We’re talking real deal, single-track, flow trail, front-suspension bike mountain biking! I know it sounds crazy and that’s because it absolutely was. But it was so much fun and I can’t wait to go again.
It all started with the WTF Bike Explorers Summit back in August. I took a CX Bike, the Masi CXGR bike that is on loan to me from Masi Bike. Even though I got the smallest frame they make, I still had to frankenstein the heck out of this bike to get it to fit me – putting a 650b wheel on the front with a big tire, leaving the 700c tire on back, shortening the stem. It still wasn’t great, but it was good enough to ride some trails (or so I thought.)
I totally thought this bike was more than sufficient for bikepacking (and it was), but I was immediately super jealous of everybody else’s setups. They had big squishy tires, lots of clearance, and suspension. Most folks were riding hardtail mountain bikes with front suspension and flat bars and loving it.
For some reason I was convinced that they didn’t make bikes like this to fit me. But here at the Summit were lots of other small people making it happen. Holy shit, there is a rad adventure bike out there for me, I just need to find it! And so the search was on.
Turns out, the search didn’t take very long at all.
Once I got back into town, I put the word out that I was looking for a hardtail bike. Through an online bike forum, I was pointed to a local shop that was blowing out all of their inventory to make room for winter gear. All of their bikes were 40%, making the bike I was interested in $700 – practically an unheard of price for this bike.
True confession time: I bought the bike after a five minute test ride, before ever really going mountain biking. At this point, I hadn’t even been on any beginner trails or taken a class. This could turn out to be a really dumb purchase, but it was a risk I was willing to take.
After more mansplaining than I needed about bike fit, I bought the bike and took it home. It then sat in my apartment for 3 weeks before I got up the courage to use it.
My first ride on it was at Duthie Hill Park. I’ve heard about Duthie for years now but never made it out there now. Holy cow have I been missing out. It is amazing. Beautifully built trails (well, the one I went on repeatedly was beautiful, but I’m assuming the others are as well), great signage, and easy to access.
As an absolute beginner, I rode the Bootcamp trail twice, which is the easiest trail there. It’s a one-way cross-country style trail, with lots of berms and turns. According to the stats, it’s 0.9 miles long, with 64’ of ascent and -69’ of descent.
Even though I had no clue what I was doing from a technical standpoint, I had a lot of fun. It was exhilarating to feel a rush of adrenaline from biking again. I can’t even remember how many years it’s been since I felt that!
The following weekend I went with a bunch of friends to Leavenworth, Washington to an out-of-town cyclocross race. I’ve only actually raced once, at Single Speed World Series PDX in 2016, but I still love hanging out and being cross-adjacent. This year, our group of friends rented a house in Leavenworth and spend Saturday mountain biking and Sunday racing/cheering our friends. With my new bike, I could actually join them for the mountain biking!!
The plan was to do a shuttle system –two people would drive us all up to the top of Tumwater mountain, then one person would meet us at the bottom and run a second car back up to the top. The thinking was that this would let us get a whole bunch of runs in on some of the most awesome trails in Washington.
Turns out things don’t always go according to plan.
The drive up to the top of the mountain took much longer than anticipated. Like 2 hours longer. One care even bailed on the way up and 4 riders rode half the way up. Not the worst idea and they made it up in the same time as the car.
Once we made it up and reassembled bikes, we got some last minute mountain bike tips from more experienced riders. I learned to put my weight back, brake lightly, and let some air out of my tires. Ooh yeah squishy time.
Finally, we were off to ride.
Our group of ten varied greatly in skill, from my total newbie status to way more advanced riders on full suspension bikes. To not hold up the entire group, we split into a few groups, agreeing to meet up periodically on the way down, mainly before big turns.
I was by far the slowest in the group, but I went at a pace that I was comfortable with, especially given the advanced nature of the terrain we were on. (The trails we were on ranged between a Blue and Green rating, but they were technically the most difficult I’ve done.) For reference, we rode Freund Canyon and For the Boys (stupid stupid name.)
For some of the advanced riders, I think these trails were probably really easy and an opportunity to practice getting high on the berms. For me, it was heart-pounding, holy-shit I’m going-to-die-any-minute if I make a wrong turn kind of fun.
As we progressed down the mountain, I learned to trust my instincts on the bike, trust the bike, and had a lot more fun. Going up and over little features was a blast, and I definitely see the appeal of mountain biking. Needless to say, we only went down once and retrieved the car later.
The variety of terrain we went through was striking – one minute it felt like we were riding through an alpine meadow and the next we were on a berm on the side of a mountain about to fall off. We rode through burned out forest sections and onto the side of a ski hill. It was fascinating and made me super curious to do more.
Overall, I’m incredibly happy with my purchase and can’t wait to do more. I have yet to load it up for bikepacking, but am confident that it will do the job.