Why aren’t there more seniors mountain biking? Part 4: Image

Too much of what the average person sees in the media about mountain biking portrays the super fit, dripping with sweat, in their Spandex-accentuated buns of steel; or the pro young bucks, flying off cliffs, with their Red Bull-infused nerves of steel.

And even mountain bike bloggers like me contribute to the problem.

Several of the comments in the Facebook discussion thread I started (publicly viewable) referred directly or indirectly to the image they have of mountain biking that discourages many people from trying it.

For example, Myrna Mibus wrote:

I’d say all of the above plus add “little room for non hard core riders” as a factor, too. There is room for the recreational mtn biker, as I have discovered, but I think the image many cyclists portray makes people feel unwelcome. For someone new, lack of information on where to ride is also a factor. There’s also a feeling that you “need” an expensive bike and equipment to ride, especially if you want to keep up with the gang. Actually, I think it’s the keeping up with the gang thing that keeps people away quite a bit in all areas of bicycling. That and the feeling that there is no place for riders who aren’t competitive/go fast types.

Mara Larson, Trail Steward for the Theodore Wirth Park mountain biking trailscommented in the MORC Forum:

We need to figure out how to make mountain biking accessible and attractive to more than white males of a certain age. Mountain biking isn’t necessarily what the general public perceives it to be. Changing those perceptions is the first step to widening our rider base to its full potential.

Chris Cahill also commented in the MORC Forum:

Here’s the biggie – Do potential beginners (of every age, race and gender) even know these [beginner trails] exist? Or do they see the picture above/below and the media showing the advanced features and Red Bull series and Griz and X and XX at Leb?

Griff Wigley, Chris AweI met and had coffee with fellow MORC member Chris Awe yesterday. I wanted to chat with him because A) he’s the only one in the Twin Cities area who’s completed Level 1 and 2 of the IMBA Instructor Certification Program (ICP); and B) he posted this comment in the MORC Forum about the image of mountain biking:

… mountain biking is glorified in two ways. First, on TV. Picture the great trail from the last summer Olympics. That would have been a great ride! Fuel TV. I love watching those huge drops down the side of a mountain and nothing but 20 feet of air between the ground and a rider. Glory and gore make great TV. Riding a trail safely, skillfully and looking at the beauty of nature around just doesn’t make it past the editing room floor.

Second, Us. Yes, our stories of fantastic drops, huge log piles, insurmountable rock gardens, and blood laden wipeouts tend to dominate our mountain biking conversations. Much like the “one that got away” stories that any angler worth his salt tells.

Why would anyone that has a conservative demeanor want to take on this terrifying sport?

But what should mountain biking be to someone that wants to go out and enjoy the forest yet fears leaving their life giving blood all over the trail? It should be the exact opposite of what the media portrays and the stories we all tell.

We with experience would find that ride quite boring. It should be a lesson on the basic skills. A slow, controlled ride with several stop to check out how everyone is doing. Your leader should not be jumping, hopping, dropping or doing anything “wicked cool”. They should be doing EXACTLY what the least skilled rider is capable of, whether that be just you and a friend or a group tour. I know, this is boring for you, but this ride isn’t about you, is it?

A beginner mountain bike ride should be safe, easy, fun and educational. And it should be crystal clear to any new rider, whether they are 10, 30 or 60 that a ride is what you make of it. Not what TV tells us what it is or the brutal stories we share.

So, if you have senior friends that are intrigued, they would definitely benefit from a reassuring conversation about the beginner trails, the great smell of the forest. The slow ride that won’t tax aching joints. And definitely, no tails about how you went “endo”…

Yes, I’m an offender. Examples from this blog abound and my ego wants me to link to some of those posts. I’m not taking a vow of abstinence but it’s pretty clear that we need more videos and photos of people with a variety of average body types, riding mountain bikes on gentle rolling trails, some wearing plain old shorts, t-shirts and tennis shoes, with an occasional scene of riders stopping to smell the roses. 

The Silicon Valley Mountain Bikers (an IMBA chapter) just published this new 2-minute video that seems to convey XC mountain biking in a way that seems more attractive to beginners.  Maybe we need whole websites that reflect this type of mountain biking.



  1. Clay said:

    Nice blog Griff. I think this is the best of the series. Chris Awe’s input was insightful and well written. I too am guilty of possibly intimidating new riders with my tales from the trail. I do try to make it clear that I don’t necessarily represent the bulk of mountain bikers; as I believe the majority enjoy it more recreationally than athletically. I’m just starting to slow down and enjoy some trails/roads at a leisurely pace. It feels good to give myself permission to go easy instead of challenging myself on every climb or feature. I intend to get my wife and some of her girlfriends out more this summer and I’ll use some of what I learned here to hopefully make their experience more fun and addictive. I also have an aunt and uncle who travel with their cross bikes to ride paved trails all the time, that I’d like to show some trails. They’ve expressed at my past invitations that they didn’t think they’d be able to handle it even though they are both fit and spend plenty of time in the saddle. I’d like to show them the scenic/recreational side of trail riding too.

    As for your blog, I hope you don’t stop tooting your own horn about the things you’ve accomplished on your bikes. You are an inspiration to younger riders like myself that “refuse to get old”. You just have to make it clear, that you are no ordinary mountain bike geezer…after all you are THE Mountain Bike Geezer.

    April 1, 2014
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    Clay, does the Mankato area have trails that would be appropriate for the beginning recreational mtbiker? Are they MAMB trails or just plain old trails?

    Here in Rice County, we have some XC ski trails (double track and wider) in the Carleton College Arb in Northfield and similar at the River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. But our new CROCT club is hoping to create a recreational single track trail in Sechler Park along the Cannon River in Northfield that would be a little more smooth and fun for the beginning recreational mtbiker, with some optional B lines that would be a little more challenging.

    Are you or anyone else at MAMB considering taking the IMBA Instructor Certification Program (ICP) course in May at Leb? It seems like a great opportunity. I’m going to take it and it would be great to have you or someone at MAMB do it as well so we can collaborate as we implement some instructional clinics in our respective communities.

    April 1, 2014
  3. Clay said:

    Our MAMB trails have all been built for flow to accomodate riders of all skill levels. If you look at some of the pictures from our website/Facebook page, you’ll see boys and girls aged 8-13 on 24″ & 26″ light duty mountain bikes and even this little four year old on a 16″ starter bike: https://www.facebook.com/#!/photo.php?fbid=566680953376673&set=pb.246144708763634.-2207520000.1396423037.&type=3&theater


    I wanted something I thought would be fun to ride too, so I worked in lots of berms to carry speed and rollers that could be manualed, jumped or even doubled by the more experienced adult riders: https://www.facebook.com/#!/photo.php?fbid=566681336709968&set=pb.246144708763634.-2207520000.1396423021.&type=3&theater
    We also incorporated several “B” lines for challenge features, like a low risk 8″ wide skinny/log that’s about 10-12″ off the ground if you fall off, or our “Huck-Bridge”…it’s pitched over a drainage channel to provide a low risk bridge ride at 30” wide, or carry speed into it and see if you can jump clear to the end.
    These pics are all from our first project, Fort LeHillier, where we’ve had just over one full year of development. Kiwanis we just broke ground on last September and we already had opened up 4.6 miles of trail we groomed all winter. The bulk of that is roughly finished with a few hillsides needing bench cutting. Another mile or mile and a half of trail is planned to be cut in early this year; then it will be refined and tuned as quickly as we can make it happen. I look forward to many summer mornings of digging after work again this year. On top of that, MAMB is in discussion with management at Mt. Kato ski area to assist them in trail work/rework. We’d like to work together to improve and maximize the trail system there to increase the draw potential of that site and by extension the rest of our trails locally. It’s still very early in the discussions with Mt. Kato, but the phrase “gravity park” has been mentioned and the board member acting as liason with them said they are very receptive and open to the ideas so far.

    One other good option for the physically fit rider that might not be looking for a technical challenge is the gravel doubletrack trails out at Nicollet County’s 7 Mile Creek Park. There’s over 10 miles available with some steep climbs and descents, but no rocks, logs, jumps, or berms to scare people making the transition from paved trails like the Sakatah. Here’s a good picture of what the trail surface is like there: https://www.facebook.com/#!/photo.php?fbid=437394799638623&set=pb.246144708763634.-2207520000.1396424818.&type=3&theater
    It’s a beautiful big park with trails similar to the old Murphy Hanrehan trails.

    What we lack currently is any advanced or gravity riding options. Sorry for being so lengthy in my response…I probably lost a few readers there…LOL

    As far as the ICP, I’m not sure anybody with the club has it on their radar. I’m more than likely going to take the NICA one day course so I can make myself available to assist the local high school team that’s forming. Our team has offered to reimburse any fees incurred to participants who pass the class. I believe that ICP is like $200 isn’t it? I don’t have that in my budget, but I’ve got time and an interest so maybe if someone wants to sponsor me I’ll be there. I’ll bring it up at the board meeting this Sunday and see if anyone is thinking about it.

    April 2, 2014
  4. Griff Wigley said:

    Clay, thanks much for all the info and the photos of the trails. I’m going to point our CROCT members to those photos that look very similar to the river bottoms area where we’re likely to be putting in a trail this spring. Inspiration!

    FYI, the ICP Level 1 course is $450 for IMBA members. $500 for non-IMBA members.

    April 2, 2014

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