Several years ago, I made a questionable choice. My wife and I were both shopping for new bicycles, and I quickly set my sights on a (now classic) Specialized Rockhopper. I loved the stance of a mountain bike, the (relatively) compact size, the go-anywhere attitude – and though I didn’t have any plans to go screaming down a rock-strewn cliff or catching big air, I did like the versatility of a rugged bike that allowed me to deal with tree roots, trail riding, or hopping a curb every once in a while.
The reason this choice wasn’t necessarily perfect – my wife was into road biking. While she was shopping for a lightweight, streamlined speed machine with tires the width of her thumb, I was eyeing knobby tires and shock absorbers.
The difference became startlingly clear the first time we tried riding together. I maxed out my gears and was pedaling for all I was worth, just as she was hitting mid-range and continuing to up-shift. There was nothing for me to do but watch her glide by on a rail while I tore up the pavement, left in the dust and sounding like a 4×4 Jeep trying to off-road down the Interstate. (Imagine the sounds of a milk jug full of angry bees and you’re not far off). Of course, I could console myself by not being the least bit skittish about hitting a gravel patch or roadside debris, something that filled my wife and her road-bike-riding pack with a certain amount of terror.
I mitigated the difference a bit by getting a second set of wheels, ones with narrower, smoother tires, that I could swap for the knobbies when needed. I even completed a couple “distance” rides with her – though she was eyeing centuries (100 miles) while I was dying between 35 and 40 miles in. Love, right?
Well, I’ve still got the Rockhopper. It’s a fair bit heavier than a modern bike, but I still like its versatility and attitude. I used it to introduce my boys to trail riding – boys like puddles, mud and jumps, you may be surprised to hear. I’ve taken it on car-camping trips, where a little off-road is just part of the territory. I’ve used it as a shuttle vehicle on one-way solo river-paddling trips and I need a bike to go retrieve my car. I’ve even toured battlefields with it (lots of Civil War sites near me) where the up-close view and pace of a bike seems more appropriate than peering out of a car window, but where walking would take days.
Occasionally, I’ll even take it out for a random ride on the roads – partly as a workout, and partly because I’ve discovered that you really notice things on a bike, and not just hills that never register when you’re driving. You notice the smell of a hayfield, the breeze, the sounds of birds – if you can hear them over the sound of your beehive-imitating tires on pavement, that is.
So, all in all, maybe it wasn’t such a bad decision. I can take this thing anywhere, and I KNOW I’m getting more exercise on it than my road-biking peers. I’ll stick with it. Just don’t expect me to keep up with the peloton.
Get Out There