Eric Beck, a Yosemite rock climber in the 1960s, famously said, “At either end of the social spectrum lies a leisure class.” Reaching one end of that social spectrum typically requires either winning the lottery or a fat trust fund, which is why I fully endorse aiming for the other side, the one where the dirtbags reside.
'Dirtbag' is used as a term of endearment in this case, to describe someone whose sole priority is the sport of their choosing, whether it's biking, climbing, skiing, or any other endeavor that involves copious amounts of time spent outdoors. It's a dedication to a life that's a little out of the ordinary, where success isn't measured in dollars, but by how much time is spent at play. Granted, being a dirtbag is easiest before kids, 'real jobs', and mortgage payments set in, but that doesn't mean it's not possible to step off the corporate ladder and make recreating more of a priority than watching the stock market. Whether you just graduated, or are considering a change in priorities, here are a few quick tips on how to make the most of life as a dirtbag: • Don't work too much:
The whole purpose of being a dirtbag is to ride your bike as much as possible, so working 60-80 hours a week is out of the question. The goal is to find a job with a flexible schedule, ideally one that isn't five days a week. Bartending or restaurant work are good options due to the evening hours and the cash tips, although not everyone is cut out for life in the food service industry. Working in a bike shop won't pay as much as waiting tables, but it does come with the benefits of being able to score discounts on bikes and components, which helps make up for the low wages. Brush up on your wrenching or sales skills, and do what it takes to end up employed by a reputable shop. No matter what, you'll learn a lot, meet new friends, and in many cases realize that you never ever want to own a shop of your own. • Avoid unnecessary vehicle related debt:
Your priority is mountain biking, not winning the 'my truck is bigger and shinier than yours' contest, so there's no need to take on a pile of debt just so you can have a vehicle manufactured in this decade. The best tactic? Do everything in your power to live within riding distance of high quality trails. That way the money saved by not driving can be spent on more important things, like bike parts and food. • Live with like-minded friends:
Filling a house full of mountain bikers will likely result in kitchen drawers being used to store tools and parts, and the bathtub will be permanently graced with a ring of dirt and grease, but it also makes it easy to find a riding partner at any hour of the day. The goal is to pay as little rent as possible, but if you can, find a place with a garage, since having a house filled with bikes can cause some issues. Years ago I had a landlord threaten to evict my roommates and I after finding out that we'd turned the living room into a makeshift bike shop, complete with a repair stand and a dozen or so bikes propped against the walls. • Enjoy:
After all, that's the whole point of choosing to be a dirtbag in the first place – embracing the exuberance that comes from a long ride, relishing every perfect corner and floaty jump, and savoring the ability to ride as much as you want. These are the memories that you'll end up calling upon further down the road, during an endless meeting, a painfully long day of work, or in a brutal traffic jam, when remembering those blissful dirtbag moments will make the mundane that much more tolerable.
It'd be easy to read these tips as encouragement for laziness and sloth, but that's not it at all. Living life as a dirtbag, no matter how briefly, often results in venturing down paths that wouldn't have otherwise appeared. A summer spent rebuilding your fork over and over again may spark an interest in attending school for engineering, or maybe a cracked chainstay will be motivation to take welding classes at the local tech college. Who knows, what started out as a few years of dirtbag living could lead to a career designing the mountain bikes of the future.