Off-road biking doesn’t have to be intimidating
Ducking branches and dodging tree trunks, sinking in sand and sliding through mud, barreling over roots and bouncing off rocks. It’s all part of the wild ride that is mountain biking.
With guys to my left cruising by and shredding this single-track trail, my hands are hurting from gripping the brakes so tightly.
Yes, a lot of people (raising my hand) find mountain biking pretty intimidating.
And you definitely should try it.
The Wisconsin Off Road Series (WORS) has two races left in its 10-race series this year – Treadfest September 11 in Lake Geneva and the Sheboygan MTB Challenge October 2 and novices are invited and encouraged to come out and try them after a little practice and some advice.
“Anybody can do it,” said Dorian McFarlane, an IT manager at Johnson Controls from Milwaukee who rides on the Colectivo Coffee-sponsored team. “You get in there, you start doing it, you learn the techniques and stuff and you’re good to go.”
Off-road biking appeals to a lot of people who want a good workout without having to run a 10K to get it and the sport is growing in popularity. The recent Colectivo Coffee Bean Classic at Minooka Park in Waukesha had a really good turnout, with a record 811 racers, including 114 women and many participants in the “try it out” race and kids’ races.
Christine Kysely, 52, of Wausau, was there with her 8-year-old daughter Siobhan Artz. Mountain biking is their time together, among the wildlife creatures, falling in love with Wisconsin all over again.
“I’m afraid of road racing because of the cars,” Kysely said. “We can go out in the woods and see nature. It becomes your lifestyle. She knows when she comes home from school, we get dressed to go out — no matter how cold it is.”
McFarlane, who has been racing competitively for five years, suggests the Milwaukee River Parkway Trails and Hoyt Park trails in Wauwatosa for beginners because they aren’t as technical — they don’t have as many rocks, twists and turns and steep hills.
If you want that, go to Minooka Park. It has many loops, including an easy and intermediate options.
The beautiful, tree-dense, winding trail is maintained — at no cost to taxpayers, said Andy Douglass – by members of the Waukesha bike alliance, metro mountain bikers and the Colectivo mountain biking team.
“We design, build and maintain the trails,” Douglass said. “And it’s all volunteer hand-built with shovels, picks and axes — no machinery involved.”
For first-time riders, here’s some advice:
Get a good helmet; I’ve seen riders crash into trees and split their helmet in two. And get light sunglasses or yellow-tinted glasses to protect your eyes from debris and bugs.
For race registration, don’t be afraid to ask the race director which category to enter. There’s a “Try It Out” category for first timers that is one lap, instead of two in the “citizen” course. The citizen race is less technical and a shorter lap than the “sport” category, with a longer lap and more technical features.
“I’d ask them, ‘how long can you ride at 100 percent?’ and go from there,” Douglass said.
And learn how to pass — or get passed. In single track, there’s one narrow dirt path, with trees, foliage and brush on either side. When I’m out there, the last thing I want to do is slow down another cyclist, or worse, cause a crash that results in injury or damaged bike parts.
Douglass said the passing rider should shout out to announce he’s there. He may even say “there’s two of us.” The slower rider scootches over to the right, off path, and says “OK.” I even stop, but Douglass said we don’t have to stop.
“It is incumbent on him or her to pass you safely, without hurting your race,” Douglass said. “You’re racing, too. Even if I’m racing twice as fast as you, if I see a passing opportunity, I will say ‘I’m going to come by on your left.’ You are also obligated to work with me. My job is to get by you as quickly as I can and get back on the track.
“I will always try to pass you on an uphill because everyone is moving slowly. I will almost never try to pass you on a downhill unless there’s a lot of room.
“Now, if you realise there’s 26 people behind you, you may want to pull over – if you’re that slow.”
Finally, buy a decent bike from an actual bike shop. I’ve wasted my money on the Walmart-Target ones. A good bike will cost hundreds of dollars and a really good bike can cost thousands, but “this is such a great lifetime hobby, one that you can do well into your 70s or even 80s,” Douglass said.
And there are mountain biking events year-round — even fat tire events for our snowy winters.
“A better bike will make the experience more enjoyable and safer,” said Tim Scanley, the team director at Colectivo. “And joining a cycling team is always more fun. A lot of times bike shops know of a team or sponsor a team. They can help with maintenance or bike skills.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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