I have been wanting to talk about this for a while now. I've been recording notes on my phone about this topic, I'd write a little about it then leave it for a couple days. I'll probably revisit this post again when Zach and I start a podcast or youtube channel. Mostly, because it's important to me that Zach has his opportunity to elaborate on this topic and share his ideas but for now... I want to talk about riding dirt bikes with your significant other. More specifically, riding together when there's a skill deficit between you two.
This is a big one. Zach and I have had riding buddies, Alte Enduro customers, even random friendly people on social media ask us "how do you guys ride together?"
A little back story, Zach and I started riding together about 2 months into our relationship. I had never been on a dirt bike before I met Zach, I was endorsed to ride street bikes but Zach's blue KTM XC was my first dirt bike experience. I had the bones in place to know how a dirt bike worked but nothing really beyond that. Zach rode out in the dunes as a kid but really developed a love for the enduro scene about 6-7 months before we met. What we both lacked in years of experience we made up for with passion in riding. Safe to say, this sport has strengthened our relationship and helped build a strong foundation of trust between us that eventually led to us walking down the aisle.
That said, if this article doesn't apply to you then cool, check out "The Oh Sh*t Items I'm Glad I Had For The Silver Kings Hard Enduro Race" and we'll see you out on the trails!
We all understand that relationships with a partner and the bike take work, and I'm writing this to share what has and what hasn't worked for us.
- To start, it's all about riding dirt bikes. Zach and I sharing the individual passion to become better riders was crucial. Personally, I wanted to dive head first into this sport that made me feel like a beast and meeting this incredible man who wanted to do that with me was a serendipitous bonus. But honestly, passion and personal riding goals will take you far. If your attitude on riding is something along the lines of "I want to spend more time with my partner, I have to ride to make that happen" then that may lead to resenting your partner over time. This one might sound like a no-brainer but you should want to ride, not have to ride together. When I began dirt biking, I would have plenty of weekends where I was too exhausted from falling all over the place on Saturday to then go riding on Sunday. What helped me push past that was working together with Zach towards common goals. I'd practice clutch-ups while he'd practice blips. It was necessary for me to come up with my own challenges to achieve, not only so I could become a better rider but those "little wins" kept me wanting more time on the bike.
- Communicate your boundaries, long term & short term. From the start of our riding journey, a major boundary of mine was that I didn't want to be "rescued" from tricky situations. I realize it can be uncomfortable to watch someone you care about struggle but I insisted that I needed to ask Zach for help before he intervened, unless there was a bear behind me. It was important to me that I wasn't dependent on him in any way while riding. I had to be strong enough to get myself and my bike through tough situations and I knew that using Zach as a crutch would hinder those goals. I'm proud to say that he still honors that boundary today and I don't regret setting it all. That simple communication set the tone for my enduro riding pilgrimage. Even setting small boundaries before a ride can go a long way.
Some ways Zach and I communicate for a better ride can include:
- We both ask if we want to hear advice when we're riding. (At times you just don't want to hear it and that's ok.)
- Zach will ask me to ride ahead so I'm not waiting for him when he makes bike adjustments.
- We talk the day before riding and decide if we want to ride solo or ride together
- If we end up riding solo, that morning we'll share what trails we want to ride for the day. (We do that for safety reasons too, so we'll have a general idea of where each other is riding. Also, Zach and I use the actual trail names to convey where we wanted to ride and that has made it easier to orientate myself on solo days.)
- Be open to switching things up. Variety in how Zach and I would ride together helped keep the beginning learning process fun for us. When we'd hit more technical sections where I might need more time, Zach would slow down his pace and focus riding in more of a Trials style, practicing his static balance without dabbing. It made the slower pace more of a game to him and took the pressure off me so I could focus on the obstacle ahead. With faster trails, Zach and I would change riding positions. I'll admit this one was tough for me, I wasn't the biggest fan of being the line leader on trails because it always felt like I had to push it. On the other hand though, I was pushing it! It taught me to pick lines faster, read the trail better as I ride and it helped calm my anxiety towards racing. There are no mirrors around on single track so having someone behind you, watching your body move on the bike and watching how the bike moves under you is a huge advantage. I would argue that information alone influenced my entire bike setup, from suspension, handlebar bend to foot pegs. You don't know what you don't know and having an extra set of eyes on me, that I trusted, catapulted my progression.
- Solo rides. You do not always have to ride together! There are plenty of times where Zach and I hit warm up trails together and then agree to meet back at the truck 4 hours later. Some days, we'll part ways at the truck for the whole day. Take those solo rides as opportunities to become more independent on the bike. My go-to solo day is to hit trails that I've completed before but ones that still challenge me. If I get stuck in a tricky situation then at least I'm on a trail that I know and in a headspace where I can think about what to do. Not thinking about race time or "where does this trail go?" Ables me to stay calm, go at my pace and develop better strategies for the next time. With that said, always equip yourself for the ride. I carry with me (at minimum) my emergency Zoleo GPS, my phone, snacks and 3L of water.
My final thought on riding with a spouse or partner is that it's the best. Generally, it's all fun and good times but some times it's not, parts break or you lose something or you misunderstand each other. Dirt biking can be a very soul exposing activity. The best days of my life have been riding with Zach but also, some of the most character building moments have been with him and the bike. We've seen each other break down, we've heard the other person yell at the bike... and we're the first to watch each other accomplish the unthinkable.
It's a bond I wouldn't trade for anything and I encourage you to share tips below on how you make riding work with partner when there's a skill deficit involved.