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Feedback needed: Part 1 of a video series on how to ride a mountain bike in a straight line (skinnies!)

Thu, 04/10/2014 - 10:03am

I’ve decided to do a how-to video on how to ride a mountain bike in a straight line, since A) I’m pretty good at it; B) I have other riders occasionally asking for tips on how to get better at it; and C) I’ve not come across online resources that explain it in ways that I’ve found helpful.

I’m not (yet!) a certified instructor but it seems to me that knowing how to ride a straight line on a mountain bike is a fundamental skill. It’s most obviously useful for riding across trail bridges, the length of logs, and other man-made ‘skinnies.’ But it’s also helpful for ‘holding a line’ on a chosen route through a rock garden, an approach to a difficult step or drop, or just a narrow section of the trail.

Part 1 of my how-to series focuses on understanding the importance of leaning the bike to help maintain a straight line.

This a Beta version, 4 minutes long. Comments on how it can be improved are most welcome. Meanwhile, I’m working on Part 2.


To keep tabs on my blog, you can subscribe to my free weekly e-newsletter and/or  follow @MTBikeGeezer on Twitter.

The post Feedback needed: Part 1 of a video series on how to ride a mountain bike in a straight line (skinnies!) appeared first on Mountain Bike Geezer.

Categories: Citizens

My hybrid: not quite mountain biking but close enough for early April

Mon, 04/07/2014 - 10:10am

We finally got decent melting over the weekend so I took to the gravel roads south of Northfield on my rigid hybrid bike on Saturday and the paved paths of Hidden Falls Park in St. Paul on Sunday. Looking for something more challenging, I ventured over to Crosby Farm Regional Park. Voila! 

The south-facing upper multi-use trail above Crosby Lake was bone dry and even provided some technical challenges at both ends of the trail.  Upright handlebars, no suspension, 60 PSI in the tires? Perfect!

Venturing further downstream on a hard-packed sand trail, I found a recently expired beaver, and a nice little logover.

I took the tunnel under Sheppard Road, crossed over the Mississippi on the Lexington Bridge, and back over again on the Mendota Bridge where the view of St. Peter’s Church brought back fond memories. I attended elementary school there, 5th-8th grades.

Crossing over the Fort Snelling Bridge with a bike requires stairs at both ends. Tire rails are provided to make it easier to get your bike up or down the stairs. Urban skinnies! The one at the south end would be tougher, with very little handlebar clearance next to the fence.  Not too dangerous, as the guard railing next to the freeway is pretty high, as long as you didn’t hit too hard and go over the bars.


To keep tabs on my blog, you can subscribe to my free weekly e-newsletter and/or  follow @MTBikeGeezer on Twitter.

The post My hybrid: not quite mountain biking but close enough for early April appeared first on Mountain Bike Geezer.

Categories: Citizens

Why aren’t there more seniors mountain biking? Part 4: Image

Mon, 03/31/2014 - 9:49am

Too much of what the average person sees in the media about mountain biking portrays the super fit, dripping with sweat, in their Spandex-accentuated buns of steel; or the pro young bucks, flying off cliffs, with their Red Bull-infused nerves of steel.

And even mountain bike bloggers like me contribute to the problem.

Several of the comments in the Facebook discussion thread I started (publicly viewable) referred directly or indirectly to the image they have of mountain biking that discourages many people from trying it.

For example, Myrna Mibus wrote:

I’d say all of the above plus add “little room for non hard core riders” as a factor, too. There is room for the recreational mtn biker, as I have discovered, but I think the image many cyclists portray makes people feel unwelcome. For someone new, lack of information on where to ride is also a factor. There’s also a feeling that you “need” an expensive bike and equipment to ride, especially if you want to keep up with the gang. Actually, I think it’s the keeping up with the gang thing that keeps people away quite a bit in all areas of bicycling. That and the feeling that there is no place for riders who aren’t competitive/go fast types.

Mara Larson, Trail Steward for the Theodore Wirth Park mountain biking trailscommented in the MORC Forum:

We need to figure out how to make mountain biking accessible and attractive to more than white males of a certain age. Mountain biking isn’t necessarily what the general public perceives it to be. Changing those perceptions is the first step to widening our rider base to its full potential.

Chris Cahill also commented in the MORC Forum:

Here’s the biggie – Do potential beginners (of every age, race and gender) even know these [beginner trails] exist? Or do they see the picture above/below and the media showing the advanced features and Red Bull series and Griz and X and XX at Leb?

I met and had coffee with fellow MORC member Chris Awe yesterday. I wanted to chat with him because A) he’s the only one in the Twin Cities area who’s completed Level 1 and 2 of the IMBA Instructor Certification Program (ICP); and B) he posted this comment in the MORC Forum about the image of mountain biking:

… mountain biking is glorified in two ways. First, on TV. Picture the great trail from the last summer Olympics. That would have been a great ride! Fuel TV. I love watching those huge drops down the side of a mountain and nothing but 20 feet of air between the ground and a rider. Glory and gore make great TV. Riding a trail safely, skillfully and looking at the beauty of nature around just doesn’t make it past the editing room floor.

Second, Us. Yes, our stories of fantastic drops, huge log piles, insurmountable rock gardens, and blood laden wipeouts tend to dominate our mountain biking conversations. Much like the “one that got away” stories that any angler worth his salt tells.

Why would anyone that has a conservative demeanor want to take on this terrifying sport?

But what should mountain biking be to someone that wants to go out and enjoy the forest yet fears leaving their life giving blood all over the trail? It should be the exact opposite of what the media portrays and the stories we all tell.

We with experience would find that ride quite boring. It should be a lesson on the basic skills. A slow, controlled ride with several stop to check out how everyone is doing. Your leader should not be jumping, hopping, dropping or doing anything “wicked cool”. They should be doing EXACTLY what the least skilled rider is capable of, whether that be just you and a friend or a group tour. I know, this is boring for you, but this ride isn’t about you, is it?

A beginner mountain bike ride should be safe, easy, fun and educational. And it should be crystal clear to any new rider, whether they are 10, 30 or 60 that a ride is what you make of it. Not what TV tells us what it is or the brutal stories we share.

So, if you have senior friends that are intrigued, they would definitely benefit from a reassuring conversation about the beginner trails, the great smell of the forest. The slow ride that won’t tax aching joints. And definitely, no tails about how you went “endo”…

Yes, I’m an offender. Examples from this blog abound and my ego wants me to link to some of those posts. I’m not taking a vow of abstinence but it’s pretty clear that we need more videos and photos of people with a variety of average body types, riding mountain bikes on gentle rolling trails, some wearing plain old shorts, t-shirts and tennis shoes, with an occasional scene of riders stopping to smell the roses. 

The Silicon Valley Mountain Bikers (an IMBA chapter) just published this new 2-minute video that seems to convey XC mountain biking in a way that seems more attractive to beginners.  Maybe we need whole websites that reflect this type of mountain biking.


To keep tabs on my blog, you can subscribe to my free weekly e-newsletter and/or  follow @MTBikeGeezer on Twitter.

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Categories: Citizens

Why aren’t there more seniors mountain biking? Part 3: Fear of injuries

Thu, 03/27/2014 - 12:19pm

In the online discussion threads (see the list in part 2), many people mentioned the fear of injuries from falling as a reason for not considering mountain biking.

I touched on it in that post, arguing that beginners should not have to accept falling as a necessary part of recreational mountain biking on flat, wide, smooth, obstacle-free dirt trails like the dirt double track trail along the MN River Bottoms between the Mendota and Cedar Avenue bridges.

But what if you’re wondering if mountain biking could become a sport for you?  What if you’re curious about what it’s like to ride on some singletrack, especially trails with some of that ‘flow’ that you keep hearing about?  What if you’re tempted to engage in a little skill development, either on your own or with some coaching?

I took these photos of a woman riding the big berms section on the Lebanon Hills advanced beginner trail when it opened in August of 2011. I yelled to her, “Are you having fun?” and she yelled back with a big smile, “I’m scared to death!” Given her casual clothes, I’d say she was a recreational mountain biker at the time, right up against the limits of her skills.

It’s cool that she was out there, testing her limits. If I was her instructor that day,  I might have pulled her aside to ask her if she was having fun and if so, was she willing to accept that there was going to be some falling in her near future.  Why?

If she got a taste of the pleasurable physical sensations going around the lowest part of those berms, her brain was likely to be screaming “Let’s do that again!” as it released a variety of chemicals that contributed to those feelings of euphoria.  From there, it’s a short step to go a little higher on those berms the next time through, a little faster on the rollers, or find slightly bigger rocks or logs to ride over.  And at some point, she’ll exceed her skill level and fall.

Falling is something we increasingly don’t experience regularly as we age, and when we do, it’s rarely in the context of a helpful learning experience like when you see kids falling constantly when they’re learning to ski or snowboard.

I’m not an instructor but it seems to me that adult beginners, including seniors, who want to graduate from recreational mountain biking need to be reminded of this.  Falling is part of learning when you want to mountain bike as a sport. It can be a good thing.

The good news is that spills by beginning mountain bikers are rarely severe. Tim Walsh, who I met yesterday, added a comment in the MORC forum about mountain biking injuries:

Griff, I was looking for a link on an article regarding the comparison of injuries due to mountain bicycling to other cardio action sports. Sorry that I can’t find it, (I believe the article was in Bicycling).

The message was that the incidence and severity of injury compared to other sports such as downhill skiing, snowboarding, XC skiing, running and road bicycling was fairly low. The author used data comparing industry provided estimates on number of participants and emergency room incidences resulting from sports participation as part of his rational.

The writer speculated that the reasons mountain bicycling was not as high a risk sport as other cardio action sports included the ideas that most riders rarely sustain speeds over 10 miles per hour so not a lot of broken bones and it’s not an impact sport so not a significant risk of overuse injuries. This may suggest that safety equipment promoting comfort, safety and balance would be the order of the day. Helmets, gloves, and long sleeve shirts would provide most of the protection needed for new riders. Bottom line, my experience is that if wearing the above listed items, other than some abrasions, poison ivy rashes and bug bites, XC mountain bicycling is a fairly safe sport. I will keep looking for the link. 

And I’d argue that if you’re willing to also wear elbow and knee pads in addition to the gloves and long-sleeve shirts that Tim suggests, you can avoid many of those small bruises and scrapes associated with falling over and low-speed crashes.  

I’ve found that wearing protective gear has some psychological benefits for me in my quest to keep improving my skills. I’m much more willing to keep trying stuff that’s just a bit beyond my ability level because I’m not overly concerned about getting hurt. I tell myself, If I don’t make it, it’s not a big deal because I’m pretty well protected.  I’d argue that this mental mindset means I ride more relaxed, with more concentration on the challenge, and thus I’m even less likely to fall.

I found an article with the slightly misleading title Most Dangerous Sports that included mountain biking in its ranking:

What qualifies as the most dangerous sport is a matter of opinion, as it can be measured in a variety of ways.  The approach taken in this case was to generally look at sports most people play and compare them against each other in terms of number of injuries, body parts injuries, ages of those injured, and what types of injuries occurred using the Consumer Product and Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) database

If one defines ‘most dangerous’ as the sport with the greatest number of injuries per number of participants then football, skateboarding, and basketball could be considered the most dangerous… Mountain biking, tennis, and golf where those that scored lowest in terms of injuries per participant.

For all you seniors out there who golf regularly, note that mountain biking was last on the list at #11 (safest) and golf was #9. I’m guessing that not that many golfers get injured crashing their golf carts or get hit in the head with golf balls. Rather, as this article states,

 … golf is fairly demanding on the ankles, elbows, spine, knees, hips and wrists, which, without practicing necessary precautions, can result in an injury occurring in one, or even several of these areas.

Those are the injuries that are probably triggering all those hospital visits tallied by the NEISS database.

The moral of the story is not to quit golf and take up mountain biking, since the injuries in both sports can be minimized with proper preventive conditioning.   It’s really a perception thing. Mountain biking at the beginner and intermediate level is safer than most people think.

Mountain biking has other ‘perception’ problems, too. More on that next.

Update 10 PM:  The photo at the top of the blog shows John Seery and Michael Knoll from Michael’s Cycles in Prior Lake  attending to an injured buddy’s leg. They were tackling the narrow and rocky upper section of Timber Shaft in the Yawkey Unit of  the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trail System when he fell and sliced his leg on, you’ll never guess, a sharp rock. Shred the Red became Shed the Red. Michael had a first aid kit, patched him up, and he promptly got back on his bike and cleaned the section where he’d fallen. Off they went to the Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby to get him stitched up.  Just another way that mountain bikers bring economic development to the area.  Full details of that day in May, 2012 in this blog post.


To keep tabs on my blog, you can subscribe to my free weekly e-newsletter and/or  follow @MTBikeGeezer on Twitter.

The post Why aren’t there more seniors mountain biking? Part 3: Fear of injuries appeared first on Mountain Bike Geezer.

Categories: Citizens

Why aren’t there more seniors mountain biking? Part 2

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 12:42pm

I asked the question here on my blog last week: Why aren’t there more seniors mountain biking? I’m trying to understand what’s behind the relatively few number of my age-related peers (AARP crowd, baby boomers, seniors, geezers) who are out there mountain biking regularly.

I also posted the question to:

This morning, I met and had coffee with two of the guys who’ve been participating in the MORC discussion, Tim Walsh and Dean Davis. Tim is 64 and has been mountain biking for 30 years. Dean is about to turn 66 and starting mountain biking last year.

After a couple hundred online comments, plus my conversation today with Tim and Dean, I’ve got a somewhat better understanding than I did a week ago about seniors and mountain biking. There’s a lot to sort through and explain so I’m planning a series of blog posts, each one tackling a factor or issue related to seniors and mountain biking and what could be done. 

In the MORC forum discussion, Dean chimed in with a very detailed analysis. It included this:

By the time most of us hit the “senior” stage, our interests are pretty well set. My friends and I belong to golf leagues, we fly fish, we downhill ski, and we walk. In order to start mountain biking, I actually had to drop one of my summer activities to free up time to get out on the trails. None of my friends have any interest in starting a new sport, but they might be interested in doing something like the River Bottom Trails. I’ll have to push that this summer. But most of my friends just don’t have the personality anymore to get out there and ride trails.

Nearly everyone who’s physically active in their 50s and 60s still rides a bicycle at least occasionally, but most don’t race, or go on organized group rides or bike trips.  Mostly they ride bikes for transportation or for recreation, often on paved bike trails, like my wife Robbie and I like to do with our hybrid bikes. But I think if you asked her what sports she participates in, she’d say ‘none.’  For most people, riding a bicycle is not considered a sport.

But it seems that mountain biking is viewed as a sport by both the general public and those of us who are hooked on it.  It’s assumed that there’s a significant level of skill required to be a beginner, like downhill skiing (more on that below).

I asked fellow geezer John Schaubach how he introduces newbies at the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trail System which is near his home. He replied

If they have never ridden an off road bike before, I suggest first gravel riding, forest trails or, at Cuyuna, Sagamore trails. This way the rider experiences variation in ground resistance, the amount of momentum needed to go over changing terrain, the physical power needed to climb a grade and what it takes to navigate a controlled line through all this. This basic skill building leads to the confidence needed to tackle singletrack.

I do think Haul Road and Trout are the best starting trails at Cuyuna. Decent sight lines…. A nice roll without to much climb that helps conserve the momentum of the bike. … No difficult challenge features. Just good cross country flow.

But realistically they are not the perfect beginner trail(s). I would like to see available, say, a mile loop with a wider track that incorporates simple graceful flow design of gradual up and down and sweeping side-to-side bermed turns. Something that would immediately afford the new rider the core mountain biking experience that these purpose built trails are designed to deliver… something that is so engaging and inspiring they will want to ride more …and know they are able to.

I took Myrna Mibus, a friend who lives near Northfield, and her son Ryan to the Salem Hills Mountain Bike Trails in Inver Grove Heights last year for their first ride on a mtb trail. Myrna commented on Facebook and in an email to me that she and her family found the that Salem and some of the beginner-level mountain bike trails in the Twin Cities area to be a little too intense for their first rides:

Add to that the fact that you are probably going faster on a bike and have farther to fall and that you have to be watching for bumps, trees, soft spots AND manage shifting gears and bike maintenance (flat tire potential, chains falling off) and, yes, I can see why “geezers” aren’t jumping on the mountain bike bandwagon.

John’s and Myrna’s comments were an eye-opener for me.  I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a beginner and they’re essentially saying that it’s often too large of a leap to expect recreational bicyclists to go from riding on pavement to the dirt singletracks that I consider to be beginner level.

Mountain biking is often compared to downhill skiing.  Both activities involve learning how to control your speed over unstable surfaces and constantly changing terrain. Beginner-level mountain biking, however, doesn’t require a completely new body skill since pretty much everyone knows how to ride a bicycle. And it can be learned on relatively flat ground, despite the word ‘mountain’ in the name. So it could be argued that mountain biking is a much more accessible form of recreation for newbies than downhill skiing.

What’s scary for many beginning mountain bikers is being higher off the ground (sitting on your bike seat and standing on your pedals) while on an unstable surface.  Braking and turning, skills that hardly require a second thought when bicycling on pavement, suddenly have unpredictable consequences on dirt, especially when there are obstacles like rocks and trees nearby. So fear of being injured is a still a big issue,  just like downhill skiing. (More on this in an upcoming blog post.)

I’m coming to believe that if people can be shown that the fun of bicycling off-road can be just a small step from biking on pavement, they might become interested enough to buy a mountain bike and regularly embrace the activity at a recreational level.  And then some of those might decide it’s fun enough that they want to improve their skills and turn it into a sport for them.

Dean suggested, and I agreed, that the dirt double track trail along the MN River Bottoms between the Mendota and Cedar Avenue bridges would be a perfect metro area trail for those who’ve never ridden a bike offroad.  It’s generally flat, wide, smooth, and obstacle-free.

We don’t yet have enough ride leaders and instructors who are skilled at introducing mountain biking to newbies.  I’m delighted to see IMBA offering their new Instructor Certification Program. I’ve not seen reports yet on how successful the newly certified are at introducing newbies but I’m going to take the Level I course when it comes to the Twin Cities in May.

And Tim Walsh said he’s having discussions with a local bike shop and a local fitness center about their helping to promote and support a series of daytime mountain bike rides targeting older riders.

More scheming to come.


To keep tabs on my blog, you can subscribe to my free weekly e-newsletter and/or  follow @MTBikeGeezer on Twitter.

The post Why aren’t there more seniors mountain biking? Part 2 appeared first on Mountain Bike Geezer.

Categories: Citizens

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