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Monday, 01 September 2014

Check out the thrills of cycling in the mountains

YOU’VE been riding a bike since you were six years old, so can it really be such a big leap to make the transition from cycling along Cumbria’s quiet country lanes on a Sunday afternoon to hitting the dirt tracks in the Lake District forests or pedalling up some of England’s highest mountains?

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Fun-time: Mountain bikers learn the basics on a CycleActive course on the fells above Askham

Amos Doron, who set up Keswick Mountain Bikes back in 1992, says the similarities are actually greater than the differences.

“If you are used to riding a bicycle, the basic principles are the same,” he says. “The main differences are that you tend to go a lot slower on a mountain bike and it tends to be bumpier. The bikes are heavier and have a different sitting position – it’s more upright and less aerodynamic, but more comfortable. And they have a different range of gears – lower than road bikes to enable you to get up steeper hills.”

Many road cyclists are intimidated by the image of mountain-biking as a fast and furious sport, in which they are bound to take a few tumbles.

“There is a risk of falling off a mountain bike and it’s probably slightly greater than on a road bike,” says Amos. “But mountain bikes have good, strong brakes and suspension. And off-roading also takes you away from the most dangerous cycling interface – busy roads where cars and lorries travelling at 50 or 60mph can potentially do you a lot more damage than an overhanging branch.”

And, if you are wearing the right kit, you are less likely to come to any harm. The basics include:

  • A helmet for safety;
  • Mitts or gloves to stop your hands getting sore from holding the grips;
  • Sports glasses to protect your eyes from flying objects;
  • Padded cycling shorts for comfort;
  • Hard-soled shoes, such as walking shoes, so that your feet don’t bend round the pedals;
  • A hydration system, such as CamelBak; and
  • Tools for dealing with punctures and minor repairs – and the ability to use them.

Amos explains: “The beauty of mountain biking is that, for most people, it’s not competitive; there’s a lot more stopping and starting than in road cycling. You might have to put a lot of energy into cycling up a hill, but then you rest or even push the bike for a while. It’s less sustained.”

As with most sports, you need to be reasonably fit to enjoy mountain biking, but you don’t have to be Superman or the Bionic Woman.

The best source of information on mountain biking is your local bike shop where they will be able to give you route advice and contact details for local cycling groups.

Cycling with other people is a great way of learning skills and gathering information on a casual basis.

For more formal instruction, there are several companies in Cumbria offering skills courses, including Cyclewise Training in Great Salkeld and CycleActive , based at Brougham Hall near Penrith.

“There’s no reason why people can’t just take their bikes out on the mountains and enjoy themselves, but a lot of people pick up bad habits if they are self-taught,” says Chris Ford, of CycleActive.

“We show people a lot of simple stuff on our core skills courses which make it easier for them to enjoy riding –things like good body position, good brake control going downhill, good use of gears, techniques for cornering and how to handle loose terrain.

“People say they have learned more in one day with us than they did in two years trying to figure it out for themselves.”

CycleActive runs one-day courses for beginners for £85 and weekend courses, including accommodation, for £190.

Novices are introduced to the sport in some of the best mountain biking country in the UK – locations such as Grizedale Forest, Whinlatter, Ae Forest in Dumfriesshire and the fells around Ambleside and Penrith.

According to Chris, mountain biking in the region combines outdoor exercise with the chance for adventure.

“I like walking in the mountains,” he says, “but once you’ve walked up a mountain at low speed, you have to walk down it at low speed too. With mountain biking, you work hard going up, but when you get to the top, you’ve got a thrilling ride back down.

“You have that fantastic combination of a journey, a chance to explore and experience the mountains, followed by an exciting, adrenaline-fuelled descent.

“And that thrill can be at any level – whether it’s little kids experiencing dirt tracks for the first time or experienced adults going over Helvellyn.”

 

 



Contacts

CycleActive - email: sales@cycleactive.co.uk; website: www.cycleactive.co.uk; telephone: 01768 840400.

Keswick Mountain Bikes – website: www.keswickmountainbikes.co.uk; telephone: 017687 75202 or 75752.

 



KeswickMountainFestival

 

This year’s Keswick Mountain Festival is organising a number of events for novice mountain bikers.

The five-day programme from Wednesday, May 14 to Sunday, May 18 includes an introduction to basic skills, a family treasure hunt along a disused railway line, guided mountain bike rides and Trail Quest bike orienteering routes.

The Bike Village will be located at Rawnsley Hall, just of Main Street in Keswick.

 

 

 

 

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