A Love Letter To My Mountain Bike

A handful of types of elementary particles, which vibrate and fluctuate constantly between existence and nonexistence and swarm in space, even when it seems that there is nothing there, combine together to infinity like the letters of a cosmic alphabet to tell the immense history of galaxies; of the innumerable stars; of sunlight; of mountains, woods, and fields of grain; of the smiling young faces of the young at parties; and of the night sky studded with stars (37-38). ~Carlo Rovelli

I’ve been writing for weeks while I’ve been on the road for work, and the quote above is from my journal after reading Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. Lately I’m drawn to small thin books that I can read between cities on flights for work. I’m not so sure I can summarize the seven lessons insomuch as I can identify where he used some lovely language to describe the unknown. The best science writing, to my eye, completely devolves into poetry when the writers try to explain the unknown. The Unknowable. Rovelli writes about time as a “Tangle of problems where we are still in the dark” (p. 63).

Sounds like a memoir title to me (wink). All I could think about was mountain biking as I read this book. Mountain biking came into my life thanks to a ex-boyfriend who loved climbing steep fire roads and then bombing down single-track known only to locals in Whitefish, Montana.

He told me: It’s just like hiking on wheels. You’ll love it.

The problem was I didn’t own a mountain bike and everyone we knew who could lend me a bike was at least a foot taller than me. I’d watch him roll away on his mountain bike and come back home hours later silly-happy-dirty-muddy-smiley and I decided I needed to give this bikey hobby–wait for it–a spin.

I paid for my first mountain bike by layaway. Every two weeks, I’d walk part of my paycheck to the bike store during the winter so that I could pay it off by the spring. This was before I had access to credit cards (thank heavens) and I paid down that bike with every extra cent that I had. Once the mud season was over in Montana and my bike was paid for, I fell in love with mountain biking even though I’m sure most of my early rides were more like hike-a-bikes. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I loved being in the mountains. I loved–and still love–the long slog of climbing and climbing and climbing on the dirt for a view. Being on a bike in the mountains rivals backpacking for me as my favorite outdoor activity.

I’d eventually have that forest green Raleigh hardtail bike for seven years, and I moved it everywhere with me. It got me to work when my car broke down (repeatedly, dammit). It helped me meet two major loves in my life. Eventually I traded it for a hand knit scarf and a matching hat to woman who became one of my best friends. I still wear that scarf and hat. That green bike was my first two-wheeled love, and like all bike geeks, I quickly fell in love with my next upgrade.

My first major upgrade was a Kona NuNu, and I road that hardtail for another six years. When I bought that bike, I remembered seeing a significant change in demeanor with my Mister–the obsessive excitement of buying a new bike (a manic condition I’ve seen many many many times over the years). How this kind of a bookish word nerd transitioned into this wicked smart bike dork. How he instantly turned into a ten year old boy excited for a new toy. How I could learn to mountain bike from somebody who clearly knew what he was doing and cared enough to teach me. I learned how to mountain bike on that Kona and I’m thrilled that I bought it from the shop that now sponsors my bike team.

When we moved to Portland last year, we gave that NuNu frame to friend who is going to build it into a beginner bike for his gal. That Kona was really special to me, but I quickly got over it when I rode my Giant Anthem for the first time. Once again, I was completely won over on the first ride on the upgrade. Fickle love, I know.

My Giant had disc brakes! I finally found a seat that fit. Really fly hand built wheels. A stiffer better fork. But really, it was the change from 27.5 wheels to 29ers that changed my riding. From that moment on, I fell hardcore in love with the 29er. Those bigger wheels rolled over roots and rocks like I was on smooth dirt and I felt fast. My first cross country race was magic on that bike, and I could feel a major improvement in my riding.

For my birthday this year, my mister put some sweet purple handle bars, purple headset, and little purple pegs on my crankset. It looks totally murdered out with a dope touches of purple–to use the slang of the Brahs–which totally makes sense to write that way when you’re a middle-age woman.

That Giant always felt a bit too tall for me, but I loved it anyway. As all of my friends upgraded to more Enduro-type bikes, I kept it real as the lantern rouge in the back of the pack on my cross country bike. It just wasn’t in the budget to upgrade. That Giant Anthem has been a trusty steed in the northwest, and I hope to sell it to some lady or small statured dude who will love it as much as I did.

Which brings me to the reason for this post. I want to personally thank Pivot Cycles for hooking me up with THE perfect bike. The COO of my jobby job and fellow shredder, Tom Chapman, connected me with the good folks of Pivot. I’m now the proud owner of a Pivot Mach429 Trail and it’s so badass. After a confusing exchange between my local bike shop and team sponsor Jack’s Bicycle Center, a Pivot dealer, about a bike for-Indy-who-is-really-Alyson-QoD-teammate-and-Scott’s-wife, my bike was in the mail. (Having two names can be tricky sometimes).

Thank you so much Tom, Pivot, and Jacks! After my first ride on this bike, my cheeks hurt from smiling and I have a deep crush on this bike. Having access to the “Amigo” deal has made me a Pivot fan for life. It would have taken me many many many many moons for me to save up for a full-priced bike from Pivot, so I plan to do what I can to represent Pivot in the land dominated by Kona and Transition–two NW bike companies that I adore.

Speaking of racing and Pivot, my friend and racer for Homegrown (the male bike team sponsored by Jack’s), Ben Shaklee, just won the Single-Speed mountain bike national championships. Congratulations, Ben! Rainbow stripes AND a Pivot? Hubba hubba, Brah, you’re silly-speed flying. During a team ride awhile back, Ben rode next to me on some uphill to have a chat, and you could tell he was struggling to ride that slow while I was turning myself inside out to ride that fast. But okay, where was I? My Pivot. Allow me to pivot back to my bikey upgrade love letter.

For my EdTech friends, I just went from something licensed CC BY NC ND to full-on Public Domain! Anything is possible. For my professional development friends, I just upgraded from drop-in consulting office hours to a fully funded two day-workshop with a marketing budget. For my backpacking friends, it’s like upgrading from all Army surplus to titanium light-ass gear. For my bike friends, you may know directly that I’m not worthy of this bike. And I know you’re jealous as hell (wink).

People often think that I’m better than I am as a mountain biker because my Mister is such a skilled rider. He flies downhill in ways that terrify me; he spends half of every ride waiting for me. He shames me (in jest) for not riding something, and on my worst days on the bike, he’ll ask me if I stopped for a sandwich. Years ago when we were still dating, he took a lot of time to teach me very basic skills on a bike. I’m forever grateful; he’s a great teacher. I have to thank him for building my bike for me AND agreeing that we should postpone on several household projects so that I could afford this beauty.

For the first time ever, I have a bike that has the perfect geometry for my hobbit-like stature. Think Gimley meets Smurfette and you get the sense of my squatty nature. I have short legs and a squatty torso. See photo below for evidence and proof. As Jay-Z says, I wuz who I wuz ‘fore I got here.

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 4.18.09 PM

Me: photo credit unknown

The small Mach429 is the best frame I’ve ever thrown a leg over. I have almost two inches to the top tube as standover, and the cockpit feels like it was costumed designed for me. As of this post, I’ve almost put almost 100 miles on it, and I can feel the brakes getting stronger and settling in perfectly.

Even the stock seat is comfortable and a keeper which has never happened for me. Saddle sores have plagued me for years, so the combo of the WTB saddle and Hoo Ha Ride Glide will keep my lady parts happier.

I had originally planned to transfer my cool Chromag purple bars to this bike, but when the mister took the stock handle bar from the box, we ooohed and aaahed over how light and stiff it was. In fact, we dorked out over all of the parts as my Mister built it in our shop. We have a garage where no cars go so there was plenty of space to lay out the bike part by part. Totally fun for us while drinking a beer. Even the handle bar grips fit my meaty little paws, and they are so pretty with a splash of blue.

What about the fork you ask? Bottomless. Buttery. Stiff and responsive on the berms. Light and bouncy on the roots of the NW. Makes babyheads feel like pebbles. The fork made me want to sing the first time I went over the medium-sized roots over boulders.

And yes, a dropper post is a game changer. Who knew that getting the seat out of the way would help with cornering and going downhill? Everyone but me! A good lady friend gave me kudos that she was impressed that I could ride some trails without a dropper-post and has been telling me to get one for years. I didn’t know what I was missing, and I now agree that’s it’s a must for riding downhill. I just need to remember that I have it on trails I’ve been riding for 15 years without one.

The biggest joy has been getting a PR (personal record–I admit to being a Strava dork–whatevs) on the Bob’s Full-Pull segment (I love Bob’s, it’s one my favorite trails). I’ve been riding that trail for almost 15 years, and I know it well. I can’t believe how the smooth and fast this bike can go downhill. I’m just in awe every time I ride it.


Here it is on the Wonderland Trail with Mt. Baker and the Sisters in the distance. The photos below are yours truly on Lair of the Bear. Shortly before the tick bit me, that bastard parasite, but let’s focus on the bike love.


Like I said, I’m still getting to know this bike. It’s so powerful and efficient that it blows my mind. I dream about riding it. I used my shop sponsor discount to buy blue Crankbrothers Candy pedals that look really sweet, but they have a bit of a platform on them which is upgrade from the eggbeaters that I love for racing cyclocross. Everything is new. Being back on my home mountain in Bellingham while being able to do work that I love makes me feel so lucky. The other night I worked until 7pm and still had time to ride my mountain bike and drink beer. Woot!

Originally I was going to weave brainy stuff from my book reading about Physics but I just need to post this and move on. I had big plans to connect my love of mountain biking to meditation and yoga. To teaching and learning. But then I got an infection from a tick bite, got really sick, and had to go on medication that made me ill for 10 days. Plus I couldn’t drink coffee or alcohol and I had to avoid the sun. Pretty much a death sentence for me. And holyhotdamn I have so much work to do that I feel bad pausing to get bloggy.

But really, the daylight’s a-wasting and there are trails to ride today. Right out my backdoor. Mountains. Yes.

Here’s a quote of Rovelli’s that I know is about physics, but it works for those of us who love the bike:

“…on the edge of what we know, in contact with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world. And it’s breathtaking” (81).

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
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