Coming down the mountain: the art of mountain biking

For some people, racing down a rocky trail on a lightweight bike sounds like just about the worst idea in the world. For other people, it sounds like paradise. If you fall in the second category, then you’re probably already aware of the pleasures of mountain biking. In fact, a lot more people have been taking notice since the sport’s beginnings in the later 1970s. When Specialized Bicycle Components introduced its Stumpjumper (the first mass-produced mountain bike in the world) in 1981, it was an underground sport. Today, it’s a full-on phenomenon.Specialized remains one of the top producers of mountain bikes today, along with Gary Fisher, Mongoose, Schwinn, and Kona. To improve their durability (a necessity when they’re being constantly pounded down rocky slopes), mountain bikes usually feature dual suspension, 26-inch or larger tires with a 1.7-2.5 inch width, and specialized handlebars. Other common features include stronger rims, disc brakes, and lower gears for navigating steeper hills. Mountain bikers also use specialized gloves, glasses, shoes, and GPS devices to stay prepared in the great outdoors.Believe it or not, mountain biking caters to all skill levels. Just make sure to start off easy before attempting the more dangerous trails. A ride down a hilly region or a mountain trail with few trees and sharp turnarounds could be the perfect tool for introducing you to the thrill of mountain bikingand it sure beats riding down Main Street in rush hour. Mountain biking styles range from the easy to the seemingly insane. Most riders participate in cross-country cycling, which travels over forest trails, paved roads, and rocky paths. Cross-country biking is targeted at an easy-to-moderate skill level, and is also the only version practiced of mountain biking practiced at the Summer Olympics. All-mountain biking and downhill biking both tackle tougher courses, and both require stronger bikes.Other mountain-biking styles are defined by the actual form of the riding, such as the four cross/dual slalom, freeriding, and dirt jumping disciplines. As you might guess, the latter entails riding your bike over dirt ramps and mounds and trying to nail the landing. In contrast to the tougher bikes associated with all-mountain and downhill biking, riders use lighter bikes with fewer components for this sport.The International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) serves as an advocacy group for mountain bikers to help appease both riders and trail officials, who have sometimes questioned mountain bikers’ effects on the trail. IMBA established rules of the trail to help keep the trails open for future generations. These include leaving no trace and being respectful of wildlife in the region. In addition, riders should stick to the trail, avoid making skid marks, and riding on wet trails.