Mountain Bikes: We Need 'Em!

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in The California Events Schedule, June 1993.

This was sort of a sequel to "Mountain Bikes: Who Needs 'Em?" See below for other related articles.

Rumour has it that 80% of all mountain bikes never leave the road, instead plying their wares in the land of cars and trucks. That's too bad, for a world of adventure and freedom awaits the cyclist who dares to brave the paths less travelled.

What kind of a world? Well, a world free of traffic and smog-in-your-face, for starters. Other amenities of the road that are conspicuously absent in the unpaved world are stop signs, traffic lights, intersections to negotiate, drivers who see a target on your rear end, glass and other road shrapnel, plus all that tension and negative energy generated by people and machinery in a hurry. (It's seems like I'm stating the obvious to point these things out, but we're so used to them as "normal" that we don't realize how awful they really are.)

In a word, trail riding is bliss. The only stress is that self-imposed and nearly all of the feedback that one receives is humanoid-free. Talk about escapism! (Don't get me wrong; people are great. We just need a break from them if we want to retain our humanity...) Plus, trail riding is like taking a course in natural history: You can't help but learn about the flora and fauna of the landscape which you traverses. Not to mention erosion, soil types, geography, geology, you name it. Mountain biking is an educational experience, a trip through time, a reminder that we are still a part of the natural world. And perhaps that's why mountain bikers feel so relaxed and at home while cycling trails that may be only 100 yards away from metropolitan mayhem. Out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes...

Interestingly, many cyclists discover the pleasures of trail riding, then still end up plodding the pavement most of the time. It's almost like the paved world acts as a psychic magnet, exerting a special force which conspires to keep us from returning to the freedom and nirvana of trail riding. We would all do well to break those bonds, though, and continually strive to obtain our RDA of trail riding.

Other owners of mountain bikes baptize their bikes into the "real world" by immediately swapping the big knobby tyres for skinny slicks. That's always struck me as wierd: Buy a bike that's made for all terrain riding, for soaking up the bumps and abuse of trail riding, for venturing into the great unpaved, then castrate its most important feature and just use the bike for street riding. What are those 80% of all mountain bike owners thinking? (I know, I know, mountain bikes supposedly make great commuter bikes, but once a commuter bike, always a commuter bike it seems. Don't forget the bike's original raison d'etre, please...)

My suggestion, then, is a simple one: Ride Trails. Make the mountain bike your escape pod, your vehicle for self-transformation, your time machine, your rehumanizer. And if you are part of the 80% crowd, or are new to the sport, a few pointers might be in order. Here are ten tips for total terrain technique:

  1. Join a club and ride trails with other riders. On tricky trails, just stick yourself to the back tyre of a better rider. If she can do it, so can you!
  2. Be prepared: pump, tube, patch kit, basic tools, and a map (know how to use these things, too!), plus two bottles of water and some chow.
  3. Always use whatever gear you need to keep your cadence up. That's why you've got 18, 21, or even 24 of 'em!
  4. Experiment with tyre pressure: drop to 20 pounds for more traction on slippery climbs, snow, or sand, then go up to 35 or 40 for fast fire roads.
  5. Always look for the "best line," that very real part of the trail that offers the best possible traction and rideability.
  6. Seek out all kinds of unpaved riding experiences: narrow, twisting single track, gravel, mud, sand, snow, rock slab, tree roots, whatever you can find.
  7. Try to avoid popular parks during "rush hour." Be courteous to other trail users by slowing down and calling out your intentions. Give wide berth to our equestrian friends.
  8. Occasionally hike or run the trails you most frequently ride. You'll learn much and appreciate them from a different perspective. You just might find that perfect line, too.
  9. Doesn't it seem a bit incongruous to DRIVE to the trails to go mountain biking? It is, so ride your ATB to the trailhead. It only makes sense.
  10. Finally, enter events, both races and organized non-competitive rides. They're fun, enlightening, and will take you to trails and locales that you've never ridden before. (Consult our calendar for events such as the Quick Silver Mountain Bike Race on June 6, TNT Mountain Bike Race on June 12, and the NORBA ATB Race and Wilder Ranch Mountain Bike Race and Fun Ride on June 20, to name a few this month.)

By the way, for those of you who hadn't considered doing a race, know that mountain bike racing is divided into many categories, including age groups, and is famous for its low key, all-for-fun-and-fun-for-all slant. Don't be intimidated by that word "race." Like other forms of mountain biking, races are great experiences for everybody. Take the family, too.

Closely Related Articles

"Mountain Bikes: Who Needs "Em?" — Bicycle Guide, February 1993

"Any Bike, Anywhere" — City Sports, May 1993 and The 1994 Bridgestone Catalogue, September 1993.

"A Rebuttal to Close-Minded Mountain Bikers" — The Bob Gazette, Issue #3, June 1993.

Other Related Articles

"Training Specificity: Who Needs It?" — Bicycle Guide, May 1993.

"The Way of the Outdoor Athlete" — (long version), Triathlete, July 1993.

"Wholistic Training Spurs Superior Skills" —Tail Winds, January/February 1994.

"Planet Ultra: It's Just an Attitude" — Over The Edge, July 1994 and City Sports, October 1993.

"Less Equals More: The one-speed Ibis Scorcher delivers an incredible workout" — Bicycle Guide, November/December 1993 and Wire Donkey Bize 'Zine , Vol.11, No.128, October 30, 1998.

"Never Say Fred" — The BOB Gazette, Issue #8, September 1994.

"When Style Was Effortless And Unmistakable" — The BOB Gazette, Issue #1, February 1993 and Wire Donkey Bize 'Zine , Vol.11, No.128, October 30, 1998.

"Moustaches and Pineapples: Bridgestone's Grant Petersen Speaks Out" — with photos, California Bicyclist, August 1992.

"SCOOP: Darwin Speaks on Bicycle Evolution" — with photos, California Bicyclist, June 1992.