Looking out over the clouds below it, it felt bloody marvellous.
For the downhill, it was all about gripping the bars, activating our core for balance and letting the bike run its line. Everything was carpeted in snow – which fortunately makes a soft landing pad – but also meant that we only did one run out of the planned two. Time ran away from us and the sun was already setting. When you’re measuring a good time, the distance you’ve ridden or the amount of battery remaining on your bike is completely irrelevant. We grinned. The guys bossed the conditions, riding like there’s no tomorrow.
Cutting the ride short didn’t matter because we had plans for the evening at a local establishment – a playground for grown-ups with big toys for big boys. We moved on, cracked open the first couple of cans, took a shower (beer still in hand) and headed to the location: table football, petrolhead topics, tales of racing motorcycles, recounting today’s ride. You already saw us laughing it out in a titty bar, didn’t ya? Hah! Sorry to disappoint. –With every beer downed, more and more beer-fuelled wisdom was spouted. If you wanted the specifics of the conversation, as editor I took the responsibility of omitting them from this story.
Hangover? Not my problem. That’s the Robin-of-tomorrow’s problem. This Robin is living in the beer and now.
Your comfort zone is killing you!
How many people die at 30 but end up six feet under at 80 having spent five decades living carefully, futilely securing their livelihood, adamant that they’ve outgrown certain things, and thereby reducing the things worth living to a bare minimum? Rationality is our worst enemy. We’ve become immune to curiosity and at the same time so used to monotony that we think it’s the only way to go. Rationality kills that childlike sense of adventure that used to take us to places we didn’t realise existed. Do those days feel out of reach now? Let me tell you that they’re not – but the more we grow up, the less we dare to venture into the unknown and the more we long for the security of the familiar.
Living life comes with an inherent risk, but letting fear, caution or concerns dictate your life will kill you long before you’re actually gone.
Life is movement, adaptation, and clashes with new ideas. But each of us has the agency to shake off the sense of routine that we in the West are caught up in as grown-ups. No matter how disenchanted we feel right now, life is there for the taking. It isn’t a state of being or a destination – it’s about playing in the moment. Life doesn’t care what your name or your job title is, or how you come to define yourself. Too many people confuse being a grown-up with being serious. But here’s a glimmer of hope: these two things have nothing to do with each other.
So, on that note, just do your thing. Hang out with whoever you choose. Lean into friends and free time because they’re there to catch you, not to fit a purpose or switch on cruise control. It makes no difference whether you pick a bike, a flashy car, or a Tamagotchi, detangle yourself from the system and do it with passion. The good news is that you don’t need to travel to the other side of the world: you can re-find the kid inside you anywhere.
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Words: Robin Schmitt Photos: Robin Schmitt