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Mountain Biking

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When Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France in 1999, the profile of cycling was raised around the world. It was an amazing comeback from cancer to clinch cycling's most grueling and prestigious race.

Armstrong's performance inspired many people -- not only road cyclists, but also thousands of North American mountain bikers. In fact, Armstrong also competes in mountain biking.

Armstrong is just one of hundreds of thousands of North Americans who enjoy this relatively new sport. Many cities have several mountain bike clubs.

Mountain biking originated in California in the mid-1970s. A few avid cyclists started experimenting with a "fat tire" bike, setting the stage for a worldwide revolution in biking.

The sport peaked in the early 1990s, and continues to enjoy solid growth. In fact, it's the fastest-growing recreational activity on U.S. Forest Service land. The trend shows all signs of holding up in the next few years.

Mountain bikes are found not just on trails, but also on city streets. They're popular bikes for commuting to work or riding in city parks. Mountain bikes have become the bike of choice, especially among college-age people.

"They don't necessarily go out on trails, but that's sort of the bike to have now," says Patrice Quintero with the National Off-Road Bicycling Association (NORBA) in Colorado. "It's become more of a trendy thing."

The trend means most bike shops sell more mountain bikes than any other kind.

"There are some statistics that say nine out of 10 bikes sold are mountain bikes, and the flip side of that is nine out of 10 mountain bikes never hit dirt," says Kevin Condit with Adventure Cycling. His organization has 35,000 members and has created more than 22,000 miles of bicycle routes in the U.S.

Since the summer of 1998, Adventure Cycling's largest route has been open. In fact, the route, which runs from Canada to Mexico along the Continental Divide, is the longest mountain bike route in the world. About 200 cyclists ride it from end to end each summer, with many more riding portions of it.

The profile of mountain biking was raised in 1996 during the Olympics in Atlanta. For the first time, there was a cross-country event in mountain biking.

Competitive mountain bikers have hundreds of races to choose from every year across North America. "There's an unbelievable number on the calendar -- it's huge," says Pat Healy. Healy is the executive director of a cycling association.

Mountain biking appeals to all ages and fitness levels. Brian Smith is a competitive mountain biker in Connecticut. His riding club reflects how inclusive the sport is, with members ranging in age from their teens to their 60s.

"Mountain biking is a great equalizer among age groups," Smith says. "You have a common love for the sport, a common goal, to do a certain trail and clean it without having to dab [finish it without putting your foot down for balance]."

People love the sport for various reasons. For many, it's a chance to enjoy nature while getting a great workout. Others primarily enjoy the excitement of riding twisting, turning trails and jumping obstacles.

"It's fun, pure and simple," says Christie Lawyer, a mountain biker in Massachusetts. "It puts a smile on your face -- being on bikes, getting into nature, away from the traffic and smog."

Getting Started

For most people, just a mountain bike and a helmet are all that's needed. You can get a reliable bike for less than $300 and a helmet for less than $20.

Competitive mountain bikers often own several bikes. Fortunately, sponsors often help foot the bill. Top-end mountain bikes can cost from $2,000 to $5,000.

Many top-end bike manufacturers, such as Mongoose, have started producing bare-bones versions. These affordable bikes are available in discount retail outlets such as Wal-Mart.

"I think as a result of more families, kids, and students getting into it rather than just the hard core [bikers], the industry is responding to that," says Quintero.

Competitive mountain bikers purchase additional equipment such as special gloves and shoes. For them, the sport can be expensive.

"That is one of the drawbacks to the sport: expenses," says Cam MacKinnon. He's a competitive mountain biker hoping to one day be on the national team. "Many mountain bike racers own two or three bikes: a mountain bike, road bike, and a track bike."

They also have to worry about race fees, cycling clothing, bike parts, and other accessories. MacKinnon is fortunate to be sponsored by a local bike shop.

There are about 150 professional mountain bikers in North America. They make up a tiny percentage of all mountain bikers, so it's not easy to make a living at it.

"Making enough money to call it your 'occupation' is very rare," MacKinnon says. "You have to win the big races, like World Cups and NORBA Nationals, to make a lot of money. The other way to make money is to be sponsored by a trade team, which will pay top athletes to ride their products."

People of all ages and fitness levels can enjoy mountain biking. Bikes can be adapted for many people with physical challenges.

Mountain bikers should always wear helmets. Falling off a bike or hitting a tree can be fatal if you're without one. For most bikers, the worst injuries they'll sustain are minor.

"You're apt to get bruises and abrasions, stuff like that," says Condit. "With any sporting activity, there are certain inherent risks."

Mountain bikers can ride on streets, in parks, and on trails. They can even ride all-year-round. Special double-width tires are available for use in snow. And you thought you could only get snow tires for a car!

To find out more about mountain biking, contact your local riding club. There are thousands in North America. They'll have trail maps and other riding information. There are also many great sites on the Internet to learn about the sport.

With some practice, you'll know how to ride a trail and "clean it without having to dab."


Adventure Cycling
P.O. Box 8308
Missoula , MT   59807
E-mail :

International Mountain Bicycling Association
P.O. Box 7578
Boulder , CO   80306
E-mail :

National Off-Road Bicycle Association
One Olympic Plaza
Colorado Springs , CO   80909

Women's Mountain Bike and Tea Society (WOMBATS)
P.O. Box 757
Fairfax , CA   94978


Bicycling Magazine's Mountain Biking Skills,
edited by Scott Martin
Advanced Mountain Biking,
by  Derek Purdy
The Basic Essentials of Mountain Biking,
by  Michael Strassman

Mountain Bike Daily


Mountain Biking
All kinds of links

USA Cycling
Find out what's happening in the world of competitive cycling, including athlete biographies and race results

Dirt World
Trail guides, chat rooms, products, and lots of useful articles

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