Looking for a fantastic way to soak up the great outdoors and revel in nature’s beauty? Mountain biking is just the activity leaving you feeling invigorated and accomplished with numerous benefits. It’s a safer endeavor compared with road riding with cleaner air to breathe where you don’t have to worry about cars on paths, trails, and roads.
Mountain biking originated in the 1970s in Marin County, California. Since then, it has skyrocketed in popularity, especially during the recent pandemic with people wanting to do more activities outside. The best part: there are most likely an array of trails waiting to be discovered right in your area.
If you’re an older adult who hasn’t ridden a bike since childhood, don’t worry. Getting back in the saddle will transport you back to the easy breezy days of being thirteen again. All you need is a bike, which you can most likely rent or buy at your local bike shop, and a trail.
Let’s dive into the incredible benefits mountain biking has to offer:
- Builds a connection with nature: Mountain biking allows you to venture further into the great outdoors than you can easily on foot. Being surrounded by nature is not only awe-inspiring, but it also works wonders for your health. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Aging and Health revealed that for individuals over 70, the simple act of leaving the house every day predicts long-term functional and health benefits. So, hop on your bike for a dose of nature’s healing power.
- Benefits your health: Mountain biking is great for your cardiovascular health and muscle strength, making it an excellent choice for combating the inevitable wear and tear of aging. Biking is great for strengthening knees and hips, joints that tend to degenerate over time. Plus, biking is often prescribed as physical therapy for various injuries, so you’re preventing harm and embracing a fantastic form of therapy.
- Increases balance and coordination: Riding a bike requires balance. As we age, our ability to balance tends to decline, which unfortunately leads to an increased risk of falling. A 2016 Center for Disease Control study cited falls as the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among people over 65. Saddle up and take charge of your balance, coordination, and overall well-being.
- Engaging in a multi-generational activity: Mountain biking is an exceptional activity that transcends generations, making it a perfect way to bond with your children and grandchildren. It’s fun for all levels, too.
Let’s explore how to get started:
- Get the right gear: Start by renting a bike that suits your needs. You might even consider trying out an e-bike, depending on your fitness level. Ensure the bike is the right size for you and adjust the seat to the correct height. Most mountain bikes come in S, M, L and XL sizes. Other essential gear includes a good helmet, mountain biking gloves, padded bike shorts, and a water bottle to stay hydrated. Having a tire patch kit on hand is always a smart move.
- Start slow with an easy route: Remember, it’s all about building confidence and having fun. Choose an easy route to kick-start your mountain biking adventure. Look for a flat, paved bike path or a smooth fire road that will allow you to get comfortable. Avoid sandy or gravelly paths for now. To find the ideal trail, you can use apps like Mountain Bike Project, which offer detailed information on difficulty ratings, mileage, elevation changes, slope grades, directions and visuals.
- Consider taking a lesson: Many bike outfitters and outdoor companies, such as REI, offer mountain biking classes tailored for beginners. These classes not only offer expert instruction but also provide the gear you need to get started.
- Know how to use your bike: Here are some basic techniques
- Look where you want to go: Instead of fixating on obstacles you want to avoid, direct your gaze ahead. Your bike will follow your line of sight, so focus on the path ahead.
- Stay in a neutral position: When you’re not pedaling or descending, keep your feet level, parallel to the ground and most of your weight on the pedals instead of the seat. This position creates a lower center of gravity, ensuring optimal balance and control.
- Understand how to brake safely: If you are riding a bike with modern hydraulic disk brakes, they are very powerful and you can apply the brakes gently and generate a lot of stopping power. Ideally you should have one finger on the brake levers and the other three holding the handle bars. Begin braking with your back brake and then add front brake. Never start your braking with your front brake. Practice braking on straight sections of trail to learn how to effectively stop your bike. Brake before turns, not during turns. If you are braking while turning try not to use your front brake (or use it very gently if you really need to slow down) as you increase the risk of your front wheel skidding and losing control. In general, avoid locking up your wheels and skidding as this results in a loss of control.
- Use your gears: When tackling hills, shift into the lowest gear before your ascent. For flat or downhill sections, choose a gear that allows you to maintain a steady pedal cadence suitable for your pace.
- Know what to do if you fall: It’s a part of the journey—falling happens. If you take a tumble, remember to keep your arms in and let the handlebars absorb the impact. Resist the urge to brace yourself with outstretched arms, which can lead to unnecessary injuries.
- Embrace the hike-a-bike moments: Sometimes, the trail may throw you a challenge that requires you to dismount and push your bike uphill. An old saying goes, “If you’re not hiking, you’re not mountain biking.”
- Know the proper trail etiquette: As a responsible mountain biker, follow trail etiquette. Yield to hikers and equestrians, and remember that uphill riders have the right of way when encountering those riding downhill.
Mountain biking is a fantastic activity to get outside and challenge yourself. If you already love mountain biking, you can start stepping it up and trying more difficult terrain. Not only will you discover beautiful local places, but there are amazing mountain biking destinations to consider, such as Moab, Utah, and Bentonville, Arkansas.
Throughout the “Active You” section of this blog, we will introduce you to ideas on staying active and learning new things.