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Mountain biking

Mountain biker riding in the Arizona desert.

Mountain biking is the sport of riding bicycles in a more extreme way, although not necessarily off paved roads—trials and street riding are examples of types of mountain biking based more around urban areas. It 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, freeriding, dirt jumping 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 are the usual pieces of equipment. Mountain biking can be done anywhere from a back yard to a gravel road, the majority of mountain bikers prefer to ride trails they call singletrack. These are narrow trails that wind through forests or fields. Mountain bikers describe a sense of euphoria that results from singletrack or downhill riding.

History of mountain biking

Bicycles have been ridden off-road since their invention. However, the modern sport of mountain biking primarily originated in the United States, in the 1970s. There were several groups of riders in different areas of the country 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 Gary Fisher Bicycle Company). The first two mass produced mountain bikes were sold in 1982: the Specialized Stumpjumper and Univega Alpina Pro.

A rider during a Cross Country race

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.


Mountain bikes differ from road racing bicycles in several ways. They have a smaller and stronger frame, knobby, wider and higher profile tires which are mounted on a rim which is stronger than a standard bicycle rim, a lower range of gears to facilitate climbing up steep hills and over obstacles, a wider flat or upwardly-rising handlebar that allows a more upright riding position, and usually some form of suspension system for either the front wheel or both wheels or none. The inherent comfort and flexibility of the modern mountain bike has led to an estimated 80% market share in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand and others.Template:Fact

While it is estimated that only between 10 and 20% of mountain bikes are actually ridden off-road, the sport of mountain biking has seen an explosion in popularity and diversification.Template:Fact


Mountain biker gets air in Mount Hood National Forest.

Mountain bikers have faced land access issues from the beginnings of the sport. Areas where the first mountain bikers have ridden have faced serious restrictions or elimination of riding.

Many trails were originally fire roads, animal paths, hiking trails, or multi-use paths that were simply used for these new trail users. Single-track mountain biking creates more conflict with hikers, particularly in forested areas. There is also some concern single-track biking leads to erosion. Because of these conflicts, the interpretation of the Wilderness Act was revised in the U.S. Congress to be able to exclude bicycles in certain areas.

Opposition to the sport has led to the development of local, regional, and international mountain bike groups. The different groups that formed generally work to create new trails, maintain existing trails, and help existing trails that may have issues. Groups work with private and public entities from the individual landowner to city parks departments, on up through the state level at the DNR, and into the federal level. Different groups will work individually or together to try and achieve results.

Advocacy organizations work through a variety of means including education, trail work days, and trail patrols. Examples of the education an advocacy group can provide include: Educate local bicycle riders, property managers, and other user groups on the proper development of trails, and on IMBA's rules of the Trail. Examples of trail work days can include: Flagging, cutting, and signing a new trail, or removing downed trees after a storm. A trail patrol is a bike rider who has had some training to help assist other (including non cyclists) trail users.

The International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) is a non-profit advocacy group whose mission is to create, enhance and preserve trail opportunities for mountain bikers worldwide. IMBA serves as an umbrella organization for mountain biking advocacy worldwide, and represents more than 700 affiliated mountain biking groups.

In 1988, five California mountain bike clubs linked to form IMBA. The founding clubs were: Concerned Off Road Bicyclists Association, Bicycle Trails Council East Bay, Bicycle Trails Council Marin, Sacramento Rough Riders and Responsible Organized Mountain Pedalers.

Other advocacy groups include:

Regional U.S. advocacy groups

State advocacy groups

Regions within a state

City/local advocacy groups


Types of Mountain Biking

For the most part, mountain biking can be split into a number of different categories:

A cross-country mountain biker climbs on an off-road track
  • Cross Country (XC) is the most common form of mountain biking, and the standard for most riders. It's the least 'extreme' form of mountain biking, if only in the sense that it is more focused on distance than exhilaration. Most XC riders will be very fit, and go on long rides around off road trails at speed.
    • Enduro is seen as an extension of cross country mountain biking, but going for longer and over harder terrain. Enduro events cover distances of 20 miles+, sometimes as individuals, sometimes as teams and sometimes in the form of a relay team. Enduro racing has grown in popularity recently spawning race series' devoted solely to the style of racing. The BC Marathon series is located in coastal British columbia and consists of races such as The Rat Race, The Test of Metal, Gearjammer and the Cheakamus Challenge. These races vary from 40 to 70 km in distance and attract up to nearly a thousand competitors each. Non-competitive enduro riding, trail riding, just means going out for longer and over more technical terrain. In the USA Colorado, California and Utah have excellent places for this kind of riding and in Europe Wales, Scotland, Spain and the French Alps, particularly Chamonix are popular destinations. The aim of enduro riding is more about testing your stamina and skills of riding than purely speed.
    • Single Speed not to be confused with fixed gear, is form of XC mountain biking that is done using a single-speed bicycle that has only one gear (approx. 2:1 ratio) and generally fewer components. The idea is simplicity. The straight chain line provides efficient pedaling. Fewer components means fewer mechanical problems and a lighter weight bike.
    • All Mountain is a mix of the best parts of cross country, trail and freeride mountain biking. Basicaly, as the name suggests riding everything, both up and down. When used to describe a category of bikes, all-mountain usually describes full suspension bikes with 140 to 160 mm of suspension travel which fit a weight and capability niche between cross country and heavier freeride bikes.
  • Downhill is generally racing bikes downhill as fast as possible. Obviously, it would still be downhill if it were not in competition, but most people would consider that to be leaning more towards freeride. In general, it is the custom to either be shuttled to the top in a vehicle, walk the bike (hike a bike), or carried by a ski lift as opposed to pedaling to the top of the trail. Downhill bikes are typically equipped with 170 mm or more of suspension front and rear, dual crown forks, 203 mm (8 inch) brake rotors and are larger and heavier than other mountain bikes.
  • Dirt jumping is jumping the bike over large man made dirt jumps and then doing tricks while they are in the air. There are very many tricks. The jumps are built close together so that the rider will go over about six or so jumps in one run, gaining a flow to give them more speed to do a bigger jump.
  • Freeride is finding the perfect line down the mountain using all the available terrain to express yourself. Freeride or freestyle competitions are becoming more popular where a rider's line and ability to negotiate obstacles are awarded points by a series of judges. Freeride bikes share many common components such as forks and brakes with downhill bikes, but typically have steeper head tube angles and optimized geometry for low speed handling. Another distinction between freeride and downhill bikes is the possible use of dual front chainrings and a front derailleur, while downhill bikes almost always have a single front ring.
  • Street/Urban riding consists of riding in urban areas, riding on ledges and other man made obstacles. Riders will do tricks as well as stalls and grinds.
  • Trials is considered to be part of mountain biking, although the bikes look almost nothing like mountain bikes. They use either 20" or 26" wheels and have very small, low frames. Riders will hop and jump their bikes over obstacles, generally urban. This requires an excellent sense of balance.
  • BMX, an abbreviation for Bicycle Motocross, is not usually considered to be mountain biking. It uses a bike with 20 inch wheels, and used commonly at a skate parks or on dirtjumps. Because of the smaller wheels and short wheelbase, BMX bikes are easier to perform tricks and stunts on.
  • Cyclo-cross is a cross between road and mountain biking. Riders have to go over obstacles, cross rivers, and race on off-road courses and on road. Most cyclocross bikes use a frame design similar to road bikes, with 700C wheels and road brake/shift levers.

The Environmental Impacts of Mountain Biking

Properly built mountain bike trails have little environmental impact. Studies reported in the IMBA (International Mountain Bike Association) Trail Solutions manual show that mountain biking's impact is comparable to or even less than other forms of trail use. Trails deteriorate over time. To what extent do bicyclists cause this, and how does that compare with the impacts of other trail users?

Irresponsible use, such as using a trail when it is too wet, can be damaging whether on foot, bike, or horseback. It is clear that other activities such as horseback riding and ATV or motorcycle use are far more damaging. Improper routing or trail construction techniques may result in a trail that does not hold up well to any kind of use. Riding in rainy conditions can create ruts and holes in the trail, making it less usable.

The North Shore

The North Shore of Vancouver, British Columbia is a world-renowned mecca of mountain biking, and one of the birthplaces of freeriding. It is also notorious for elevated trails on wooden structures often very skinny and many feet above the ground.

See also

External links and references