In the past, pulling into the trailhead parking lot and setting up to ride was a pretty straightforward experience. Even on busy days, it seemed as if most people, including myself, were just trying to get their bikes and themselves ready to ride. In recent years, however, I’ve seen a total shift in parking lot dynamics that has birthed several new types of mountain bike characters. So, what types of people do you meet in the trailhead parking lot?
On some busy days, the trailhead parking lot transforms into a spectrum of would-be riders who don’t seem that concerned about getting on their bikes. So who are these people, and what can we expect from them? And do they actually ride their bikes on the trail or just hang out in the parking lot? I honestly don’t know, but here are five incredible human specimens I hope you run into the next time you roll up to your trailhead.
The Parking Lot Hero
The parking lot hero is a sure find at any trailhead parking lot. In fact, you’ll probably see these riders before you even land in your parking space as they haul full throttle around the parking lot loops dodging cars and other riders by mere inches. A sure-tell sign is that they are clad in elbow and knee pads with a full face mask helmet to boot. You may think they are talented downhill riders until you realize they only want to ride the “features” that immediately border the parking lot spaces.
Each one is a miniature Evel Knievel hell-bent on proving to everyone getting their bike ready that they can do a track stand or a 10-yard skid through the parking lot gravel. Of course, the full-suspension variety is always ready to ride full blast off that 2-foot wall right next to where you parked. So keep your head on a swivel for these parking lot daredevils since they’ll literally rip your legs off from under you rather than slow down.
The Jeans Rider
On the other end of the spectrum from the Parking Lot, Hero is the Jeans Rider. These riders are usually the calmest of the parking lot variety but are still quite bizarre. It may, in fact, be hard to tell if they are actually mountain bikers. Most of them show up on bikes only equipped to ride sidewalks in Florida retirement communities. Suspension on a bike? Forget about it! These riders are rigid all the way. These are also the riders that are least likely to have on a helmet even though they seem committed to riding some pretty gnarly singletrack.
They don’t need clip-in shoes; they have white New Balance sneakers and plastic platforms. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a bar-end mirror reflecting your image as you come up to pass. But watch out, because the Jeans Rider is not easy to get around. They’d rather bash themselves and their bikes to pieces rather than stop to allow you to get by. So you’d be better off turning around and heading back down the trail leaving the Jeans Rider alone in peace.
The Yeti Cooler Guy
Even though drinking beer and mountain biking are nearly universal twins, a specific type of rider found at the trailhead has made the former the only priority. Your Yeti Cooler Guy is there to pop some cans, sit on his tailgate, and chat it up with whoever walks by. Somehow the Yeti Cooler Guy always has 5-6 friends around, laughing in a circle of camping chairs, and clobbering the open container laws on state or federal land. But he doesn’t care. He could only get in a 3-mile-ride on his $7k full-suspension rig. Still, the objective was only to get back to his case of 7% Hazy IPAs stacked side to side under 20 pounds of pellet ice. The Yeti Cooler Guy is your friendliest trailhead character and is sure to offer you a free beer. But don’t get too comfortable; it’s easy to abandon all your responsibilities to hang out in a parking lot for four hours. The Yeti Cooler guy knows all about this; he’s two months behind on rent.
The Mechanic/Parking Lot Mayor
One essential part of the Yeti Cooler’s Guy’s ring of beer-drinking all-stars is going to be your Parking Lot Mechanic/Mayor. This is one of the types of people you meet in the trailhead parking lot with a literal mobile bike shop rolling around in the back of their 2003 Outback Station Wagon. These characters try to fix everyone’s rig to the detriment of their own riding time. But they don’t mind.
Like the Yeti guy, the Mechanic really isn’t that concerned about riding. What terrifies them is your squeaky chain or flat tire. If you mention that you haven’t been able to get around to bleeding your brakes, the Mechanics will immediately whip out their bike stands and get on it. The Mechanic is also the Mayor of the parking lot; they know everyone. They are also off social media, which makes it all the more confusing how they know that your friend Jim had knee surgery before you do. They would run for “actual” Mayor, but they don’t have time. They have too much free maintenance to do in parking lots.
The Mary Poppins Bike Car Driver
This last character in our list of parking lot mainstays is a true magician. Somehow they have made an art form of cramming every last piece of bike gear they own into their cars. And like Mary Poppins, they can pull it out piece by piece from the abyss of their Honda Element. You’ll be left awestruck at how they were able to fit 4 complete bikes in the backseat of their sedan. Then you realize they also drove everyone in their car to the trailhead. All their gear tends to overflow the parking space, creating a real challenge for the Parking Lot Hero to navigate. As you ride by their car on the way to the trail, you may glance into the back window only to realize that they still have enough camping gear for a week for all four of them and their dogs. It’s a true wonder how this Houdini has been able to pull off such a feat; even Ikea can’t seem to cram so much into a measly 40 square feet.
So next time you arrive at the trailhead, keep looking for our parking lot friends doing what they do best: not riding. Still, they may be on to something since they always seem to enjoy the culture of mountain biking the most. Sure it’s great to shred some singletrack, but our parking lot heroes have much to teach us about slowing down and loving the best of what the sport brings us: the chance to be outside and be with each other.
This is, of course, just a small list of the types of characters you may see at the trailhead. Feel free to share some of your favorites that I’m leaving out below in the comments.
Matt Chisholm is a data analyst and freelance writer who studies the environmental history of the Southern Smoky Mountain region of North Carolina. He was a contributor to Lost in Transition: Removing, Resettling, and Renewing Appalachia and the 2016 edition of the Journal of East Tennessee History, for which he won the 2017 McClung Award. When not writing, Matt enjoys road and mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and drinking beer around Concord, NC where he lives with his wife, daughter, and twin boys.
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