By Sal Ruibal
Let’s get this straight right off the bat: I have nothing against road bikes. Hey, 12 percent of my bike herd is a road bike. Those skinny tires are really handy on nice, clean and freshly paved asphalt. Smooth as a baby’s butt that requires your mama’s attention.
The other 88 percent are either mountain bikes or cross-bikes or cross-bikes with mountain-bike tires. At any given point, two have at least one flat, one is still crud-crusted from a ride in February, one is in the shop on life-support and the rest are sleeping off a night ride.
I am hard on bikes, for sure. But they like it rough. Rock gardens? Check. Sketchy concrete stairs? Check. Slaughterhouse Loop? Check.
I go through CO2 like global warming. That’s not change jingling in my shorts pocket, that’s empty cartridges.
The mountain bike credo of self-sufficiency has reached its highest form in the contents of my CamelBak, which weighs more than your steel 29er. That’s because I am also an IMBA Trail Ambassador [laugh here].
Like Deputy Barney Fife on knobby tires, I’m ready for any possibility but impotent in the face of reality. For liability purposes, IMBA does not allow nor do I want to fix everyone’s busted bike on the trail. I can loan you a tool and a tube and sit back and watch you do it, which is often great fun, but I am not allowed to touch you or your bike.
Heck, I can barely deal with my own mechanicals. But I can give you a gel if you’re hungry. I carry a wide selection of gooey crap, crispy waffle pieces, old licorice, Haribo from the 2003 Tour de France, a dime bag of something, ramen noodles and Pixie-Stix.
I believe that if two is too much, four is even better. I have multiple multi-tools. I have one mini-pump Shraeder, one Presta, one broken.
The rise of the 29er means that I have to carry two types of mountain tubes, a couple of road, cross and BMX tubes, a tube of chamois cream, a tube of Brylcreem, a tube of red grease, a tube of sunscreen and a little first-aid kit with two Band-Aids and a broken aspirin.
The 64-ounce hydration bladder is more of a portable science project than a water fountain and fuzzier than a pussy willow. I’ll drink from a pothole before I suck on that nozzle.
On my wrist there’s a RoadID—they need to come up with a more inclusive name, eh?—and in my jersey pocket there’s an iPhone, an extra pair of sunglasses, a shop rag, a Jimi wallet with my driver’s license and five bucks for a small coffee.
Oh, and I also have a mini-saddle pack with even more stuff that we won’t talk about.
Riders are only allowed to ride the local trails after dark two nights a week, but if I meander over there to enforce the law of the land, I have to carry another five pounds of lights and batteries. Over the years, I’ve decided trying to enforce bike rules in a hobo park next to a railroad track at night is just not worth the aggravation. One cold night a hobo decided to build a fire under the wooden bench he was sleeping on. He’s up for one of those Genius Awards after he gets out of the burn unit.
For the most part, mountain bikers are good people who like to have fun and require very little official supervision. Actually, they’re pretty much against any supervision whatsoever. And even if I wanted to chase after them, my 40-pound CamelBak would hold me back. So, just police yourselves and like E.T., be good.
Sal Ruibal learned how to ride a mountain bike from Ned Overend in 1998 and it’s been downhill ever since. A reporter and editor at USA Today from 1987 to 2010, he was the first mainstream sportswriter to cover mountain biking as a legitimate sport. In 2007, Sal was inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. A frequent rider and sporadic racer, he placed fifth in Masters 45+ category at the 2002 24-Hour Solo World Championships thanks to a blizzard that eliminated most of the field. He joined up with Bike and Paved in 2010 and hasn’t looked back except when the police are following him. He was born in Colorado but lives in Virginia.