I, regretfully, haven’t owned a ride-able bicycle in many years. When my interest in mountain biking began growing recently; I started talking to friends (who ride often) to get their insight on bike types, brands, and where I should begin; one of them made my decision quite simple, and traded me this beauty for a 6 pack of beer.
Most of my friends had suggested that I start with a hard tail – so I was eager to accepted the ‘bike for brew’ offer. Hard Tail bikes do not have a rear suspension, which, from what I understand, makes them easier to control for newbies like me. The bike needed some cleaning, a tune up, and some pedals (the friend who traded it to me asked that I return the pedals to him.) I loaded it into the Jeep, and headed down to REI to have it serviced by their bike shop. This was my first time using REI’s bike and ski shop for maintenance or repairs, and, as is the usual with that place, the staff was extremely knowledgeable and helpful. An employee was taking my information when one of their bike tech’s walked out of the shop area, took a glance at my decal-less ride, and noted that it was a GT. They were pretty swamped, and informed me that it would not likely be ready for at least 2 weeks. I was in no rush, so I picked out some $20 pedals, and was on my way. About 10 days later, I got a phone call that my bike was ready to be picked up. I was super excited to pick up the bike, as it was the first good news I had gotten all week. I tweeted to the world about my excitement, and was surprised when I went to pick up my ride. The author of the local REI twitter handle (@REItristate) had seen my post, and placed a free water bottle, and thank you note, on my bike. Adding to the free things I’ve gotten by posting about my favorite brands through social media.
I packed the bike into the Jeep for the ride home, as the hitch mounted rack I bought from a friend did not clear the spare tire on the Jeep. I had to remove the front tire of the bike, fold down the front passenger seat of the Jeep, and move a bunch of tools around to get it to fit inside. I didn’t have the money to buy another rack, and figured this would just be how I’d have to transport it for the time being. I got the bike home, and took it for a spin down my street. I didn’t have a helmet yet, so I didn’t go too far; I just wanted to get a feel for how the bike rode. REI did a wonderful job tuning the bike, and it was great to feel the wind in my scalp again! (please mind my bald guy joke.)
A few days after picking up the bike, my brother in law invited me to hit the trails with him. I was super excited to get the bike dirty, but first, I needed a helmet and some gloves, as the fall weather had started getting a bit chilly. As usual, I headed to REI. I talked with one of the sales associates, who, after asking me what kind of riding I’d be doing, directed me towards a BELL helmet. “All helmets have the same safety standards, the price differences reflect style and features,” he informed me. I was happy to know that whichever helmet I chose would give me the same level of protection. I browsed the other bike gear, picked up a Novara Thermal Tech Skull Cap to keep my noggen warm, as well as a nice pair of Pear Izumi gloves.
My girlfriend and I had decided to take a leisurely ride through a park the afternoon before my inaugural trail ride; so I could get a good feel of the bike. I carried my bag of gear, and the bike, down to the Jeep to load it up. My landlord was outside working on his Cherokee, and after laughing at the way I was trying to load the bike into the Jeep, he told me he might have a rack for me. He walked into his garage and came out with a home-made hitch mounted bike rack that could hold three bikes. He had welded the beast of a rack together long before they were mainstream, or so he claimed. He let me borrow the rack until I can get a suitable one myself.
The rack worked extremely well, and held the GT in place quite nicely. I locked the bike, and the rack, through the tire to the carrier to keep the bike attached, (in case it fell off) and ward off any potential thieves. I plan on purchasing a rack that will mount to the spare tire; and will certainly give it a grand review when I do. But until then, this home made rack is certainly better than squeezing a bike in the back of a Jeep.
The bike felt great on the paved path as well as on the dirt trails in the park. I couldn’t wait to get the bike out in the thick of it the next day. Not being completely prepared, and still a beginner at this whole mountain bike thing; I put on a goofy looking outfit for the trail ride (sorry didn’t take a picture of it.) I was wearing my hiking boots, some long john thermal pants, with plaid shorts over them, a running t-shirt under a long sleeve thermal, and topped with my North Face puffy vest. I’m sure I was amusing to look at, but I was warm. We hit a section of 6 mile run in Somerset County, NJ; and after what felt like an eternity, my brother in law told me that we could head back whenever I felt like it (I thought we were close to finishing what I thought was a loop.) I was dead tired, and my body was hurting, so we started back. We had to be quick about it too, as it was starting to get dark. I successfully swerved through trees, jumped logs, and downshifted into steep inclines. I also bounced off of a number of trees, was turned down by a few logs, and fell into a stream. I struggled a lot that first ride, and injured my back on the final ascent into the parking lot, but definitely know that mountain biking is something I’m going to enjoy doing for a while – once my back heals. I’m hoping to get a small helmet cam to document future rides, and will certainly share that footage.