Photography by Riff Stills
Winter whipped by at the pace of a cool spring breeze this year, mellow and not much of a pain at all. That was up until mid February when we were fully wound up and ready to shred. Suddenly and without warning the sky began to fall and we watched more snow accumulate than in the entire winter prior. Leading into March there were several days where the temperature would spike into the positive double digits and melt the surrounding hills, only to fall drastically and allow for snow again that night. Finally, after a few weeks of wild and wonderful weather toying with my emotions, everything sorted itself out. Spring hit the loops as hot and dry as ever while everything fell back into place the same way it always seems to do.
It seems as though I have developed a bit of a habbit that relapses when things come back together with each new spring. It's this little thing I've got going on with a little black bike of mine. My Kona Lacondeguy is a couple years old and can often be found hiding in my living room with hooded sweaters hanging from the handle bar. I never really pay much attention to it simply because I've never felt very enthusiastic about dirt jump hardtails. I like big bikes and all that goes along with them. But there is something in the way this wild ride works magic in the Kamloops Bike Ranch well before the rest of the world is dry, something that draws me back to riding it every spring.
I'm really unsure about where my infatuation with this bicycle comes from. Each and every time I throw a leg over it my world feels awkwardly readjusted with handle bars too low and suspension too stiff. It takes me several hours and countless laps through the dirt jumps before I can even begin to stutter the word confidence. And even after I feel as though I have a handle on the awkward little beast, riding it maintains status as one hell of a challenge. It's too low to the ground and snaps around too quick in the air. Any take off appears intimidating and every technical section of trail appears to be riddled with pure insanity. When I first roll this bike out to ride in the spring I feel like my riding is sketchy and out of control.
I'd be a liar if I stated any sort of strong emotional attachment to this particular bike of mine. I feel none of the emotional pull or desire for commitment that a formal relationship would require, but at the same time these early season dirt jump sessions are so much more than the typical "hey, how are ya," indicative of a short one ride stand. I really only ride it because the trails are still soggy and it isn't quite time to hop on my Supreme Operator, yet there is still such a high level of excitement I just can't manage to pull myself away from. There is certainly something going on here. A bit of a spring fling, perhaps?
A spring fling indeed. And sadly, that's all I'll ever be able to offer my little black bicycle. To be completely honest, my hardtail is sourly lacking in the traits I've found myself most compatible with. The bike only has one brake and hardly any suspension. Skinny tires and a single gear. Essentially, that seems sort of useless to me. I'm drawn to certain features that seem sort of necessary for an amazing ride and a longstanding involvement with a bike. Nasty knobby tires and big brakes, multiple gears and boatloads of suspension. My hardtail just doesn't have any of those characteristics and that's how I always know I'll leave it behind whenever the sun comes out and the snow leaves the mountains.
In remembering why I always leave this bike behind for most of my season really makes me question why this fling keeps reoccurring in the first place. I've given it a lot of thought and reached the conclusion that it's a matter of simplicity. Aside from occasionally tightening some bolts it is virtually maintenance free. There is no shifting to tension in perfect lines, no pivots to check on after messy rides. I have no tire tread to worry about wearing down and no specific air pressures to care for. So long as everything feels rock hard, tight as can be and angled just right, everything is ready to shred. I've always been attracted to simplicity and riding a bike day after day without performing any sort of maintenance is a characteristic I find really easy to get used to.
In addition to the overall simplicity of my useless dirt jump hardtail, there is a certain honest quality forced upon my riding that I reluctantly admit I've grown rather fond of. Riding my usual bike, the Supreme Operator, I can get as squirrely as I want. I can land flat, sideways, or smash into things on the trail side. It's no big deal, the Operator can save me from the worst of it. But riding this small and ill-equipped bike, I am forced to realize how little of a margin for error I am often playing with. It quickly becomes apparent that I had better keep myself composed in a tight, relatively straight line or things are going to get real painful, real quick. There is an element of consistency cleverly pounded into my skull the entire time I ride it. Something I am now just realizing may be of great benefit to me. Perhaps this repetitive consistency is building a solid foundation that will save my ass from a big crash when I am riding some nasty clay cliff line later in the season. Maybe, just maybe, my little black bike isn't so useless after all.
Inevitably, and despite the great lessons I learn from my little Lacondeguy, nature will run its course and this spring fling will come to an end. The trails will dry and I will wave a kiss goodbye to my seemingly inadequate dirt jump specific bike. I'll trade it off for my bigger, much more capable downhill bike with more suspension and gears, knobby tires and brakes that will actually stop me. The photos in this article are probably the last you will see of me riding that bike until next spring. But I'm sure I'll whip it out throughout the season for a quick ride or a foam pit session here and there. And even if I don't, I'll carry its valuable lessons with me wherever I go this season as a reminder to keep things simple and under control.
Check out more of Steve Rifffel's photos in his Pinkbike album.
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