Wanna Go Ride Bikes?

by Sean Cronin



I recently inquired on Facebook if anyone had a full-face mountain bike helmet I could borrow for a trip to the Mammoth Mountain Bike Park. The last time I wore a helmet with such complete coverage was nearly three decades earlier racing BMX at the age of six. One of my earliest memories is of my father holding my bike steady waiting for the start gate to drop, unable to maintain the balance on my own. Clad in grass-stained jeans, a He-Man tee shirt, pads and a gigantic helmet, I’d pedal my heart out, chasing kids over jumps and around berms. Those memories came rushing back at Mammoth as I followed my friends Cat and Dan over wooden ladders and through suspension-eating rock gardens.

Bikes have a magical way of making you feel like a kid every time you throw a leg over the toptube. The phone call trying to round up riding partners is the same now as it was in ’86; “Hey, it’s Sean. Wanna go ride bikes?” As a kid, my bike was my freedom mobile. The 1980s were a great time to be a kid. Parents had yet to develop the paranoia that everyone was out to steal their pain-in-the-ass kid if they dared to venture beyond a ten-foot radius of their video game. Additionally, this was a time when three out of five kids’ parents were so busy arguing their way into a divorce that their child’s whereabouts became secondary.

Cell phone apps didn’t exist back then, but my present day Strava rides couldn’t hold a candle to some casual days in the saddle I put in as a youngster. I’d fire down an energy-packed breakfast of Lucky Charms, hop on my bike, and often come home after sunset to some cold chicken cutlets.

My crew of friends felt the world needed to see our talents. We canvassed the neighborhood and gave out tickets to our very own freestyle bike show. We blared a boombox (aka “ghettoblaster” but this was the suburbs, c’mon). We put on a killer show for our parents and a few curious retirees.

I spent my childhood summers at our family campground in Central Massachusetts. There was a lake and lots of kids my age. Finding friends was as simple as riding around until I saw the trailer with a bunch of bikes dropped in the front yard. Back then my 16” bike had a coaster brake. You can really lay down a proper skid with a coaster brake. My back tire was always worn to the threads by summer’s end. There were literally holes in the tire. Inner tube rubber must have been tougher then because I don’t remember ever getting a flat.

A favorite thing to do was jump our bikes off the end of a boat dock. We could try tricks we had no hope of ever landing on dry ground. We’d have to dive down after our bikes and pull them off the mucky lake bottom. Chains were apparently better then because I certainly didn’t lube my chain after every ride like I do now.

A few years later, now with a slightly larger 20” BMX bike, it became cool to stop by applying the sole of our sneaker to the back tire. My mother would scold me when she discovered the telltale arch worn into the bottom of my shoes. Thankfully, we soon realized it was super easy to get your foot jammed in the rear triangle of the bike. The braking power was also far inferior to simply squeezing the brake lever (coaster brakes were for babies by now).

One day I saw a freestyle bike demonstration. This dude was literally breakdancing (another reason the 80s were awesome) on his bike. He hopped, and spun, and bounced on the pegs. He wore black and white checkered Vans shoes and, at the moment, was the coolest guy on the planet. My mind was blown. I instantly wanted pegs for my bike. I sold the BMX bike, mowed some lawns, and bought a freestyle bike. It had a rotor that allowed the handlebars to spin without tangling the brake cables. I put front and rear pegs on it. I mastered riding the bike while standing on the seat. I could stand on the back pegs and hop maybe four times consecutively. While riding slowly, I could spin the bars 360 degrees.

My crew of friends felt the world needed to see our talents. We canvassed the neighborhood and gave out tickets to our very own freestyle bike show. We blared a boombox (aka “ghettoblaster” but this was the suburbs, c’mon). We put on a killer show for our parents and a few curious retirees. If you were there that day, I’m sorry but I can’t give you that hour of your life back. Thanks so much for coming!

I took to the trails and started mountain biking sometime around age 13. I suppose I had mountain biked before, the difference now was a specific bike had been developed for this burgeoning sport. The bike had gears to allow easier climbing over rough, hilly terrain. At 26” the tires were bigger and knobbier to grip loose dirt and rocks. Soon after, the first suspension forks would offer some cushion to the front end. Toe-clips, and soon thereafter, clipless pedals assured a powerful pedal stroke by affixing the riders shoe to the pedal. This new sport got me into the woods so much faster that hiking ever did before.

Throughout high school, me and a couple of friends mountain biked religiously. Sometimes we would ride before school in the crisp New England autumn air because soccer practice took up after school hours. Aside from friendly competition, I never viewed mountain biking as a sport.

I recall meeting and riding with an older guy from town (probably 40 at the time) who was into 24-hour solo mountain bike racing. These races were in their infancy at the time and he trained like a maniac. I was flabbergasted when he told us how he would practice changing a flat tire in a cold shower with the lights turned off to simulate the worst conditions he could encounter during a race. He could do it in something crazy like a minute and a half. This dude could absolutely smoke us teenagers without breaking a sweat.

I bought a mountain bike with a suspension fork sometime around junior or senior year. Two inches of travel made a world of difference. It felt like I was riding a dirt bike. Mount Snow, VT was offering lift-served mountain biking. The first day we went the cheap route and decided to buy a trail access pass instead of riding the lift. We pushed and pedaled our bikes all the way to the top where the chair dropped everyone else off. It took hours. For the first time ever, biking felt like skiing. One top-to-bottom run and my forearms were so pumped I could hardly make a fist. I can’t believe I survived that day. We bought a lift pass the next day. In a few hours our descending skills improved exponentially.

I brought that bike with me to college at UMass Lowell. Despite the industrial heritage of this old textile town, there was a great trail network just a short pedal from campus. I found a few people to ride with, but mostly I explored the area on my own. Slowly I became familiar with the trails and had many loops memorized of various distances. I did not participate in college athletics outside of intramural sports. More individual pursuits like running and especially mountain biking intrigued me.

To combat anxiety from a rigorous curriculum I had no idea how to approach, I’d jump on my bike and take off into the woods. The reading and exams still loomed, but for a couple hours my mind was more concerned about not going over the handlebars or falling on slippery roots. Despite majoring in exercise physiology, I spent less and less time in the gym and more outside.

During graduate school I met a redheaded, freckle-faced girl in the physical therapy program. She was athletic and had run the Boston Marathon a few times. Soon after we started dating, we bought her first mountain bike. I put her on the accelerated program to becoming a proficient mountain biker. In true dumb boyfriend fashion, she found herself at the summit of Killington, VT. I looked back and offered the not so helpful, “Just follow me.” About 100 yards later, she flew over the handlebars and drew blood. I readied myself for a barrage of curses, but instead was met with an, “I guess I’ll put those pads on now.”

A year or so later, we were both working in the Boston area. The allure of living in a real mountain town had been tugging at me for years. One day I decided I was going to pull the trigger and move west to Lake Tahoe. I was excited, but apprehensive because I assumed I would be going alone. I was overjoyed when all it took was showing Julie a picture of Tahoe to convince her to join me. Having grown up in New Jersey, she said, “It looks a lot better than oil refineries.” Once we whittled our possessions down to what could fit inside a Subaru Outback, we pointed the car west. The last thing we did before leaving her parent’s driveway was put our mountain bikes on the rack. After all, between Jersey and California were places like Boulder and Moab.

Driving across the country, we got to ride our bikes in landscapes so distinctly different from the East Coast. The desert slickrock of Utah provided supreme traction. Steep inclines could be surmounted so long as the power in our legs could romp the pedals hard enough. The buffed singletrack of Colorado felt velvety smooth compared to the rocky and rooty trails to which I was accustomed. Each day we looked forward to parking the car and setting off on two wheels to explore each new town or national park we entered. Bicycles allowed us to slow our pace and really enjoy new surroundings.
Upon reaching our new home in South Lake Tahoe, we explored the trails surrounding our home every chance we got. A left out the front door gave access to the Tahoe Rim Trail winding its way through Heavenly Mountain Resort. The open desert views to the east stood in stark contrast to the heavily wooded forests of my former home. Turning right out of the driveway led us to “The Bench.” Also along the Tahoe Rim Trail, this continues to be one of my favorite rides to this day. I shared the most ludicrous sunset last summer at The Bench with my friends Dan and Bligh.

It didn’t take long in this town of adventure-junkies to meet a new crew of friends just as passionate about mountain biking as I was. Friends from different neighborhoods showed me trails by their places. My mental map quickly expanded to create loops and connecting rides. Biking trips to meccas like Downieville and Gooseberry Mesa happened from someone simply asking “Wanna go ride bikes in…?” Just like in my childhood, we would set off in the morning from camp and ride until dusk.

I’m now halfway to earning my local status here in Tahoe, having been here for 10 years. Not a year has passed that I haven’t found or been introduced to a new mountain biking trail. Just when I thought I’d ridden everything nearby, TAMBA and the U.S. Forest Service started going gangbusters creating new trails and improving existing ones.

A decade ago, I thought the trails here were amazing. Today, South Lake Tahoe is a full-fledged biking destination. I can’t wait to see what happens in the years to come. Mountain bike trails are currently being surveyed and staked up on Heavenly. The Bijou Bike Park opened and the level of riding I’ve witnessed there is insane. There are jump lines, pump tracks, and a BMX course.

Fall in Tahoe is arguably the best time to mountain bike. We just got some much-needed rain and the dirt is tacky as can be. Every time this year, my mind starts drifting towards the winter ski season. I hope El Nino delivers this winter and brings lots of precipitation to Lake Tahoe. Come spring when the snow melts and the grass starts growing, I’ll be ready with the lawnmower. This 35-year old “kid” wants a BMX bike again.

I bought a mountain bike with a suspension fork sometime around junior or senior year. Two inches of travel made a world of difference. It felt like I was riding a dirt bike. Mount Snow, VT was offering lift-served mountain biking. The first day we went the cheap route and decided to buy a trail access pass instead of riding the lift. We pushed and pedaled our bikes all the way to the top where the chair dropped everyone else off. It took hours. For the first time ever, biking felt like skiing. One top-to-bottom run and my forearms were so pumped I could hardly make a fist. I can’t believe I survived that day. We bought a lift pass the next day. In a few hours our descending skills improved exponentially.

I brought that bike with me to college at UMass Lowell. Despite the industrial heritage of this old textile town, there was a great trail network just a short pedal from campus. I found a few people to ride with, but mostly I explored the area on my own. Slowly I became familiar with the trails and had many loops memorized of various distances. I did not participate in college athletics outside of intramural sports. More individual pursuits like running and especially mountain biking intrigued me.

To combat anxiety from a rigorous curriculum I had no idea how to approach, I’d jump on my bike and take off into the woods. The reading and exams still loomed, but for a couple hours my mind was more concerned about not going over the handlebars or falling on slippery roots. Despite majoring in exercise physiology, I spent less and less time in the gym and more outside.

During graduate school I met a redheaded, freckle-faced girl in the physical therapy program. She was athletic and had run the Boston Marathon a few times. Soon after we started dating, we bought her first mountain bike. I put her on the accelerated program to becoming a proficient mountain biker. In true dumb boyfriend fashion, she found herself at the summit of Killington, VT. I looked back and offered the not so helpful, “Just follow me.” About 100 yards later, she flew over the handlebars and drew blood. I readied myself for a barrage of curses, but instead was met with an, “I guess I’ll put those pads on now.”

A year or so later, we were both working in the Boston area. The allure of living in a real mountain town had been tugging at me for years. One day I decided I was going to pull the trigger and move west to Lake Tahoe. I was excited, but apprehensive because I assumed I would be going alone. I was overjoyed when all it took was showing Julie a picture of Tahoe to convince her to join me. Having grown up in New Jersey, she said, “It looks a lot better than oil refineries.” Once we whittled our possessions down to what could fit inside a Subaru Outback, we pointed the car west. The last thing we did before leaving her parent’s driveway was put our mountain bikes on the rack. After all, between Jersey and California were places like Boulder and Moab.

Driving across the country, we got to ride our bikes in landscapes so distinctly different from the East Coast. The desert slickrock of Utah provided supreme traction. Steep inclines could be surmounted so long as the power in our legs could romp the pedals hard enough. The buffed singletrack of Colorado felt velvety smooth compared to the rocky and rooty trails to which I was accustomed. Each day we looked forward to parking the car and setting off on two wheels to explore each new town or national park we entered. Bicycles allowed us to slow our pace and really enjoy new surroundings.
Upon reaching our new home in South Lake Tahoe, we explored the trails surrounding our home every chance we got. A left out the front door gave access to the Tahoe Rim Trail winding its way through Heavenly Mountain Resort. The open desert views to the east stood in stark contrast to the heavily wooded forests of my former home. Turning right out of the driveway led us to “The Bench.” Also along the Tahoe Rim Trail, this continues to be one of my favorite rides to this day. I shared the most ludicrous sunset last summer at The Bench with my friends Dan and Bligh.

It didn’t take long in this town of adventure-junkies to meet a new crew of friends just as passionate about mountain biking as I was. Friends from different neighborhoods showed me trails by their places. My mental map quickly expanded to create loops and connecting rides. Biking trips to meccas like Downieville and Gooseberry Mesa happened from someone simply asking “Wanna go ride bikes in…?” Just like in my childhood, we would set off in the morning from camp and ride until dusk.

I’m now halfway to earning my local status here in Tahoe, having been here for 10 years. Not a year has passed that I haven’t found or been introduced to a new mountain biking trail. Just when I thought I’d ridden everything nearby, TAMBA and the U.S. Forest Service started going gangbusters creating new trails and improving existing ones.

A decade ago, I thought the trails here were amazing. Today, South Lake Tahoe is a full-fledged biking destination. I can’t wait to see what happens in the years to come. Mountain bike trails are currently being surveyed and staked up on Heavenly. The Bijou Bike Park opened and the level of riding I’ve witnessed there is insane. There are jump lines, pump tracks, and a BMX course.

Fall in Tahoe is arguably the best time to mountain bike. We just got some much-needed rain and the dirt is tacky as can be. Every time this year, my mind starts drifting towards the winter ski season. I hope El Nino delivers this winter and brings lots of precipitation to Lake Tahoe. Come spring when the snow melts and the grass starts growing, I’ll be ready with the lawnmower. This 35-year old “kid” wants a BMX bike again.