There is a difference between being manly and looking manly. It is easy to look manly these days. Jeans come already worn in. Vintage leather jackets ooze sexuality. Boots that have been scuffed and distressed are easy to buy. If I wanted to look like a Man’s man all I have to know how to do is go online and pull out the credit card. But to actually be manly takes more work. It means doing things that push you out of your comfort level. It means accepting consequences. It hopefully means getting a few badass stories to tell.
From the first day I got into town people were asking me if I had been to Frick Park yet, making sure I knew about it and all it offered. Pittsburgher’s are proud of it. It is a haven for anyone who wants to get outdoors in the middle of the city. So last fall I headed over there with Wife and Dog for a fall walk. The sun was out, the trails were full of walkers, joggers, picnic’ers. After walking for a bit we finally hit a stretch of trail with no other people. Just us, the trees and a gurgling creek. That serenity wouldn’t last long.
A guy on a bike came crashing out of the woods in front of us. There was whooping, and mud and confusion. He looked like a Man’s Man. He had a scruffy beard, enormous veined forearms, a sharp, strong jaw and genial grin. He was riding what appeared to be a Man’s Bike. It was thick framed, with oversized knobby wheels and was covered in dirt and mud. He apologized and headed back into the woods. Our eyes followed him up a steep, narrow dirt path to a group of guys cheering him on as he climbed the hill. At the top he was greeted with backslaps, high-fives and laughter. I turned to Wife and said, “I gotta do THAT!”
And then almost overnight it was winter. The weather was wet, cold, blustery, but I couldn’t stop myself from remembering that day in the woods. I kept imagining myself at the top of that path, crashing down through the woods and being glorified by my eventual domination of the Frick Park bike trails. There was just one problem. Outside of one afternoon at Ray’s indoor park I’ve never been mountain biking. I’ve never rolled over a log, or through a creek. I’ve never aggressively tried to plow through a mud pit or careen down a narrow single-track. Luckily, I’ve never been one to let a little inexperience stop me.
I got in touch with the marketing team at Mongoose, and asked if there was anything they could do to help me out. I was a beginning mountain biker, though fairly experienced general rider. I didn’t know what I needed, what to look for or how to even start buying a mountain bike. They told me not to worry, and then one day this spring (if you can call it that) this showed up on my doorstep.
Mongoose sent me a new Mongoose Tyax Expert mountain bike to test out. I pulled it out of the box. The thing looked pretty badass with matte black paint and bright orange accents. Even with a manual not specific to this bicycle I put it together in about five minutes. The only problem I had were with getting the disc brakes properly aligned but that was user error. A quick trip to Trek on Centre Ave, and I was all set to become the mythos of that guy in the park last fall that I had spent the past six months building up in my head. But first, I had to work, and work and work. For two or three days I rode the bike back and forth from Bloomfield to Oakland. Just building the anticipation, and actually enjoying hitting the pot holes on the local streets. Some of the roads here are more damaged than Mickey Rouke’s face post boxing career.
Finally, I got a chance to test it out. I went out into Schenley Park on a balmy 50 degree afternoon and tried to find some dirt. I hit the obvious trails running along the flats and rolling up the hills. The trail was muddy from rain and I could feel mud kicking up behind me raining on my back. The track ranged from wide and flat to 6 inches wide running along a creek. As is my style I never bothered to look online for a map indicating various trails and difficulty levels. After an hour I was sufficiently worn out, and broken in. I had learned a few things. 1. Always drop the seat down when running on a trail. Otherwise you’ll undoubtably crash down into it leaving you with an aching pain in an area you don’t really want aching pains. 2. Dirt implies accomplishment. 3. Mountain biking and biking are two completely different skill sets.
A few days later I ventured over to Frick Park. It was a hot Saturday, and the park was full. I took the first dirt track I found off the main walking path and was immediately moving quickly downhill over light debris, curling around trees and generally scaring the shit out of myself. Right away a ran into Bob and DeDe who were working to clear the trails of debris and rebuild areas of trail that had worn or washed away over the winter. Bob is the head of Porc, a local mountain bike group. They gave me some tips, invited me to join their group and told me about some MTB group rides that cater to different skill levels. The guys from Porc had joined forces with Pittsburgh Trails Advocacy Group (PTAG) to spend the morning cleaning things up for the summer. Both groups have a lot to offer to new and experienced MTB riders alike. Later in day I ran into Robert who runs PTAG, and had a nice chat about opportunities to get out with other trail users.
I spent the next several hours getting completely lost, thoroughly muddy, and definitely exhausted. I strongly recommend anyone new to the MTB trails to take a map along. There is plenty of track for easy riders but turn the wrong way and you’ll find yourself on a trail nicknamed “Roller Coaster” or down in a valley with no really easy way out except straight up the hill. The Mongoose tackled all the challenges pretty easily. And even though the journalist in me tried to find something wrong with it I couldn’t. For a beginning to intermediate rider it is pretty great. Fun to ride, cool looking and tackles trail or even a Pittsburgh street like a boss. Should be available soon on Mongoose.com.
I emerged from the trees late that afternoon a changed man. I imagined that my arms had grown in size and I could feel the beginnings of callouses on my hands. The muscles I didn’t even know I had in my chest were quivering. I’m sure I had a grin on my face, and I barely noticed the layer of dirt covering my jeans. Most of my body was sore, and I couldn’t remember a recent moment I felt more manly. If you get a chance check out both the parks. One moment you’re in the city and the next you could be getting your tires dirty. I finished off the day by kicking my feet up on the porch and quenching my manly thirst.
You can find out more details on the bike, the parks, Porc and PTAG at the following links: