Are you ready to hit the trail? Whether you're a seasoned mountain biker or are just getting started, you won't want to miss all the fun you can have on the trails this year. Mountain biking is a terrific sport. It takes you into gorgeous wild spaces, lets you cover miles of terrain that you could never manage by foot, and is just plain exhilarating. Most importantly, you can choose trails to fit your skill level, making mountain biking a sport that can grow with you as you develop.
What makes mountain biking different?
Mountain biking is done on a trail, using a bike that has wide, knobby tires. (Narrow tires, like what you'd find on a ten-speed bike, are for road biking only.) Some mountain bikes also have shock absorbers on the front or back forks to take in some of the shock of downhill riding. Mountain bikes are more durable than road bikes and therefore they tend to have heavier and stockier frames.
Riding a bike down a trail comes with unique challenges. Just as hitting a sudden pothole in the street can send a road biker head over heels, holes and divots in the trail spell trouble for downhill riders. Mountain bikers learn to spot and avoid trouble spots, and they use their bodies to help protect them from trouble. You may also want a different helmet than you wear for road biking (ask at your local sporting equipment store).
Using your body
A few tips will help you stay on your bike and rolling forward. First, if you're going downhill, keep your weight as far back as you can. Sit with your butt on the back end of the seat, almost in an exaggerated stance -- this will keep you from flipping over the front of your bike. If you're on flat terrain, however, it's better to keep your weight evenly distributed over both wheels, since that helps with traction.
If your trail is bumpy, try lowering your seat by about half an inch. Keep your arms a little bent so you can absorb shock and maintain an easy grip on the handlebars. Pedal with the balls of your feet (not your toes or heels). Keep your head up, keep looking ahead, and stay alert! Mountain biking is all about being in the moment, watching for hazards, holes, divots, and rocks in the trail, and enjoying the thrill of biking outdoors.
Because mountain bikers can get so far off the beaten track, it's important that you be well prepared for emergencies. Always carry water and some kind of all-weather gear (such as a rain jacket or poncho), sturdy shoes, and sunscreen and/or sunglasses. If you're new to mountain biking, be sure to stick to well-traveled trails at first. Make your first wilderness experience be with an established group or biking coach. Before you head out on your own, be sure you know how to make basic repairs to your bike and how to care for yourself in your particular wilderness. Mountain bikers have an ethic of self-sufficiency, so the more you can take care of yourself the better.