Friday, February 8, 2008

Mountain Biking - For fun, fitness and fame

Okay, maybe not for fame unless you're the Fat Cyclist. He's famous.

For the rest of us, mountain biking offers a break from the norm. It provides the chance to get out into nature and explore at high speeds. It's challenging (depending on where you ride) and can be quite a workout. Pop in the headphones, turn on the tunes, clip in the pedals and go!

I started mountain biking two years ago and fell in love. I didn't enjoy running and I didn't particularly like to be cooped up in a gym. I wanted to get outside. I had always enjoyed biking as a kid and hadn't biked anywhere for a number of years. Plus, I wanted to spend time with friends.

Mountain biking is an affordable outdoor adventure. A basic bike, shoes and pedals, biking shorts and the like will cost less than $1000 new. You can score some deals on eBay or at a local bike swap to save a bundle.

I'll recommend a few options you may want to consider. In addition to your bike, buy some clipless pedals. They'll make a world of difference when biking - they're more stable as they bind your feet to the pedals and they're more efficient as you can pedal on the upstroke and the downstroke. There's a bunch of pedal manufacturers out there - Shimano, Crank Brothers, Time and more. I opted for the Time ATAC based on reviews I had seen. I bought them on eBay for a good discount. They've served me well, but it's largely personal preference. I have friends with Shimano and with Crank Brothers. You can read more about clipless pedals at wikipedia.

Pick up some wicking shirts (Target has some affordable ones made by Champion) that will wick away moisture from your skin. That will keep you cooler and more comfortable on your rides.

Also, invest in some wicking socks. Plain old cotton socks are okay, but when you sweat you'll feel wet. I opted for some socks made by Under Armour. They're black so they match better with my black shoes and they don't feel like my feet are soaked. They dry out quickly, but like all good wicking materials, retain the stink in a potent form. Wash thoroughly...

You'll also want to pick up a patch kit and a replacement tube. If you ride often enough it won't be long before you get stranded on the trail needing to replace a tube. You'll need a pack on your bike to put it in - and to hold keys, wallet, etc.

Lastly, buy a Camelback. It so much better to have a lot of water on your back than to run out of water in your water bottle. It's essential to replace your liquids on even short rides (anything over an hour) or you'll reduce your performance due to water loss.

You'll find good trails in pretty much every area of the country. Local parks usually have trails or you can "mountain" bike on a bike path in a pinch. When it's late and the parks are closed, I'll bike along the bike path, through parking lots, just to get out.

For my new mountain biking adventure, I've got some cold weather gear now. My new Pearl Izumi balaclava, Trek cold weather tights and Trek full-finger gloves. I went out once at about 20 degrees before I had my balaclava and learned my lesson. Since receiving my balaclava we've had too much snow to go out.

For a real adventure, there's great riding out in Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, and even on the east coast. Here in Illinois there's not much variation in terrain. I'm looking forward to going out. In the coming weeks I'll be posting a comprehensive list of biking trips and links to get your wheels turning.

What about you? Have you already gone biking? Looking to start? What do you consider some basic gear?

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