How I Found Community and Self Confidence in Mountain Biking

How I Found Community and Self Confidence in Mountain Biking

Sam James riding in Sydney

 I feel pretty lucky to have lived and ridden in Australia.

Cycling is a pretty amazing sport, and I'm proud to have called it my own for over a decade now. While no single person can 'own' cycling, it belongs to all of us, and means something different to each and every person, and that's why I think it's so amazing.

I can only speak for myself here, but cycling has done so much for me personally. Hobbies and interests have come and gone, but cycling has remained a constant for me, something to always be passionate about, and I think there are a few different reasons for that.

Sam James UK Student DH champs

 Back in my early days of riding... Who remembers when downhill bikes were cool?!

When I was a kid, I was not particularly athletic. Growing up in Hucknall, a relatively poor (at the time) town in the UK, most other kids there were into football (soccer to the rest of the world), and I just didn't get it. I couldn't do it, I didn't find it interesting and that meant that I struggled to make friends. If you weren't into football, there wasn't a whole lot else to do in my town.

When I discovered mountain bikes in my early teens, something clicked for me - I knew I was into it, but it took until I was at university for me to really get into the sport. I never had much money, my home trails really sucked and I didn't really know anyone else that rode, but I still did my best to get out there and ride what I could with the bike that I could afford, though I was often alone.

Sam James mountain biking in wales

 Moving to a place with mountains in my back yard helped with igniting my passion for riding!

I moved to Bangor, North Wales for University when I was 19 specifically because they were one of few universities to offer the course I wanted and had great riding nearby. After starting university and joining the mountain biking club there my interest skyrocketed. Suddenly I had a bunch of friends with a shared interest and some amazing trails. Suddenly I felt like I had a place that I belonged and could be myself, and that was awesome. This helped me massively with my self-confidence.

I find it much easier to speak to people and be myself now that I feel comfortable in my own skin.  Not many people speak about men's body image issues - as men we tend to hide it away and pretend that it's not there, but it is. The fitness that I found and maintained through cycling helped with my body image. Though it did take a while, now I feel better than ever about the way I look and feel, and am much happier for it. All of these things have helped me to get out there, make friends and gave me the confidence eventually to travel the world on my own.

Sam James mountain biking in the alps

 My first trip to the French Alps with Bangor University Mountain Biking Club back in 2012. Things have come a long way since then!

Ever since university, most of my friends have been cyclists - it's easy to make friends when you have a shared passion, and most cyclists that I know are kind, warm hearted people. Cycling is great at pulling people together from all kinds of backgrounds, places, age-groups.

It can be tough these days for people to find connection, and I think that anything that helps to unite people rather than divide them is something valuable that's worth hanging on to. I have friends from all around the world, friends from different age groups from 10 years younger to 30 years older than myself. Where else can you find that? I'm stoked to have such a diverse group of friends that I might never have known otherwise.

Jasper, Canada

 I wouldn't have been hanging out with this goofy bunch in the Rockies if cycling hadn't taken me to Canada.

Cycling for me poses a challenge that as modern humans we're rarely accustomed to these days. With our wifi, coffee shops, cosy homes with heating, fridges etc., we have pretty comfortable lives. Cycling allows us to push our comfort levels to a place that we wouldn't usually, and that helps me to feel grounded - it gives a sort of perspective and makes me feel more humble for it. Whether I'm pushing my fitness on a climb, pushing my descending technique on a technical trail, or getting re-acquainted with mother nature in some remote unforgiving terrain, all of these things help me to feel more humble and know my place in the world. I love the feeling of adventure that comes with being out there - absence of the modern world. Where there are no conveniences, and you can't just bail out if you're feeling a bit tired. I think this is part of the reason that cycling helps to span such gaps between age groups, cultures etc. Mother nature doesn't care how old you are or where you're from. The pain cave doesn't care. We're all in it together, because what else do we have?

Craigieburn, New Zealand

 I love the feelings of solitude and adventure that mountain biking can bring.

For Debora, mountain biking allows her to be mindful as she feels that you can't just switch off while you're riding your bike. I love the same thing for perhaps the opposite reason. I love that it forces me to focus on the trail, and filters everything else out. No mundane distractions. No thoughts of work. No worrying about the little things that don't matter. Just me and the bike. I love the feeling of flow that comes when you're just absolutely nailing a section of trail - you're so focused that you barely have to think. Total tunnel vision, big adrenaline hits. It's what I live for, it helps me stay sane when I've been working a little more than I'd like, or am worried about something.

Cardrona, New Zealand

 Getting to live and ride in New Zealand in 2018-19 was a pretty amazing experience.

Last but not least, I love what all of these things combined have done for me. My passion for the sport, willingness to learn and my new-found self-confidence have allowed me to travel the world following my passion. I've been fortunate enough to have lived, worked and ridden in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. I've met some amazing people along the way, been to incredible places and had some truly unforgettable experiences, all because of cycling. I'm literally living the dream right now, living on the North Shore, working in a bike shop. I love my job here at Steed - being able to share my stoke, get other people excited about riding and keeping their bikes rolling. 2019 has been an amazing year for me, and I'm excited to see what 2020 has in store!

See you on the trails!


North Shore roller coaster I'm stoked to have landed on Vancouver's legendary North Shore!