While visiting friends in Missoula, Montana, I very much wanted to check out the mountain bike scene. I searched the internet and found a bike shop from which to rent a bike and a weekly mountain bike group ride.
I admit that I picked the shop, Missoula Bicycle Works, because they sell Konas and might have a bike with which I had some familiarity. Sure enough, I rented a Blast, Kona’s 2014 entry-level 27.5” hard tail.
You might ask, “You’re rather used to nice stuff. Did it bother you that you rented an entry-level bike?” Good question. I’d thought that maybe they’d hook me up with a Process or a Hei Hei or a dual-suspension something, but such was not the case. I wasn’t unhappy about the Blast per se, but I did wonder if I was going to be in trouble on a hard tail. (short answer: No. Not at all.)
I rode the bike from the shop to my friends’ house and immediately saw that Missoula is maybe five or so years ahead of Kalamazoo in bike friendliness. Road diets have been undertaken. Bike lanes are numerous. Traffic is bike-aware. I couldn’t believe how safe and fun it was to ride through and around downtown. My buddy assured me that Missoula was recently much like Kalamazoo — multi-lane, fast moving roads with very little consideration to non-motorized traffic. This news gave me great hope for the efforts underway in my city.
A huge difference between mountain biking in Missoula and Kalamazoo is that the trailhead was a stunning 2.1 miles from my friends’ house. Google predicted that the ride would take me 23 minutes by bike, which brings me to the second major difference: significant elevation change. It was straight uphill to the trailhead.
At the trailhead I met up with very nice folks from the Thursday Night Mountain Bike Group in Missoula. I explained that I was a stranger from a very flat land and that it was OK if they had to kill and eat me if I fell behind. And up we went.
And up and up and up and up. It was an amazing experience to just plonk the bike into its lowest gear and follow the guy or gal in front up the hill, grinding away. The Blast was pretty interesting in this regard as it is light in the front, and I had to take care to put enough pressure on the bars to keep wheelies at bay.
While we were climbing, a lady asked me what was different about mountain biking in Michigan. I said (though how I was able to speak remains a mystery) that where I live it’s much flatter and faster. As soon as we started to descend, I ate those words. Holy cow these guys scream down the mountain. Much of what Missoula locals refer to as two track is not the improved dirt road that we experience locally. It’s two single-track rocky trails with a narrow prairie in between. Amazing. And again I will say that the Blast was a good friend. There are times when I may have questioned the judgement of going warp ten down an unfamiliar trail, but I never worried about the bike. Fun. Super mega awesome lung-busting fun.
I returned home just in time for dinner, 3.5 hours after I left. I was very tired, very hungry and filled with the good feelings of a big effort. I’d like to thank the Blast for being a great companion and the Thursday Night Mountain Bike Group for their unsurpassed hospitality.