These days, sports are more about innovation and challenges than ever before. Not content to simply go surfing, people now drop in out of helicopters, get towed out to the middle of the ocean to ride weird swells, and take on waves taller than skyscrapers with little to no protection. And that’s just the sport of surfing!
With so many ski resorts wondering how to attract guests in the off-season, it’s no wonder that someone took a look at one of those ski runs once the snow melted and thought to themselves, “What a perfect place to go for a bike ride.” Sure, the origins of mountain biking are a little bit more complicated than that, but that’s basically the long and the short of it.
Rather than simply riding a bicycle across town, or even riding one around a track, mountain biking freed the bicycle from its pavement environment. Now, riding a bicycle was more about balance, since mountain trails had to be dealt with. Different riders, in urban areas, even put their own twist on things and figured out ways to make city riding challenging, taking to natural obstacles in much the same way that skateboarders did.
As mountain biking has caught on in different communities and attracted different types of athletes, distinct schools have emerged, and it’s easy to see how they might continue to develop. From basic beginnings of just dealing with a landscape and the bicycle, things have grown and changed. Now, mountain biking can be as difficult or as simple as a rider desires, depending on the school he or she decides to participate in.
Often, people think that there’s just one style of mountain biking, that involves riding a heavy bicycle with large rubber wheels around trees on the way down to the bottom of some hill. Nothing could be further from the truth, with a number of different innovators creating different variations and styles, which all have their draw and charms. Knowing those different styles is the first step in figuring out which type of mountain biking sounds best for a new novice rider.
Probably the most famous variation of mountain biking is the kind seen everywhere from ESPN’s X-Games to “bike parks” around the country. The style, dirt jumping, or big dirt riding, involves bicyclists with a significant amount of padding and smaller, durable mountain bikes taking on a large dirt jump. Riders are judged by the tricks they perform in the air, usually variations of twisting, flipping, and maneuvering the bike but still having a safe landing. While fun to watch, this is definitely not the spot for aspiring mountain bicyclists to begin.
For those living in urban areas, with little or no access to the great outdoors, mountain biking is still a pertinent sport. One of the most popular variations on the more extreme styles of riding is street or urban riding, where people take on obstacle courses of man-made objects on mountain bikes. The bicycles used are smaller in both frames and wheels, and often would not transition well to endurance riding out on open trails.
The best jumping off point for most riders is simple cross-country, which can encompass any number of different environments, terrains, and conditions. A cross-country mountain bike ride can be a simple affair, with lots of break time to enjoy the weather, or it can be more strenuous and involve a great deal of attempting to ride uphill, to navigate slippery or muddy areas, or having to jump around obstacles.
For riders who have graduated past basic cross-country, a number of professionals in the field have more challenging styles ready and waiting. The newest and fastest take on cross-country is something called speed cross, which is also known as short cross. With short cross, a very short course with a great deal of obstacles is prepared, and riders take turns seeing who can maneuver it the fastest without falling down.
Whether it’s a relaxing day out on a simple and easy to ride trail, or a gutsy afternoon of taking on different jumps and courses, mountain biking is a hugely valuable and helpful sport in getting people back outside, enjoying nature. Even in urban areas, the change between exercising indoors and finally enjoying fresh air again is apparent, and very helpful for teenagers, children, and adults alike.
Damian Papworth adores the excitement of mountain biking, but always makes sure he takes his bike water bottles for his trips. A cycling water bottle is crucial to maintaining hydration in this taxing sport.