As my favorite chart shows, fun happens at the intersection of challenge and skill. As long as you’re trying new things and working your kung fu, you’ll be having fun.

One of the many rad things about cycling: There are a zillion ways to improve your abilities and gajillion ways to challenge yourself.

From Mastering Mountain Bike Skills 2nd Edition

It’s not just about riding longer or faster, jumping bigger, winning races or any of the other gross measures of badassness. Riding has unlimited nuance, so many flavors, and so many ways to mesh with our lives and challenge us in meaningful ways.

For a few years I rode as much as I wanted on any terrain I wanted. I thought I was a Big Deal, and it got to the point where any impediment to my riding pissed me off. Seriously, if I didn’t get 2+ hours of Flow Experience every day I was annoyed. If I wasn’t winning races (Cat 1, big whoop!) I was a failure.

One afternoon at Whistler I was doing a timed run down A-Line. I’d been ripping this run every day for a month (riding with Lopes and crew, shooting for the first Mastering Mountain Bike Skills). I was hauling ass! I was bad ass! As I reached an open area, some guy looked at me and dropped in. “HEY!” I yelled, “I’M DOING A TIMED RUN!”

How dare this guy get in my way? The dude looked back over his shoulder, took a pedal and started pumping. I cranked and cranked because I was on a PERSONAL BEST TIME. But, wow, he was pretty fast. I held his wheel — trying as hard as I could while he obviously cruised.

At the bottom he pulled aside and apologized: “Sorry mate, I didn’t know I was in your way.” I was like, Whatever, then I looked at the name on his top tube: NATHAN RENNIE.

Oh man, I was sorry.

Dude: When you’re yelling at Nathan Rennie to get out of your way, you are 1) a jerk and 2) deluded.

Those days are over. Now I don’t get to ride as much as I want. I get on a bike pretty often, but it’s almost always for teaching, errands or “training,” which is mostly the indoor trainer and pump track. Big adventures and big glory are pretty much out of the question.

Now I’m focused on teaching, learning Skill (capital S), building on my weak areas and enjoying the path to mastery. My technical skills used to be my weakness; now they’re my strength. Lab tests confirm I will never be a great pedaler, but — man — I am enjoying the process of becoming a less sucky one.

Last summer I taught at Valmont Bike Park at least several times a week. That’s on top of two other jobs plus all the track building and other Lee Likes Bikes ventures — plus trying to be a good Daddy and Husband. On those harried days, I’d warm up for coaching by riding 10 laps around The Glades or 10 laps up the start hill and down the dual slalom course.

My 10-lap Glades times started at about 30 minutes and got down to 27. My 10-lap slalom times started at 20 minutes and got down to 17. I enjoyed these missions because they let me lose myself while I worked my aerobic base, functional strength and riding skills. That’s a lot of action in 27 or 17 minutes, and that was the bulk of my personal riding.

As soon as the snow hit, Valmont closed, and we Valmontians went back to whatever it is we do. This winter I’ve been working a ton, stressing a lot and trying to stay sharp. I turned my aerobic training up a notch on the trainer. I rode my pump track. I did my best to stay on top of mobility and strength (but my shoulders really are falling apart).

Yesterday morning I hit Valmont on the way to a work meeting. I felt tired and crappy as always, but — dang — I rode pretty well. I turned the 10-lap Glades in 25 minutes (2 minutes faster than ever), spun easy then banged out 10 slalom laps in 16 minutes (more than a minute faster than ever). While I rocked these mini adventures, I felt smooth, solid and strong. None of last summer’s low-back pain, plenty of juice to spare.

I was stoked! Probably more stoked than timed runs at Whistler and definitely more stoked in a long-term sustainable way than when I was chasing wins.

Life has gotten pretty hectic, and my riding has changed, but I’m fitting it in the best I can — and I am rocking at the intersection of challenge and skill.

Where are you on the chart?

Know more. Have more fun!

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23 replies
  1. Paul says:

    Good post Lee. I know what you mean about staying sharp over winter. I always beat myself up over how much ground I have lost but then I realize I havent really lost any and putting yourself down does not make you faster. Focusing on what you are doing well and just being laid back about things, like you said is the best advice and will allow you to enjoy yourself. Which is the point.

  2. Gary says:

    Nice as always. I’m in a very similar place and couldn’t agree more with your words. I do have to edit one thing for you though:

    “…trying to be a good Daddy and Husband (capital D and capital H).”

  3. Judd says:

    Ditto to all that! I learned a long time ago to that even when you in that fun zone when your so focused on being better then everyone else at the next race or the trail your on fun goes out the window.

  4. max says:

    The enjoyment and fun for me comes in the process. Finding new ways to make yourself and your body better. Trying to expand your mind even further to your own possibilities. Staying relaxed throughout it all I find is the best way to up the fun factor.

  5. Rey says:

    Lee- @ I just turned 46! I’m desperaretly trying to get my manual Kung-fu belt. Still ride bmx and have a liitle pump fun with my 26 djer too. Jumping isn’t a problem either. What the he’ll is wrong with me?! Do I just need to commit and loop out once or twice? Haha.

    It is my ONLY goal for this year! Pls help,master.

  6. leelikesbikes says:


    Ha, I was just thinking about this phenomenon today. When I get a chance I’ll post more on this, but for now I’m afraid to tell you:

    If the manual gene hasn’t shown itself by the time you’re 30, it probably won’t.

  7. rey says:

    that’s just it, I remember pulling decent ones in six/eight packs as kid racin bmx. I can wheelie ok but my brain just can’t link it up anymore. I’ll get a quick short 2 in a six-pack at a track then lose it. I love your book and it really is alot of fun for me to go thru and work on things. I can hang with twentysomethings on a good day because I work on those skills you outline all the time.

    i guess I should feel great about my skills compared to what my peer group has that I roll with but you hear about comeback stories all the time so i figured…so I’ve hit my head on my aging genetic ceiling, hunh? damn. it’s so much fun trying though!

  8. leelikesbikes says:

    Manualing between rollers is totally teachable. You can get that dialed. As a matter of fact, the book Pro BMX Skills has detailed info on that.

    Manualing down the street is another story. I’m beginning to think that’s genetic!

  9. rey says:

    thanks for the replies, Lee. I’m onto the bmx skills book next! like you said – fun happens where challenge meets skill or in my case til i loop out on my manual attempts!

  10. leelikesbikes says:

    I’ve been told to loop out on purpose — over and over again. It’s the only way to get over that fear and prevent that tension that hits when you reach the balance point.

  11. Agleck7 says:

    The “manual gene” idea is somewhat comforting, but disapointing too. While I’ve been able to pick up manualling rollers pretty well and fairly quickly (only one at a time), I’ve also been trying to learn to manual on flat all winter and haven’t made much progress. I guess I’ll keep trying, but if I just can’t get it I’ll know it’s not my fault 😉

  12. chance says:

    At rey, you haven’t hit your celling yet! 40-50 if you take care of your body is actually your genetic prime! So keep working hard, maybe go to get his strength program and do some dumbbell swings great excercise to build up those hips to snap that manual in place! good luck i know you can get it!

    Allen! we will work on the manual together this summer! I know you have it in you!

    I guess the only think I can say is start with the smallest wheels you feel comfy riding because the bigger they get the harder it is to ride a manual very far IMO

  13. rey says:

    thanks, chance. lee is right. I just have to pass the fear to get thru the tension that holds it all up. 20s definitely is easier. Have pulled a few (to my surprise) on the trail for ten feet or so on my enduro which is hard to do on something so squishy! I’m thinking the gene isn’t recessive!

  14. rey says:

    lee,does your inline history go as far back as bonts and hypers? no inline racing for me but does hockey skating count against me?

  15. Billy says:

    Is it in the genes? Yes and no. Some people learn faster than others but anyone can learn/do anything with enough time and determination. Fun happens when challenge meets skill is 100% dead on. Laird Hamilton points out in his book “Force of Nature” not to shy away from being a beginner at anything because it literaly keeps you young, like a child learning to walk, no muscle memory to fall back on. He goes on to state that Drs. have conducted test that show that learning a new sport (I.E. new skills/techniques) does more to fight off altzhimers/dementia than puzzles or games. But the coolest part, which Laird stated in his book and I believe Lee and Brian also stated it in there book, is that no matter what level you are at if your skill matches the challenge your having fun. First time out or going for the world cup victory.

  16. leelikesbikes says:

    Very nice.

    I just finished a DJ clinic with the legendary Yellow from Yellow Designs Stunt Team. I was the student — and I learned so much (and had so much fun!).

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