Bicycle Network: Skill Up
Hit the grit for some mountain bike adventures.
Want to hit the grit for some mountain bike adventures? MTB enthusiast Jo Chapman tells what you need to know.
You've probably encountered mountain bikers in your travels. They are common in national parks and nature reserves, indeed anywhere green, speeding along fire trails and goat tracks, jumping ditches and flying down steep embankments with no fear. You've also probably heard about those crazy 12- and 24-hour events involving impossible hills and dangerous terrain, and you've possibly thought to yourself, "Gee that looks like fun, but they're all blokes and it seems a bit dangerous. I'll just stick to the road". Well, let me tell you, mountain biking isn't just for the boys. With a few tips and some practice, you'll be riding the trails with the best of them.
I love my mountain bike and I ride it to work everyday. Commuting in traffic I find it much more comfortable than my road bike and easier to clip in and out of the "SPD" cleats than the "Look" cleats on the road bike. Also, I like riding year-round with my knobbly tyres on, so when I jump on the road bike for a weekend ride, I feel like I'm flying!
Riding in an upright position on the mountain bike has many advantages. You can enjoy the scenery, see ahead for obstacles, sit right back on the seat and have a good old chat to your mate, and avoid the neck and back stiffness often associated with long periods in the bent over position required on the road bike.
MTB self sufficiency
When you’re out mountain biking you’re often a fair way from anywhere so you need a decent repair kit and the ability to use it, and a first-aid kit and the ability to use that as well. You also need enough water and nutritious, high-energy food to see you through the ride, and a little extra in case of emergency. Finally, you’ll need a good map.
If you're keen to head off-road, before hitting the dirt, check out the information bar on the right hand side of this page!
Trail riding can be more physically intensive than road riding, and as the name suggests, can involve biking up lots of mountains. For long rides, when you're likely to drink more than two bidons of fluid, it's a good idea to wear a camel-back hydration system to ensure you remain adequately hydrated.
If purchasing a mountain bike, think about the type of riding you are intending to do. A heavier frame will be fine for riders on fire trails and commuting, however those wanting to participate in 12 or 24 hour enduro events might need to consider a lighter frame to assist in uphill riding and greater manoeuvrability on tricky down hill courses. Of course a lighter frame can mean more expense, but chat to your friendly bike shop and they might be able to down-spec certain aspects of the componentry to give you a lighter bike overall.
Having cleat pedals and shoes on your mountain bike is essential. This means if you fall, you'll fall clear of the bike and avoid greater injury. I can't guarantee you'll remain injury-free, but it will certainly assist your chances. Pedal cages are potentially more dangerous as your foot could get stuck, increasing the possibility that the bike will fall on you.
Sturdy short or long fingered gloves are a must, as are clear glasses to keep the dust or the mud out of your eyes depending on the conditions. You'll also need an energy dense snack and a change of clothes and a towel for the end of the ride, as some days you might find yourself covered in mud and freezing cold, or covered in dust and sweaty as hell!
To prepare for your first trail riding adventure, experiment with your mountain bike closer to home. Try some gutter hopping. This just involves getting a bit of speed up then lifting yourself up (the bike will follow) to hop up over the gutter. The same technique applies jumping over rocks and ditches.
The most common falls off road occur when you're trying to unclip and you can't do so in time, so you fall with your bike (normally sideways, and if you're me, into a prickle bush). Mostly it doesn't hurt. The worst I've had are some bruises, some mud and yeah, the odd prickle.
Riding down hill:
Surprisingly the more you brake downhill, the more likely you are to skid and fall. This is particularly so in muddy conditions. When you're riding down hill sit up out of the saddle and towards the back of the bike. This balances you better and allows you greater control.
From experience, the scary downhills and not that scary if you just go with the bike. In most cases, acceleration will carry you along and you won't fall off.
Accept your limitations
I never lead on the trail, as I like to take it at my own pace, and consider obstacles as they arise. Every rider has their own strengths and weaknesses, some are great manoeuvrers, others can speed downhill like a demon, and others can sit in their seat and spin up the biggest mountain. With experience and practise you'll come to know your abilities. Accept that occasionally you will have a fall, but in most cases it is onto soft ground or mud, so much less painful than falling on the road.
Mountain biking is not just for guys. I have some female friends who are brilliant off road and are as fearless as the blokes. As with any sport, there are risks, but if you take your time and gradually build up your technical skills, the fear factor will diminish and your enjoyment will increase.
Go for it!
Now all you need to do is check out the Bicycle Network Victoria website for some fantastic places to ride around our fair state.
Jo Chapman enjoys participating in multi-sport events such as the Sri Chinmoy Triple Triathlon in Canberra, and the Canberra Half Ironman. She has also completed the Melbourne, Gold Coast and Sydney marathons and the gruelling 'Six Foot Track' 45 km run through the Blue Mountains.