A Mountain Biker’s Dilemma: too many options?

Knowing what you want to do is sometimes harder than actually doing it.

Where do I want to focus my MTB energies? It’s something I think about often this time of year. There are so many directions I can go, and they *all* appeal to me. It’s one of the best things about the sport — the diversity and options:


  • Go chunk-crazy, maybe get an actual big bike, or bolster the ones I have? Bend my moral code and start shuttling trails, maybe race enduro? Wear armor, lots. Skills, skills, skills.
  • Go short, do speedwork (which I do enjoy, on a limited basis), ride hard on local loops and kill strava times. Earn a ‘Pro’ license, just to say I did it.
  • Ride singlespeed, making old trails new and challenging, maybe race some on it too — that idea is intriguing.
  • Competitive bikepacking. Come back for redemption and slay the AZT 750. Do short trail runs and carry my bike around on my back.

    new trail – Ridgeline in the Tortolitas

  • Race many of the enticing new routes popping up in ID, CA, or ones I haven’t ridden like TNGA. New trails, new country and dealing with unknowns while trying to go fast.
  • Pick up a packraft and start map dreaming. There are still routes waiting to be conjured up and attempted, with bikes and boats. I sorta almost know how to paddle. Can learn.
  • Ride the triple crown – try to really nail it on sleep and nutrition, going for the fastest overall time for AZTR/TD/CTR and see if I can do it without being shattered by it. Enjoy lots of time out on the bike, even if non-negligible suffering is a near constant.

  • Dust off the fat bike and head to Nome. Unlikely this winter, but it still has serious appeal.

  • Strike off and tour around by bike, gypsy by trade style. Spend a good chunk of the year traveling, riding trails, seeing friends, and working by laptop.
  • Travel to foreign places and explore new routes. Peru’s Great Divide has been calling me, in particular. The Kiwi Brevet and New Zealand are starting to look likely this winter.

  • Bike-safari with the sports van and/or airstream trailer, setting up camp in cool locations. Ride killer trails by day, compute at night and snuggle up in a cozy portable home.

    calm, content

  • Just ride trails and roads, and simply be. Be outside. Smile at the sun. Ride with my love and my friends. Camp under the stars. No competition, no breaking of new ground or new limits. From some angles the ‘will to win’ is a weakness.
  • Set off on a huge bikepacking trip, riding a route no one has really done or attempted (I have one in mind..). Do lots of map work and see how it materializes on the ground. Big adventure and lots of hike-a-bike, and living off the bike.

And that’s just what came off the top of my head this morning. There’s plenty more. Isn’t mountain biking grand?

Maybe not. There’s an idea in psychology that having too many options is actually bad for us. You can be paralyzed by indecision, worry about regretting your choices (unfulfilled potential?) and be overwhelmed by options and a sea of unknowns. I know, life is tough, right? The brain is barely (or poorly) set up for evaluating uncertainty and probability in even relatively simple and constrained situations. How do we choose the most life-optimal option when there are so many choices and so much uncertainty?

I wouldn’t say I struggle with it, but it does keep me pondering at times. From my view, having too many choices is a good problem to have. It may force you to take a step back and evaluate what you are doing and where you want to go more often, but I see that as a good thing (along the lines of ‘an examined life isn’t worth living.’).

Taking that step back, having a wealth of options, all of which are appealing and will likely lead to good things, is a very fortunate place to be. It leads to a huge sense of gratitude, for everything I have, the life and opportunity I was given and have created. I realize that so many other people are not so lucky. They have far fewer options, even if the lack of options is self-imposed (we only have the options we give to ourselves).

I run into this ‘problem’ a lot. Being self-employed, I can work whenever I want and on whatever I want. The options really are limitless. It’s a great place to be, but it does have its downsides. Occasionally I wish someone would take the uncertainty out of it, and that I could just be done at 5pm on a Friday, leaving work and everything else behind. But only occasionally.

Being self-employed and on the computer, I can also live pretty much anywhere. That generally means I follow good riding weather around, and always follow good trail around. But I don’t have to do either of those. Occasionally I think it’s nice to have some hard constraints that tell me I have to be in certain places at certain times. But only occasionally.

This is mainly a mountain bike diary, so, back to riding. What should I do with 2014? Undoubtedly this topic is on my mind partly because it’s been on Eszter’s. I may be thinking about it now because she has been, but it also may be that my uncertainty and many-options-in-life style is rubbing off on her, too.

Underlying all of this is an internal debate about competitiveness. To race or not to race? And if if I’m going to race, how seriously do I take it? I have great respect for principles like hard work and determination. I enjoy the satisfaction of a long term payoff for an investment. But I have also seen the cost of hyper focusing, doing too much, and an unbalanced lifestyle. Life is too short to be burned out or to be spending six months recovering. I think I am starting to settle on a practice of sustainable ‘training.’ I’ve always had the suspicion that you can get 80-95% of the performance from something like 50-60% of the effort. By effort I don’t mean time spent on the bike or actual effort when riding fast or ‘training.’ I still like riding a lot, and riding hard (at times). I mean the actual overall effort that ‘training’ entails. Everything from workouts, to diet, to rigid scheduling, to focus and (perhaps most importantly) mental energy. You only have so much mental energy to give in life, and focusing everything at training doesn’t leave much for everything else.

striving for perfection – actual tool being used by the Ridgeline Trail crew!

Or maybe I’m just making this all up. Maybe it’s just an excuse for not completely applying myself. I do feel the urge to do just that at times. See exactly how far I can take it. Maybe get my name to show up a few more times on a webpage that only I check (and that I maintain!). But what does that really mean? What does it mean to be the best (in the world, even?) at one given time? A noble goal, or a means to an end? Do we really have to give it 100% of life resources to have it be a laudable achievement, to get there at all, or to have ‘given it our all’? You can still give it your all once you get out there. Isn’t it more about the experience? Isn’t life about the experience? Racing can be a means to an end. A way, a crutch perhaps, to give riding bikes a little bit more meaning. A concrete goal, a way to limit the options and uncertainty (quite literally in the case of following a red line from a GPX somebody else put together).

I don’t have the answers. I am just asking the questions. I do know that, to me, life gets a whole lot more interesting when you have a goal, when you’re doing something new (going where others have not gone before), or are applying yourself. But life is also a lot more interesting when you do many things and strive for some kind of balance.

The answer for what I’ll do this year, on the bike, is uncertain. But I am certain it’ll be some mixture of the above options, and I’m sure it will be good. And one thing is most certain: I will keep riding bikes as long as I’m able.

8 comments to A Mountain Biker’s Dilemma: too many options?

  • Chad

    Mixing it up…I like it. Big bikes at 50 year soon?

  • Hey Scott, Scott in Christchurch NZ here. If you do get to New Zealand this “winter” and want somewhere to stay in Christchurch it would be my honour to put you up.
    My wife and I are both doing Kiwi Brevet too. I would love to show you around, or at least shake your hand on the start line.
    Cheers, Scott

    • Scott


      Thanks for the comment and the offer. We may have to take you up on that! Plans are still coming together — logistics of SPOT rentals being a major one. But I will let you know. I’m hoping to ride parts or all of both the Kiwi Brevet and the Great Southern Brevet. Would love to ride some kiwi singletrack, too!

  • Chad

    Looks like the doors are opening for you to travel, Scott. Do it!

  • Sounds like you’re going thru the same transition a lot of competitive cyclists go thru. Fortunately, unlike football or some other sports, we can keep cycling even after we quit competing. Whether a result of aging, or just many seasons of self denial and obsessively hard training searching for that last, ephemeral 1%, looking around at all the other options can be a good thing. When I used to be riding in the gutter, drooling and seeing stars while attempting to hang onto some guys wheel in a road race, I’d tell myself, “I have to come back here and ride this area and really see it at a time when I’m no longer obsessed with racing”. Now that I’m in my 60’s and still healthy enough to get out there and explore (we went with your idea of “bike-safari with the sports van and/or airstream trailer, setting up camp in cool locations”), I find it just as satisfying as being in oxygen debt, suffering on some guys wheel in order to win a taco dinner for two at Ramones’ Taco Hut. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in zone 5, and I only go into zone 4 occasionally these days, like when a gravel truck lumbers by and I can’t resist jumping on the draft.

  • Scott

    I think it’s more an evolution of a theory of competition and training, effort and balance. It’s not an abrupt transition that I’m going through at the end of being competitive. I feel no slower or burned out. I’m not losing the wheels of riders I used to be able to hang with. My most successful short race season was just 2 years ago, where I had better results than anything over the last decade+.

    I love all the options that MTB life presents. Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming, but I don’t doubt my ability to jump into any of them and have it be successful (however I define that). That’s a pretty cool place to be. As I get older, racing at a high level in XC, endurance or even eventually bikepacking won’t be very feasible. Luckily many of my options above don’t have anything to do with competition. I definitely see that transition as happening eventually, and maybe sooner than later.

    Thanks for the comment.

  • Scott, I love this list!

    “[To] simply be. Be outside. Smile at the sun. Ride with my love and my friends. Camp under the stars.”

    The second to last option of “just riding roads and trails” is stated with a tone of resignation, relatively. However, in reference to all the structured goals in the list above, “to simply be” may actually be equal “to breaking of new ground or new limits”, personally.

    It isn’t possible to write such a list, and not be thrilled that you’ve created such a wonderful life for yourself.

    Looking forward to your journey in the coming years.

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