I once had a friend try to convince me that I have a lot in common with koala bears who, he told me mid-smirk, love nothing more than enjoying some quiet alone-time and would far prefer to look at a tree than another koala. He went on to say something else about me and koala scent glands, but the gist was that it wouldn't hurt if I was a bit more social, a bit "friendlier,'' to use his exact words.
I didn't take his advice seriously because koalas aren't even bears, of course, and because I've never been very good at small talk. I do know a better way to get to know someone, though.
Without exchanging anything beyond first names and a few primal hoots or hollers you can end up feeling like you know a complete stranger pretty well after just an hour-long pedal. That time on the bike, however brief, can tell you a hell of a lot more about a person than you'll ever get from a clumsy, forced conversation.
Actually, when I think about it, could watching how someone rides their bike also be a glimpse into how they run the rest of their lives?
Mike K bang-on the right line and looking ahead, exactly like he's supposed to be doing.
There's this guy that I ride with sometimes who I'll refer to as ''M. Kazimer'' to keep his identity private, or maybe "Mike K'' to be even more discreet. Either way, this Mike K and I couldn't be more different in a lot of ways. While I often say too much, he'll only say what's needed in a more measured, efficient way. He's annoyingly responsible, too, never missing a work assignment or no-showing a meeting, while I find myself having to come up with excuses for both. Further evidence: His well-used, windowless Chevy cargo van never goes over the posted speed limit, no matter what said limit happens to be. At the same time, I don't think I've ever seen him be late for anything, and none of that adds up to me.
He's efficient, seems to make responsible decisions, and isn't one to ever fuss or showboat.
If you jumped in behind Mike K for a lap of the Whistler Bike Park, you'd find that he's both quick and near inch-perfect in his line selection. While I'm indifferent to what the rear-end is doing just so long as it mostly stays being the front-end, Kazimer rides as if it's all happening exactly as he planned it. Landings are greased without expletives, a tactic I hadn't thought of trying before, and I don't remember seeing him get too loose, be it in his ever-practical van or while on some questionable test bike. Don't mistake that purposeful style for him being overly careful, though, as Mike K possesses much more courage than I do these days.
If you did a few laps with Kazimer, you probably won't see any drama. Instead, it's calm, cool, and collected riding that, as far as I can tell, matches his usual off-bike demeanor.
''I can do that.'' - Gary after watching Rampage. Not a good idea, dude.
At the other end of the 'is your life together' spectrum is my buddy, Gary, who, while currently not in prison or living under an overpass, is usually just a couple of bad decisions away from one or the other. Gary's life is more "interesting" than it should be, mostly because of his own doing, and while he's without a doubt one of my favourite humans, I don't even think that Gary could defend most of his decisions. Responsible? Yeah, I'm sure he's responsible for a bunch of minor crimes. Job experience? Getting fired from a few dozen gigs over the years means that he has plenty of different skills on his résumé. But for God's sake, please don't call any of the references. And why is Gary usually driving a different smashed-up car every other week that usually has clear plastic wrap for at least one window and usually doesn't start?
His entire life is questionable, irresponsible, and always seems to be on the edge of imploding. It sure looks like fun, though.
We met fifteen-ish years ago when Gary came into the shop I was working at to buy his first-ever mountain bike, a 200mm-travel downhill sled that, he later admitted, was only purchased to deliver drugs and because it looked ''super f*cking cool.'' A week later and he was riding with us, after I forced him to buy a helmet, and stomped a twenty-something-foot road gap like he'd been doing it is whole life. Without pads on. And he'd been airborne on a mountain bike only ten, maybe fifteen, times before sending that move that was at least three times as big as anything he'd hit previously.
A few weeks after greasing that step-down he ripped the entire front-end of his bike off when he came in about two-feet too low over a forty-foot gap jump that he probably didn't have any business hitting. Gary slid down the gravel landing on his chest while kicking himself in the back of the head in what's still the most beautiful scorpion I've ever seen, only to jump to his feet laughing like it was all a joke. You'd think crashes like that would knock the confidence out of him, but they never did and he's still riding above his pay grade to this day.
Gary clearly has a load of natural skill, but he's also one loose motherf*cker whose riding style would best be described as 'disaster pending.'
While Gary started riding so he could Uber drugs all over town, another buddy of mine rides mostly for social reasons. Taylor is the antithesis of a koala bear, with friends all over the world and a kind of natural enthusiasm that most of us could only get from prescription meds. He'll happily chat up anyone, but not in the creepy way that happens when I try to do it, and I've watched him make life-long friends out of complete strangers in only minutes.
True to form, Taylor is almost always riding in the company of a friend or three, and he's always making chirps and whooping noises on the trail that I can only describe as 'happy sounds.' He's the kinda dude who calls just to see what's going on, which I've always found confusing. He doesn't feel like he absolutely has to reign as KOM master, either, or clear that scary drop, or leave it all out on the mountain. I'm too much of a caveman to understand that, but it's obviously working out for him as he's always stoked to be on the bike.
You're probably not going to cover a ton of ground if you rode with Taylor, but you'd have great conversations and likely make a new friend along the way.
I'm not sure what you'd think if you and I rode together, but I do know that it wouldn't hurt if I channeled a bit of Taylor's friendly vibes my way for both on and off-bike use. A bit of Mike K's common sense wouldn't hurt, either. You know, just to balance out the cup and a half of YOLO beans that I get from Gary.
How about you: If you compare the two, does your riding style match your lifestyle?