So, you’ve been riding your bicycle in town, on paved streets and paths and have even been exploring your world near and far, but you’re ready for more of a challenge. You want to see just how far your rolling steed can carry you. The allure of the misty mountains is becoming irresistible. It’s time to consider mountain biking. In this article you’ll learn a bit about styles of mountain biking, buying the right bike, and some basic trail rules.
Mountain biking encompasses any riding off paved surfaces, from rolling down gravel roads to screaming down mountainsides. The degree of extreme is all up to you. Your goal might be to enjoy the scenery while exploring old forest service roads or touring through the backcountry, going further each day on your bike than you possibly could on foot. On the other hand, you might decide to seek out single tracks that challenge your skills while you splash through mud and jump logs, rocks or whatever else Mother Nature throws in your path. Perhaps you want to compete: your choices include races downhill, cross country, short or long distance, or trials through nearly impossible obstacles. Whatever your choice, mountain biking always includes varied terrain and some degree of maneuvering around or over obstacles.
The type of mountain biking you envision doing will help you choose what kind of bike to buy. The options out there are nearly endless, but perhaps the most important piece of advice I can give you is to take advantage of your local bike shop. When buying any kind of bicycle, but especially a mountain bike, you get what you pay for. While it might be tempting to pick a knobby-tired bike off the shelf at the local big box store, the quality you’ll get will have you buying a replacement before your first season is over. Do yourself a favor: find a reputable store, spend some time talking with the experts there about the kind of riding you want to do, and have them help you choose the right bike for your riding style and pocketbook. Not only will you get a quality bike, but the right shop will help you make sure it fits you comfortably, can give you advice on where and how to ride, and can repair the bike if it gets damaged.
Once you have your bike, it’s time to find a place to ride. The bike shop where you bought your bike can be a big help in this area, too. Check with local bike clubs: they can not only direct you to trails, but you might just find some new riding buddies, too. For riding areas further afield, try the internet. Just search for “mountain biking trails” in the area in which you’re interested. I just searched for trails in locales that seemed unlikely to me (Iowa, Nebraska and Rhode Island) and came up with multiple website listings for each. No matter where you are, you’ll be able to find somewhere to ride. One important note, however: please be sure that the trail you want to ride is open for mountain biking. Many national and state parks close their trails to cyclists, so be sure you are on an approved multi-use trail.
Once you’re on the trail, there are a few common sense, good citizen rules you should follow. The International Mountain Bicycling Association (www.imba.com) has published six Rules of the Trail which will help ensure you’re a good cycling citizen.
1. Ride on open trails only. Not only can you get in trouble for riding on closed trails, you won’t be a positive force for promoting mountain biking.
2. Leave no trace. This doesn’t just mean carrying your garbage out with you. It also means being careful not to widen existing trails by riding around muddy areas or creating new trails where they weren’t meant to be.
3. Control your bicycle. Many mountain bike trails are in multiuse areas. Don’t ruin your day, and someone else’s, by riding uncontrollably and running into another trail user. Try not to hurt yourself, too!
4. Yield to others. On your bike, you’ll often be faster than most other trail users. Promote good will and safety by slowing down, getting out of the way, and giving everyone room on the trail.
5. Never scare animals. The above two rules are especially applicable when you encounter horseback riders. Horses can be very skittish when surprised and could hurt their rider or you. Wild animals such as bears are also more likely to attack when startled.
6. Plan ahead. Your mountain bike can take you further into the wilderness than you can get on foot. Be sure you are prepared to be self-sufficient. Carry spare parts, tire repair equipment, rain gear, food and water. Plan ahead to make it out alive.
This article just barely scratched the surface of the mountain biking world. There are many wonderful resources available in print and on-line which can provide more information, but as noted earlier, one of your best sources is a reputable local bike shop. Get out there and ride!