When I got a call from my friend Carmella at Specialized Bicycles, asking me if I wanted to go for a mountain bike ride with Ned Overend, I struggled to explain to my co-workers what that meant. "It's like someone inviting you to go to the batting cage with Babe Ruth," I said, which helped some folks, but maybe another sports metaphor wasn't the solution.
Overend, for the non-cyclist, is one of the greatest mountain bike racers of all time -- hell, he's one of the greatest endurance athletes of all time. In 1990, he won the first-ever official mountain bike world championship in his adopted hometown of Durango, Colorado; that same year he was inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame.
"Ned wants to ride at Tamarancho," said Carmella. "You interested?"
Yes, yes I was. Never mind that this would be about my fifth mountain bike ride of my life -- when you get a chance like this, you take it, pride be dammed.
And thankfully, Ned was just about as nice a guy as could be imagined. I had met him earlier this year at Specialized's road product launch, but that was a big group setting. This would be just the two of us, banging along Marin County singletrack.
At the first, I struggled. Riding off-road, and on a mountain bike, it just super different than the road riding I've done for decades now. But I had (in a huge understatement) a very good teacher there in Ned, and he was kind enough to take it easy and try to help me learn.
What a lot of it comes down to is balance -- in fact, his top suggestion to getting better on a mountain bike is to practice trackstands. "You're moving so slowly some times that if you have better balance, you can pick a line and take your time," he said.
Over the course of our ride, things definitely got more fluid for me. One of the big things was just the chance to ride behind Ned, and see how he handled various sections of terrain.
I got this mountain bike to work on my technical skills for cyclocross, and I can tell it's going to be hugely beneficial. The terrain is just so much harder to deal with that if I can get decent at handling it, those skills should really help me next 'cross season.
Overall, just a super fun day. I'm realizing a couple of things as I sit here writing this. First, I've now ridden with a both a road and mountain bike World Champion cyclist, which is kind of neat.
Also, I'm hoping my friend Scot is reading this -- he's another MTB Hall of Famer, and I have to get up to Santa Rosa to ride with him ASAP.