"Your Apprenticeship to Mountain Biking"
by Sir Nagsalot
Welcome to another of Sir Nagsalot's cyberchats. Admittedly, chats with Sir Nagsalot are often very one-sided and, not surprisingly, he tends to nag... a lot! Try not to get too offended. He's a good hearted fellow and only cares about your well being and, yes, the sound of his own nag-hole. So, why not pull up your chair and see what pearls of wisdom Sir Nagsalot has for us today...
Mountain biking is a relatively recent phenomenon. While I insist that I alone invented mountain biking when I nailed wheels onto my first horse, more "sensible" people continue to debate about when and where the first mountain bike was invented. It is generally agreed that the sport began in the late 1970’s when creative folks began adapting bikes to mountainous terrain by building lighter, sturdier frames, using large knobby tires, incorporating gears and derailleurs and developing front and rear suspension components. Today’s modern mountain bike can traverse terrain that would have been totally unrideable just two decades ago. As mountain biking has grown in popularity and more sophisticated equipment has been invented, the sport has developed specialized segments. Currently, mountain bikes are categorized as race, cross-country, all-mountain, downhill, and freeride. The vast majority of our riders fit in the cross-country riding group.
Protecting Your Noggin
Always, always, always wear a helmet! On the trail, on the bike, on your head. A mountain biker's helmet is often changed out when cracked, not when unfashionable. The Black Knight may fight on as a dismembered torso ("It's just a flesh wound!" he says). You and I are not as hardy. And if you're the type who likes to kiss Mother Earth often and hard, you may want to consider a full-face helmet or one with a chin guard.
Get ye, young squire, a worthy steed! While bikes with no suspension are some of the lightest and most dependable, those with front suspension forks and rear shocks provide a more comfortable and stable ride. For many years now, disc brakes have come on the scene, giving added stopping power for those who like to ride fast and steep. The latest innovation is the introduction of bikes with 29" wheels. Mark my words: I predict future bike wheels shall evolve into, as my peasants call me, a total square with one huge knob!
While any shirt and pair of shorts will do, most bikers wear clothes specially designed for the sport. Polypro and spandex fabrics wick moisture away from the skin, chafe less, and are warmer than cotton when wet and won't rust like chain mail. For fashion, practicality, and decency for others, most mountain bikers prefer baggy shorts instead of the skin-fitting variety. Because the weather in Colorado’s high country can change at a moment's notice, it is always wise to carry a windbreaker and rain gear. And while nothing slaps the face of an opponent as well as a full metal gauntlet, most padded gloves are sufficient for mountain biking. Leather, neoprene, cotton, gel, half-fingered, full-fingered, six-fingered(!)... Gloves come in many forms. All will protect your hands against numbing while riding and more serious injuries should you decide (voluntarily, of course) to fly like Superman off your bike. As for your feet, most athletic shoes will do well enough on platform or toe-clip pedals. However, most riders prefer true bike shoes and clipless pedals for added stability and control.
Sun protection and hydration are especially important in Colorado's high altitude. Many rides may last for hours in the blazing sun without access to drinkable water or significant shade. Always wear sunglasses. In addition to UV protection, they'll shield your eyes from stray branches, rocks, or mud splatters. Ye olde skin doctor recommends applying sunblock with an SPF of 30+ at least half an hour before you go outdoors. A lip balm with an SPF of 15 or above is also a good idea. While you should always tailor your water needs for each specific ride, we highly recommend carrying at least 2 quarts of water for rides into the wilds. Water bottles tend to have limited capacity, get splattered with mud and be difficult to access while riding. A backpack with a large water reservoir (i.e. Camelbak) addresses all these concerns and provides space to carry additional items. A basic first aid kit (leeches optional) is also recommended.
Tools of thy Trade
Dragons, insolent peasants, flaming chasms, Rodents Of Unusual Size, lustful cougars... Off-road riding poses many inherent risks which may prove especially dangerous when encountered in the great outdoors far from civilization. While mechanical problems can crop up on any ride, the frequency and severity may be reduced by keeping one’s bike in good condition. Backcountry bikers should carry at least a tire patch kit, a spare tube, a multi-purpose tool (with allen wrenches, chain tool, screw drivers, etc.), and tire pump. Many experienced riders also carry a bit of wire and duct tape to patch things together when things go seriously wrong. If you are riding with a group, check to see that others have the tools you don't. Carrying a cell phone, GPS unit, and maps is also a good idea. That or, do like me: always travel with your trusty village crier and scrying stone.
While your trusty bar wench may know where to go for a "fun time," mountain bikers often must consult the written tomes. In the wild, it's always good to know where you are and where you're going. Happily, there are many excellent trail maps and guide books available to lead you out into unexplored territory and get you safely back. Please check out the Links page for some suggested reads. If you are brand new to mountain biking, feel free to download and print out a copy of our "Trail Guide for Novice Bikers." Newer bikers should ride within their own comfort level. Inevitably, we all fall. We all crash. We all learn from our mistakes. That's the trick to the sport and love of mountain biking.
Returning to Bike Another Day
Know ahead of time what level of skill and stamina the trail will demand of you. If possible, don’t ride alone. I did mention lustful cougars, didn't I? Always let someone (an heir to your kingdom, perhaps?) know where you are going and when you plan to be back. Carry a copy of your driver’s license, health insurance card, and a short list of people (NOT a list of short people!) to contact in an emergency. If you spend much time way out yonder, it is a good idea to have a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search And Rescue (CORSAR) card, too - available for just $3 per year (or $12 for 5 years).
As the new kids on the trail, mountain bikers have been vilified by other trail users as rude and destructive eco-daredevils. Perhaps they fear our speed, rebellious stereotype, or lame medieval references. Whatever the reason, it benefits you and other riders to always be chivalrous and treat other trail users with respect. As an IMBA affliated club, the Rocky Mountain Bicycle Boys actively encourages safe and responsible trail riding. If you're new to the sport, please familiarize yourself with these general guidelines.