I don’t know why but last night I was thinking back over the past several years and I realized just how much mountain biking has shaped my life. When I got my first mountain bike I was living in Santa Barbara, CA and was in a bad spot. I relatively new in town, didn’t have too many friends that weren’t associated with my psycho ex-girlfriend and I remember dreading the weekends because I simply did not know what I was going to do with myself.

I bought that first mountain bike because I wanted something to ride to work on. I was working for a company that certified personal trainers and made decent money for a 23 year old bachelor sharing a 1 bedroom apartment with a community college student so I decided to drop a few hundred bucks and get a decent bike (a Marin Nail Trail). While I spent the first few weeks just riding around town I knew that this was something I was going to enjoy and found myself going on some long rides exploring the back roads on the weekends.

I don’t know what exactly inspired me to do it but I eventually took my bike and road up a fire road. When I got to the top I was out of breath, my legs burned and I had a huge grin on my face. When I turned the bike around and started heading back down I was hooked for life – mountain biking was the best thing ever!

That first mountain bike was my “in” to a whole new world. I soon met a guy who was nice enough to take me around and show me that there were far more than just fire roads in those mountains behind Santa Barbara. He was my first riding buddy and some of my best friends since then have been because of our connection to the love of the trail.

I met my soon-to-be wife not long after getting that first bike and the funny thing is that mountain biking help me decide she was the one. I let her borrow original hardtail (I had since upgraded to a full suspension rig) and we were riding around a local park that had some rocks you could ride up and off of. She tried to catch some air off of one and went down in a heap. I remember thinking “great, she’ll never want to do this again” but instead heard her laughing. She had a bloody elbow and dirt all over her and thought it was all pretty funny. I pretty much decided right then and there that she was the one.

After leaving Santa Barbara I moved to Encinitas, CA and got a job as a trainer in a local LA Fitness (which totally sucked). I wanted to know more about bikes so I bugged a local bike shop owner, ol’ Fred at Leucadia Cyclery, to let me come in on my days off and work at the shop for store credit. So I worked 4 days a week training, 2 days in the shop and rode as much as possible in between.

When I lived in Hawaii I ran some mountain bike tours and managed a local bike shop (Bicycle John’s in Lihue on Kauai). I even ran a mobile bike shop out of my X Terra for about a year after I had a falling out with the owner of the shop.

When I lived in Texas I converted my backyard into a riding playground because there was very little in the way of decent riding in the Tyler area. I decided to move to Fruita based on little more than the outstanding riding in the area. I had no job lined up, quit a decent paying job managing a gym and just packed up and moved here, knowing that I would just make it work so I could have access to all this riding.

All the while I was also working on creating ways to enhance my own riding through strength training. While it started with something I was just doing for myself, it evolved to the point that I started MTB Strength Training Systems and have been obsessed with trying to spread the word about how much strength training has to offer every rider in the world.

Over the last few years I’ve had the chance to work with riders like Aaron Gwin (current DH World Champ and former client) and Ross Schnell (single speed world champ) . I have guys like Gene Hamilton and Lee McCormack come to me for training advice and get to write for Decline Magazine and Pinkbike.com. All of this because of that first mountain bike I bought all those years ago in Santa Barbara.

Again, I’m not sure exactly why I’m telling you all of this but I do know one thing for certain… mountain biking is more than a hobby or a past time for me…it is a way of life and an obsession. It has shaped my life like nothing else has and will continue to do so for as long as I can throw a leg over a top tube. I guess I just wanted to explain why I come across as a mountain biking zealot from time to time…because I am!

-James Wilson-

6 thoughts on “Confessions of a Mountain Bike Zealot

  1. Andrew says:

    After coming across your blog I tried to stand up and pedal more often and found that with a little training and practice it made rides way more fun.
    On short to moderate rides I pretty much stopped sitting.

    Then I bought what should have been an all around more capable new bike, and found that standing pedaling sucked on the new bike. The pedal platform built in to the suspension made standing pedaling awkward.

    It took a new shock and a lot of experimentation to get it to feel pretty decent.

    If I had started to try to make standing pedaling my default after buying this bike, I would have tried it, realized that extended standing was stupid and went back to sitting whenever possible.

    Have you found suspension designs or particular bikes that are more suited to standing pedaling?

  2. Andrew says:

    After coming across your blog I tried to stand up and pedal more often and found that with a little training and practice it made rides way more fun.
    On short to moderate rides I pretty much stopped sitting.

    Then I bought what should have been an all around more capable new bike, and found that standing pedaling sucked on the new bike. The pedal platform built in to the suspension made standing pedaling awkward.

    It took a new shock and a lot of experimentation to get it to feel pretty decent.

    If I had started to try to make standing pedaling my default after buying this bike, I would have tried it, realized that extended standing was stupid and went back to sitting whenever possible.

    Have you found suspension designs or particular bikes that are more suited to standing pedaling?

    • bikejames says:

      Thanks for the feedback, glad you found my advice helpful. I agree that the trail is a lot more fun when you learn how to stand up and unshackle your butt from the seat.

      As far as suspension designs and bikes go, you’re asking a question that I don’t know but I have often wondered myself. Every bike is made around the assumption that you will be sitting down to pedal most of the time, some are just easier to set up for standing pedaling than others. I don’t know exactly what makes a bike or suspension system better at standing pedaling than others but I think that a shorter wheel base and a rising suspension rate would help based on what I find feels best for me.

      What I’d really like to know is what a designed would do different if they designed a bike that was made for standing pedaling. I’m sure there would be some differences and this is another thing that most riders don’t realize holds them back when they try to stand up.

  3. Vinay says:

    Funny you mention this. I’ve always set my sag in an attacking posture on a downslope or with a support under my rearwheel. Setting sag on level ground (and especially when seated) doesn’t make sense because that’s not how and where you’re going demand most of your suspension. It also largely depends on how progressive the (air) spring is how that level/static sag is going to translate when you go down the hill.

    That said, I still look at my sag in the aforementioned position. It determines my ride height, that’s important. My forks don’t have external compression damping, but if I still bottom out too much I can add more oil to the air chamber (or special spacers as people do now) to make it more progressive. But I take this attacking downslope position as reference to set my sag (hence air pressure), not the level seated position.

  4. Vinay says:

    Funny you mention this. I’ve always set my sag in an attacking posture on a downslope or with a support under my rearwheel. Setting sag on level ground (and especially when seated) doesn’t make sense because that’s not how and where you’re going demand most of your suspension. It also largely depends on how progressive the (air) spring is how that level/static sag is going to translate when you go down the hill.

    That said, I still look at my sag in the aforementioned position. It determines my ride height, that’s important. My forks don’t have external compression damping, but if I still bottom out too much I can add more oil to the air chamber (or special spacers as people do now) to make it more progressive. But I take this attacking downslope position as reference to set my sag (hence air pressure), not the level seated position.

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