Choosing to Accept Michael Hagele’s Challenge to Try Mountain Biking Around California

Mountain biking offers challenges and rewards that on-road rides cannot start to rival. A considerable difference between the two modes that may seem the same to the unknowledgeable observer is the quality of equipment. A graduate of the University of Iowa at the bachelor level and the University of California at Berkeley for his J.D., Michael Hagele likes a mountain bike ride every day.

For a break from his work as a general counsel for technology companies in the aerospace, biotechnology, defense and internet industries, he faces off-road experiences that require determination and physical endurance. The exertion and physical demands of the extreme sport indicate that the body needs to perform as capably and efficiently as the best equipment on the market.

Tackling a New Sport
Hagele acknowledges aggressive high-speed mountain biking as an “extreme sport” that equals the difficulty of aerial freestyle skiing, but he encourages newcomers to give it a try. “Most people can learn to enjoy” the sport with just the practice that they can gain in only a few outings. The right equipment and physical orientation along with a positive mental outlook can produce a successful approach to the sport. An experienced partner can give the kind of advice that helps a novice rider get off to a good start. Bikers must evaluate weather conditions that may include rain as well as sun, storms, high heat, humidity and air pollution while choosing a day for a ride.

Hagele recommends attending a bike skills camp in convenient locations along both coasts and the Mountain West for the best foundation. However, a knowledgeable and experienced buddy can provide the introduction that prevents surprises and teaches a new rider what to expect on the trail. Off-road riding presents rigors that requires adjustment to the demands of the strenuous and potentially hazardous activity. Major cities offer mountain biking parks that provide a realistic picture of the sport with practice tracks of varying levels of difficulty. The complex gearing system on the bikes takes some getting used to, and learning how to navigate inclines, around rockslides, leaves, limbs and uneven terrain enlightens new participants.

Choosing a Mountain Bike
The choice of “high-quality equipment” constitutes such an important decision that Hagele suggests borrowing or renting one until purchasing comes into play. The frame, gears, brakes, suspension, seat and tires on a mountain bike differ widely from a road bike. The tires require a lower air pressure, the bike has a sturdier frame and its system has twice as many gears with up to 27 speeds. Beginners need a suspension system in the front and the rear that can provide maximum shock absorption instead of just a front-end system. The upgraded suspension avoids the “hardtail” effect that bikers can experience on other types of systems. Disc brakes on a mountain bike use hydraulics to provide the extra stopping power that a new rider may require, and it provides speed modulation in all weather conditions. Riders may soon learn the importance of a seat post that can drop hydraulically to lower a seat “on the fly” to help in the navigation of challenging areas and make a trail more fun and comfortable.

Equipping for a Ride
The personal equipment that a rider needs can make the difference between a safe ride and one that creates an unpleasant memory. Hagele recommends a “well-fitting helmet” and a pair of “clipless athletic shoes” as essentials. Lightweight clothing that stretches and breathes can enhance the enjoyment of a ride, and spandex shorts without underwear work well for experienced riders along with a cycling jersey. Athletes of all kinds know the importance of hydration, and off-road bikes have a bracket for a water bottle built into the bike frame. For short rides, Hagele suggests leaving the cellphone in the car so that the trip can provide an exhilarating experience untethered to routine interruptions. Gloves help provide a sure grip on the handles, and a lightweight backpack offers space for an ID and some personal items. Longer trips require a trail map, tire repair equipment, chain lube and some snack bars.

Preparing for a Physical Challenge
Cardio workouts through aerobic sports like mountain biking provide a fitness challenge that may require a period of adjustment for beginners. The problematic nature of the activity makes it inappropriate for anyone who does not maintain fitness regularly at a gym or through cross-training. Anyone who wants to learn the sport needs to start by preparing the body to withstand rigorous exercise under supervision to progress slowly to a high level of fitness. Michael Hagele advises novices to engage in appropriate preparation before taking up “mountain biking in earnest.” When fitness reaches a suitable level, bikers need to understand the number of nutritious calories that provide the necessary sustenance and consume them early in the day.


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On the day of the first adventure into mountain biking, inexperienced bikers need to prepare for the exercise by stretching and warming up the muscles. A slow pace allows a rider to progress gradually without exerting too much energy too soon. Many riders may want to race against friends or try to keep pace with an expert biker, but Hagele advises against it. The approach that he recommends starts with riding on flat stretches. As confidence increases, riders may progress to learning how to go around corners, climb an incline, descend and roll over small obstacles.

The environment on the trail differs significantly from on-road biking, and riders can make a big mistake by underestimating the difficulty and the skill level that it requires. Obstacles on the path may need a biker to jump over them, but Hagele cautions against “jumping off something big” without an adequate plan. A decision to change direction at the launch point can require a trip to an emergency room. Riders need to learn how to handle an obstacle at a slow speed before trying it at a moderate pace. Almost every sport has its etiquette, and mountain biking requires the slower riders to allow faster riders to pass. The courtesy of maintaining a respectful distance from the bikes in front reflects an understanding of the sport, and favorite trails on weekends provide plenty of opportunities to display good behavior.

Enjoying the Physical Benefits
The joy of meeting extreme physical demands that force the body to work hard brings rewards that many people may never have an opportunity to experience. Hagele points out that mountain biking at any level of exertion provides “healthy aerobic exercise for cardiovascular fitness” as well as strength training at a minimum. The psychological benefits may equal or even exceed the value of the physical exertion that mountain biking requires. While he leaves his business interests behind as he goes on his daily bike ride, he finds great benefits in the freedom and open air of the outdoors. Many people who share his enthusiasm for the sport find “fresh perspectives” on the trail that enhance other aspects of life. Creative inspiration may come from the physical exertion of a body that meets the challenges of a mountain bike trail, and many who know the feeling guard the experience with care. The thought of skipping a day does not occur to them. Bikers at the beginner level can achieve the psychological benefits as well as expert riders.

Finding Rewards from Exertion
While not everyone who experiences mountain biking for the first time chooses to pursue it as an “extreme sport of competitive off-road racing,” it offers access to an “exhilarating, immersive and vigorous activity.” The engagement of mind and body that it offers creates a multidimensional experience. As an investor in startup technology companies and a founder of businesses in the hospitality sector, he faces daily challenges that require the range of skills that he possesses. He finds that mountain biking enhances and sharpens them in his work duties. Hagele has experience that enables him to negotiate financial deals in the domestic and international fields of telecommunications, hardware, software and the internet. His experience in developing commercial agreements that include promotional arrangements for technology companies benefits his clients.

With expertise that extends to intellectual property purchases, he analyses intellectual property rights that affect financing options in the corporate arena. He worked as in-house counsel in the Licensing and Online Commerce Group with Fenwick & West in their Silicon Valley offices and learned the ropes of corporate practice. His work outside the corporate structure provides a balance that gives him extraordinary perspective. It has shown him that sole practitioners can offer clients high-quality legal services that provide cost-effective solutions to issues that face technology-focused businesses. Based on his practice as an independent attorney and a staff employee, he believes that “small practices can serve clients better.” When he returns from his afternoon bike ride, he often finds that he can bring a fresh approach, a new idea or a creative slant to an issue that may have escaped him otherwise. The practice illustrates the tenacity that he considers essential. By never giving up on a steep mountain climb or a thorny legal issue, he challenges assumptions and incorporates new information at every opportunity.

Acceptance of Innovation
In his willingness to seek new avenues to achieving goals, Hagele endorsed the use of social media early on as a reflection of his knowledge of the internet and technology. He regards it as an essential component of growing a business and an effective way to connect with customers. Hagele cautions entrepreneurs against overdoing it and recommends an “ongoing dialogue” that informs customers about products and services. His interests now extend to artificial intelligence and its applications for genetic programming. As an investor and adviser to a company that develops applications for nonprofits to use in assessing the most effective uses of funds, he has more than a passing interest.

His company uses machine algorithms to discover complicated data relationships that can reveal “overlooked aspects of program impact.” The patterns that AI observes can provide a basis for expanding programs, reducing costs and preparing the “groundwork” for improved outcomes. Michael Hagele’s commitment to maintaining a blend of physical and mental activity remains even when he has a tight schedule. In place of a mountain bike ride, he finds that taking a brisk stroll around the block can “stimulate energy and creativity.” Anything that lets someone move around can contribute to intellectual and physical benefits. He anticipates the increases in computer power by the end of the decade to make genetic programming a “routine desktop invention machine” that can compete with humans on equal terms.

Learning from Experience
Michael Hagele has a remarkable ability to learn from experience, a trait that guides his direction every day. As a young person, he had the worst job of his life at a car wash in Chicago during the winter. The recollection of the frigid cold on his hands motivated him to “take charge of my education” and find work that has meaning. Years later, he had another learning experience that he has not needed to repeat. In a restaurant venture with a celebrity chef, he and his partners found that the one with a reputation did not endorse the plan for everyone to participate in equity as a form of compensation. In discussions about matters of pay to each participant, the chef showed ambivalence about accepting compensation in equity instead of salary. In retrospect, Hagele views that experience as a “red flag” that he shares with others as a guideline. He believes that a company needs people who invest in its success through equity mechanisms or stock options that let them demonstrate a belief in the organization. His experience over the years shows that people who have some “skin in the game” through equity participation help unify an organization in its push for success.

Choosing a Trail
The San Francisco Bay area offers excellent access to numerous mountain bike trails that appeal to almost every skill level. The beauty of the great outdoors with its dramatic vistas provides the inspiration that Michael Hagele encourages everyone to enjoy. At Berry Creek, bikers can enjoy a comfortable “fire-road ride” and a short hike as well. The trail offers a gentle rise from the coast that may qualify as “flat” to some riders, and it provides an enjoyable ride for families with children. Some of the slopes near the turnaround area may seem a little too challenging to anyone who does not ride regularly, but more highly qualified riders may not consider them difficult at all. The trail stretches from Skyline Boulevard all the way to Waddell Beach on the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail. On a path that has a section that complies with the bike-legal definition and one that offers hiking only, riders can see the reason that Michael Hagele recommends the sport so highly. The ride provides mild inclines in a few places but retains its flatness as it takes bikers through sunlight and shadow under dense tree cover. The beauty of nature surrounds riders with views of redwood groves and the coast.

Michael hagele on one of his adventures in the mountains of San Francisco
Attorney and Outdoorsman Michael Hagele

The Cheese Factory Loop takes riders through extraordinarily beautiful areas of Marin County and idyllic scenes of the coast along Highway 1. The country roads in the area have very little traffic, and the varied terrain with sparse population creates an excellent venue for a ride. Bikers face only “significant climbs” that pose difficulty for less proficient riders, but the trail classifies as an easy one overall. It gives riders access to areas that provide the charm and appeal that Hagele encourages bikers to enjoy. It passes close to Point Reyes Station, a small town that has a short main street that is the feature of the largest town on the trail. Bikers who want to eat or drink, rest or stock up on supplies can find shops and a welcome from owners. The loop offers a “roadside attraction” that recalls bygone days with its little historical schools. They bring to life the memories of the little red schoolhouses from the 19th century that many riders may have heard described in their youth.

The Nicasio Reservoir Loop offers light traffic away from major arteries, lovely landscapes that resemble “model railroad sets” and views of lake and sea. A trail that provides a nice ride for bikers who enjoy a challenge that ranks below ambitious for its elevation and total mileage can suit a beginner’s preferences. The two climbs on the trail may challenge out-of-shape riders. However, the grade changes from 7 percent to 5 percent as the trail climbs higher to give bikers a break. Like most trails in the area, it offers unforgettable scenic views. The second climb resembles the first in scale and slope, but riders get a respite in a flattish quarter mile on the incline. The descent comes a little later than bikers may expect, but it offers a welcome ride through “rolling grassy hills” into the tiny town of Nicasio.

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