September 19, 2011

Wisconsin Mountain Biking Basics

Six tips for getting out and enjoying the state’s excellent mountain biking trails

Mountain bike raceMountain biking is for everyone. Geared lower than road bikes, mountain bikes allow riders of nearly any ability to climb hills with ease. Mountain bikes are also versatile: they can literally go anywhere. And best of all, there is a huge variety of mountain biking trails. In Wisconsin, you’ll find everything from flat trails for beginners to rugged trails for diehards.

Although anyone can hop on a mountain bike and have a good time, it does help to know a few things before you hit the trails. Here are six things to think about before you go on your first Wisconsin mountain biking trip.

Pick a trail with a terrain that fits your riding skills – There are hundreds of excellent mountain biking trails in Wisconsin. Your job is to find trails that are right for you. If you are a beginner, look for wide, level trails. If you’re very confident in your skills, look for single-track trails, which often include obstacles and run through hilly terrain.

Biker on bike trail

Photo by RJ & Linda Miller

Know your gears – All of the gears on your mountain bike are there for a reason. The cranks (those three gears attached to your pedals) include a small ring for climbing hills, a medium ring for most riding conditions and a large ring for downhills. The other gears, located on your back wheel, are called your cogset. These gears are used to find the right gear to match your pedaling speed.

Anticipate shifts – Shift to a lower gear before you hit your uphill climbs. Don’t wait until your momentum has slowed to a crawl. When you see a hill ahead of you, shift to a lower gear—a gear in which it is easier to press down on the pedals. Downhills require less anticipation. Simply shift towards a higher gear as you roll into the downward slope. The better your shifting, the more enjoyable your mountain biking experience.

Use good body position– Your body’s position in relation to the bicycle is important. When you are going downhill, keep your weight back by moving your buttocks back on the saddle. You might even notice some expert mountain bikers moving their posteriors all the way off the saddle and over the back wheel! Going uphill, you will lean your weight forward and bend your body down over the handlebar. Standing is generally not a good idea, especially for beginners. When a rider stands up on his or her pedals and wrenches against the handlebars, this puts an incredible amount of stress on the frame and other bike components—an equipment failure in this situation could mean catastrophe. And, standing up is, believe it or not, less efficient than pedaling in a seated position. Stay seated!

Bike trail

Photo by RJ & Linda Miller

Use your eyes – Always watch the trail ahead of you to decide how you’re going to navigate the various twists, turns, potholes and other obstacles. For many people, this snap decision making process is the most exciting part of mountain biking. You will have a few clumsy moments and maybe some tumbles during your first few mountain biking excursions, but you’ll quickly get an instinct for handling anything the trail throws at you.

Use your head – Mountain biking is as safe as you want it to be. You know when you’re doing something foolish or dangerous. Make the decision to be a safe rider and you’ll have a hobby that can last a lifetime.

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