By Vernon Felton
There's blood in my mouth. And dirt. And something that tastes like, let's see, stick or rock or no, wait, that's fern. Yes, there's definitely a fern in my mouth. Again. This is what winter tastes like. Which is to say, winter tastes a lot like being forcibly thrown from my bike and hoovering the trail up with the orifice I usually reserve for inhaling steak or falafels or, really, anything other than terra firma. But to me, winter has always tasted like crashing and deep-throating a couple yards of muddy singletrack because that is precisely what I do each winter.
A SEASON FOR EVERYTHING
Every year the same damn thing happens. I ride out of the summer months and into early fall on a wave of Rad. And, yes, I just capitalized the last word of the previous sentence because sometimes "rad" just isn't "Rad!" enough. This is one of those times. I think you know what I mean. The trails are dry. You lean the bike and the knobbies dig in with authority. There's traction for miles. You whoop. You holler. You feel like King Kong. You are the master of some serious shit. Did you just see me roost that corner. Did you? Need I mention how Rad it was? I don't think so.
They say no man is an island unto himself, sure, but after a full summer of riding, your legs are strong, your lungs are bottomless and an endless supply of hero dirt stretches out beneath your tires. These are the gravy days when riding a bike, and doing it well, seems so effortless. You hammer up climbs. You laugh at the tricky sections of a ride that once stymied you and you pity the weakling that you used to be. Remember that absolute joey who once wrecked on these same trails? Well, that was then and this is now and you ain't ever going back. You're better than that.
WINTER'S PAYBACK IS A BITCH
And then November rolls in and suddenly everything changes. Just add water, some ice, a touch of sloth and your world aboard the bike becomes a dark place indeed. At least for those first few months.
Those roots that your tires used to buzz across with ease become a veritable killing floor. Oh, yeah, you have to hit those things perpendicularly… Somehow you forgot that most basic of rules back in July when you could get away with riding like a hack. Likewise, the corners that you used to fly through now send you flying to the earth. Crap… Have I been steering from the back of the back these past couple of months? You didn't even notice that you’d slipped into such sloppy habits. You were too busy making motorcycle sounds with your mouth and feeling like the King of the World. That was back in August, probably. Back when you could ride that way without the front wheel constantly washing out. Well, those days are over.
THE NEW YOU IS THE OLD YOU
And so you gradually, crash by crash, rediscover how to ride each winter. It's a slow, painful process full of bruises and bloody shins that looks, as the old saying goes, "like a monkey fucking a football.” Winter is a cruel bitch that tastes a lot like blood and dirt and, more than anything else, humiliation.
But here's the thing: you will emerge from this seasonal meat grinder a better rider once again. This is the cycle. Call it what you will—The Force, your mojo, proper riding form—whatever it is, you eventually get it back again. You and Winter come to an understanding. You head out on rides in monsoon conditions with a smile on your face. You speed through off-camber corners laced in mud, roots and utter nastiness and you do it with ease. Hell, you might even begin making the motorcycle sounds again. The absolute joey that's been wearing your chamois and riding your bike these past few months is gone. You. Are. On. Your. Game. Welcome back.
HELLO DARKNESS, MY OLD FRIEND
The challenge, of course, is to hold on to this hard-earned form because just as you get your groove back an unfortunate thing happens. The rains stop. The sun comes out. The trails dry. Mud becomes dirt. Roots become annoying, rather than menacing. On one hand, this is great news. I mean, who really wants to overhaul their bike after every ride? Who actually likes dealing with monkey butt or frostbite or all the other ills of winter?
Summer comes back into your life like a long-lost friend. And this friend is hosting a party 24-7—a party that is a lot of fun to ride. Heck, you can hit those root balls at odd angles now. You can get away with panicking and grabbing a little front brake during that roll in. You can, in short, ride like an absolute idiot and get away with it. It's great! And it's also disastrous. Summer can lull you into complacency. You can get sloppy. Summer, after all, doesn't give a damn; it just breezes into town for three months, full of promises and toting a keg, and then it blows out again. Just remember, if that happens, Winter is waiting for you a few months away and she has no patience for Summer's sloppy habits. Winter will not cut you a break, buy you a beer or be your buddy. Winter is cruel. She tastes like humiliation. But she also makes you a better rider. Winter may just be your best friend.