Robot’s Useless Reviews – Baby Heads

My son, who is now 18-years-old, 6’2″ and headed to college in August, was once what I called “my shoulder monkey,” a much smaller version of me, who spent hours and hours in my arms, clung to my neck. In my mind, I can still smell the warm, sweetness of the top of his head. It’s one of my best memories.

New England’s topography is largely the product of the retreat of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, which ground the granite surface, churned up stone from deep below, dug the valleys and piled the mountains. One of its many gifts was the deposit of millions upon millions of baby heads, stones the size of their namesake body part.

It is a simple fact of New England mountain biking that you will be undone in your pursuit of even tepid mediocrity by a sub-optimally located baby head. Clear even the stoutest obstacle, and before you’ve had a moment to pat yourself vigorously on the back, a baby head will send you capering over your bars. I count myself a pretty game rider, willing to huck myself hither and yon if it looks like it might be awesome, but even I know that virtually any obvious jump in my home state is likely to have baby heads strewn through its runout.

Places to land are for other people, apparently.

Fun Fact: For many years there was a rock club in Providence, Rhode Island called Club Babyhead. Nirvana played there the day after Nevermind came out. I wasn’t there, sadly.

Baby heads are the enemy of flow, that feeling of rhythm you need from the trail, and even the obstacles, to ride your best. There is also nothing gratifying about riding over them. It’s tempting to turn a thing like this into some kind of badge of courage, like Minneapolis’ riders have done with cold weather. Baby heads are a net negative, but also don’t make you cooler, like riding in sub-zero temps. They jounce and bobble. They throw you off, both metaphorically and literally.

Another Fun Fact: The freeze/thaw cycle of our winters actually forces baby heads to the surface. There are tragic tails of colonial-era farmers clearing their fields of stone in summer, only to see, once the winter’s snow has melted, the field full once more with baby heads. This is, in part, how you know they’re devil spawn. It’s also why there was always an abundance of at-the-ready stone for building walls with during that period of our history.

If one encounters a stretch of trail littered with these awkwardly sized stones, there is a technique I call the “squat” which may be used to ride over/through/into them. Basically, you crouch over your saddle while pedaling as steadily as you can. That hovering position allows you to be your own, additional suspension system, and maybe, just maybe you’re then able to steer the least painful course through the maze. Your results very definitely will vary.

All of this is whining though. It’s like complaining about air turbulence on your way to Bali. Always remember, Karen. Trail riding, in all its forms, is a gift. Baby heads are merely the gray cloud that occasionally obscures the silver lining. Most of the remaining experience of riding dirt is the silver lining in this awful metaphor, as long as you don’t knock your teeth out or break your collar bone. Then it’s all cloud. Whatever. Go ride your bike.

Join the conversation
  1. trabri says

    I saw the Canadian rock band Odds at Club Babyhead in the late 90’s. (They went on to play as The Odds then The New Odds later.) I even remember some of it! -I think.

  2. hmlh33 says

    Perhaps baby heads are to New England mountain biking as ice is to New England resort skiing: nothing good about it yet we appreciate that it’s part of the deal because it always has been. I’d gladly accept an end to both but that’s just not in the cards unless I move. But I like it here. And sometimes there is flow, and sometimes there is powder.

    1. Emlyn Lewis says

      @HMLH333 – Yes. You’re exactly right. The ice and baby heads make us appreciate when things are good. It’s like that first day of spring here, when all the angry Boston curmudgeons are suddenly cheerful for once, like they put a scoop of meth in their Dunkin regular.

  3. khal spencer says

    Friend of mine from LANL bought a new Stumpjumper a good long while back and decided to descend Pipeline Road in Los Alamos on his first journey out into the wilds of the trails. Sections of fast downhill and babyheads. The story didn’t have a happy ending. He couldn’t go into the radiological laboratory for over a month until all the cuts and scrapes healed. But he did recover and get back on the bike.

    Babyheads are there to remind us of the value of humility, and that even if it takes geological time, Mother Nature gets the last laugh.

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