Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Road to Mountain

On Saturday, I went for my first group mountain-bike ride of this millennium. Among the attendees was Keith Bontrager, mountain-bike pioneer and the man who started the eponymous bike-component company. I chatted with him and the others about how I am coming from a road-biking background and how mountain biking, while still a form of cycling, is very different in many ways. Here, for any aspiring mountain bikers in the audience, is a summary of the things I've learned on my own about off-road riding as well as Keith's comments on the subject:
  • Being able to clip out of your pedals with zero notice is a necessary skill, unless you don't mind bruising and are immune to embarrassment.
  • There's frequently a sudden and urgent need to downshift in order to climb a slope that appears out of nowhere. This need is often accompanied by an urge to swear.
  • When climbing, it is important to balance your weight distribution. You need to keep weight on the rear wheel to maintain traction---this often means climbing seated---but you also need weight on the front wheel so you can steer. Under no circumstances should you position your center of gravity behind the rear axle, unless you believe you have no further need for your occipital lobes.
  • When descending, it is important to keep your weight back and your arms firm but relaxed. Otherwise, you may get an unexpected extreme close-up of the trail in front of you.
  • It's important to leave at least a meter between you and the rider ahead of you, because all the points above apply to him, too.
By the way, an informal survey I conducted (visually) of the 6 riders and bikes on the ride may provide some insight into the current state of mountain biking:
  • Only one bike (mine) had only front suspension; the others all had front and rear suspension. No bike was rigid front and rear.
  • Only one bike (not mine) had rim brakes; the others all had disc brakes.
  • All but one of the bikes had principally aluminum frames; the remaining bike (not mine) was mostly carbon fiber. No bike was steel or titanium.
  • Our apparent ages ranged from early twenties to late fifties.
  • All of us were male.
Take that for what it's worth.

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