Off Road Biking

By this time of year, some days it's almost too hot to run so in addition to biking on the road, I get a few workouts by going into the woods.  For a few of us, recreational riding on dirt trails leads to amateur racing.  If you're not a off-road rider and have seen pictures or video of an off-road race, you might wonder why someone would do such a crazy, painful-looking thing.  Because it's fun!

Riddle: What do you call the owner of a bike with shocks that's never seen a trail?  Answer: A poser!  Haha!  Kidding.  Really... anyone with a bike that has fat tires needs to try off-roading at least once.  Beginners should pick their first trail wisely.  Maybe a local park with easy, wide off-road riding/walking paths.  Make it mild and fun.  After you get the bug, then you can upgrade your gear and go for the more extreme stuff.

I've raced off and on for about 10 years.  These days my races are fewer because of less free time - you pretty much have to devote a whole Sunday for a race.  A popular venue for promoters is to hold a bike race on the grounds of a ski slope.  What else could they do with the place in the summer?  The trails are hilly, treacherous, and they always mix in some painful climbs up the main hill.

Me on a hill.  My mouth is usually wide open, huffing and puffing :)
- click image for larger -

Of course, there is the required gear.  At a minimum for the rough stuff, you need a bike with a front suspension fork, a helmet, gloves, and pedals that hold your feet in.  Novices will use the "pedal cages" (they are effective) and those with more experience will use special pedals which lock into the bottom of special shoes.  Sound scary being locked onto your pedals?  Eh... no different that being married, except with a bike it's easier to get out of.

Because of the relatively slow speeds of trail riding, there isn't enough wind to cool you off.  So there's lots and lots of sweat and if you tend to wreck and hit trees, there is some blood.  So bring a water bottle.  Depending on the distance and temperatures, I might use either bottles or a Camelbak.

I've done all three and here's the big difference between road racing (running and biking) and off-road racing:  Foot races are paced.  You know your pace and you stay there.  If you've run your race correctly, you don't have much left at the end - but you are still on pace.  If you do have any extra left, you turn it up during the last 1/4 mile.  Road biking is a civil sport - you usually ride in a group, draft each other, and make your move at the end.

Now off-road racing.  There is a mass start out in the open and it usually goes uphill in the dirt or grass.  You are racing people in your 5-10 year age group so you try to pick out the ones you need to stay ahead of and not worry about the others.

There are few opportunities on single-track race trails to pass so you need to slam it hard at the beginning during the mass start to get your place in the pack before the group is funneled into the woods on the narrow trail.  Starting full hilt like this does redline your heart and you will already have needed to develop the ability to quickly recover from near-max heart rates.  This is pretty tough to do and it requires training to get your body to adapt.  This is where the crashes happen.  Once on the trail, it's more of the same thing - to do well, you need to hammer the hills hard and recover during the downhills while still holding your speed.  It's common to see riders in the weeds puking after the first mile.  There are usually obstacles to finesse your bike over and you need to be good to be able to do it at speed.

After a few miles, it's not unusual to find yourself alone for a bit - you've been passed by faster riders and you left behind those slower than you.  Hopefully, you've left behind most of your age group.  So here's the 2nd tough part - motivation to still ride your fastest without trailing or being trailed by someone.  It's easy to slow down slightly but for all you know, there could only be 6 people in your age group, 2 are experts and are way ahead of you and the guy in 4th is 200 yards behind you and gaining, intending to take your 3rd place medal during the last uphill dash to the finish line.  In the woods you don't know when someone is close behind because of the foliage and their sound is covered up by the sound of your own panting.  So you need to keep pushing and not settle in.  The guy that is in 3rd might be just over the hill.

Yes it's torture.  A GOOD kind of torture.  Well.. not like THAT kind of good torture.  The reward is at the end when you know you made it through a pretty damn tough 90 minute demanding challenge and the satisfaction of finishing.





back when i was out of high school i used to visit a friend in the Modesto area (tiny town named Oakdale) we used love terrorizing round town on BMX bikes.  kicking gravel at cars in traffic, lots of other fun tricks.  i liked hopping both tires off the ground and spinning the bike 180 and peddling back from you came.  fun stuff.

Ahh mountain biking. I have rode much this summer. Been skating more. I don't go anywhere near a race. I'm highly allergic, Anaphylaxis allergic.But really I can't stay in shape long enough to compete. I'm more of a sprinter. I like to ride where I can risk getting hurt. Obstacles, drop offs into creeks 10 feet below. Yeah that stuff. 

2004 Santa Cruz Blur Powder coat blue with 5th Element rear shock. (The one in the link is a newer version of my bike)

Fox Vanilla Coil front suspension fork. (Buttery, can take anything)

Full XT transmission. (I shoulda went with SRAM)

Avid BB disc brakes. (Best mechanical disk break in the world.)

Rhyno lite wheels. (Tough, never had to true them and they're 4 years old.)

Continental Vertical tires 2.3 (although they are closer to 2.1 I shed several pounds off my bike by switching to these. I know swear by them. )

Crank Brothers Mallet M pedals. (They just work no matter what)

I wear full fingered gloves for grip when I get sweaty. 

Won't ride without my camel back.

Along for the ride:

Multi tool, spare tube, Clif shots, chain breaker, patch kit and cell if I'm by myself. 

I don't want to die without any scars. 

I've got a carbon fiber road bike that I love - I assembled it myself.. Kestrel frame, Dura Ace components, Zipp wheels... the bike is actually better than I am.

I used to ride with the local bike club on their 40 mile Saturday road rides.  I was just getting comfortable riding in close quarters and rotating.  One Saturday, we were in a dual column peloton going at a good speed and there was a bad crash 2 bikes behind me that took out about 10 riders.  It was a terrible sound.  One guy had to be picked up in an ambulance.  Going down on pavement at 30mph isn't something I ever want to do, so I quit riding in the group and now I just go solo.

killer tip about the tires.  you ever get into marathon bikes, like lance armstrong type? theyre really great.  ive never competed but i love the exercise.

Mud really sucks.  Literally... it can cause chainsuck where your chain doesn't release from the front chain ring and wraps under.  If you don't notice and keep pedaling, you are in for a time-consuming trailside repair.

I found that for me in mud, the skinnier the tire the better.  Skinny tires (1.5-2.0") sink to the bottom of the gunk where it' solid and lets the knobs grip better.  Once you are clear of the mud, it slings off better.  I once tried a set of wider knobbies and it was a disaster - I fought them the whole race.

BTW... one of the interesting rules in mt bike racing is how in-race repairs are handled.  If you have a mechanical during the race, you can only fix it with what you are carrying.  Goes for flat tires, broken chains, or bent rims.  You can either repair it, quit (DNF), or push/carry it the rest of the way.  I carry a small multi-tool, extra tube, and a CO2 inflater.

i learned this lesson the hard way....

i took a powerline trail that cut thru a small mountain.  well it was a muddy day and climbing was pretty fun.  lots of tire spinning and even a mud pit or two.  my friends and i call them swear boxes, because if you get stuck in one you curse a lot.  the mud here is crazy.  but cool thing about a bike is you can carry it when the terrain gets un-negotiable.  but on the other side going downhill, i biffed good.  i found out in mud if you lock up your breaks you go faster.  i had to lay the bike out to avoid the deep tire trenches in the road.


Be sure and watch the Olympic event scheduled for August 22-23.  This year, the course is designed to be more spectator-friendly and more obstacles.  Gives you a good idea of what racing is like.

I took my wife on a ride on some narrow singletrack and she landed in a bush.  She apparently didn't listen when during my instructions specifically told her not to wreck.  :)  She'll now only do paved or well manicured trails.

Here's a tip I give beginners to stay on a tight trail - keep your eyes up ahead and only look where you want to go.  Don't look at the slimy root or the rock that you want to miss.  Don't look down in the ravine where you don't want to go because you'll freak and will subconsciously steer into what you want to avoid.

i would love to try off road biking. what a great way to stay in shape.


husband of mine and i have mountain bikes and we used to ride quite often in the superstition mountain area. .....until one day 2na took a spill down a 30ft terrain full of cactus and ended up in a dry river bottom.

RIP: mountain biking!

Tuna ><((((*> the other white meat! I am Keeper Of The Whip!

That looks awesome! I know how to ride a bike but not like what you do, that looks like so much fun.

-Pain is weakness leaving the body- USMC OOrah!

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