the ümabomber


Building Skills One Grain of Salt At a Time

Dear Umabomber:

I recently started to get into mountain biking with my BF. He’s really good at it. He works in a bike shop and has been riding bikes his whole life and he used to race BMX style when he was a kid. I want to get better so I started going to the Burlington bike park to learn how to do basic things. Sometimes there is an instructor but most of the time it is just me and my BF and his friends. They are all really good bikers. But they try to tell me what to do so much that I get confused. They all have different directions for me to do the same skill. I feel really frustrated. I try to do what they are saying but it’s too confusing and it’s starting to be not fun. And I think I fall more when I do what they say anyway. I want to get better but I’m losing my patience. I’ve been following your IG posts at the Lumberyard and I thought to myself WWUD (What Would Umabomber Do?)

—Seattle Sara

umabomber jump post canyon

Dear Sara:

There are a couple of different things going on with the situation you describe that may actually be making it harder for you to progress.

First off, you should know, never compare yourself to guys who were skinning their knees and casing jumps as kids. They are at a level of riding it takes years to arrive at except for a select few. The muscle memory alone takes years to acquire.

Most mortals need regular practice at anything to progress—whether it’s mountain biking, BMX, playing classical piano, golfing, or painting. Comparing your riding skills to your boyfriend’s is like comparing Oprah to Einstein. Wait? What?!? Exactly!

The fact that you’re a woman who wants to ride a bike makes you a rarity in this culture and country. The fact that you want to ride bikes on dirty, nasty, rough trails makes you an even bigger anomaly. And the fact that you want to learn to do it better, so you can get even more skilled and rowdy with your bike puts you in a tiny percentage of the billions of female human beings on this planet. You are a rarity among rarities.

As you pointed out, I’ve been going to The Lumberyard to work on bike handling skills twice a week since January. Every Thursday night they have Ladies’ Night, with special pricing for women and free coaching. The two lead instructors‚ Shelby and Levi, both have a ton of professional experience as BMX racers and I’ve learned a bunch from their tips and advice. I am a fan of pro level instruction for just about any sport, hobby, interest or career development a person can do.

Like you, I become overwhelmed when I have to process too much new information all at once. I start over thinking and can’t feel what’s supposed to happen in my body. No surprise that’s when I start falling more. I learn best when I work on one new thing at a time. So I’ll get a pro tip from either Shelby or Levi, then go work on it for a week, and then I might ask the other one what their approach is for the same problem. Often they have very different ways of teaching the same skill.

Every so often a well-meaning park rider will offer advice to help me do better, which I don’t pay much attention to. Just because someone has radical skill on their bike doesn’t mean they can explain even the most basic maneuver. For example, probably one of the things I do best in this world is nap. I am a PRO level napper. I should be sponsored by Eagle’s Nest Hammocks, because I’m that serious about my naps. But I’ve met people who say they can’t nap or don’t know how to nap, and I can’t help them! Even when I SHOW THEM how to nap, they can’t do it!

So my advice to you is to decide how much you want to let in, the next time your boyfriend and his friends offer free advice. Politely thank them all for their input and tell them to give you some space. Be honest with them. They probably just want to be be helpful, and don’t realize they are confusing you by offering up TMI.

Bottom line? Take free advice with a grain of salt…including mine. Except this particular piece of advice which is always true, no matter who you are…




Send me your burning questions about bikes, business, riding, life, love, and the pursuit of pedal-powered pleasure. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I definitely know how squeeze the crap out of the questions and make them squeal. Send me an email using this secure and anonymous email form, here.

Photo taken at Post Canyon, Hood River, OR, courtesy Kevin William Bailey.

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