Kyle  picked me up just after 9 a.m. on Saturday morning. I always forget just how close Greek Peak Mountain Resort is to downtown Cortland. A quick drive through the rolling hills of Cortland County and we arrive at Greek Peak about 9:20 a.m. On the drive Kyle explains to me that mountain biking is very different from road cycling, or which I am very familiar with and he tells me to stop calling it cycling. Sounds a little ominous but in a fun way.
When we arrive at Greek Peak, fog is hanging on the mountain and mist is in the air so conditions are less than ideal. So that I don’t look like a complete beginner, Kyle lets me test out his bike in the parking lot. The parking lot isn’t paved so it has some potholes, loose gravel and little bumps.
The bike isn’t like any kind I am used to. It has hydraulics so cycling biking is bouncy but not to the extent that you are coming out of the saddle. Kyle explains the hydraulics help with rocks, tree roots, and whatever else you will encounter on the trail.
After a few tours of the parking lot, I’m ready to tackle the mountain. We went right to base camp where the folks from Advance Cyclery were waiting for us. Before you ride, you have to sign a waiver (just like skiing, zip lining or any activity that has an inherent risk) and then I got my bright neon green and orange rental mountain bike. Many people who mountain bike have their own equipment and it can get expensive. The bikes that Advance Cyclery have available to rent are the real deal and valued around $3,000 each. It costs $100 to rent one for the day which is really a good investment. You get to experience mountain biking on the proper equipment and then you can decide if it is for you as opposed to going out and spending thousands on a bike that may wind up sitting in the garage collecting dust.
I was fitted for my bike and a helmet with a face guard just in case. As an added bonus, I got a Greek Peak Advance Cyclery t-shirt to sport for the day. I definitely looked the part, now just need to see if I can actually do this.
Greek Peak arranged a lesson for me with Dan from Advance Cyclery. If you are interested in a lesson you need to book one in advance and they are only available at 11 a.m. on either Saturday or Sunday.
The first minor challenge is the ride to the top of the mountain. The quad chair has an attachment on it that the bike hooks up to for the ride up the mountain. You just give your bike to the lift attendant, hope of the chair and they do the rest. Getting off is a little more interesting when you’re not wearing skis. It’s more of bunny hop and quick side-step move to get out of the way. The lift attendants take care of the bikes for you, so you just have to concentrate on not getting hit in the head by the chair.
Once you are at the top of the mountain you’ll find the runs are marked like ski runs. Green is easiest, blue is more difficult, and black is most difficult. Then there are trails in red which are freestyle trails with lots of jumps. I passed on those. There is also a cross country trail. In total, Greek Peak has sixteen trails and there is a good diversity for different skill levels.
Before I started my first run, Dan did point out riding a mountain bike is different from a road bike and once on the trails it quickly became evident why that is. You don’t sit down, you need to lean back to avoid putting weight on the front tire, you need to have your feet level on the pedals with your dominate foot forward, and you need to have one finer on each break. It was pretty much the exact opposite of how I road cycle. At some point, you lean back so much that my bottom was sitting go the back tire. No wonder you get so muddy.
We went down a green trail called Keres. The first bit is in the trees, then back out onto a ski run, then through the trees again, and back out to the ski run to the bottom of the mountain. Leaving the woods for the open ski run through the tall, and extremely wet, grass ended up being my favorite part. It was not the best conditions to learn how to downhill mountain biking. I did fall. I fell a few times. I expected to fall and I expected to get muddy. I think that getting muddy was half the fun of mountain biking. At the end of the day I returned my bike and helmet and was sad to go. It felt good to learn a new skill and to challenge myself. I will be back, just on a dryer day.
I enjoy cycling. I try to cycle to work most days. My first bike was a mountain bike. My version of mountain biking was free falling down the back hill of my parents’ house when I was ten or eleven though. Proper mountain biking, surprisingly, is a little different.
 Kyle Maxson is a friend and mountain biker who agreed to go with me on opening day. Although it didn’t take much arm-twisting. Again HUGE thanks to Greek Peak Mountain Resort and Advance Cyclery.
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