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Mountain Biking is 'Creativity with Consequences' - Catching Up with 2020's 'Pandemic Riders' After a Second Riding Season

Dec 6, 2021
by Alicia Leggett  
Michael and friends racing the Sea Otter Classic enduro.

At the very beginning of this year, I checked in with some of the 'pandemic riders' of 2020, who began riding when gyms shut down and their other hobbies became feasible. When I first reached out to all those riders, I sought to understand the bike boom of 2020-2021 and what it was like for those who started riding during a time of rapid change in the bike industry, an unprecedented panic around sourcing brake pads, and the strange void left where dig days and other events used to centralize a community.

Now, nearly a year later, there are signs of a waning bike boom, but the new riders who sparked so much industry growth remain. All the new riders are the future of our sport and bring with them myriad perspectives from all walks of life, all over the world. While the loudest voices in mountain biking are those who have been around for a while, it's worth checking in with some of the newer faces.

I put the call out for more pandemic riders and some new perspectives on the sport. Like all of us, these riders have relied on mountain biking through the pandemic, and many have been giving the sport their all. One rider has been doing charity rides, another has started taking bikepacking trips, and one competed in the Sea Otter enduro on his hardtail. All of them are pushing their limits, and hearing about their rapid progress, endless enthusiasm, and sense of possibility within the sport is refreshing. Let's get to know them a bit more.





Why did you start mountain biking?


California had been under a Shelter-In-Place order for nearly 8 weeks and I was looking for a reason to get outside and exercise. Years ago I was very active in CrossFit and even medaled in a couple local competitions. Since then I had two kids and started a new job, exercise sort of took a back seat to everything else. I needed something to get back into shape, I was constantly feeling tired and drained and lacked the energy to play with my kids. A saw a friend’s Instagram post and asked if I could tag along the next time she went out. That first ride at Lime Ridge in Walnut Creek sent me over-the-bars and down a steep hill. I remember rolling at least 3-4 times and thinking to myself, “I’m tired of falling I’m just going to stand up and run the rest of it out.” By the time I got to the bottom I was in so much pain it was hard to breathe and I wanted to throw-up. I’ve been hooked on mountain biking ever since.
- Michael, California's Bay Area, USA

To enjoy the outdoors and get exercise.
- Robin, Morgan Hill, USA

Like many who started riding in the last two years, Robin wanted to spend time outside and stay active.
I started riding mainly for exercise and to get out of the house when Covid hit. I had wanted to get a bike the year before Covid but that didn’t happen. Not being able to go into the gym weekly really accentuated how poor my fitness had gotten and spurred me to finally get a bike that I had wanted the previous year.
- Will, Santa Cruz, USA & Toronto, Canada

I started mountain biking because my partner thought it would be a fun activity to do together. He was right, and we still very much enjoy everything about it. We enjoy the car ride to the trail, the trail and the ride home together. Mountain biking helped us stay fit during the pandemic and re-ignite our love for the sport.
- Zim, New York, USA

I started riding a bike again in summer 2019 when my kid learned to ride so I could ride along with him and it could be a family activity. As lockdown progressed, riding became a substitute for martial arts: allowing me to technically and creatively respond to the challenges put in front of me, in real time.
- Adam, Edinburgh, UK

I was looking for an activity to do outside during the pandemic and wanted to capture the adrenaline pump I get from snowboarding.
- Spencer, San Francisco, USA

When did you start mountain biking?


First time I went was 1999. I rode on and off with my son starting around 2013. Been riding regularly since 2020.
- Robin, Morgan Hill, USA

I started MTBing 16 years ago and then gradually decreased my time on the bike due to a pain condition, pregnancies and then child raising. 18 months ago I started working from home during the COVID 19 pandemic. We were in lockdown and had restrictions on the number of people you could excercise with but for some reason this became the impetus for me taking up riding seriously again.
- Natalya, regional Victoria, Australia

I started riding on May 3, 2020.
- Michael, California's Bay Area, USA

I started mountain biking in 1996 when my then boyfriend (now husband) bought me a hard tail. We rode seriously for nearly 10 years. We got busy with work, but after the pandemic we decided to start riding again to get out of the house. And bc my business (NYC Photo Safari) took a nose dive, I had the time to ride.
- Zim, New York, USA

August 2020.
- Harley, Edinburgh, UK

I only really started ‘mountain biking’ this past year after I got my Ibis. Like most people I biked around as a kid. My dad rode a lot, about 1 or 2 hours every other day, but at the time it didn’t stick with me. I rode around Wilder Ranch probably 20 years ago but I don’t know if there was any singletrack back then or if it was just the walking paths. Regardless, up until this past year my only exposure to mountain biking was riding on shared paths and city streets.
- Will, Santa Cruz, USA & Toronto, Canada

September 2020.
- Spencer, San Francisco, USA
Will has been discovering a whole new side of Santa Cruz since getting an Ibis DV9.

What has been the most rewarding part of mountain biking so far?


The most rewarding part of riding for me is its ability to “recharge my batteries.” It’s funny how I can wake up at 4am, drive two hours down to Santa Cruz, ride 20 miles and climb 3,000’, then drive two hours back home and suddenly I feel recharged. When I ride, it’s like I’m hitting the reset button and I have the energy and mental clarity to get me through the week. In general, I think exercise can do that for you, I just happened to find my form of exercise in mountain biking.

After my first ride that sent me tumbling down a hill, I knew I was hooked. I wasn’t in great shape but I was still trying to ride as often as I could. There is a local trail near my house, Black Diamond Mines, that is mostly fire road but its close enough that I can get there and back in under two hours. I use this trail to test my fitness and progression. Towards the back of the trail loop there is a section called ‘The Wall,’ it’s only about ¾ of a mile and a 12% grade. The first time I tried to climb it I ended up walking and it took all of 20 minutes. In fact, I couldn’t even pedal the entire thing until at least my 4-5 attempt. I just rode it again last Sunday and I hit a new PR, 12:52.
- Michael, California's Bay Area, USA

First bikepacking trip on mountain bikes a few weeks ago. Just the ability to cover so much ground and see some areas I've never explored before, while enjoying the company of others.
- Robin, Morgan Hill, USA

In terms of things that biking has let me do? Raising money for causes that are important to me. This past summer I participated in the Great Cycle Challenge Canada and helped raise $1252 (Canadian) for Sick Kids Hospital to fight children's cancer. To get people to donate I said I’d ride 1km per dollar donated. People ended up donating so much that I wasn’t able to complete it in the month, but I got it finished in September. Now I’m trying to find a new charity ride goal, but this time to benefit the World Bicycle Relief.

In terms of the act of biking? Probably climbing, I like that it gives you a direct bar for you to measure your progression against… But I think that’s mainly because I’m not as good at descending yet but one day I’ll get there.
- Will, Santa Cruz, USA & Toronto, Canada

Completing my first custom bike.
- Harley, Edinburgh, UK
Robin and friends bikepacking.

I'd say that's been the most rewarding part: creativity with consequences! I started gradually upping my skills, riding and mechanical, built up a better bike from ebay parts and started fixing up my scrapper bike which I found next to a bin. Now my commute to the office takes in a local nature reserve and a wee techy bit along there.
- Adam, Edinburgh, UK

That feeling when you get into a good flow on a fun trail and just start ripping down the mountain. That’s feeling really keeps me coming back.
- Spencer, San Francisco, USA

How has your progression been going?


Other than the occasional injury, my progression has been fantastic. The more I ride and pay attention the better I get at it. I wish learning some of the technical bits were easier but then what’s the fun in that right?
- Zim, New York, USA

It’s gone pretty well. I progressed to advanced trails pretty fast. I feel very comfortable picking aggressive lines particularly through rock gardens. They remind me a lot of sending chutes on a snowboard. That being said, I really struggle on features that give you more than 3 feet of air. I cant tell how much is my own fear, skill level, and the fact that ride a short travel MTB.
- Spencer, San Francisco, USA

Chills not skills.
- Harley, Edinburgh, UK

My progression has been pretty good. Not as far as I’d like but given I’ve been mainly riding solo I’m not too mad at it. Because I’ve been having to find and learn trails on my own, I’ve been taking things a bit slower. This means I need to figure out how to tackle any new obstacle myself as opposed to having a more experienced rider show me how or give me advice. This can be super rewarding but I think it does mean I’m progressing at a slower rate than I could if I had friends who were better or a coach but those things will come.
- Will, Santa Cruz, USA & Toronta, Canada

Ok. I probably need to focus on a few skills such as cornering more.
- Robin, Morgan Hill, USA

What bike do you ride?


An Ibis DV9 - I ordered it sight unseen or demoed. I had originally tried a Santa Cruz Chameleon but a 4 week ETA turned into next week, which turned into next week, which turned into next week, with no end or ETA in sight (I understand the supply chain was starting to get backed up at the time and we still aren’t through it). When that happened I looked around for another Santa Cruz or Canadian brand that ideally had something available at the time (July 2020). I discovered Ibis and found a local shop in Toronto that carried them. The guy at the shop said the DV9 was available in my size. I had heard the same thing about my Santa Cruz bike so I wanted to make sure I’d be getting a bike this year (I had put in the original order for the Santa Cruz in May) and it was mid July by this point. I knew it was a long shot but I figured I’d try calling Ibis and leaving them a message. They ended up calling me back the next day and confirming they had the bike in stock and ready to ship to my dealer. I don’t think I’ve ever hung up a phone and dialed a number so fast. I immediately called the other shop and put in the order for what ended up being my DV9. Within 3 weeks I had my new bike and now hardly a week goes by that I’m not riding daily.
- Will, Santa Cruz, USA & Toronto, Canada

Harley's new NS Eccentric, an exciting project to put together himself.
2017 Specialized Rhyme (sort of a women's Stumpjumper)
- Robin, Morgan Hill, USA

Late last year my partner cane riding with me for the first time in years and he commented that I needed a new bike. A few months later we both had built up Yetis. I have an SB130 and I love it. There's lots of rocks where we live and it really gobbles them up and is super stable and fast on the descents yet climbs well.
- Natalya, regional Victoria, Australia

Polygon Siskiu T7.
- Zim, New York, USA

NS Eccentric.
- Harley, Edinburgh, UK

2020 Santa Cruz Tallboy.
- Spencer, San Francisco, USA

I ride a 2019 Diamondback Sync’r Carbon. I wanted to start on a hardtail because all the research I did online pointed to starting on a hardtail to develop better skill if you’re just learning to ride. Now obviously I have to work a little harder to try and keep up with my full squish buddies but I wouldn’t say it holds me back. If anything it makes mountain biking a little more challenging. I’ve taken that hardtail down ‘Mile’ in Pacifica, ‘Demo’ and ‘Braille’ in Santa Cruz, and last spring I rode ‘Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride’ in South Lake Tahoe. This last October I just competed in my first Enduro at Sea Otter Classic. I was doing pretty well until I wiped out on stage 3 and had to fix my bike on the side of the trail. I finished second to last in my age group. I love that hardtail and will probably always have a hardtail in my fleet, but I just recently picked up a 2021 Specialized Stumpjumper.
- Michael, California's Bay Area, USA

The scrapper bike is a 1998 Specialized Rockhopper which I hope will end up a crossbike decorated like the trans pride flag. That's the bike I take out on days out with family and the commute to work. The bike which doesn't leave my sight is a (2014 I think) Saracen Ariel 16x which I built up. It's way more bike than I currently need but I figured I might as well build up something I'm happy with for the foreseeable future so I focus on riding rather than lusting after changes to my bike.
- Adam, Edinburgh, UK
Michael finishing up the Sea Otter enduro.

What has surprised you about the bike world?


I really like the amount of online content and educational tools there are for bikes now. I remember how lost I felt when I first started biking in the early 00’s but now with YouTube and other online resources like Park Tool and you guys, Pinkbike, there is a plethora of easily accessible knowledge and guidance.
- Will, Santa Cruz, USA & Toronto, Canada

The amount of money in MTB is crazy!
- Harley, Edinburgh, UK

Was has surprised me about getting back into riding is the progression that is happening in the industry, there are so many more women and marginalised people visible. There's so much work to do to make the sport more accessible and inclusive but I can feel a momentum building.
- Natalya, regional Victoria, Australia

The hiding of trails. I live out in the Bay Area where much of the riding isn’t marked. This made it quite hard to figure out where to appropriately ride starting out. On the flip side, I think it pushed my skill level up faster because I would end up on much more advanced trails than my skill level really was at as I’d explore areas I’d find through heat maps.
- Spencer, San Francisco, USA

I’m really surprised by how sexist it is. The men can be so freaking sexist and condescending and yet the women are so not. Women in mountain biking are so much more supportive and encouraging of people getting into the sport.
- Zim, New York, USA

I came from a road/tri background. It seems that mountain bikers are more friendly and not as competitive.
- Robin, Morgan Hill, USA
Spencer has been getting after it, exploring all around northern California.

I was surprised that the bike world it so fragmented into different "genres" although I suppose I shouldn't be surprised as I know how much the music world is the same. I was also surprised that mountain biking, trail building and usage is still such an unofficial activity struggling for rights to use the land. I was also surprised to see how much people look to smooth out a trail, where the lumps and bumps are the fun parts for me.
- Adam, Edinburgh, UK

What I have found surprising about the bike world is how MASSIVE it is! Before I started mountain biking, my knowledge of the sport was limited to Redbull Rampage highlights on TV and seeing big box stores still carrying bikes with 3x drivetrains. I thought 26” tires was still a thing and now everywhere I look, people are riding 29ers. I’ve discovered that the biking community is so large, every trailhead on every weekend is always packed with cars and everyone is always super cool. I’ve never had a bad encounter on the trail and the times that I had a mechanical failure in the middle of a ride, someone has always stopped and asked if I needed help.
- Michael, California's Bay Area, USA

What do you most look forward to with biking in the future?


More bikepacking trips and exploring new areas.
- Robin, Morgan Hill, USA

I look forward to being part of building opportunities for all in the MTB community and being an ally to those who aren't able to access MTB as easily as I do. I imagine being part of a community which can provide free skills clinics, coaching and bike loans to get more people riding in the great outdoors!
- Natalya, regional Victoria, Australia

I’m looking forward to seeing the new innovations that will make riding more fun. The advancements like a dropper post in the past 10 years have been amazing!
- Zim, New York, USA

Electric bikes becoming affordable.
- Harley, Edinburgh, UK

I can’t wait to do a bikepacking trip or bike vacation, although you could say coming back to Santa Cruz from Toronto is a kind of bike vacation. It would be great to develop the skills to hit bike parks to their fullest or go to Europe sometime to bike. I’m a photographer and videographer so it would also be awesome to do some work with environmentally friendly bike brands like Ibis. They just opened a completely green US manufacturing facility just south of Santa Cruz and that gives me hope for the rest of the industry to move in that direction.
- Will, Santa Cruz, USA & Toronto, Canada

Trying new trails. I really enjoy exploring new areas and adjusting my riding to the style of trails that are built.
- Spencer, San Francisco, USA

I definitely look forward to many more years of biking, especially with my kids. Hopefully they take to it like I did. My son learned to ride a bike during the pandemic. He was 3 ½ when he first pedaled at the park by our house. He caught on really fast and even tried to pedal the three blocks home. He didn’t quite make it then, but now it’s a regular route for us. We’re always cruising around the neighborhood after work and on weekends. The same goes for my daughter because even though she can’t pedal a bike yet, she still enjoys going on rides in her bike seat.
- Michael, San Francisco, USA
Will's view from behind bars.

I look forward to being able to become more playful with my bike, engaging with my environment and exploring, becoming progressively less limited in where I can access. I look forward to sharing that creative interaction and exploring spirit with my child more, over time.
- Adam, Edinburgh, UK

Do you see yourself staying in the sport long-term?


I see myself staying riding bikes long term, as a way to tick the same boxes in my brain as I do with music, martial arts and food: responding to what I face, trying to take it head on rather than minimise the character of the situation, and harness what it presents. But getting to be outside and soak up the sun!
- Adam, Edinburgh, UK

What do you think the industry can do better to retain new riders?


Skills rides and events, as well and regular planned rides.
- Robin, Morgan Hill, USA

As with everything else, the biking community needs to look towards being more inclusive when it comes to diversity both with regards to gender and ethnicity. It’s very much a white male sport right now – and has been.
- Zim, New York, USA

The communities need to stop acting like everyone needs to be riding a bike from the last 5 years and investing £€$1500+ right off the bat to enjoy the sport. I made it down the red trails at my nearest trail centre on my 23 year old bin-find Rockhopper while some lads on their DH bikes pointed and laughed. I'd slapped some chunky tyres on there and given it some maintenance but it was still fundamentally the same bike. I love my FS bike which feels like a fighter jet but I equally love pushing the bin bike as hard as I can manage. It still stops on hills, provided it's not snowy out. Plus I can throw it about without much concern about damaging it, and I can lock it up without concern about theft. If it stops and it doesn't fall apart, and you can get it up some decent slopes, surely it's doing what it needs to, especially for a beginner.
- Adam, Edinburgh, UK

At the moment with covid and the variants it’s a bit difficult but I think weekly events people can come to and do a group ride are great. The Specialized Experience Center in Santa Cruz has a weekly group ride that they do that is open to anyone to drop by and join. I believe you can also rent one of their bikes if you don’t have one. I think these kinds of regular consistent events in cities would help. Another thing would be to have a monthly ride focused on completely new/beginner riders. I find it can be intimidating and mildly embarrassing if you’re with a group where everyone is drastically above your skill level (even though everyone has been there before).
- Will, Santa Cruz, USA & Toronto, Canada

More group rides, group local dig sessions and more friendly comps for novices and amateurs.
- Harley, Edinburgh, UK

I would like to see an industry which is providing good quality and sustainable products to cater for the diversity of us humans.
- Natalya, regional Victoria, Australia

I’d love to see people recommending more areas for folks to ride at different skill levels and suggesting places to practice certain skills. It’s really felt like I’ve grown through lots of trial and error and more done there would have made progressing easier and safer.
- Spencer, San Francisco, USA

If the industry and communities want to retain “pandemic” riders as well as grow the mountain bike community further, I would encourage those groups to educate both riders and non-riders and develop the trail systems in their respective communities. Promote more trail maintenance days, especially maintenance of multi-use trails and call attention to the organizations that are performing the maintenance. Recently, I have seen a number of petitions against the development of bike specific trails, but if non-riders recognized that bike communities are doing their part, perhaps there would be less opposition to trail development.
- Michael, California's Bay Area, USA

Natalya clocking some airtime.



44 Comments

  • 30 4
 "It’s funny how I can wake up at 4am, drive two hours down to Santa Cruz, ride 20 miles and climb 3,000’, then drive two hours back home and suddenly I feel recharged. " Props (?) to you Michael from the Bay Area for driving that far for a normal ride
  • 22 3
 I wouldn’t call 20/3000 a normal ride for many.
  • 5 0
 Santa Cruz is 30 mins from me and sometimes I struggle lol
  • 4 0
 I do that drive and ride pretty regularly living in the bay area, but I wouldn't say I feel recharged afterwards.
  • 6 0
 @mtb-thetown: I think I’d feel like I was behind on everything else. It’s pretty rare I have the time to drive 4 hrs in a day. And then take another 1.5 to 2 hrs to climb 3000 ft. But to each his own!
  • 3 0
 @gnarlysipes: I just checked Strava and last ride I did there was 2:45, 20 miles and 3300 ft. I'm always exhausted when I get home. Not my wife's favorite when I head there cause I'm useless the rest of the day
  • 3 0
 @paytondean: cool, dude. Kudos.
  • 4 0
 This should be a pinkbike poll. My normal after work ride, when work doesn't have hours that prevent such is 1500 feet and about 10 miles. But if I have a whole day its typically double that.
  • 1 0
 @generictrailrider: so what's the normale Bike ride distance?

After work ,pre work or just a weekend?
  • 1 1
 I'm under the impression that most people ride 10-20 miles, with 100-200' per mile, on the average. That's what I observe on Strava. I'm dating a girl who was an ultra runner when we met and she had started mountain biking since then. I've had to work hard convincing her that her riding for 2-3 hours is what most MTB rider do and she's not a wuss. But she's dating a guy who rides an unusual amount so she has a bad example to follow.
  • 2 0
 @JSTootell: 20 miles is not really that much when I look at people I ride with or myself. We ride Enduros I guess if your an xc dude even 30 to 40 miles are nothing.
  • 1 1
 @Serpentras: the group I used to ride with usually ride 10 miles a couple times a week. I would usually do 10-20 miles before meeting up with them and then do the 10 miles with them.

I do pretty big miles, I just don't judge people who don't.
  • 16 3
 Couple of things. First of, the things new riders think the community should, has been going on for years. Those things weren't happening when they showed up to the sport because of the lockdowns. At least not at the scale they would even notice. It was happening on a more intimate level. 

Second. Inclusivity is subjective. People need to want to do the sport and understand the costs that come with it. I am Hispanic and unlike most of my white fellow riders (sorry boys) I nearly drove myself to the brink of bankruptcy just to get a descent bike (sad but true). Lets not mention the upkeep. So naturally sacrifices had to be made for my love of the sport. Speaking for my tribe I can confidently say the majority do not have an interest in extreme sports in the US. But the sport is huge in South America. If the MTB community wants to be more "inclusive" to ethnic and gender minorities, then it will need to be more affordable communities. I work in the Bike industry and I know most bike companies have branches outside the US in Mexico, South America, Africa and Asia. If you surround your self with white all you will see is white. 
  • 1 0
 I would not want to force people into something so everyone should choose what they like and just do it.. Bike stuff is overpriced or other stuff is to cheap. Dunno
  • 1 1
 I come here to say this pretty much every time. As far as male vs female, men have a higher participation rate in extreme sports across the board so there isn't much to do to spur women into engagement, other than be supportive and accommodating.
As for ethnicity, you nailed it. More people would be biking if the average full suspension price wasn't increasing year over year.
Doubt any of that will change with the stagflation happening in the US. LGB/FJB
  • 22 7
 got a chuckle over the woke-belly aching......stop making everything about race, Zim! gravity isn't racist and patriarchal
  • 4 0
 It's interesting that this is a thing for English spoken countries. I can't imagine someone saying this here.
  • 6 0
 Apparently we are all unsupportive white males. Every new article i read i keep finding out more horrible things about myself
  • 12 0
 "Will has been discovering a whole new side of Santa Cruz since getting an Ibis DV9." This sentence nearly blew my mind.
  • 1 0
 I second that
  • 5 0
 Zim just sounds like they wanted a chance to complain about their subjective societal experiences. Come to SoCal, there isn't a group of people that get more usage out of our local trails than Mexican/ South American women and families.
  • 6 1
 "I came from a road/tri background. It seems that mountain bikers are more friendly and not as competitive."

Oh, we're competitive. We just call out "On your left" when passing, unlike roadie a-holes.
  • 9 0
 "Doesn’t have a BMX background"
  • 7 0
 @mi-bike: this is a disappointing revelation
  • 2 0
 It’s pretty awesome to hear stories from new riders and the excitement they have. Micheal: my first time out it went OTB and broke my collarbone. I was “hooked” as well. Zim: It’s unfortunate to hear about some of the sexism and lack of inclusion. Although I am fortunate to be riding I always try to encourage all riders (gender, background and/or skill level) when I ride at my local trails. I am hopeful that as the sport continues to grow we can eliminate these barriers and change attitudes. Will: if you ever find yourself back in Toronto DM me and I’d be glad to show you the trails here.
  • 1 0
 My GF started riding during lockdown. She was already an ultra runner, so the transition was pretty seamless and likely would have done it eventually anyway after we met (we met about two months before shutdown). But she is loving just about everything about pedaling. She sourced a crap MTB and crap road bike to start. Got hit by a car and used the opportunity to upgrade to a much nicer road bike. Then eventually upgraded the MTB. Been fun watching her send it, tiny little girl who has NO idea how aggressive she is because she just assumes that since she's new, she's slow. Injured herself running, so now we ride a lot.
  • 2 0
 "I cant tell how much is my own fear, skill level, and the fact that ride a short travel MTB."

Welcome.

Welcome, to the club.
  • 1 0
 Interesting there is still no mention of Kyle. We pretend to care about riders but don’t say anything about him. I can’t wait for this site to fail.
  • 3 0
 Lime ridge represent
  • 2 0
 If this was a video game I'd pick Harley to be my avatar.
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