Hey, Bush--stimulating topic, as usual.
I guess I USED to be a skilled cyclist then. For years, I had a great road bike, a fine touring bike, and a mountain bike. I rode a lot on all of them, and enjoyed every moment of it, from backwoods trails and logging roads in Maine and steep, challenging mountain trails in Colorado, to 1000+ mile self-supported tours (one of the most memorable was a tour from Maine into New Brunswick and around the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec with my college roommate), and many fast road rides alone and with groups on the bright gold Raleigh Superbe Pro race bike that I bought from a bike shop fire sale, that I never could have afforded otherwise. Bicycles provided transportation, recreation, and fun, and kept me fit for skiing through the off-season.
Then they were gone--stolen from my roof rack when I passed through New York City on my way back to Colorado one fall. It was tragic. But I scraped up some cash and replaced the mountain bike the following summer with a top-of-the-line (then!) shiny new mountain bike.
For several years, all I rode was the mountain bike, all over the spectacular trails, fire roads, and single track of Colorado's mountains. I entered a few races, but mostly just rode for fun. I did build a new set of wheels for it and mounted some slick tires so it would be a little more efficient on the road, and used it to commute to Arapahoe Basin one spring--what a difference that made compared with the big, soft knobbies I'd been riding--and it saved those off-road tires for where they belonged too. It was a great bike, and I didn't think I needed anything else.
But one summer, when an opportunity came up to buy a new state-of-the-art road race bike at a very good price, I gave in and bought it. I built it up myself, bought some new road shoes, pedals, and cleats, and took it out to the pavement. I remember it well--that first pedal stroke, where the bike just took off and went! I had completely forgotten the sensations, efficiency, speed, and pure joy that a great road bike can bring, but it all came back at once. I couldn't believe how much fun it was! I was completely hooked, immediately.
Since that moment, about ten years ago, my mountain bike has languished on its hanging hook on my deck. I haven't ridden it, at all. These days, I ride pretty much nothing but the road (yes, I have borrowed a couple mountain bikes for rides here and there when I've been traveling, so I can't say I haven't ridden knobby tires at all). I feel that the bike handling skills I gained from my mountain bike are still with me, and I value them. Fast descents on switchback mountain roads (including my first memorable descent of 14,000' Mt. Evans, when I misjudged a curve at about fifty mph and went right over the embankment, over a rock pile, and into a car-filled parking lot below--still upright and rolling), bunny hopping potholes and big cracks on "rough" pavement, group riding, ignorant cars and narrow or missing shoulders, recreation paths crowded with oblivious tourists, quick little steep ramps up and down...all these things invoke valuable mountain bike-honed skills. While many dedicated roadies shun our often-crowded rec paths in Summit County, I usually choose to ride them, thinking of the constant maneuvering and quick accelerations and decelerations they require as "good training." And dirt roads--we have a lot of them in Colorado, as well as paved roads covered with gravel and sand. I submit that it takes a lot more skill to ride a road bike than a mountain bike on these surfaces. No, I don't often seek them out, but unlike many roadies, I don't go to great lengths to avoid them, either. The annual Eagle-Colorado River Century ride takes place largely on spectacular dirt roads. I've only ridden it once, but it was not a problem on my skinny road tires. I guarantee that my pedaling strength and efficiency, along with my overall fitness, have improved a lot since focusing on the road, and I would be a much stronger mountain biker now if I chose to ride off-road.
Anyway, I must say that I still do feel like a cyclist even though, by your definition, I stopped being one the last time I hung up my mountain bike. It was a choice, a simple personal preference. To each his own, as they say. (Talk to me again in a couple weeks, after I've ridden the Deer Creek Challenge
century for the second time, and tell me I'm not a cyclist. I dare you!
And yes, I must also admit that I sometimes long for a good mountain bike ride. My mountain bike is not even ride-able right now, needing a new chain and tires, at least, and some thorough maintenance. The shifters are damaged from my last crash, although they still function. And, great as it was when it was new, it's all but obsolete now. Parts are hard to find, and I'll also admit to harboring some envy over the new full-suspension lightweight marvels. Some day I'll probably bite the bullet and spring for another mountain bike, when I can. Perhaps it will re-awaken some of the forgotten joys of mountain biking, just as my road bike did on the road. Who knows?
But those sleek and fast new road bike masterpieces look pretty tempting too!