Trying Something New - Off-Road Cycling

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • The weather is really hot and humid where I live, but the lure of the great outdoors won this weekend as my friend, Sondra, and I went biking. Sondra and I used to ride 13 miles most mornings for about a year before she moved to another part of town. During these early morning treks, we’d weave our way through different neighborhoods, adding mileage by zipping into cul de sacs. Since Sondra’s move, my riding has been limited mostly to the gym’s stationary bikes so Saturday’s ride was not only a good workout, but also a chance to reacquaint myself with a hobby that I’ve always really enjoyed.

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        But this time, our outing had a twist to it -- we decided to do a little off-road riding, something I haven’t really done before. Sondra and I (along with her dog) went to a great park in the area and explored the trails. Ultimately, we did slightly more than 5 miles that day. Even though it was less mileage than we usually do, the ride had its own challenges and learning experiences.
         For instance, I never had to watch out for low hanging tree limbs in my other cycling outings. Sondra and her dog were ahead of me on the narrow trail. I was focusing on looking for tree roots, but happened to look up just in time to see a big limb at head level.  I instantly hit the brakes. Although the bike skittered out from under me, I managed not to fall. Although a little bruised by the incident, I was more thankful not to have conked my head. And I realized again the importance of wearing a good helmet.  I also learned that riding over a route composed of dirt, rocks, mud, gravel, and tree roots requires greater vigilance (and also caused me to focus on sucking in my abs in order to keep my balance).
    Fortunately, the park where we were riding didn’t have any hills so I didn’t have to navigate going uphill and downhill during my maiden off-road voyage. However, there’s another area park that does have more topological challenges where Sondra and I may venture in the future.

         At some point, I may take a class focused on off-road biking. For instance, the Dallas Off-Road Bicycling Association offers a course targeted to provide women with confidence as they ride their bike. They’ll also learn basic bike maintenance as well as basic handling skills. REI also has some good short videos about mountain biking that address inspecting the bike, properly fitting the bike,  safely shifting, braking, maintenance, and positioning your body while biking up and down hills.
         In the meantime, new off-road bikers may want to learn the “rules of the off-road.” The Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Association (CORBA) has posted 7 rules of the trail. These rules are:

    • Be prepared. Know your ability, skill level, equipment when choosing your trail. Wear a helmet, prepare a bike and take a map of the area. Be sure to check the weather. Bring enough water, snacks and tools to repair your bike. Also bring any necessary clothing.
    • Ride on open trails only. Respect trail and road closures and avoid trespassing on private land.
    • Leave no trace by practicing low-impact cycling. Wet and muddy trails are more vulnerable to damage. Stay on existing trails and don’t create new ones. Don’t litter on the trails.
    • Control your bicycle by paying attention.
    • Yield the trail to other trail users. To yield to hikers, be sure to slow down, establish communication, be prepared to stop if necessary, and pass safely. If you are passing an equestrian, be extra careful since horses startle easily. Talk to the rider to determine the best way to pass the horse. When approaching other cyclists, the biker going uphill has the right-of-way.
    • Never scare animals, since this could be dangerous to you, others and the animal. Give animals extra room and time to adjust to you.
    • Take the opportunity to give back to the trail. You can do this through working with park officials to build trails or to maintain them.

    Trying a new sport was really invigorating and a good way to spice up a workout. Off-road biking is a good challenge that can give a fun workout and allow you to enjoy the great outdoors. But take some advice if you go – be sure to look up from time to time and be prepared to duck!

Published On: July 19, 2010