Mountain biking can be a great alternative to road biking. Rather than riding on paved roads, having to deal with traffic; you ride "off-road" on back country trails, dirt or gravel fire roads, and/or on "singletrack" ... a narrow trail (wide enough for a single bike) that winds through the mountains, deserts, fields or forests.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A ROAD BIKE AND A MOUNTAIN BIKE
Riding "off-road" requires different equipment then road biking. Because you are riding on dirt, and not paved roads, cycling on a bike with fat knobby tires is preferred to the skinny tires on traditional road bikes. You will also find that having a good suspension system allows you to handle the bike better, and will make riding over rough terrain a lot more comfortable. However, the biggest difference between road biking and mountain biking is the cyclists body position on the bike. Mountain bikers sit up-right on the bike; whereas, road bikers lay over the bike in a more aerodynamic position (a position that many people may find uncomfortable at first).
COMFORT ON A MOUNTAIN BIKE IS A FUNCTION OF THREE THINGS...
The bike you ride must be designed for the type of riding you will be doing, and the bike's frame geometry must fit your unique body size and proportions. For more info on bike fit click here!
The saddle (bike seat) must fit your body and be properly adjusted for your seated position on the bike. For more info on bicycle saddles click here!
A cycling specific short with padding will make riding much more comfortable and prevent chaffing during your ride. For more info on bicycle short fit & function click here!
JUST STARTING TO RIDE?
The first thing you need to do is find a good local bike shop. To ride "off road" you really need to have a mountain bike. If you already own a mountain bike that you haven't ridden for awhile, take the bike in and have it cleaned, and tuned up. They can check the bike to make sure that everything is in good working condition, as well as adjust the bike for a more comfortable ride. A basic tune-up usually costs $30-50.
LOOKING TO PURCHASE A NEW BIKE?
Do yourself a favor. Before you buy any bike, find a professional bike fit expert. Have your body measured, so that you can find a bike that matches your body's unique size and proportions. Riding a bike that fits well, will provide you with greater comfort, more efficient riding, and help prevent unecessary pain and injuries. For more info on bike fit click here!
WHAT TO WEAR WHEN RIDING OFF-ROAD
All cyclists should wear a helmet to prevent death or serious head injury while riding. For maximum safety, your helmet must fit properly. A helmet that fits poorly, can make injuries worse in certain conditions. For more info on cycling helmets click here!
Padded cycling shorts will increase your comfort on the bike. You can wear traditional fitted cycling shorts if you like, however, the lycra fabric can get snagged on branches. Many off-road cyclists prefer to wear "baggy shorts". Baggy shorts have the look of regular clothing, but have a padded stretch liner built inside. The outer short is usually made of nylon or other more durable fabric.
For more info on fitted shorts click here!
For more info on baggy shorts click here!
Cycling jerseys typically perform two functions:
- They are designed to carry things you need while riding, and
- They are made of fabrics that are designed to take sweat and wick it away from the body, so that the air can evaporate the sweat, keeping the cyclist cool and dry.
Most casual off-road cyclists prefer to wear a looser cut jersey in muted colors, that have the look of cotton, rather than the traditional more form fitted, brightly colored jerseys that road cyclist wear for greater visibility. Most cycling jerseys, even the one's that look and feel like cotton, are made of polyester, or a polyester blend so that they have the ability to wick moisture and breath. Although cotton breathes well, it retains moisture. Wearing any 100% cotton garment while riding will be uncomfortable compared to wearing a shirt made of a technical fabric designed to wick moisture.
Aside from a looser fit, and more muted color pallet, off-road cycling jerseys have pockets that can be closed with a zipper or velcro®, rather than the traditional three rear pockets found on road jerseys. This is to prevent the cyclist from loosing keys or other valuables in the backcountry.
Front jersey zippers are installed to control ventilation. Zipper lengths can vary from 5" to "full length". The purpose of the front zipper is to allow the rider to adjust ventilation by raising and lowering the zipper. Women can now wear a coordinating sport bra under their jerseys and ventilate just like the guys. For more info on cycling jersey's click here!
Jackets and the Concept of Layering
Layering clothing is the best way to be able to control body temperature. Remember when you stop for a snack you will cool down quickly and want to put a layer back on. For more information on layering click here!
Beginning off-road cyclists may want to wear comfortable mountain bike shoes instead of cleated shoes with clip-in pedals, or regular tennis shoes. Riding off-road means that there will be places on the trail to ride, but there will also be places on the trail where you will be forced to carry your bike and walk. Although clip-ins are more efficient to ride in, they take some practice to use. Also- using shoes that you can ride and walk in will mean that you don't have to bring two pairs of shoes with you. Your cycling shoes, and your hiking shoes. For more information on cycling shoes click here! For information on clipless pedals click here!
Gloves provide padding and help absorb road shock. In addition, they protect your hands from the cold, and prevent your hands from getting scraped on surrounding foliage.
For more info on gloves click here!
Wearing glasses will help protect your eyes from low branches or loose stones/mud.
ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED EQUIPMENT
Since most off-road cycling is done out on backcountry trails, far from any bike shops, you will need to carry the following:
- Water- Evaporative losses can be significant when cycling. Because you are moving fast, the breeze can cause sweat production and fluid loss to go unnoticed. As such, you need to remember to replace fluids during your ride. When your riding off-road, water is not always available, so make sure to carry plenty of water with you when you ride, and make it a habit to drink a few sips of fluid every 15 minutes. For more info on hydration click here!
- Snacks- always carry some kind of energy bars or snacks with you.
- First Aid Kit- at a minimum, carry Ibuprofen®, bandages, and Neosporin®.
You will also need to carry the following tools, and be capable of making certain repairs to keep riding if something goes wrong.
If you ride alone it is a good idea to bring a cell phone. Always let somebody know where you are planning to ride, and when you'll be back.
- Basic Tool Kit- carry a basic tool kit that includes allen wrenches and screwdrivers. A chain breaker tool is also recommended.
- Spare Tube and/or Patch Kit- carry a spare tube and/or patch kit.
- Tire Levers- necessary for removing and installing tires easily without causing rim damage.
- Mini-Pump or CO2 Cartridge- Punctured tires are possible.
- Chain tool and Extra Chain Links- broken chains happen frequently.