The extreme sports of mountain biking and social media

June 10, 2008

Mountain BikingI’m a wuss.

I say this somewhat abashedly as it’s not cool to admit that you’re a wimp in the rugged U. S. of A.

About five years ago when asked to enter an adventure race that included mountain biking, I said “yes” with major trepidation. I’d had little to no mountain biking experience, but my boyfriend assured me that it would be gravel trail – no crazy single track, no insane obstacles.

One hour later, I flew down a single track sandy hill in a borrowed bike. Desperate to stop, I ignored the one command I’d received “never slam the brakes.” Not so surprisingly, I ended up in a crumpled heap about 10 feet away from my bike covered in blood and bruises. Luckily, I was able to finish the race with my broken nose* and beaten shins. Oddly, I did not become a mountain biking enthusiast.

Due to my wuss-itude, I did not hop on a mountain bike for four more years. Last year, I decided to tackle my fear with a few simple steps.

I’d like to think that these simple steps could also serve as a guide for diving (or wading) into social media.

It seems that some have an unhealthy fear of social media. We mask it by saying “I’m too old” or “I don’t want to live online” or “I’m not interested,” but really social media is an unknown and the unknown is scary.

So let’s hop on that metaphorical bike and squash those lingering fears of social media.

1. Read up
I’m a bit of a nerd so when I decided to hop back on the bike, I read up. I bought a “how to” book (still getting mocked for that one), read mountain biking blogs, and thumbed through the latest magazines.

When entering the sphere of social media, do read up first. Find the top blogs that cover this space. Search “social media” in google news for the latest from the traditional media. Visit commoncraft.com.

2. Practice in a safe space
My next step was joining an all-women’s mountain biking group. We were grouped by experience and I loved learning how to bike with woman who shared my fears of downhills, log piles and creeks. Similarly, what’s better than trying out social media with a group of friends or colleagues who are in the same boat?

Recently, I attended the American Red Cross advanced public affairs conference. Alongside their traditional media relations training, the Red Cross asked their volunteers and staff to learn how to blog with WordPress, create podcasts (using Utterz) and use flickr to tag and share photos. The Web 2.0-leery were soon embedding photos and linking to their audio files with no qualms.  

Add a private Twitter account and give permission to your circle of friends/colleagues or create a locked-down WordPress blog where you can experiment with the various functions. Practice social media in a safe, secluded space until the basics feel comfortable.

3. Venture out with those better than you
After several rides (ok, a year’s worth) with the all-women’s group, I’ve since attempted to bike with my boyfriend and his group. While they’re a laidback group, they don’t stop to commismerate over rock gardens or take water breaks. However, biking with them makes me better (or so I’ve heard…)

To truly experience the joys of Web 2.0, you have to participate in the larger community. So take a leap and follow some A-list Twitterers, comment on a blog or two, share public photos in flickr, or join a new social network.

4. Celebrate the small victories
Let’s be honest: I’m a pretty horrific mountain biker. Just yesterday, I jumped off my bike when confronted with a crazy dip and then managed to fall down the side of the hill because I forgot to clip out. However, if I dwelled on my shortcomings, I’d never jump back on the bike. Thus I celebrate my small victories… and I do mean “small” (i.e. any size log pile, rock garden, sharp turn, etc.).

Social media can be a cruel creature. It’s highly unlikely that your carefully developed blog, closely monitored Digg account or Pownce profile will develop an overnight following. While you may be pouring your heart and soul into your new social media self, the rest of the blogosphere is not noticing. Enjoy your everyday milestones – your first follower on Twitter, the first non-spam comment on the blog, 10 Diggs on your submitted piece.

Still leery of the murky social media world? Look on the plus side: a misstep in social media may lead to some online embarassment, but it’ll never end like this.

*I *swear* that the photo of my broken nose has vanished; I would share it if I could.

Image courtesy of Thorne Enterprises.