Mountain Biking Tips From a Newbie

6 09 2013

Ok, so I may have only been once and I my experience is limited to Florida riding, but I wanted to share some of my lessons learned from my first experience mountain biking:

1) Bring nutrition (Gels, powerbars, etc) and carry your water in a Camelback. When I prepare for my normal rides, I pack plenty of nutrition and I bring lots of water bottles. When gathering my things for this ride, it didn’t even cross my mind to grab a Gu or Luna bar- I guess I didn’t think that I would need some mid-ride calories? I definitely could have used a little pick me up in the middle of the ride, and I could tell I really needed it by how exhausted I was at the end of the ride. Water bottles also aren’t ideal for a ride filled with lots of bumps in the road- use a Camelback instead.

2) There is no shame in walking. I was riding with a great group of guys and not once did I feel bad about getting off my bike and walking down a hill that scared me or an incline that would have send me backwards. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

3) If you get off your bike on an incline, hold your brakes, otherwise your bike will want to slide down the hill and take you too!

4) Shift often. When road biking, especially in Florida, I don’t really need to use my shifters all that much. When mountain biking, you are CONSTANTLY adjusting because the terrain changes so quickly. Anticipate the hills, so that the hill doesn’t stop you in your tracks!

5) Stand up and/or stand and hover back on the bike when going down hill. If you’re on the seat or your weight has moved forward, you are at a high risk to flip over your handle bars. And that wouldn’t be good.

6) It’s not as scary as you think.  This is a lesson I’m still trying to learn. Bill reminds me that he would much rather fall while mountain biking, where he’s not on hard pavement and he’s going a lot slower than 20 mph. Good point.

 

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First Time Mountain Biking

5 09 2013

My boyfriend Bill has been mountain biking for YEARS. He was really into it when he lived out west, and spent countless hours roaring down mountains and jumping over obstacles. When I met him, it was clear that mountain biking had been a huge part of his life and still was- though, as you can imagine, biking in California and Nevada is WAY different than biking in Florida. Regardless, he still got out and rode whenever he could, though it was mostly powering through town, hopping over parking blocks, off curbs, and down steps.

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Unfortunately, Bill and I had never really ridden together because a) I didn’t have a bike to ride and b) having never been,  I was pretty stinkin scared. Well, that all changed this weekend when my friend Chris invited us to go mountain biking! Chris’s friends had an extra bike (or two) that they brought along as we headed up to Croom in the Withlacoochee State Forest (insert puns now).

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As we drove up to Croom, my mind was trying to wrap itself around what exactly I was about to do. I’d never been mountain biking before and all my “real” riding experience has been on road, so I was trying to figure out exactly how this mountain biking thing works. Not the whole pedaling part (duh), but when I go for a ride on my tri bike, I’ve got in mind exactly how far I’m going for the day, approximately what my pace will be, and what I can expect to see on the road/paved trail I’m riding.  It’s a pretty predictable workout. But with mountain biking, I was clueless- Were we going to ride a certain distance? For a certain amount of time? Chris and Bill assured me that I would be fine, and we’d really go by how the group was feeling.

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We got all geared up and hit the trail, and within the first 10 feet there was a tiny uphill with some big roots sticking out. I hadn’t down shifted in time, and as soon as I hit the incline, I knew I wasn’t going to make it over. I hopped off and walked it over the tiny hill. Great. That was a baby hill and I had to get off and walk. This is going to suck.  No sooner did I get over the hill, when I saw Blake stopped. His chain had snapped and was in need of repair or he wouldn’t be riding today. Thankfully, Chris #2 had tools and was able to fix up the bike. While the bike was being fixed, Bill gave me a few pointers, reminding me to shift often, anticipate the hills, and stand up and sit back on the down hills. Ok, I can do this. 

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We got started again and I felt myself gripping the handle bars until my knuckles turned white. I will not fall. I will not fall. There were a lot of sharp-ish curves in the trail and then all of the sudden I was riding down a small hill. I’m pretty sure I screamed, and I started to feel the same way I felt when I was climbing the Golden Staircase– terrified. Bill kept talking to me, saying encouraging things to calm me down. I was so focused on the ground that I don’t really recall everything he said, just that he was being a super boyfriend.

IMG_8509As we were riding, some of the guys were talking about the Drunken Monkey. I wasn’t quite sure what they were talking about-sounds like a tropical bar to me- but I soon found out. Basically, the Drunken Monkey is a part of the trail where there are some more challenging hills. Unfortunately, Chris #2 (our trail expert) didn’t really know where the easier trail met back up with the harder trail, so we all went together on the harder trail. Gulp. Actually it wasn’t that bad- well, it wasn’t that bad because I walked/ran the bike up/down the steepest of the hills. This girl did not want to get injured!

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As the ride went on, I started to get more comfortable on the bike, and actually rode down some of the tinier hills. I only fell off the bike once, and thankfully it was in some sand and I was going slow. There were a few other sections where the trail split into a hard section and an easy section, and I took the easier section with at least one other person each time. Several hours after we started, we made it back to the car in one piece, exhausted!

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The only real casualty of the day had been Blake’s bike, whose chain snapped several more times along the trail, and then finally it wasn’t fixable anymore. He scootered the last few miles on the trail, and when we got back to the paved trail, he was towed back by some of the guys.

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When it was all said and done, I think went about 16 miles, but man, it was a tough 16! My whole body hurt from that ride!

Did I have fun? My response to that has to be: I think so? During the ride, I was petrified of falling or hitting a tree. And though the downhills were probably some of the more exciting parts of the ride, I think the scared feeling trumped the “ooh this is fun” feeling. I think if I get more comfortable on the bike it will be more enjoyable, but for right now, I definitely like road biking better than mountain biking.

Question of the day: Have you ever been mountain biking? What was your experience like?