Friday, June 22, 2012

Favorite Things Friday - Mountain Biking......

It's not really fair to call mountain biking a "favorite" of mine, except for the fact that it occurs on a bicycle.

I was forced to take to the trails today because my beloved Jezebel (my road bike) is still in the shop. I didn't want to have a "zero week" on my cycling log, and I had 66 more miles to make my June mileage goal, and I just missed the feeling of cycling after almost a week off the bike.

The state park right across from where we live has some awesome mountain biking trails. They are well-maintained, constantly being redeveloped and upgraded, and they have something for everyone who loves mountain biking: roots, rocks, death-defying downhills and kick-butt uphills, hairpin turns (that just MIGHT throw you into the lake if you don't negotiate them properly, not that such a thing would EVER happen to me a couple of years ago), and some narrow passages between trees that you would swear your handlebars wouldn't go between.

Rozmo and I planned to ride the whole network of trails a couple of years ago. I looked at the maps online and found there were 12 miles of trails (there are more than that now). I remember thinking to myself, "We usually ride 50 or 60 miles. Maybe we can just ride the whole trail network TWICE to get our miles."

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

It was all I could do to finish the whole thing the FIRST time, and we didn't even ATTEMPT something called the Monster Mile. Mountain biking is just that different from road biking. I spent part of my ride today thinking of the ways they are different, and while I had an excellent outline prepared in my mind, I'm sure I will leave something out due to the fact that I didn't stop my bike and write the ideas down at the time.


Obviously the bike is different.

This is my mountain bike, which I also refer to sometimes as my "el cheapo" bike. Because I don't do a LOT of mountain biking, I didn't want to sink a lot of money into it. I'd rather save those dollars to buy MORE black spandex shorts for my road bike that look like all the other pairs of black spandex shorts I already have.

I bought this bike at one of the big box sports-themed stores for about $59. (Contrast that to Jezebel, for whom I had to add on a couple of digits, and neither of them was a "1".) It serves its purposes, which are infrequent mountain biking expeditions and riding around campsites when Hubby and I go camping in the RV. The seat is wider, the handlebars are flatter, the tires are wider and knobbier. Something you can't see, especially from this angle, is that there are 3 chain rings (we used to call them "sprockets), which adds some gears I don't have on my road bike. The lower gears come in handy for climbing those steep hills on the mountain bike trails.

I'm not sure if this comes under "equipment" or "clothing," but that thing on my back is called a Camelbak (that's the brand name, but just like Kleenex, it has come to refer to any similar device). My mountain bike doesn't have water bottle cages on it (although there is a place for one), so the only way to carry liquids for rehydrating is on my back. I fill mine with ice and then top it off with water, and the water stays cool for most (if not all) of the ride. It feels a little heavy putting it on at first, but I think it's just because I'm AWARE of the weight because I'm wearing it. I would be carrying the same weight in liquid if I had water bottles, they just wouldn't be on my BODY. If you're not familiar with a Camelbak, it has a tube and a bite valve that is easy to pick up and drink whatever amount of water you need at any given moment. 

I don't typically use a Camelbak, but mountain biking requires it. I also use one when we ride the Silver Comet Trail because there are such long stretches with no access to water. I have also learned to use it when I map long, winding routes in Mississippi that appear to avoid whatever stores might be in the area. 

I don't have a mirror on my mountain bike, because they aren't typically needed. If a bike is behind me on the trail, either I hear it way before it gets to me, or it's irrelevant because there's no place to pass anyway. The only time I missed my mirror was the short half-mile on the road between our subdivision and the entrance to the park. You'd be surprised how many times I looked where my mirror would have been if I had been on my road bike. And in just half a mile! I had to turn right onto a BUSY state highway and then an immediate left into the park entrance, and I kind of freaked out about not having a mirror. So I pulled into a driveway on the right and waited until traffic was clear in both directions.

(I apologize for these shots. Hubby wasn't home, so the best I could do was set the timer on my camera and then try to guess where I should stand in the 10-second interval I had before the shutter snapped.)


I COULD wear the same clothing on my mountain bike that I do on my road bike, but I wore shorts and shirt that were slightly different. I wanted to try out my cool new "canyon" shorts, which are two pieces. The inner piece resembles traditional spandex cycling shorts, with a padded chamois. The outer shell is more like running shorts, complete with POCKETS. I was excited to have pockets on my shorts today. It's the little things that make me happy.

I also chose to wear a t-shirt, albeit a technical or "wicking" t-shirt that I got on a bike ride. We usually wear cycling jerseys that not only wick moisture but also cut down on drag, but I didn't think a jersey was necessary on the trails. Speed isn't really the issue, and if something slowed me down, it wasn't going to be a shirt.

You may not be able to tell, but I was also able to wear regular sneakers instead of cycling shoes. My road bike has "clipless" pedals, into which a cleated shoe snaps and keeps the feet connected to the pedals. Many people also have clipless pedals on their mountain bikes, and I am in awe of those people.

I almost left the gloves off, but I'm glad I put them on at the last minute. They not only pad the hands, they are also helpful for wiping sweat and keeping the hands dry so they don't slip off the handlebars.


I discovered a couple of things about riding itself that were different from road biking. As a cyclist, I am constantly focusing ahead, as far down the road as I can see, to watch for obstacles, cars, bad patches of pavement, or intersections. (I think this has made me a better motorcyclist, and even a better driver.) Riding the trails requires constant vigilance also, but the focus is on what is RIGHT IN FRONT of you. For one thing, the trail isn't visible for more than a few feet. And the obstacles, while they may be smaller, are more numerous: roots, rocks, ruts. I also had watch carefully for hikers/walkers in the park today, because I was riding the same paths Hubby and I usually walk. I didn't want to get on the designated mountain bike trails because they are tough, and there are very few bail-out options. There weren't many hikers out today, so it wasn't a problem. I did wonder one thing, though: There are signs saying bikers should yield to hikers, and I try to do that just to be courteous. But if I come upon a hiker from behind, how can I yield to her? (I guess her better question might be how I could come up from behind her and not scare the crap out of her.)

The difference in pedals also made a slight difference in riding technique, though I wouldn't have been aware of it until today. When I'm climbing a steep hill on my road bike, because my feet are clipped into the pedals, I can pull UP with the opposite foot while I push DOWN with the other. It isn't a strenuous pull, and I wasn't even aware I was doing it. I only noticed I was trying to do that because naturally when I tried to pull UP, my foot lifted OFF the pedal. Not much of a help there.

I'm not sure this goes under the "riding" category, but because I was in the state park, a lot of my ride was in nice shade. (Is that redundant when the temperature is 91 degrees?) It was very peaceful, with twittering birds and the distant drone of an airplane the only sounds I heard at times. I could also twist and wind as much as I wanted to, without worrying about getting miles and miles from home. There was a little bit of a psychological letdown when I ended my ride, because usually when I get back to the parking lot from a walk, I'm finished. On my mountain bike, I still had approximately a mile left - uphill - to ride back home. Not that big a deal.

I'm certainly not SORRY I had to go mountain biking, although those 12 miles today felt like about 50 on the road bike. It won't ever replace road cycling as my favorite outdoors activity, but I guess it'll do as a substitute.

It beats housework any day.

1 comment:

DJan said...

Maybe that helps explain a little why 12 miles on a mountain bike (road bike) was so tiring. I have only ridden racing bikes with snap in pedals before. I think you have made me feel a whole lot better, B. Thank you! :-)