Easy Fitness – Mountain Biking – A Ride on the Wild Side

No doubt, cycling is a fat burner. A 165-pound man cycling down the road fan an hour at a fairly leisurely 13 miles an hour will burn about 690 calories.

Stationary bikes aren’t bad either. But for many people, traditional riding – either in a gym or on the streets – is about as dry as these statistics.

Mountain bikes are a fun way to easy fitness. They don’t have those pointy little seats that burn your butt numb. And they allow for something extra that many forms of exercise don’t provide. Going off-road, you can escape from traffic and see things you wouldn’t normally see.

Even if you were less interested in adventure than in losing a few pounds, mountain bikes are still a great choice. In traditional cycling, your legs, your legs do all the work; your upper body just sort of sits there. But when you are riding your mountain bike over rugged trails, your upper body comes into play constantly – jerking the bike over logs, for example, or pulling away from sheer free falls that suddenly materialize inches from your front wheel. And of course, the more muscles you use, the more calories you will burn.

There is a tendency, when riding on the road, to slip into a pace that resembles a casual plod, especially if the road is flat. On nature trails, the route is rarely smooth. It’s varied terrain and that forces you to use a lot more energy. Off road your wattage is constantly higher. And energy expenditure equals calorie burn.

Rules for Off-Road

Many people who own mountain bikes never venture beyond city streets, and that is okay. The bikes perform well on asphalt; the fat tires ride smooth, and the bikes have more gears than the traditional road bike, making it easier to get up hills. They make for fine commute. But they are designed to go off-road (the true mountain bike enthusiast would argue that they nearly cry to do so), and nature trails, though they can be wide and groomed, aren’t usually lovingly tendered by road crews. The demanding terrain unique to mountain biking requires off-road smarts and technical skills. When you are just starting out, here is what the experts advise.

  • Loosen up your wallet – There is a huge number of mountain bikes on the market, along with a ceaseless stream of new, high-performance doodads (shock absorbers, special handlebars, and so fourth) to put on these bikes. What equipment do you absolutely need ? If you buy the cheapest bike that you can find, you may find yourself lying down on the trail – with parts of your bike bouncing around you. Don’t accessorize now; lots of riding will let you know what kind of gear you really need.
  • Check the Seat – Before taking your new wheels for the maiden voyage, take a minute to check and, perhaps, adjust the seat. This is crucial. For one thing, having the wrong seat height – too low or too high – is terrible for your knees. Plus, sitting at the wrong height means that your bike won’t handle as well as it should – and at that point knee injuries could be the last of your worries. The easiest way to adjust your seat is to have the guy the the bike shop to do it for you. Ask him to mark the post so that you can adjust it in the future.
  • Beware of Downhills – There are lots of technical skills that you will need to develop as a mountain biker, but because of the potential for serious damage, none are more important than mastering the descent. People tend to go downhill fast before they develop their skills. They end up crashing and hurting themselves. You have to develop the downhill skills before you develop the speed. Getting downhill effectively and safely isn’t complicated. Move your weight further back on the seat (or off it entirely). This puts weight over the rear tire, giving invaluable traction. Look way down the trail so that you can see what is coming. Don’t focus on the 6 inches of trail in front of you. Use the front brake lightly. It has far more stopping power than the rear brake; jamming it down at high speeds will send you over the handlebars. It is better to use the rear brake more, while feathering the front brake for precise control.
  • Get Instruction – While mountain biking generally is neither difficult nor dangerous, coping with trails requires a bit more experience than taking a spin to the corner convenience store. It is helpful, before taking your first ride, to get some key tips – like how to brake and shift, how to ride around (and over) obstacles, and all the other nuances that will make life easier and potentially less painful. There are some important fundamentals, real simple things that you need to learn initially to avoid falling down. A fun way to learn the ropes, though certainly not the cheapest, is to attend a school or camp for personal instruction. You can find ads for camps in mountain bike magazines. Or check your local bike shop. They stay on top of the scene and will be able to steer you to qualified instructors in your area.
  • Ride with Friends – If you are not ready to commit to a camp, which can be pricey, joining a group of mountain bike riders is a great alternative. You can find out about bike clubs at your bike store. Most clubs have riders with a range of abilities, and most of the more experienced riders are happy to help with basic skills. It is important, though, to find a club with people whose skills suit you. Many clubs have beginner rides, and if you are a beginner, that is where you want to be. Where you don’t want to be is on the advanced ride – riders hammering hard and fast over rough terrain, leaving you gasping and alone on the trail, or flying over the handlebars. Riding with experts will only make you frustrated and slow you down in the long run.

Training Basics

Mountain biking is a great sport not just for adventure but also for shedding pounds.  To get a great workout every time, here are some tips to keep in mind.

  • Keep the Wheels Spinning – Beginning bikers tend to ride in too high gear, as though the mere act of shifting upwards confers superior benefits. Give your shifting hand a rest. What you want is to find a gear that lets you spin at 80 to 90 revolutions per minute (you can count the number of pedal strokes or you can buy a cyclometer to do it for you). This pace gives your heart and lungs an excellent workout while maximizing the efficiency of your pedalling and reducing the risk of knee damage.
  • Skip Cruise Control – Biking is hypnotic. There is a tendency to slip into a comfortable speed and just stay there. But when you are riding for fitness, you have to shoot for a pace that is a little uncomfortable. Calorie burning is a function of the speed or intensity you’re maintaining. The faster and harder you go, the more calories you’ll burn.
  • Pick a Reasonable Pace – While pushing yourself is good, coughing up your lungs is not. Going out flat isn’t good because you overtax the body. Experts agree that you will gain more benefits in terms of both weight loss and heart/lung health from a lower -effort workout than one that takes everything out of you. Keeping your rides between 60 and 90 percent of your maximum effort will give you everything that you need in terms of conditioning and weight loss, without the dangers of running yourself into the ground.

Rides to Try

Although you will burn plenty of calories by freestyling, much of mountain biking’s beauty lies in its decided lack of formality. You may want to occasionally increase the calorie burn by following a more formal workout plan. Here are a couple for you to try out:

  • The Group Challenge – Here is a fun workout to try if you are are riding with a group, either on the trail or on the road. First, form a pace line, with the riders strung out single file and close together, with just a few feet between tires. For a minute or two, the person at the front of the line does a “Pull”. This is tough stuff, since you are breaking air for all the trail gating fellows. You should be in a fairly large gear, which will strengthen your leg power and your wind. After your stint at the front, drop to the back of the line. Now, sucked along by the draft, a wind-free vacuum created by the riders in front of you, the ride gets easier. At this point you shift down to an easier gear, forcing you to spin faster. This spinning will really get your heart working. As each rider drops back from their turn at the front, you will slowly move up in the line (still spinning fast in the easy gear) until you are back at the front.
  • The Hill Interval – This one is ugly, but effective and you need to be in pretty good shape before trying it. Find a fairly long hill, 2 to 4 miles long. After warming up for 20 minutes on a level surface, , start your intervals. Riding up the hill, take it easy for 3 minutes, then push hard for 3 minutes; ride easy for 5 minutes, then ride hard for 5 minutes; take it easy for 3 minutes, then ride hard for 3 minutes. Finally cool down with an easy 10 minute ride on level ground. Because as it’s on a hill, you’re forced to recover while you’re still climbing. This is a really tough workout in a short amount of time.