I took the blog out of retirement because I really had too much fun Saturday to keep it to myself. Doctoral Level homework assignment: 1) Observe; 2) Note thoughts and questions; 3) Reflect. Peeeeerfect!
Objective: Observe mountain bike culture…from the inside. I’ve prepared by inviting my friend Stan, manager of the local shop, to join me for chitchat and free advertising. No fool, I remind him that he’s sponsored by the local coffee roaster — I’m going to need some!
8:00am. Downstairs to dress for the dirt. No logos. No lycra. Sun faded bandana in place to prevent helmet hair (this is a fake — I don’t plan on riding). Back outside to put the bike on the car. Tool kit. Pump. Other very important stuff, such as a cute little folding chair.
8:30am. Arrive at the parking lot for the mountain bike park. Stan car looks too clean. The bikes on the roof appear to have been waxed and polished. Wait a minute! Stan is plastered in logos and wearing a cute little roadie cap. He’s even wearing lycra shorts. I want to abort but I have to do this homework. I bite the bullet and park. Luckily, there’s coffee.
Sit. Chat. Drink coffee. I make friends with a guy who is clearly new to the mountain bike scene. Just by talking with me instead of nodding, he gives away his outside status. While I’m taking notes, another car arrives. The driver gets out, puts on MTB shoes, and nods to me. I nod back. He pulls his bike off the back, gets on, and circles us once. He and I make eye contact. Stan and the new guy are still talking. Circles once more and is gone. Part of the tribe.
9am. Still talking. Turns out new guy needs help putting on pedals. Stan, official bike shop representative, does not have a crescent wrench for removing the old pedals, nor did he bring an 8mm allen key for installing the new ones. Roadie. Greg, participatory ethnographic observer, has both. I document the outsiders attempting to install a right-threaded pedal in a left threaded hole before stepping in to right the wrongs (see photo at right. Do not emulate.)
New guy takes off.
There is a strange noise, like chainsaws in the background. What? Illicit dirt bikes tearing up the trails? Mechanized mayhem? The sound becomes an ear-splitting roar as the quad blasts out of the woods. Suddenly there is near deafening quiet as the rider throttles down before shouting “Hi Mr. Stephens!” and then roaring off. Gotta be a student, but I won’t know who until Monday. Strange world. Different tribe.
I’m wrapping up the observational period when I notice a behemoth entering the lot. It is a Hummer in gun-metal gray and sporting two Ellsworths on a rack in the back. This is like mountain biking for the platinum set — I’m pretty sure I’d have to sell my car to buy the bikes. Two kids get out and put on full face helmets as they prep the bikes. Weird. These two are from the gravity set, sporting bikes that can get down most anything. … But wait! There are no chairlifts here! What will they do? Use the hummer?! I watch them struggle up a small rock incline, clearly baffled by gravity’s cruel betrayal. As they regroup, I ask if I can take a picture of the car. Although not in the tribe, they are gracious.
The required hour long past, I pack stuff up. I should go out for a bit of riding myself, but my head is buzzing with reflections. I have to get home so that I can get started coding observed traits and making generalizations. This, my friends, is the heavy cost paid by the serious student. We are focused. Driven. We do not ride when cerebration is required. Instead, we sacrifice to the scarred stone altar of knowledge.