Good for you! You have a made a decision to learn a fun and exciting sport that will keep you healthy and fit for the rest of your life. It is not uncommon to see people in their sixties and seventies on the trails these days! Physically, mountain biking is more like cross country skiing than road cycling. Both forms of cycling are low impact but mountain biking also involves some upper body strength so it is a good all body workout that is so much more fun than a stationary bike! And there are no cars and trucks to worry about!
Mountain biking is also a good way to loose or maintain weight as it is provides a good interval work out, (because of the changing terrain), which is the best way to burn fat. In addition, I find mountain biking to be intellectually more stimulating than road biking as the condition of the trail and terrain is always changing. You can not day dream on a mountain bike! And, while not necessary, there is also a good amount of adrenalin rush involved if you get really good at it and are the type who likes to “do air”. At any skill level, it is just good clean fun you get to do in the woods!
It is important to have a good basic mountain bike at the start, with front suspension. It doesn’t have to be expensive, just a good entry level mountain bike from one of the bike shops. We do not recommend bikes from the mass merchandisers. They are usually too heavy, of low quality and poorly assembled. Most will not hold up under real trail conditions and thus dangerous to ride. They also do not have any one on staff who can fit you properly. Choosing a bike is more a matter of personal feel and budget than anything. Try several brands and types. Bikes are becoming more specialized everyday, so seek the advice from your bike shop as to the right kind of bike for the type of trail you will be riding. Oak Mountain and Trussville are good “Cross Country” type of trails. A good “hardtail” or full suspension bike with a minimum of 100mm of vertical travel should be sufficient.
If you can ride a bike at all you can learn to mountain bike regardless of how fit you are now. Just start out easy and build your skill strength and endurance. Plan on following a regular program of training if you want to get good. If you are REALLY serious, and think you may enjoy racing, get a copy of “the Mountain Bikers training Bible”. Winter is a good time to start. You can do some weight training and cross training in a gym while the weather is poor to build aerobic capacity and strength, and really get going in the trails in the early spring. By the time it gets hot, you will be able to do the whole 17 mile loop at Oak Mountain if you rider regularly!
You have several options, but I assume that, like me, you do you not currently have any buddies that ride, as that is how most get started. So I will tell you how I started. I did some research on mountain bikes; (try www.mtbr.com) narrowed my search to about six models in my price range and went shopping. After trying all six and a few the shops recommended, I bought a bike. It would also be a good idea to read or at least skim thru some books on mountain biking to get a feel for what you can do with a mountain bike and the kind of riding you may want to do. (Oak Mountain is mainly a cross county course requiring an intermediate skill level when the entire course is ridden clockwise). It may effect which bike you choose. I did not do that and wish I had. For example, I did not know that a bike that seems to have a light front end is a good fit. Being able to easily pull the front end up to climb up and over obstacles will come in handy. You just want to be sure the front end does not rise too easily when climbing a hill. That is why you need to try several bikes to find one that fits your well. Do not worry about “clipless” pedals for now. You can graduate to those later.
I recommend you plan on cross county riding to begin with and start with a “hardtail”. Later you can “graduate” to more technical riding and may want to move up to a dual suspension. Once you get your bike, just start riding! Plan on starting out slow to build up your fitness level, beginning with the beginner family trail at Oak Mountain and moving on to Mr. Toads and Foreplay, both relatively easy single track trails . (You can download a map from our Web site). Seven bridges is also fairly easy. I also recommend just riding on the road as well to build your endurance. As your endurance and skill quickly builds you will find your self riding father and faster.
There are several good beginner pages on the web as well. Try some of the links on our web page and/or do a web search. I also recommend Ned Overend’s Book and video to learn about basic and advanced skills. (can’t recall the name, but just do a search on Amazon.com and it will show up)! A lot of the fun is learning to overcome obstacles you will encounter on the trail.
Finally, I recommend you come and meet us. Consider joining our group as we are the ones who build and maintain the trails at our expense and need all the support we can get! While a lot of our more enthusiastic members are accomplished riders, we have several, like me, who are just recreational riders, as well as beginners. We are all enthusiastic about Mtn Biking and love to share what we know. We have a ride every month that is especially for new riders, on the third Saturday. (See web site for more information). There is always at least one BUMP member there ready to lead a beginner ride. And to keep you challenged and your skills growing, we also do road trips to other trails in the area, some of which are more challenging than Oak Mountain.
I hope this is helpful! Let us know if you have any questions about the above.
BIRMINGHAM URBAN MOUNTAIN PEDALERS