No matter how good they are, every dirt biker crashes. It’s simply inevitable. And the injuries sustained are as colorful as the gear they wear. Sometimes they’re minor, like a bump or a scrape. Maybe a little concussion here or there. Other times it involves a lights-and-sirens trip to the hospital. This is why riders wear all sorts of safety equipment: full-face helmet, goggles, chest and shoulder pads, riding boots, gloves, and reinforced pants. Then, with all our ridiculous-looking gear, we go racing around the most unforgiving terrain - mountain gorges, rocky trails, muddy ponds, motocross tracks - with a silly grin plastered onto our dirty faces. Dirt bikers (myself included) most certainly have a couple screws loose upstairs to enjoy such a hobby. I mean, why quit the injury-causing activity when you can just wear pads to fool your loved ones into thinking you’re safe? Yet despite the risk, we’re all compelled by some unseen force to repeatedly crack the throttle down gnarly trails. I call it the Two Wheeled Fever, where the only prescription is a regular dose of riding a motorcycle of some sort. The faster and muddier, the more therapeutic. In fact, it runs in my family: my dad is a hopeless dirt bike addict, and my next youngest brother and one of my sisters aren't far behind. However, as we all know, sooner or later everyone goes over the handlebars.
Dad was the first one. He was riding in the back forty, not going very fast (surprisingly), when his front wheel caught a rut. Instantly, the little ridge of dirt gripped his front tire and the whole bike went sideways and down, launching him forward into the air. He landed twelve feet further down the trail, plowing head-first into the hard ground. Fortunately, his helmet did its job and protected his noggin, but his shoulder wasn’t so lucky - his collar bone snapped like a twig. The subsequent orthopedic surgery had him vowing to sell all his motorbikes and take up a safer hobby, like cross-stitching or lawn bowling. However, two months later, he was once again in the grips of the Two Wheeled Fever. No sooner had the doctor released him from his sling than Dad was plotting to get back in the saddle and hit the trails.
I went over the handlebars twice. First time I was racing around a farmer’s field. Like Dad, my front tire caught a little rut and I went flying. I still remember the moment of being mid-air, with my downed dirtbike far below me, thinking it was really gonna hurt when I landed. Sure enough, gravity pulled me back to terra firma and I crashed head first into the ground. Thankfully, due to the relatively soft landing on freshly-tilled soil, I walked away largely unscathed.
My second flight was a bit different. I was puttering along a rutty trail when the same front wheel lock-up occurred. My momentum sent me flying forward, but this time my torso caught the handlebars as I went over. I still have the 10-inch scar over my ribs, a permanent reminder to always wear my chest protector.
My sister even took a dive while we were riding together. I looked back just in time to see her hit the ground in a cloud of dust. My relief at seeing her sit up on her own quickly turned to anger. “Marlie!” I exclaimed, “why on earth were you going so fast?!?” To which she sheepishly replied, “I just wanted to keep up with you!” See what I mean about the screws loose upstairs? It’s probably a complication of the illness.
Anyway, Dad and I were reminiscing and laughing about all the crashes over the years, like two old soldiers swapping war stories. Then, after a lull of the conversation, he shared some wisdom that I’ll never forget.
“You know, obstacles are bound to come when you least expect them. They could be anything - a big puddle, log across the trail, nasty rut, jagged rocks, patch of snow, anything really. But I’ve been watching and listening to my dirt bike buddies and noticed a few things about how they approach them.
“First, they all lean back and get their weight onto the back tire. That way the front tire floats over the hazards and guides the rest of the bike safely past. Second, they relax their grip. Dirt bikes are designed to find a way over any obstacle, you just have let your bike do its thing. When you hit a rock and you’re holding on too tight, you’ll unwittingly hammer the throttle and lose control. A death grip on the handlebars could literally be the death of you. Third, instead of slowing down, they give the engine a little gas. Anything on two wheels is more stable the faster you go, so giving the throttle a little more juice, even though it seems counter-intuitive, actually increases your control.”
I listened with rapt attention, taking mental notes as he spoke.
“Last tip: all experienced dirt bikers ride standing up. Sometimes you barely have time to blink before you hit an unexpected obstacle. But when you’re standing back on your footpegs - what they call the ‘attack position’ - you’re ready for pretty much anything.”
His advice seemed so simple, a few basic techniques to ride safer, avoid disaster, and ultimately have more fun. These are the sorts of things that can make a relatively new rider tackle obstacles with ease. Even after we said goodnight, Dad’s words stuck with me. I got thinking that they weren’t just applicable to dirt biking, they worked for life as well.
You see, all of us are in the midst of the ride of our life. We’re cruising along the path before us, but hazards show up without warning. They could be anything that disrupts the normal flow of life and threatens to ruin us - marriage trouble, job loss, car crash, emergency surgery, death of a family member, legal issues, mental health crisis, even just staying up all night with a puking child. Any of these have the potential to ruin us, particularly when combined with rash reactions - as difficult as life gets, we always have the ability to make it far worse with bad decisions. However, maybe using Dad’s dirt bike tricks can keep us from flying over the handlebars and busting ourselves up.
Lean back. Worrying never did anyone any good. We would all be far better off if we sat back and let go of our anxiety. This is where peace comes into play, that is, the ability to rest easy in the midst of turmoil.
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Is 26:3, ESV)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7, ESV)
Life will always throw punches at us, but instead of getting fussed about them, try to roll with them. Don’t sweat it if you can’t change it.
Relax your grip. Sometimes we try to jam a square peg into a round hole - we try to force our own plans or expectations on a situation that simply won’t work that way. It can be terribly frustrating to watch our best laid plans crumble apart because we can’t let go of our inflexible ideas. However, life will carry on, whether we go with the flow or stubbornly oppose it. Gamaliel gave this sort of advice to the Jewish leaders, advising them not to oppose the early church.
Stay away from these men and let them alone… or else you may even be found fighting against God. (Acts 5:38-39, NASB)
We never know when an unexpected trial is actually the Lord’s work in our lives. The nation of Israel certainly didn’t expect that finding themselves trapped by the sea with Pharaoh's army bearing down on them would be a pivotal part of God’s plan. However, as the psalmist says,
Your way was in the sea, and your paths in the mighty waters, [that] your footprints may not be known. (Ps 77:19)
Sometimes God’s way exists where there is no way. Life often doesn’t go according to plan, so we should be careful not to hold on too tightly to our expectations of how things should be.
The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. (Pr 16:9, ESV)
Relax your grip, or you might inadvertently cause your own ruin.
Give it some gas. There’s certainly a time to rest or mourn when disaster is strikes. However, when life throws curveballs, don’t stop swinging! Israel was paralyzed by fear when they were commanded to enter the promised land (Num 14) and subsequently regretted it for the next forty years, so be careful not to let fear hijack your decisions. Often the action done in fear will be to our detriment, while a healthy dose of calculated courage can lead to success.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Josh 1:9, ESV)
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Tim 1:7, ESV)
The Latin proverb audentes fortuna iuvat (“fortune favors the bold”) is the motto of many military units around the world, and for good reason. Courage can’t always avert all disaster, but it can give you a fighting chance to come out the other side in one piece.
Stand up. The Bible tells us repeatedly to be ready.
Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Mt 24:44, ESV)
Stand firm then… with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. (Eph 6:14-15, NIV)
It’s inevitable that hardship and challenges will arise - Jesus himself said that we'll all experience trouble in this world (Jn 16:33). Some problems are gigantic, others are deadly. Often they’re unexpected, and we must react quickly to avoid (or minimize) suffering. As such, we must be ever-ready for action.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Pet 5:7-8, ESV)
Even when troubles are unpredictable, maintaining a healthy relationship with Jesus can enable us to overcome virtually any problem that comes our way. This is what putting on the armor of God is all about (Eph 6:13-18), that is, being ready for attack every time you walk out the door. This doesn’t make us immune to hardship, just better equipped to deal with it.
Conclusion. Not every obstacle in our path needs to lead to disaster. Some of the most fun I’ve had dirt biking is up the gnarliest mountain trails, where there are jagged rocks, muddy swamps, and all sorts of other hazards. All extreme sports - surfing, skydiving, rock climbing, etc. - have an element of danger. In fact, it’s in the midst of that danger that we experience the thrill of being alive and conquering the wave, freefall, or rock face in front of us. Indeed, sometimes our greatest opportunities come dressed as murderous giants (1 Sam 16), but God is able to redeem even the most awful circumstances for good.
In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Rom 8:37, ESV)
Life, like dirt biking, is not without its hazards. Problems are inevitable, potentially deadly, and often unexpected, but they don't have to throw you over the handlebars every time. Remember my dad's advice: keep your front tire light, relax your grip, give it some gas, and always stand with Christ. With a little luck (i.e. grace) you might just get through whatever's waiting around the next bend.