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A New Bike for an Old Friend

We recently sold a new Ventana El Comandante single-speed to an old friend. As we waited for a few parts to hit the loading dock, the anticipation of his conversion grew. He was one of those cycling converts who gets in a little late in the game, coerced and/or lured by a group of buddies who’ve shared lots of trail time. You might know someone like this. He’s a great athlete so his learning curve was steep. But he’s also a world champion reveler when anyone else falters, so it was especially satisfying to witness his first year as a mountain biker. Once we got the new bike built, it was imperative to give it a ‘test’ ride. As we worked on his fit for a few minutes here at the shop, talk of single-speed technique abounded.

We rode out to a local trail and the decision was made to start with a testing climb that consisted of eroded gravel switchbacks up a mountainside. The road bed cuts through lots of shale, so as it weathers, the surface remains very loose as it crumbles away. As we started up the climb, we let our old buddy take the lead. He hammered away at incredible speed! For an instant, we thought that maybe he’d been doing some super secret training. He looked healthy and fit, but could he possibly be that much faster than we expected? As he tore away up the road, we recalled our conversation of technique back at the shop. ‘Attack the climbs!’ was one of the tips that were offered. Apparently he listened. His fervor was impressive. After he disappeared around the switchbacks, we wondered if he would even wait for us at the top, or would he grind us into oblivion as we tried to reduce the deficit in the singletrack on top of the hill.

Much to our delight, we caught him two switchbacks later, leaned over his bike and obviously nauseous. It looked and felt like a good time to dismount and begin our hike to the top of the hill, since the loose and rutted road was taking its toll on our bodies too. We asked our friend about that torrid pace, and he said that he attacked the climb just like we’d said to. His arsenal was just under-stocked to finish the battle. We walked up and recovered a bit to remount and ride silently away into the pines at the top. We had a great ride and he loved his new El Comandante.

It was awesome to ride with an old friend. It was one of those moments when we feel lucky to be dudes. Besides being able to piss standing up, guys can forge a friendship, share memorable experiences, and then totally lose contact with each other for a period of time without consequence. A simple phone call or chance meeting bring us back together without the guilt or hard feelings that seems to plague female friendships sometimes. Anyway, we told lots of great stories and got the scoop about other old friends back in the home town region.

Our finale was a backslapping conversation of a particularly testing ride up in the Ozark Mountains here in Arkansas on a patchwork of old logging roads and post-deer season 4-wheeler trails. Our new single-speeder was having a trying experience on rain slicked trails both going up and down. After a few hours in the saddle, we decided to take a shortcut down into a creek valley to make a beeline to our cabin to get warm and clean. The lure of dry socks and underwear set the tone for the descent. We all wrecked at least once. Each time on the ground only fueled the frustration level for our newbie. It was just one of those days – shitty for him and simply glorious for the rest of us. We cleared the woods to face our last geophysical obstacle for the day -- Herrods Creek at a full flow for February. All we could do was ride into it, keep the arms loose and reactive, and plow through at full steam, hopeful not to find any errant boulders that might curb our momentum. Last to come across, he found one, and it curbed his momentum alright. He got tossed face first into the creek. We assumed by the way he sprang immediately out of the water that his spine was intact. He had full use of the English language and might have even fabricated some new conjunctions, so we quickly ruled out concussion. And the way he slung his bike into the trees like an over-sized discus, we saw that his flexibility and upper limb articulation was just fine as well. We laughed our asses off and fell about the ground as we witnessed his theatrics.

Just writing this brings a smile and a laugh, and it makes us appreciate our bikes as vehicles, not just in the physical sense that we can ride from here to there, but for adventure. On the bike, we can feel like kids if we want. We don’t worry about work or what might happen if we wreck, or get home late. The best part is, the adventure only has to happen once, and the memory of it lasts forever.