By Sal Ruibal
There are a lot of people out there riding bikes, but not like WE ride bikes.
For us, bikes are our wings, attached to our bodies but not touching the ground. We float on the air in our tires and hop over logs and rocks with ease. We gyroscope around berms with just the right lean, then rock the bike in the opposite direction as we complete that sexy s-turn again and again.
We understand that momentum is our friend and that a rolling wheel never falls. We don't pump our tires rock hard because we want that fingertip touch of tire traction to finesse our way through the rock garden instead of relying on brute force to dominate the stones.
The first time I rode with mountain-bike goddess Marla Streb in the woods near my house, she rode lines I had never seen in the hundreds of times I had been on those trails. She used a fist-sized rock as a ramp over a huge obstacle and loaded her bike's suspension to slingshot every dirty dip into a trampoline. She flowed like water and climbed like a bottle-rocket.
Look at a Brian Lopes video and you'll see the same thing. Pumping the backside, looking where you want to go with total, but relaxed, concentration.
That's why we love mountain bike riding. And that's why we should share that pleasure with others. These "others" are often fellow bikers who, by circumstance or finances, can't afford a bitchin' bike or come from a different culture.
For example, I used to live in an apartment complex where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, housed groups of their missionaries, usually two or three to an apartment. They sometimes had a car, but more often they just had bikes. Missionaries spend a lot of time on their bikes, but that's just for transportation between ridicule and rejection. It's a tough life.
But they ride bikes, so they're automatically friends of mine. I don't mind spending a little time talking about religion, but I am sensitive enough to see that these guys (there has only been one female duo over the years) are also homesick and missing their friends back home.
So I tell them about my deal: I'll listen to their pitch if they'll go for a ride with me in the woods. I'm no St. Thomas Aquinas, but I have my own epistles and sermons about man, God, nature and the pleasure of eating a cheese Danish after a fun ride. Of course, being Mormons, they can't order a double-espresso, but a paper cup of cold water and a post-ride pastry is legal in just about every religion.
These guys are usually in their early 20s, but my bike-handling skills and local knowledge are worth at least a few minutes advantage over their youth. Plus they always ride their church-approved Treks in short-sleeved white shirts, dark trousers and black dress shoes.
I don't try to tempt them with a Belgian beer and they don't criticize my lifestyle. I try to represent my bicycle religion and they do they same for their beliefs.
No minds have been changed, but we learned about each other's view of the world and had some fun times in the woods. Someday I'd like to take Marla along. She would make an impression even Mitt Romney couldn't ignore.
There are lots of bike-riding folks out there that can easily become invisible to us because of our prejudices: overweight folks, delivery guys from foreign countries, the "old dude," the knobbish beginner and even the President of the United States.
The mountain bike is more than a cool machine for recreation or transportation. It can be a great communication device, one ride at a time. Just add dirt.