Mountain biking usually refers to the sport of riding bicycles possessing particular design characteristics, mountain bikes, off-road, although sometimes the term simply refers to riding a mountain bike. The sport requires endurance, bike handling skills and self-reliance. It is an individual sport which can be performed almost anywhere. There are aspects of mountain biking that are more similar to trail running than regular bicycling. Because riders are often far from civilization, there is a strong ethic of self-reliance in the sport. Riders must learn to repair their broken bikes or flat tires to avoid being stranded miles from help. This reliance on survival skills accounts for the group dynamics of the sport. Club rides and other forms of group rides are common, especially on longer treks.
Mountain biking is roughly broken down into five categories: cross country, downhill, freeride, dirt jump and trials/street riding. However, most mountain bikes have a similar look: knobby tires, large round frame tubing, and some sort of suspension or shock absorbers. Mountain biking can be done anywhere from a back yard to a gravel road, but the majority of mountain bikers prefer to ride trails they call singletrack. These are narrow trails that wind through forests or fields. Other trails are wide enough for more than one rider and referred to as doubletrack.
History of mountain biking
Bicycles have been ridden off-road since their invention. However, the modern sport of mountain biking primarily originated in the 1970s. There were several groups of riders in different areas of the U.S.A. who can make valid claims to playing a part in the birth of the sport. Riders in Crested Butte, Colorado and Cupertino, California tinkered with bikes and adapted them to the rigors of off-road riding. Other riders around the country were probably copying their friends with motorcycles and riding their bikes on trails and fire roads. However, a group in Marin County, California is recognized by the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame to have played a central role in the birth of the sport as we know it today. They began racing down Mount Tamalpais (Mt Tam) on old 1930s and ’40s Schwinn bicycles retrofitted with better brakes and fat tires. This group included Joe Breeze, Otis Guy, Gary Fisher and Keith Bontrager, among others. It was Joe Breeze who built the first new, purpose-made mountain bike in 1977. Tom Ritchey built the first regularly available mountain bike frame, which was accessorized by Gary Fisher and Charlie Kelly and sold by their company called MountainBikes (later changed to Fisher Mountain Bikes then bought by Trek, still under the name Gary Fisher). The first two mass produced mountain bikes were sold in 1982: the Specialized Stumpjumper and Univega Alpina Pro.
In 1988, the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame was founded to chronicle the history of mountain biking, and to recognize the individuals and groups that have contributed significantly to this sport.
Types of Mountain Biking
For the most part, mountain biking can be split into four different categories:
- Cross-Country (XC) is the most common form of mountain biking, and the standard for most riders. It generally means riding point-to-point or in a loop including climbs and descents on a variety of terrain. However there is a distinct difference between common XC and XC racing. Racing is much more physically demanding than leisure riding and racers train for years to be able to compete at a national level. A typical XC bike weighs 22-28lbs, and has 0-4 inches of suspension travel front and rear.
- Downhill is, in the most general sense, riding mountain bikes downhill. While cross country riding inevitably has a downhill component, Downhill (or DH for short) usually refers to racing-oriented downhill riding. Downhill-specific bikes are universally equipped with front and rear suspension, large brakes, and use heavier frame tubing than other mountain bikes. Downhill bikes are not meant to be pedaled up hill, therefore downhill riders and racers frequently employ trucks or ski lifts to be shuttled to the top of the hill. Downhill courses are one of the most physically demanding and dangerous venues for mountain biking. They include large jumps (up to and including 40 feet), drops of 10+ feet, and are generally rough and steep top to bottom. To negotiate these obstacles at race speed, racers must possess a unique combination of total body strength, aerobic and anaerobic fitness, and mental control. Minimum body protection in a true downhill setting is knee pads and a full face helmet with goggles, although riders and racers commonly sport full body suits to protect themselves. Downhill bikes typically weigh 40-50 lbs. Downhill frames get anywhere from 7 to 10 inches of travel and are usually mounted with an 8 inch travel dual-crown fork.
- Freeride / Big Hit. Freeride, as the name suggests is a ‘do anything’ discipline that encompasses everything from downhill racing (see below)without the clock to jumping, riding ‘North Shore’ style (elevated trails made of interconnecting bridges and logs), and generally riding trails and/or stunts that require more skill and “aggression” than XC. Freeride bikes are generally heavier and more amply suspended than their XC counterparts, but usually retain much of their climbing ability. It is up to the rider to build his or her bike to lean more toward a preferred level of aggressiveness. “Slopestyle” type riding is an increasingly popular genre that combines big-air, stunt-ridden freeride with BMX style tricks. Slopestyle courses are usually constructed at already established mountain bike parks and include jumps, large drops, quarter-pipes, and other wooden obstacles. There are always multiple lines through a course and riders compete for judges’ points by choosing lines that highlight their particular skills. A “typical” freeride bike is hard to define, but 30-40 lbs with 6 inches of suspension front and rear is a good generalization.
- Trials riding consists of hopping and jumping bikes over obstacles. It can be performed either off-road or in an urban environment. It requires an excellent sense of balance. As with Dirt Jumping and BMX-style riding, emphasis is placed on style, originality and technique. There are many stylistic similarities to skateboarding. Trials bikes look almost nothing like mountain bikes. They use either 20″, 24″ or 26″ wheels and have very small, low frames, some types without a saddle.