the sound of mountain bike tyres

Recently I took my own advice on being open to life-long learning, and set out to learn something.

Specifically I decided that after years of riding mountain bikes, I should learn some proper technique when it comes to jumping. I can get down most trails, and have fun doing so, but jumps are something else. I like staying in contact with the ground, rubber firmly in contact with dirt, as it where. But at one of the places I ride there is a new trail littered with jumps, and while I can safely roll through them, it struck me that it would be more fun if I knew how to jump.

So I found myself on the trail with Peter, a friend and on this occasion mountain bike coach. We covered lots of technique, body position, movements, bike mechanics and so on, before I started repeatedly rolling through a series of turns and into the first jump on the trail.

At one point I was unsure I was approaching with the right speed, and asked Peter about it. An unexpected answer came back “You’re at just the right speed, you can hear it in the noise that your tyres are making.” Naturally I thought he was nuts – surely it’s about how rapidly I’m pedalling, what gear I’m in, the sense of speed from passing trees?

But he assured me again, “listen to your bike, listen to the noise the tyres are making on the dirt – there’s a kind of sweet spot where everything sounds just right. When you hear that sound, you’ll know you’re at the right speed and can hit the jump.”

A few days later I was reflecting on that advice, as I sat by the beach in Woolgoolga, NSW. I’m on something of a road trip, exploring mountain bike parks and bakeries between Brisbane and Canberra, my ultimate destination.

My mind wandered, as it does, to the nature of sound. What other kinds of sounds can we hear, that maybe tell us something about all being well, and good, and just right?

So I sat, just for ten minutes or so, and listened. I let my ears guide my attention. What did I hear – here’s a few examples:

  • Dogs barking and panting as they ran and played
  • Waves curling, tumbling, foaming and crashing against the rocks
  • Snatches of conversation from passers by
  • The rhythm of footsteps crunching on gravel, including that most Australian beachside flip-flop of thongs
  • The tinkle of cutlery from a nearby balcony as breakfast by the bay was enjoyed
  • Car engines and tyres – of different notes and pitch as cars approached, passed by and travelled away
  • A litany of birdsong (my bird loving friend Warwick would be disappointed that I have no idea what kinds!)
  • The whir of my zipper as I snugged my jacket up tight against the cool morning breeze
  • The call of a surfboat skipper, barking instructions to his crew
  • Laughter – perhaps one of the most human of sounds

As I sat and listened, I picked out natural sounds that would have been heard by this same beach for eons. I heard the sounds of people living life. And I heard artificial sounds, of engine and car door and seat belt.

But all of these sounds seemed like they belonged. It seemed like they were the sounds of life. Of fun, of recreation, of preparation for the day, of life and love and relationship, of creation and wonder and majesty.

I fancy, as I sat and listened, that I could hear the sound of mountain bike tyres on the gravel, the sound they make when everything is just right. It was that kind of morning.