By Vernon Felton
Not the Hans Dampf. Not the Hans Dampf, dammit!
I am beyond angry. I am absolutely livid as I stare at the mangled remains of my front tire. My very expensive and now entirely useless front tire.
Make no mistake, a SnakeSkin, Tubeless Ready 26 x 2.35-inch Schwalbe Hans Dampf tire sells for nearly ninety bucks. I don't pay that much for the tires on my car. Still, I'd rationalized the purchase thusly: the Hans Dampf makes sweet, sticky love to trails. My car tires merely get me from point A to point B safely. It’s really no contest.
And for two weeks, all was bliss with those pricey tires… right up until the moment that Miles, my riding buddy, took it upon himself to destroy the caviar-quality chunk of rubber.
"Why? Why did you do this? What were you thinking?" I turn to Miles, hoping he can explain why he's just torn a giant hole in my pocket book.
Miles, however, isn't the wordy type. He simply shrugs and wanders off, in search of dead squirrels.
SEEK AND DESTROY
If Miles were able to speak, he'd probably say something like "I had to kill your tire—it was spinning."
That's an explanation that makes a world of sense to him and even though Miles can't explain why he's filled with a desire to destroy things that move, I can make an educated guess.
At some point in history a man thought, "You know what I need? I need a dog that sees big, scary things and destroys them." That man then created Miles' ancestors—mastiffs and, later, large, rangy bulldogs that were selectively bred to destroy large, dangerous game. What's more, Miles parents come directly from working stock—dogs used to herd cattle and bring down wild pigs in Florida. Miles, for his part, simply has a hard time recognizing the difference between, say, a rampaging boar and a Maxxis Minion or Schwalbe Hans Dampf.
Why then do I continue to ride with my dog? I have my reasons and I think anyone who has ridden with their dog will probably agree with me here…
DOGS DON'T HAVE SCHEDULING CONFLICTS
I am the least reliable riding partner in the world. I'm not bragging here—I'd like to be dependable, but my schedule is pure chaos. When will I ride next? It all depends on the number of looming deadlines, freelance gigs and puking children I will need to juggle tomorrow. I never know when I will be able to break away next and escape for a ride. And I'm not alone. A lot of us struggle to squeeze time in for a ride. And trying to make your schedule jibe with that of other schedule-challenged humanoids can be damn near impossible.
Last week, for instance, I got a call from my friend who wanted to ride on Wednesday afternoon. I could do Wednesday, but only between 9:30 and 11:45. Could he drive up from Seattle for that two hour window? He considers this: only if he left at, say, 6:30 in the morning—that way he could beat the traffic rush between Seattle and Everett. I listen to the long pause as he contemplates just how much that would suck. How about a different day then? My friend suggests he could come up on Friday, but Friday's are always a no-fly-zone for me because my youngest is at home all day on Fridays. I suggest a ride on Thursday, but my riding partner is going to be pinned on a photo shoot on that afternoon. We go back and forth like this for a while and then decide to just consider the whole "let's go for a ride" thing again next month. This is basically how it plays out whenever I try and arrange a ride with other humans.
Dogs, however, are always available for a ride. Faced with the option to: (A) stay at home and lick himself or (B) tear down the mountain at warp speed with his tongue lolling and his drool flying, my dog always chooses option B. Dogs are infinitely available. There's a lot to be said for that.
IF YOUR DOG HAD THUMBS, HE'D DRIVE THE SHUTTLE RIG
Dogs are also agreeable. My brother rides with the same guys every weekend in the Bay Area and every Friday night is spent arguing about where they're going to ride on Saturday morning. One person wants to ride China Camp because it has nice, flowy trails. The other guys hate the place because it's always crowded and there might be rangers with radar guns, handing out speeding tickets out on the trail. Someone else wants to ride Tamarancho because it's more technical, but the next guy will argue that they should just ride Rockville, because that's technical too, but a whole lot closer. Then there's someone who'd rather head south to Santa Cruz, because the trails are flat-out awesome and there's a good brewery in town, but no one else wants to sacrifice an entire day to driving that far. On and on it goes.
Dogs, on the other hand, never disagree with you about where to ride, which trail to hit or whose turn it is to be the shuttle monkey today. Short spin? All-day death march? Six-month trek across Mongolia? If you bring some kibble and a little extra water, your dog is game for anything that involves running himself into a stupor. Dogs are flexible. They don't complain. They just want to be out there on the trail. If only humans were that cool.
DOGS GET THE POINT
The act of donning a pair of baggy shorts and pedaling a man-sized child's toy through the woods is sort of ludicrous and yet it's also exhilarating, life affirming and, for lack of a better word, fun. Bikes are fun—a fact that's so self-evident that typing it here feels idiotic and yet we people have a tendency to take things, like pedaling a bike, far more seriously than is healthy. Frame materials, suspension travel, enduro racing, head angles, chainstay lengths, high-speed compression damping…it's easy to get caught up in the trends, the technology and the hype when the only thing that actually matters is whether or not you actually went for a ride and enjoyed it.
Dogs get this.
Dogs don't sit around at trailheads and glower at other dogs because they are chasing bikes with too little or too much travel. Dogs don't care if you have a racing license or whether or not your jumps could be said to possess the right amount of steez. Dogs just want to get out there and chase a wheel—all day, every day.
We can all learn a lot from the average dog. Even when that dog has just eaten your very expensive tire.