Home Opinion Newbie Knowledge, or learning what not to do on a mountain bike

Newbie Knowledge, or learning what not to do on a mountain bike


With the rise in interest for the three IMBA Epic Trails in Montgomery County efforts have been made by area organizations to raise local awareness and participation in the sport.

This year two events were held on the Lake Ouachita Vista Trial, otherwise known as the LOViT. As editor of the local paper I was first shanghaied and then compelled to participate in both.

In May I went out to the trail to take photos. As I was doing so my good friend and trail enthusiast Robert Cavanaugh stopped as he rode past me. As we are talking he is sizing me up and before I know it he is walking back to the trailhead with my camera and I am pedaling up the trail. I will be the first to admit that although it was educational it wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences.

I did walk away with a desire to take to the trail with a little more preparation. My chance came a couple weeks ago by way of the Bike Your Park Day event. This time I left the campground on a bike loaned to me by Spa City Cycling. This ride was much better mainly because I had learned a few things since my last encounter with the LOViT.

Regardless of how I ended up on a bike, I have to admit that I am starting to think it might be something that could become a part of my weekly routine. If you haven’t tried it I recommend you do.

As you ponder the decision to jump on the trail let me share a view things I learned from my two jaunts up and down the trail.

Get to know yourself

One of the most important things you can do when you decide to go mountain biking, or any physical activity, is to know your limitations. The best thing anyone can do is leave your machismo in your vehicle as you prepare to take to the trail.

As a 49 year old man who does little in the way of physical activity I can attest to the fact that the trail will test your physical abilities. Take it slow and don’t let your competitive nature get the best of you. There are races you can participate in, but not every outing is a competition.

If your tired stop, or at the very least get off and push your bike. As I was told, even the most experienced bikers face terrain they can’t peddle past. The last thing you want to do is have a heart attack or injure yourself needlessly on the trail.

The first time I took to the trail I was riding as if I was in my 20’s (well maybe 30’s) and I have to admit that there were a couple times I didn’t know if I would make it back.

Another important factor is to dress for the ride. When Robert bilked me into riding his bike I was dressed in jeans and tennis shoes. Neither of which are conducive to riding a bike. My pants legs and shoe laces seemed to be drawn to the chain like a magnet.

On top of that, it was late May and around 100 degrees outside. Needless to say I was hot.

Did I mention I didn’t have any water with me?

Dress appropriately for bike riding and the weather. ‘nuff said.

Get to know your bike

When I climbed on Robert’s bike in May it was the first time I had ridden a bike in 15 years or so. I wobbled my way down the trail for a few yards and promptly fell off a bridge. Don’t worry it was a small trail bridge and no one saw me so my pride was intact. I got up and wobbled down the trail some more.

The second time I had been riding a bike we have at home in preparation. When I arrived at the event site I picked out a demo bike and rode it around the parking lot as i figured out the shifter and brakes.

This time when I hit the trail I had a fairly good idea of what the bike would do and how to make it do what I wanted it to do.

Oh, and that bridge wasn’t a problem this time around.

Many people watch mountain bikers coming in and out of Mount Ida with bikes on their cars worth thousands of dollars and think they can’t afford to ride.

I will admit that the advanced level bikes make trail riding easier, they aren’t necessary. Many people ride bikes they bought at one of the big box stores. You can even hit up the pawn shops and get a used bike if you just want to try the trail out.

Another option is renting one of those advanced bikes similar to what you see the tourists ride. Ouachita Kayak Tours has a selection of Obrea bikes you can rent. Trust me when I say they are a lot of fun.

Know the trail

One last thing to share is you need to know your trail. You can take the time to walk the trail if you want to do that. It’s called hiking by the way.

Or you can just take it slow your first time on your bike and take in your surroundings. It’s called mountain biking for a reason, Your riding on rough cut trails through a national forest in the Ouachita Mountains.

The trail is narrow and filled with rough terrain. You need to always have your eyes up looking ahead of you. If you are watching your front tire you won’t have time to react to the roots, rocks and holes that make the ride interesting. You also have to be able to see tree limbs as they peek out over the trail.

Also be aware of other people on the trail. The trails in Montgomery County are very popular with cyclists and hikers so be respectful.

I don’t know what the proper etiquette is, but I would suggest if you are a new rider be willing to yield to others. Oftentimes hikers will see, or hear, you before you notice them. Most will step off the trail and let you pass with a smile and a wave. Thank them as you pass and try not to bump anybody.

Riding the trails is one of those things that anybody can do. As a 49 year old out of shape newspaper editor I can attest to that. I am looking forward to hitting the trails as often as I can this Fall with my Wal-Mart bike. Heck, I might even rent an Obrea every now and again to remind me what it’s like to live the good life!

Hope to see you on the trail.

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