I think my colleagues sometimes think of me as willfully and deliberately contrarian. While I wouldn't want to disagree with them and prove them forever correct, I don't think it's true. Similarly, I don't think I'm grumpy or negative. I am, however, British, and we do revelling in misery and bitterness better than anyone else and I'm not above leaning into that.
When I first started mountain biking I considered group riding to be the be-all-and-end-all, and it's something I carried through for many years. You simply have to enjoy it, right? Friends, nature, complicated coffee orders, and things taking five times as long as they should. Ah, perfect.
For some reason, I always felt like I was rejecting some part of mountain biking or not doing my bit, but the truth is that I genuinely hate group rides.
Yes, I find faff frustrating and will admit to holding resentment against people who seem more about disrupting the continuity of a ride rather than encouraging the flow. I like to think I'm quite a relaxed, friendly person, but if you happen to be experimenting with finding the perfect saddle height for pedalling efficiency on a ride I will probably scratch you off the list of could-be regular riding friends.
A perfect ride for me is when your feet don't touch the ground. You feel a state of flow as your move through the landscape. Just a dot making its own small way across the enormity of earth. At the top of the run, at the very most, you maybe have a biscuit and piss (in whichever order you prefer) before hoping for the best and dropping in. And that's at a push. Ideally, eating can be done on the move. It's mountain biking and not a teddy bear's picnic for goodness' sake. That said, pissing on the move isn't necessitated, or indeed on cold rides potentially even possible.
No, don't change that tubeless tire in the car park. Yes, putting your jacket on and off every five minutes is annoying. No, I don't want to have a five-minute trip-down-memory-lane as we wait at the corner of every switchback. Yes, I do expect your bike to be in working order. No, I don't care who's faster than who. Yes, spending 20 minutes on a random turn to get the insta-click-wondershit photo of you is my very idea of hell.
Over the past couple of years, I've mainly just ridden by myself. I once tried to get Mike Levy out for a ride but he told me he was halfway through a Married at First Sight
box set and it was simply too riveting to pull himself away from. That said, it was probably a blessing in disguise, and saved Mike from excitedly informing me that Jason was a total dog but they made it work with their partner, that Kimberly got over her issues with trust to fully commit to her relationship with Brian, and that human-labradors-personified Tim and Mandy sadly headed to splitsville, with Mike looking at me with erstwhile sincerity and explaining that he felt reassured that they would remain close friends, just in case I was wondering.
Another time, an excited podcast listener said hello to both Kaz and I as we rode up the Diamondhead fire road, just outside of Squamish. What they didn't realize is that we bumped into each other in the car park in a mere coincidence. Naturally, Kaz being an out-of-towner, we did three laps of Pseudo before I let him do one lap of Angry M as a treat, assured him that was as far as my local's knowledge went, and then gave him a formal escort to the US border to eliminate the risk of him getting curious and exploring the trails that definitely don't exist.
Timekeeping is a big thing and I love being on my own schedule. If you're late, I will never ride with you again. If you complain, also, you're gone. If you feel like you have something to prove, or we have to work to service your ego because mummy, daddy, Mrs. Doubtfire, or whoever it was that put the hard yards in for you, didn't tell you how special you were as a child then also, yes, you're gone. At that rate, I recommend therapy, and no amount of fist bumps, high fives or screaming "SEND IT" as you ride down Rupert is going to remedy the issue. Needless to say, influencers, aspiring or established, will never make the grade.
There are, of course, precious friends that I do ride with, and that list may well shrink should they ever read this, but the real ones know. I think there is a sweet spot in competency where you and your friends know that you don't have to worry about each other. Some of the best times I've had over the last few years have been riding with other people, whether it's old friends at Kicking Horse, making new ones in Morzine or sweating battery acid in Meribel; those times were special - but they were all the more special for me because they were few and far between, and a very different experience than my norm.