When summer's sun-baked trails turn into winter's muddy slogs it can be difficult to stay motivated and find the inspiration to head out on your mountain bike. So why not shake things up a bit and have a go at something different? Here's a list of 12 things to try in 2011 – one per month – which could help you see riding in a whole new light.
January: Bike swap
Find a willing partner among your riding buddies to swap bikes with. Riding someone else's bike is a great way of making you appreciate your own bike. Choose someone with a similar sized frame if you want to do a proper ride or choose someone who isn't even remotely similar to you in size and shape and just have a laugh. Having a laugh is something we all need when riding in cold and cash-strapped January.
February: Explore your nearby trails
By "nearby" we don't mean your immediate doorstep trails. We mean those areas that are just far enough away that you don't ride them regularly but are too close for it to be worth loading up the car and driving to. You might be amazed at what stuff lies less than 10 miles away.
March: Seek help
Cyclists are a funny bunch. We're quite prepared to drop several hundred pounds on a new suspension fork that will perform three percent better than the old one but we're loathe to pay someone to make us a better rider. For the price of a pair of tyres you can book yourself on a skills day and get a genuine, significant improvement to your riding.
It's not an original suggestion by any means but an annual date with the UK's best mountain is well worth scrawling on your calendar. April is the best time to do it in our experience (the voluntary access agreement means the mountain is pretty much off-limits from May until October). Take your pick of the different ways down (Llanberis, Rangers Path, Rhyd Ddu) – they're all great in their own way.
May: Get involved
Give something back to the mountain biking world. Join your local access group and make sure mountain bikers have a voice about what happens to your trails. We've all experienced trails that have been "ruined" by the local authorities. It's not their fault. How can they know what mountain bikers want if we don't tell them? Better to be bored in a few meetings that lose your favourite trails forever.
June: Do an overnighter
Plot a massive ride that will take more than one day to ride. It's up to you how you choose to deal with the overnight accommodation. You can carry lightweight camping stuff with you and bivvy out on the hills overnight; this is a good option if you want to head out into the proper wilds. Or you can take the easy option and book into a cosy B&B. Either way it's liberating and inspiring to plan a ride that enables you to cast your net much further than you typically do.
July: Enter a new race
If you've become a bit blase or bored with entering the same old events every year, a good solution is to enter a type of race that you've never done before. Whether it's the excitement and nerves of a downhill race or the mental and physical challenge of an orienteering event, you should be able to find some form of competition that will test you in ways you haven't experienced before. You'll also discover that the different tribes of racers aren't so different after all.
August: Off-road alley cats
Inspired by the previous month's new racing experience you might like to organise a small, informal, tongue-in-cheek "race" with your riding mates. In the tradition of the "alley cat" races that are usually put on in cities by bike courier types, take the ideas and more importantly the ethos of those races and translate them to an off-road location. Your "boring" local park woods could be turned into a fast and furious dirt crit circuit.
September: Introduce someone to mountain biking
This is a bit like a "take your child to work day". One of the good things about modern trail centres is that they make it so easy and welcoming for non-cyclists to dip their toe into the world of mountain biking. No map reading faff, all-weather trails, food and drink available, decent bikes to hire... A twist on this is to RE-introduce someone to mountain biking. Most of us have a friend who used to ride but hasn't been on a bike for months or even years. Get them out and remind them what they've been missing.
October: Guide for a day
Using the power of internet forums, volunteer to show a few people around your local trails. This isn't an entirely altruistic exercise; chances are once you've shown a few people your "good stuff", they'll reciprocate and offer to show you around theirs. In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
November: Learn how to build a wheel
Although buying a factory-built wheelset is an attractive, easy and good-value option that's difficult to ignore, when you build your own wheels you're buying an experience. It's something of cliche, but there is something very "zen" about constructing a wheel from its component pieces. Don't rush it as if it's a chore or a "job". Take your time and savour it. As well as a much better tensioned and more true wheel, you'll come out of it with a clear and calmed mind.
December: Repair your inner tubes
If it's cold, dark and miserable out there don't just sit in front of the telly seething. Dig out that box of punctured inner tubes from the garage and get busy with the patches. It's much like the brain-calming experience of building a wheel, but with added smugness. You'll save money in the ensuing months too due to the lack of need to buy new inner tubes when you puncture. Double win.