LONGMONT— It was the end of a long day of riding, but Michael Jessup, a University of Colorado business major, lost focus for only a moment.
His bike slammed to a halt, and he was airborne.
“It wasn’t even a technical part of the trail,” he said. “I just hit a rock.”
When he got up and dusted himself off, he saw a gash in the side of his helmet and deep scrapes in his knee and elbow pads.
His back, except where it was covered by his padded jacket, was scratched and bleeding.
“Those pads are definitely what saved me,” he said.
Jessup learned the hard way one of the potential dangers of mountain biking, but the adrenaline-pumping sport has more to offer than cuts and bruises.
According to Buzz Feldman, owner of High Gear Cyclery in Longmont, more and more people are turning to mountain biking to get in shape.
“It’s a great way to lose weight and get muscle tone,” he said. “You burn about 500 calories an hour riding at a moderate pace.”
Feldman suggests beginners make sure they have the right equipment before they tackle the trails. The first step is deciding what kind of riding you want to do.
If you ride flatter trails with few obstacles, a single suspension — or hardtail — bike will fit your needs. These entry-level bikes usually start between $250 and $300.
“If you’re more hardcore or you just want a better ride, I’d go for a dual-suspension bike,” Feldman said.
Dual-suspension bikes have shocks in both the front and rear; they cost and weigh more because of the extra components. The shocks give added control and ease the impact on a rider’s legs and arms. These bikes start at about $450.
Making sure the bike fits your body is integral to having a safe, comfortable ride.
High Gear uses the Custom Fit system, which takes measurements such as height and arm length and feeds them into a computer program. The program then computes dimensions such as frame size and seat height.
“The measurements take about five minutes, and they allow you to get the bike to fit the person really well,” Feldman said. “It takes out all the guesswork.”
Feldman said a new rider should test for any potential fitting problems on a 15-mile ride before heading to the mountains.
“After that long, you can tell if something’s wrong,” he said.
But a well-adjusted bike isn’t the only thing riders need to conquer Colorado’s Front Range trails.
“A helmet is first on the list,” Feldman said. No matter how skilled a rider is, taking a fall is inevitable, he noted.
“Gloves are second,” he added. “They’ll cushion your hands on the grips and protect your palms if you fall.”
Feldman also recommended some sort of eye protection, padded biking shorts and cycling shoes.
The shoes, which start at around $60, have a stiffer sole that helps keep a rider’s feet from wrapping around the peddles. This reduces foot fatigue on longer rides.
Cycling shoes clip into special pedals to keep the feet firmly in place while riding. Riders can quickly unclip just by twisting their heels.
One mistake many new riders make is not adequately stretching before they head up the mountain. Calves, hamstrings and quadriceps aren’t the only muscles used during rides, so it’s important to stretch your arms, neck and torso as well.
“It makes a big difference to stretch after your ride, too,” Feldman said. “It helps you to not be in pain the next day.”
David Wert, owner of Cutting Edge Sports in Boulder, said hydration also is a common concern for new riders. Wert recommends drinking about 32 ounces of water every 30 to 45 minutes to keep from cramping up.
CamelBaks hold more water and are easier to drink from than traditional water bottles, but some riders don’t like the weight on their shoulders.
A small tool kit with an extra tire tube and pump also is a good thing to bring along.
Wert said he always brings a Powerbar or some other high-energy snack with him just in case he loses steam in mid-trail.
Both Feldman and Wert recommend Hall Ranch near Lyons as a good trailhead for beginners.
“Heil Ranch is is a good one, too,” Wert said. “There are some rocks, but it’s a little mellower and it’s not as tough as Hall Ranch.”
Pacing yourself is something Wert stressed for new riders.
“You should always take it easy at first,” he said. “Build your skills on the easy trails and graduate to larger stuff.”
According to Feldman, there aren’t any businesses in Longmont that offer mountain bike clinics, but several ski resorts do. Trail Wise Guides in Vail, for example, offers daylong mountain biking classes for riders of all skill levels for about $150 a person. This fee includes bike rental, gloves, water bottles, lunch and day packs. Visit www.trailwiseguides.com.
Even if problems come up on the trail, it’s important not to get discouraged.
“To really get good at riding, it takes time, making mistakes and learning from them,” Feldman said. “And remember to have fun. Cycling is all about having fun.”
Some important rules to remember when riding:
Mountain bikers always yield to hikers and horses.
Uphill bikers yield to downhill riders.
Don’t ride around puddles on the trail; ride through them. This helps keep the trails narrow.
If the trail is muddy, consider riding another day or on another trail, which helps keep trails in good condition.
Observe all trail rules listed at the trailhead.
Don’t leave anything on the trail. Pick up trash and carry it out with you.
Be courteous to other riders and trail users.
John Houder can be reached at 303-684-5336 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.