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There was a time that I used to put my asthma inhaler inside a black leather fanny pack so I could better run around at recess. An asthma inhaler in a fanny pack. Maybe the most uncool thing ever. (I mean this in the non-Australian understanding of the word. My wife, who was born in Brisbane though she grew up in Portland, informs me that “fanny” means something entirely different Down Under.)
This was fourth and fifth grade. A chubby blond kid, running around, pack flapping about, doing “sprints” on the playground. Sometimes I wore tights with the fanny pack. You know, for speed. Foreshadowing.
I bought my first mountain bike while a newspaper editor in Telluride, Colorado. A red Santa Cruz Heckler. I can still see it, probably because I stared at it for hours. Thirty-three or so pounds of pain to haul up the San Miguel Mountains. An awful choice, really. But my friend Ben made me a deal, and at the time I self-identified with such a sect. Survive the up, go as fast as possible on the down. I had no idea how to corner, how to really ride. I just thought I’d belong there. Belonging.
Two years later, that Santa Cruz was replaced by a black-and-white Specialized Epic. I’d been allowed to join Paragon, the local, venerable race team. The process did not involve actual talent, but rather a “vouch” and a chat with the shop’s owner and general champion of cycling in a region long dominated by skiing, J. Michael Brown — may he rest in peace.
A pro deal — the true currency of the mountain town, along with couch surfing in exchange for burritos — extended, a jersey bought, and boom.
My racing “career” has to date consisted of less than 10 mountain-bike races, though I’ve actually been called a sandbagger, which was truly a compliment at the time for a fledgling cross-country rider. It was more a state of mind than anything. The Heckler was gone, and I started looking at the clock on the wall when I left for Mill Creek, an hour loop from door to door. In my unscientific, pre-Strava estimation, I was getting faster every week. I still couldn’t descend. A few seasons of this pass. I even made the move to a jersey with pockets and lycra with no baggies over. Whoa. Notable results include third places in hill climbs where results were recorded by hand on a paper plate.
I loved the way the setting sun burst through the aspen trees in red frames when you’re going fast. I still do.
The Specialized became a Yeti with a Fox 36 Vanilla I paid half my meager newspaper ration for. We started driving to Moab every weekend. Trying to ride everything in sight, to only some success. Carrying beers in our packs. No XC racing in sight. Seriously, those guys are dorks.
Somewhere in this span as a mountain biker, my father gave me his old road bike — a yellow Douglas with his name on the top tube. On my third road ride, a 130-mile spin from Telluride to Moab called Mountains to Desert, I flatted on the descent three miles out of town and rode, more or less, 120 miles by myself in a headwind. I was never riding a road bike again.
But I moved to Boulder to work for VeloNews. I showed up on the old Douglas, stem pointing up in the air like a raised hand in class, bar tape coming undone. No one said anything about my not being part of this thing because they were nice, and much less dogmatic than my roadie self would become.
My friend Caley Fretz — you may know him as CyclingTips’ senior editor — taught me how to ride in a group, how to not get dropped on flats, how to not perish descending. Eventually I had a steel Indy Fab. White and black. Zipp wheels. I wore the right stuff. I was a roadie. Partly due to Boulder’s lack of mountain biking, partly due to the fact that it felt awesome, partly due to the fact that the sense of community on the road made me feel part of something. (This was before the various sub-strata of the road genre into 14 or so categories.)
The roadie phase lasted for four good years. There was something deeply satisfying about filling my legs up with two-lane miles; I imagined all these miles were going to some secret reserve that I could spend one day on something fantastic. I loved speaking in the ticks, whirs, and signs of a group going fast. A whole new language. I got hit by a car. I eventually moved to Portland, and worked for Rapha. Roadie was an identity.
My dad was recently hit by a car while out riding on the road. He’s okay, save a loose tooth or two and two weeks faintly reaching into the cobwebs of a concussion. I asked him if he was going to quit road riding, finally. No, he said. He is a multiple-time state champion at the masters level. He will drop me this week however many times we ride together if I can’t find a way out if it.
I wanted to say I’d be done with the road. That I’d ride mountain bikes. Or ‘cross bikes. All my riding years I’ve been in search of the rider I was, or the one I would be.
The road bike hung neglected for months in the shed. Cold and cars, both to blame. The isolation of the mountain bike is a wonder. The way a ‘cross bike can turn long-solved mountain bike trails into new riddles and connect different mediums is remarkable. The ability of the road bike to join dots on a map with the smells of pastures and a few beers and smiles from people sitting in the sun in wicker chairs… magical. From a road bike, you can easily study culture.
At a certain point you just ride bikes. You race, you are crushed, you look for the new way through town on your ‘cross bike. You race your wife on townies through the alley and remember you’re just a rider, same as you were when you learned how in the street with mom watching and covering half her face, same as you were when you won that crit, enduro, or hill climb.
And sometimes, you even wear a fanny pack with tights. And people think you’re cool, or at least they no longer throw rocks at you.
Who’d have thought?
About the author
Matthew Beaudin worked for VeloNews for three road seasons, from 2012-2014, covering the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, and spring classics as a journalist. He spent 2015 working for Rapha in content and social media, and is now communications director for the EF Education First-Drapac Pro Cycling Team. He lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He can be found on Instagram and Twitter. His work can also be found on the EF Education First-Drapac Pro Cycling Instagram and Twitter accounts.