Mountain Biking & the Art of Secret Training



not known or seen or not meant to be known or seen by others: how did you know I had a secret plan? // whoever built that trail probably kept it secret from big brother.


something that is kept or meant to be kept unknown or unseen by others: a community secret // at first I tried to keep it a secret from my wife…



the action of undertaking a course of exercise and diet in preparation for a sporting event: you’ll have to go into strict training if you want to beat Carl Goldstraw.

Training to Ride, or Riding to Train?

Riding bikes is one of the most rewarding, exciting and yet, calming activities I have enjoyed in this little life. Since the days as a young guy, playing in the dirt with anything containing wheels had an addictive quality to it. In the early years this often meant simple things, like drifting matchbox cars on dirt tracks created under the Bottlebrush tree (a Native Australian plant), often after watching the World Rally Championship with the old man. But once old enough, it progressed to jumping the BMX at a local spot, then buying a mountain bike to pass time when the waves were bad. Pinpointing exactly what it is about wheels and dirt that gets me so wound up is hard to do, but generally getting dirty and rolling through the dust was, and still is, quite the draw.

Moving forward 20+ years not much has changed. To this day one of the things I look forward to more than any other is rolling through the dirt, flipping the bike from one side to the other and doing skids—it keeps me sane, keeps me fit and makes life easier for those around me—just ask my better half. As a result of the feelings and freedom obtained while riding, I tend to do it a lot.

There are no doubt many others out there that feel the same way, many of whom may also share a competitive quality that rears its ugly head when on the trail—though whether they admit to it may be a different story. Hit that corner faster, pedal harder through that section, go farther off that jump—almost all of us have caught ourselves doing this, so when does it go from simply riding to push yourself and have fun, to “training”? When does a rider realize that they are no longer riding to improve and enjoy some social time outdoors, but to try and outperform their last effort, to the best of their abilities?

For me, that was the winter of 2012/13. Living in Squamish and being involved with the local racing community for a number of years now, it was easy to be drawn into the competitive underbelly of it all. The town is rife with competitiveness and the cycling community pushes each other quite hard. After racing the entire DH and XC series in 2012, and with winter being something I care little for these days, I realized that utilizing the down time to take up a training routine could be ‘fun’. So with that in mind, goals for the 2013 season were set to keep me motivated, and my attempt to pass the time in a productive manner began.

Small Town Syndrome

For those that are unaware, we here at Straightshot are based in Squamish B.C, a small town of approximately 17,000 people, in between two meccas in mountain biking, Vancouver and Whistler. The cycling community is one of the largest outdoor enthusiast groups in Squamish and the local mountain bike club (SORCA), sees roughly 500 members each year. Of these members there are probably 30–40 that are hyper competitive by nature and another 20–30 that are competitive, but perhaps not as driven. The cycling community is tight, which is great because it lends itself to riders getting to know a lot of people that share the same passion—though there is a downside.

With small towns comes something a couple of us refer to as, “small town syndrome”. Its really quite similar to small man syndrome in many aspects, only you cannot physically see the town waving it’s arms excessively in order to make itself look bigger or garner attention. A few things that get a number of Squamish folk all riled up include:

  1. refusing to accept we are anything like Whistler, despite not being hugely dissimilar to big brother up the road (constantly comparing ourselves to the bigger brother, a common trait)
  2. thinking the town is larger in the grand scheme of things than it actually is, in any chosen demographic whether cyclists, or any of the many other outdoor groups (denying we’re little fish in a big pond)
  3. losing Strava KOMs to an unknown individual, despite their profile saying they live in Squamish—who is that…

In addition to the above, the winter months in particular bring a lot of time for tongue slinging, and due to the smaller size of the community it often doesn’t take long for new terms to be adopted. With such a close knit cycling community in a town this size, it is strange that so many people commonly associated with day in and day out during the summer months, simply disappear come winter. The ‘ambidextrous’ (bikers who ski come winter), often form micro groups with those that share the same winter interest, but otherwise there really is a sort of hibernation.

This hibernation fuels the classic ‘rumour mill’, as boredom sets in, and riders bumping into others begin discussing what they’ve been doing to pass the slow winter days. This inevitably leads to a form of Chinese Whispers and before long, how an individual has been recreating turns into how others in the community have been wasting their time. This banter in Squamish has created a new term, one that knows no limits…

Secret Training

By definition, a secret is something being purposely with-held from others. Training is a little more open, but generally, if an individual has made a point to better themselves in an area, whether it be by doing more of that activity in hopes of seeing improvements, or taking up programs and diets to help succeed, it is technically training. The two together would indicate that in order to ‘secret train’ an individual must be attempting to better oneself without others knowing. In it’s rawest form, training behind closed doors, solo and denying anything of the sort—profusely.
Joel, Secret Training?

In Squamish, the definition of secret training differs from the basic definition. In this part of the world, if you ride bikes all winter and compete during the summer months, then you are obviously secret training—especially if you don’t ski. Forget being open about it or even riding with others who feel the same way. The wider communal connection the ‘ambidextrous’ crowd has and the competitive shit talking among those that hibernate means that while you ride solo or with a limited few in the cold, wet months, you are in fact secretly training.

Maybe it’s the long cold waits in chairlift lines, or maybe its hanging precariously in the sky from a wire while ice cold winds whisk by that leads skiers to think of warmer times and perhaps even dusty summer trails. Something makes the ‘hibernators’ an easy target for gossip and ridicule of their choice for winter activities. Is it a form of premature boredom that gets the rumour mill rolling or an inability to understand the desires within a slightly differing interest group?

Perhaps the problem is with those that hibernate, upset that their time outside has been cut down by up to 75%. Gone are the warm days, the comforting rays of sunshine, and the vitamin D that comes with it. Tired, despite sleeping more than usual, they dig at the ‘ambidextrous’ simply because they’re not around, instead they’re up on the mountains ‘skiing’? Why? They could be riding in the slop and working on their frostbite without lift lines & cold chair rides…

Perhaps all the above is true, then again perhaps not—after all, I am speculating and stirring the pot right now (it is winter, after all). In a town as small as Squamish though, such a competitive group of cyclists are bound to keep pushing throughout the off-season, verbally or physically, and those that aren’t are going to feel like they should be. The amusing part of the whole situation is that while we are no longer meeting head to head in an organized format on the trail, we have found a way to remain competitive, even if it means simply dropping a line in hopes of getting a bite.

Who is ‘secret training’? When races kick off in the spring of 2014, all will be revealed. Until then, I’ll be out on the trails enjoying the freedom and doing some skids while my excited, childish cheers echo through seemingly empty forests.