Scott Livingstone, Software Engineer on Mountain Biking & Motorcycling

My name is Scott Livingstone, I am Canadian, and I work as a Software Engineer in Berlin. After working as an Outdoor Guide and Educator in Australia for two years, I had moved back to Canada and I was looking for a career change. While I was living in Australia, I didn’t own a computer or a Smartphone, and I was spending around 200 nights a year in a tent. I was quite removed from the world and unaware of how quickly it was changing. I then read a book called “Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations”. This book was the exact crash course I need to wake me up to the realities of a rapidly changing globalized world. There was a substantial section of the book dedicated to the power of software as well as the evolution of education. All of this led me to seek out online education in software development. I completed a brief ‘introduction to programming’ course to see if I would like it – I absolutely loved it! I then spent the next year completely immersed in learning about software development and computer science (while working part-time as a real estate agent). I later landed my first junior role at a company in Berlin; after 6 months, I was promoted to mid-level where I am now.

I have always loved bikes. As I kid, I would spend hours riding bikes with friends. When I lived in Vancouver, I commuted everywhere on a bike and I loved it. However, it wasn’t until I first moved to Australia that I learned to mountain bike – which is odd because I had spent so long living in British Columbia, which is a mecca for mountain biking. Some of my co-workers at the outdoor company I was working for were really into mountain biking and they encouraged me to get into it.

Mountain biking is mostly a fun activity for me. I would like to enter a few casual races, but Berlin is really a terrible place for mountain biking so that will likely have to wait until I move again. Currently, I ride an all-mountain steel hardtail 29er. It is a Production Privee Shan GT and it is awesome! I built it up with a RockShox Pike with 140mm of travel, DT Swiss ex511 rims on Hope Hubs, an e*thirteen droppers post, Sram GX 1×12 Eagle, some subpar Magura brakes, and a Nukeproof carbon riser bar.

I prefer to go places with a group, even though the ability to go alone was one of the big initial attractions to mountain biking for me. I had previously been a very avid rock climber, and it was often quite difficult to find a partner and then organize a time that was suitable for both people. Mountain biking feels so much more accessible because it requires very little planning and I can either go alone or with any number of people.

The coolest place I have ever been mountain biking was in northern Canada near Whitehorse in the Yukon. There are some trails there that have been built with the utmost care, creativity and expertise by some of the local youth. I would really love to go back there to ride again.

On the physical side of mountain biking, the training would be the same as in any sport. The more you do it, the more your body becomes conditioned to the demands of the sport. Basically, spend lots of time riding a bike. On the mental side, mountain biking requires confidence and commitment. There are lots of big features that look scary and intimidating but are actually quite easy to do. The bike really does a lot of the work, so what is required is the confidence and commitment to hang on and keep calm. If you hesitate or start to panic, then you will probably crash. Once you are confident and committed and able to stay calm, then you can begin to be aware of how your body is moving and how the bike is moving. Then it is the same as any other sport – you need to be able to detect and correct. Detect flaws in your technique and then apply the correction. Detecting and correcting is the key to doing anything well.

Looking at my other pastime, I got my first motorcycle when I was 16.  It was cheaper than a car and, due to the way licensing worked in British Columbia, I was able to drive it about a year before I would be able to drive a car. I didn’t really understand or appreciate the joy of motorcycling then. It was really a way for me to get from A to B. Truly, I am lucky to have survived that bike; it was a Honda CBR 600 and I drove it like a complete jackass. I didn’t own another bike until I was living in Australia and I decided that I wanted to ride around the country on a motorcycle. So in 2015, I bought a 2001 BMW F650 GS and rode it for 100 days and 30,000km around and through Australia. I am now truly obsessed with motorcycles.

The original exhilaration of riding a motorcycle is still there. In some ways, it is even greater than the first time I rode. I am much more appreciative of the experience as a whole than I was initially. I think being more skilled and experienced at riding frees up some mental bandwidth to really observe and enjoy the full experience. I like to use bikes that are light, agile, and have an upright seating position. Some might use the word adventure bike. I just want something that is comfortable, quick and nimble on the back roads, and that can handle some light off-road use.

I will probably spend another 2 years in Berlin to develop my career and then find somewhere to live where I am able to achieve a better balance between outdoor sports and work. I want to ride my motorcycle to the northernmost point in Norway (hopefully this summer). I also want to go mountain biking in Portugal (hopefully next winter).

There is a tremendous amount of carryover in the skills I developed as an outdoor guide to the soft skills required to be an effective member of a development team. Things such as team building, conflict resolutions, emotional resilience, and other soft skills have helped to make up for a lack of technical experience in my career as a developer. I believe that my outdoor hobbies have been a great benefit to my physical and mental wellbeing, which in turn benefits every other aspect of my life.

My advice for motorcycling is that your first bike should be light, not too powerful, and not too expensive. Old Japanese bikes are fantastically reliable and cheap. Something with an upright seating position is a good choice. If you are taller, I would recommend a dual sport bike. If you are shorter, the high seat of a dual sport can be challenging, in which case just find something that isn’t too heavy and with a seat height low enough that you can touch the ground with your feet while seated.

My advice for mountain biking is don’t buy a cheap bike. Also, don’t buy a stupidly expensive bike. If you are buying a new bike, be prepared to spend at least €1500. If you are buying used, you can probably cut that number in half. The difference between a €400 bike and a €1500 bike is HUGE. It is the difference between the bike actually surviving the abuse of mountain biking and performing well enough to help you maintain traction and control (once you have a bike find people to ride with!). Doing something with someone who is better at it than you is the best way to learn and improve. For the most part, the mountain biking community is quite friendly and welcoming to newcomers. Also, be prepared to hurt yourself and break parts on your bike. Most importantly, wear a helmet!

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