With people antsy to get out of their houses, many of us are finding new hobbies. Although starting a new sport can seem daunting, mountain biking offers an easy way to get outside and can be personalized to suit your individual goals.
With myriad mountain biking trails close by in the Inland Northwest, this sport is accessible and a great way to meet with friends if you are tired of your typical hikes or neighborhood jaunts.
Grafton Pannell, mechanic for the local mobile cycling shop Velofix, is an expert at all things cycling. He was riding bikes by the age of 3 and has been involved with the Velofix franchise as a bicycle mechanic for almost five years after being trained by the United Bicycle Institute.
Most choices in gears and bikes are based on preference and depend on the individual shopper, but Pannell has some tips for beginners. He recommends looking for a bike that is an "all-mountain bike," meaning it can take on various types of trails. Beginners should also look for adequate suspension to absorb the shock of small jumps or bumps they might encounter along the trails.
Single-track trails (trails where only one biker can ride at a time) are plentiful in the area, and Pannell says there are quite a few that are perfect for beginner-level mountain bikers. He says Riverside State Park offers "a really good introduction to get people thinking about the sport" and offers mellow trails for those interested in flatter, cross-country-style rides.
The area also has double-track options, which means wider trails that create a less-intimidating riding experience. The Saltese Flats provide enjoyable rolling hills with good beginner terrain. Pannell adds that Beacon Hill holds a variety of trails based on difficulty level, with some suitable for beginners to learn single-track skills.
Both the bike and its wheels are other factors to consider when getting into mountain biking. Although the 26-inch wheel size has become more outdated in the sport, 27.5-inch and 29-inch wheels are growing increasingly popular. According to Pannell, a 27.5-inch wheel allows for a more playful ride. On the other hand, the 29-inch tires easily roll over obstacles on the trail, creating smooth rides; they are great for someone looking for speed. However, Pannell says shorter riders should consider sacrificing speed for the smaller wheel sizes as they can be easier to control. Again, tire size is all up to personal preference.
The gear needed is another part of mountain biking that depends on preference. Pannell says all bikers need the essentials: a helmet, pedals (bikes do not typically come with nice pedals), and gloves.
Pedals come in two styles: clipless, which require clip-on shoes, and flats, which work without clips. Pannell says riding shoes in particular "have a different style of rubber that will grip the little pins on flats better, and if you're riding clipless, you obviously need a shoe that your cleat will clip in to."
Gloves are integral to the riding experience, too, Pannell says, since there are no "zero-consequence crashes," and riders will almost always break skin. Gloves also protect against hot spots, and purchasing riding shorts with a shammy insert to provide extra seat padding can also be beneficial.
As far as the bike goes, Pannell strongly recommends beginners rent bikes before purchasing. Trying out a bike before purchasing can save more money on bike repairs in the end.
"Nice or worthwhile mountain bikes start at about $2,500," Pannell says. "There are some cheaper options, of course, but you're quickly going to realize you should've bought the nicer bike."
Above all else, Pannell says the one major tip he would tell new bike owners is "your bike is going to need work done, so having a good relationship with a mechanic is important if you want cycling to be something you continue to do."
Mountain biking can ultimately be whatever type of experience you want it to be.♦