When talking about a slight change in lifestyle that will invite a more dynamic and fulfilling spare hours, recreational mountain biking forms as good a place to start as any. At first, a great substitution for people who enjoyed other outdoor activities, it attained popularity almost in an instant and end up separated as an entirely different category.
Nowadays, a sport, consisting of riding bicycles often over rough terrains it incorporates various disciplines such as cross country (XC), trail riding, all mountain, freeride, downhill, dirt jumping and trials.
And as overwhelming as these categories might sound, the truth is, most mountain bikers fall under the categories of XC and trail riding, that is, given the fact that the majority of them are recreational riders in the first place.
Recreational mountain biking is to be observed closely if we are about to get the complete picture along with the benefits, as well as the lifestyle changing factors.
The first picture we might stumble across is what the media serves us. They paint mountain biking as a fast, exciting sport and until recently, many mountain biker magazines put images of riders flying or speeding through mud. Racing is the aspect that gave the most of viewer attention, so it was logical for mountain biking to be presented as something of the like – fast, exciting, dangerous.
In neither set of cases were bikers carrying any additional equipment, or something of the like. The scenery, or meditative state of mind and focus were completely absent from this picture, so it was to be assumed that mountain biking is only for the adrenaline junkies.
Inexperienced riders, having only this in mind, needed time to completely adapt to the true nature of recreational mountain biking, thus savoring what they found later on. And that is that mountain biking is way more than just the need for adrenaline, or even the physical aspect of it.
It took me, albeit somewhat of a novice, very little time to see past the unilateral picture that was, and in some cases still is, presenting mountain biking.
Mountain biking has more going on than what adrenaline junkies commonly care about. It is an entirely different concept of leisure and enjoying spare hours. It’s about developing focus and certain set of skills which, when perfected, allow enjoyment like nothing of the like.
Granted, the scenery and savoring the away-from-clutter time is also present with other outdoor activities that share similar characteristics, but the difference is almost too big as to put this activity in the same basket with, let’s say hiking or alpinism…
It’s interesting to note that people who enjoy recreational mountain biking are, more often than not, also interested in other outdoor activities. In fact, many mountain bikers considered this hobby as a result of the need for substitute, when it comes to sports like skiing, alpinism, tramping… Not surprisingly, all connected with mountain scenery, decent amount of physical stress, as well as mental focus, some “away from the clutter”- time.
But the similarities end here.
Mountain bikers are varying in age as well as sex, though the usual profile is somewhere around the age of 25-35, and with mostly males participating. This is changing constantly though.
There are however different groups within the classification “mountain biker”, in terms of how they stumbled across this activity.
Here are three of them:
- People already involved with cycling (usually road) who wanted to broaden their experience, or transferred completely to mountain, finding it more fulfilling or interesting; as well as a very likely combination, where presumably younger people started mountain biking as a result of BMX riding “losing its edge”.
- People who stumbled across mountain biking only as a substitute for other outdoor activities, finding it interesting, and sticking to it for longer, eventually becoming more and more passionate.
- And the third group, which is rather small, where participants are usually people who didn’t participated in any activity of the like, and found mountain biking to be very interesting and fulfilling. They neglect the similarities with other outdoor activities, and are focusing on the “activity itself”.
Impact on our lifestyle
When searching to find out what recreational mountain bikers commonly look for in this activity, we come to realize that the physical exercise still reigns supreme. However we too have answers like scenery, challenge, getting away from all, exploring new areas, as well as the social side. This only concurs that mountain biking is, in fact, versatile activity that improves various aspects of our lifestyle other than just the fitness one.
Some, on the other hand, say that it is for the “thrill”. Had this been a test with tick-the-box options, this answer might have been figured more prominently. I guess that the risk factor plays a huge role in realizing the thrill.
But what makes mountain biking such a perfect fit for people seeking to improve their lifestyle in terms of combining leisure with enjoying other aspects of fitness and outdoors?
Here are some of my guesses:
Probably one of the main reasons why this sport attained so much of a speed in growth is due to the prices. Being available, that is.
It wasn’t always like this, though. Taking a look retrospectively, we can see that it was only available for the privileged ones. Bikes were pricy, equipment pricey as well and hard to find. All in all, a sport not available for everybody, yet alone teenagers as is the case today.
Nowadays, however, everything from bike frames to bike parts is both cheaper, as well as only away by a click. And as bikes and equipment range in decent prices, a decent sum of investment like, say 500$, buys you a lot of bike either way.
And being more dynamic and less time consuming type of leisure (like let’s say tramping), we are safe to say that extra costs, such as equipment for staying outdoors overnight, or any additional equipment of the like is not really needed. Hence this makes mountain biking to be more cost predictable and less expensive.
Less time consuming
Being taught to be as effective as we can in work environments, we are now likely to try and reflect this process into our spare hours as well. If you go and ask people about their leisure time nowadays, nine out of ten people will tell you that the spare hours and leisure time are equally managed when it comes to spending time efficiently. And mountain biking here comes as a “kettle, meet pot” situation.
It is less time consuming than many other outdoor activities that share some similarities, as well as more engaging and time fulfilling. You need huge amounts of focus; hence you are savoring most of the moment, making this feel as an even more time fulfilling activity.
What to expect?
Being versatile as it is, mountain biking offers a wide set of benefits. We are to experience increased focus, flows of adrenaline, sensing the thrill of danger, which in some cases is more than apparent if you are seeking for it, improved fitness and physical shape as well as many others such as enjoying a more meditative state of mind due to the scenery and being in more remote areas.
The challenge, at least the one we think of at first, usually goes to those with a competitive streak. However, a challenge is provided for at a number of levels, which more often than not, don’t include competition at all.
Most people fall under the category of riding that challenges them personally. What is a challenge for some may not necessarily represent the same for others. It may, in fact, pass as well as unnoticed.
However, achieving something completely new can also be exciting and challenging by itself.
Improved fitness as well as determination
Statistically, most bike riders are in a decent shape. You are to look very hard before spotting someone overweight or anything similar. So I guess it’s safe to say that adding this as a hobby into your lifestyle does invite better physical shape in general.
It’s a demanding activity, don’t be fooled there. I personally had the opportunity of witnessing many novice riders experiencing breakdown on some of the tours I’ve been. It’s usually the lack of energy and feeling energy drained (from what I tried to find out talking to some), but sometimes it goes to a completely different level where enthusiasts are facing a tough mental obstacle and decide to quit.
Gradually developing skills
Nothing of the above is a given though. You will require a whole set of skills that gradually develop over time, as well as experience. And handling the bike is not even for discussion. Without perfecting it, you are to be facing danger constantly.
However, catching the grip on your present capabilities when controlling the bike and understanding the terrain combined with your improved focus and adapting on various circumstances, you will enjoy this activity with decreased chance of injury and escaping danger.
Passion for upgrading
This is mainly a matter of improving in terms of skill, but it doesn’t end up here. You see, having bought the equipment and the ability to see where the flaws are through trial and error as well as through experience, you will realize what you need in terms of equipment according to your current level.
And as soon as you buy the first upgrade, you are hooked. All of the sudden, you are interested into upgrading your bike, your equipment, and it turns into sort of a passion whereas you learn about bike parts, talk about it with other bike enthusiasts… It’s fun above all.
Slightly addictive though. Like buying collectables in a way. Let’s say like constructing the perfect deck in a game like Magic the Gathering (yes ladies, I am that cool). It’s addictive, this one, so pace yourself accordingly.
What to pay attention to in practical terms
Let’s get a little practical shall we? Let’s say you decided to try mountain biking, and are now thinking about where to start. This is a thing that should be elaborated way more in a different post, or a series of them, but here are some guidelines:
You will notice as you go with riding more and more, that parts eventually need replacement. So this makes it logical to have a great frame on which to improve. Therefore, the frame is among the most important things to look for when purchasing. Aim for lighter, more sturdy, as well as have a close eye on the geometry. Some, you will notice, are more suitable for race type of riding, while others are more recreational centered. Those with more narrow geometry may prove to be painful for non-professional riders.
Also, a thing many riders neglect is the importance of choosing the length of the handlebars, since it will reflect on your riding experience a lot, taking in consideration your height, and more importantly the width of your shoulders.
Also another thing about the frame – go with hardtail (frame with only a front suspension) since full suspension frames are either very expensive, or affordable, but will crack soon. Spend money on a full suspension frame only if you have a lot of money to spare.
Other than this, you will need a good helmet (accidents does happen), as well as appropriate cycling shorts.
Anyway, more about this in another article…
About the potential health hazards
Without narrowing our focus on the very start to things that can “go wrong”, we are very likely to experience them. Therefore try and not perceive this as a negative talk, but rather as things you should be just aware of.
Run out of energy
Being a strenuous activity, mountain biking may lead to hypoglucaemia, or as we know it, running out of energy. And it happens more than you may think. However understanding this, and equipping yourself with snacks that are high in carbs and protein, you can easily solve the problem.
Recognizing the level you are at, in purely physical sense (though sometimes even not having the technical skills acquired may wear you down faster), also plays a role, since you will be able to predict the stress your body may suffer both physically and mentally on a certain type of terrain and a given distance.
These occurrences, as in bike fraternities are commonly known as “bonks”, are often talked about amongst more experienced riders.
If you join a biking group on a tour, and are yourself a novice, the first advice you are likely to be given is to constantly sip small amounts of fluids.
Loosing fluids is happening constantly, so the compensation should be similar in the sense of not allowing your body to drain itself, and then refill it at once. This may cause stress to your body which, when combined with the physical and mental drain you may experience, will bring you down in an instant.
Novice riders, taken by the thrill and excitement, usually tend to forget this, and therefore have not that pleasant experience.
Trapped in remote places
You will be surprised as just how often the police receive SOS calls from bikers that got lost, or worse yet, trapped, into remote areas. This is due usually to the fact that riders that are not that experienced tried something over their heads, went too far, miscalculated their capabilities as well as skill.
Therefore the best thing to start with is organized and guided bike tours, which despite the unilateral belief, are too fun and adventurous. Either that or you can find people more experienced than you are and join them.
As with many other equipment dependable hobbies, here things are no less the same. If things tend to go south and your bike takes the hit, the scenario can continue in two directions – you are either to repair the damage, or, say bye-bye to the rest of the ride.
Having this in consideration, you are advised to learn as much as you can about bike maintenance, bike parts, how things function, in short.
This, as well as carrying some repair tools, can make a world of a difference.
I remember when I had the first flat tire on a tour, and realized that I had to learn on the spot about how to replace it. It was frustrating to say the least.
In a different situation I also had to learn about how mechanical disc brakes function. They bailed on me on a downhill ride, and I tried to fix them, albeit not knowing how. I learned the lesson the hard way, and that’s just putting it mildly. With no brakes whatsoever I tried to continue somehow, and the whole group had waited me for an hour longer after seeing me arrive with bruises all over the place.
Learn how things function. Not only will it save you a myriad of problems, but also it’s kind of fun.
Now again on the lifestyle-benefits side of the story.
Mountain biking has almost all the elements imaginable for a quality leisure experience to occur. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian psychology professor, points that there are activities that make you experience a flow.
Flow occurs when one is provided with:
- Freedom of choice in participation.
- A balance of challenge and skill measured by clear goals and unambiguous feedback.
- Deep or focused concentration.
- Perceived control. Usually over the skills and the circumstances that occur. (Basically a balance of challenge and skill)
The interesting thing is that mountain biking perfectly fits under all of these circumstances, so we are safe to say that it is an activity that rather stimulates flow.
. . . people who enjoy what they are doing enter a state of “flow”: they concentrate their attention on a limited stimulus field, forget personal problems, lose their sense of time and of themselves, feel competent and in control, and have a sense of harmony and union with their surroundings . . . . . . something that is enjoyable to do gives a feeling of creative discovery, a challenge overcome, a difficulty resolved. People who see what they are doing in these terms tend to enjoy the activity more for its own sake.
Mountain biking thus is, in a way, an activity that through various physical challenges as well as overcoming a myriad of technical ones, and acquiring new skills, grants the feel of flow Dr. Csikszentmihalyi talked about.
This combined with the scenery and having the satisfaction of riding along with friends and companions really does give mountain biking the edge.
It is an activity that will for sure enhance your lifestyle, and allow you to enjoy an entirely different type of leisure, which tends to be more time fulfilling and engaging to say the least.
You can also enjoy the scenery and escape the clutter of the city, as well as find yourself in a meditative state of mind. Not to mention that it gives the opportunity to drift away from worries, mainly due to the amount of focus you will be putting into the activity itself, as well as enjoy more in savoring the moment. You also have the physical challenge aspect, the social one…
it’s a whole package, you see. Invest yourself in recreational mountain biking, and you will witness the payback to be quite bigger than what you expected.