Mountain biking can be a fun, challenging sport for skilled cyclists and beginners alike. Participants ride off-road or on wooded trails on bikes specially-designed for demanding terrain. Cyclists have been modifying bikes for off-road riding since the 1800s, but it wasn’t until the 1980s when the sport entered the modern era and it has grown in popularity ever since.
Ryan West, Edmond resident, tore his knee twice riding freestyle BMX. “When I tore my ACL, I had to find some type of exercise that I could do. When my knee was better, I started mountain biking and I fell in love with it,” he says. Mountain biking is a soft-impact sport and is a lot easier on damaged knees than running or jogging. He says cross-country mountain biking is a perfect balance between BMX and road biking.
West has been mountain biking for a couple of years. “Road biking is fun, but with mountain biking, there’s a lot more skill involved,” he says. “You’re outside, you’re in the woods. It’s good atmosphere and great exercise.”
There are principally two kinds of mountain bikes. Hardtail bikes have front suspension only, while softail bikes have full suspension, with shocks on the front and back. “On more aggressive trails, a softail bike’s rear wheel is going to stay on the trail better and it won’t beat the rider up as much,” says Henry Holasek, owner of Al’s Bicycles in Edmond for nearly 24 years.
“The better the quality of your bike, the better it will perform and the less apt you are to get hurt,” Holasek says. “A better bike is also lighter weight. In what we do, the lighter the bike, the better it will perform.”
“The health benefits of cycling are huge,” Holasek says. He says the sport is great exercise, and that using a bike for short commutes has the additional bonus of cutting down on car exhaust fumes in the environment. However, riding a mountain bike on the road will take more effort than riding a road bike, due to a mountain bike’s increased rolling resistance.
Holasek says the most important aspects of bicycle maintenance are to keep bikes clean and tuned up. Al’s Bicycles offers free tune-ups for bikes purchased from them, as long as they belong to the original owner. A tune-up includes adjustments to brakes and gears, lubrication of the chain and cables, ball-bearing adjustments and minor straightening of the wheels.
Safety is important for mountain bikers, as it is for all cyclists. Helmets are worn almost universally. Gloves, pads and body armor offer additional protection. On the road, cyclists are to ride with traffic, use hand signals and obey the rules posted for cars and other vehicles. It’s against the law to ride on sidewalks, although Holasek says that rule is not usually enforced. He says it’s safer to ride on the street than it is to ride on the sidewalk because motorists are looking for bikes to be on the street, and may not notice one on the sidewalk until it’s too late. “Cyclists need to be aware of cars,” he says. “You need to ride alert. iPods are a bad idea.”
West encourages beginners to get educated and make sure they know how to use the bike properly. He also stresses the importance of wearing a helmet. “Ride with people who are more experienced, that way you can learn the ropes,” he says. “Learn etiquette. If you’re slower, let faster people pass you.”
Mountain biking trails can be found at Lake Arcadia, Lake Stanley-Draper, Lake Thunderbird and Lake Hefner. The Clear Bay Multi-Use trail at Lake Thunderbird includes a teeter-totter obstacle. Cyclists must ride up one side and down the other. “Every course has its own unique flavor,” West says. “Bluff Creek by Hefner is more technical, and Arcadia is more cardio-oriented. You’ve got to huff and puff.”
The Oklahoma Earthbike Fellowship promotes many mountain biking opportunities throughout the state. The biggest mountain biking event in the metro area is the Red Dirt Rendezvous series, and Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day offers a chance to introduce children to the sport. For more information, visit www.okearthbike.com.
Al’s Bicycles offers free bicycling classes every third Saturday of the month, from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. Classes are open to everyone and taught by certified instructors who cover bike rules, helmet wear, flat repair, mount and dismount, etc. For more information, call 341-6952 or visit them at 2624 S. Broadway Court.