Breaking Down Barriers- Let's Make Mountain Biking Accessible!
Hello TMPF blog readers! Last time you heard from me was a few months ago when I highlighted all the fantastic work that our friends over at Lake Park have been up to. If you want to be inspired by the power of collective stewardship, then click here to read more.
Today, I'm quite literally shifting gears to a very different, but equally exciting subject- mountain biking! Personally, one thing I love about where we live is the multiplicity of ways to explore the natural spaces of the Truckee Meadows. For me, mountain biking has been one of my favorite activities to get outside, break a sweat, and enjoy our trails.
There are numerous benefits of hopping on your bike and hitting the trail. Of course, your heart and legs will thank you as mountain biking provides an exceptional cardiovascular workout and will give you the glutes of steel that you’ve always dreamed of. Mountain biking also allows for further exploration of our trails. Let’s face it, traveling via two wheels is undoubtedly faster than travelling upon our own two feet. Finally, while it’s always great to take it slow and enjoy nature, mountain biking serves as an excellent outlet to those who are looking for a bit of thrill. Not much compares to the feeling of the wind rushing through your hair as you descend down a flowy section of singletrack- it simply can’t be matched!
Despite all the wonderful experiences that come from mountain biking, I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed that mountain biking isn’t easily accessible for everyone. At the Parks Foundation, we are firm supporters of promoting accessibility to our parks, trails, and open spaces. Regardless of how you choose to recreate, our mission is to encourage folks to get outside and explore all that the Truckee Meadows has to offer. With this in mind, my goal, by means of this blog post, is to do my darndest to break down the barriers of entry to this incredible sport. All who wish to mountain bike, should be able to do so. So, if you’ve been wanting to get into this sport, but don’t know where to start, cozy up and read on!
Getting Started with Gear:
Gear, gear, gear… this is always one of the biggest barriers to entry in any outdoor sport. The unfortunate reality in most of these outside endeavors is that very specific equipment is required, and that equipment often comes with a pretty hefty price tag. Let’s first talk about what gear is essential to start mountain biking. To get started, you’ll need: a.) a mountain bike, and, b.) a helmet. Thankfully, as far necessary items go, that’s not a huge list. However, if you’ve ever researched the prices of new mountain bikes, it likely made you and your bank account shiver. New bikes are expensive! It’s not uncommon to see bikes being sold in a range anywhere between $800-$8,000… yikes. I would recommend, instead of buying new, look at buying used instead. Websites like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are great places to start your search. I would also highly recommend doing some used bike shopping on Pinkbike. Pinkbike, for all intents and purposes, is a lot like Craigslist. However, it only features used bikes for sale and typically, there is less of a chance that you will come across any scammers with nefarious intentions. If shopping online isn’t your thing, then head on over to the Reno Bike Project (RBP). Reno Bike Project is a local shop with tons of great deals on used bikes. The bike selection can vary, but the staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and more than happy to help you find a bike that’s best for you. No matter how you slice it, buying a bike is going to require some dough. Just keep in mind that with some research and patience, you’ll be able to find a mountain bike for much less than you originally anticipated.
Once you’re set up with a bike, you’ll need something to protect your noggin. While I typically advocate for buying used gear, a helmet is an item that I would highly recommend buying new. Helmets’ quality and protectiveness can degrade overtime. Not to mention, if a used helmet has taken one or two impacts already, its efficacy decreases significantly. It’s fairly common to find new helmets for a price of around $30-$45. If you can manage it, do your brain a favor and buy a new helmet.
As soon as you’re equipped with a bike and helmet, you’re ready to ride. There are a few other gear items that can be helpful, especially once you start venturing out for longer rides. Keep in mind that these pieces of gear are helpful, not necessary. Items like a water bottle, water bottle cage, bike gloves, and a repair kit and tube, are all items that are beneficial to own. Most of these items can be purchased used and do not need to be bought all at once. Lots of companies will try to persuade you to buy more than what’s necessary, or buy their higher-end items. I recommend starting slow, acquiring gear over time, and if you decide you really like mountain biking, you can always sell your older gear and upgrade later on.
Taking Care of Your Tools:
Inevitably, something on your bike is going to break- I guarantee it. Now, I’m no bike maintenance expert, but I strongly suggest educating yourself on some of the basics of bike mechanics. Know how to change a flat tire, make minor adjustments to brakes and shifters, and other repairs of that nature. Even when equipped with this knowledge, you’ll likely come across an issue that you can’t repair on your own. Fear not! Oftentimes, all you need is a wrench, a screwdriver, and YouTube. Park Tool offers a phenomenal set of free video tutorials regarding a number of various bike repairs. I’ve used their videos as a resource numerous times and have successfully repaired parts of my bike that I couldn't have otherwise. If the repair required seems way over your head and you lack the proper tools, then the Reno Bike Project has you covered. In non-covid times, the RBP offers public bike repair stations, in which you can gain access to tools and even get advice from experienced mechanics. This service will hopefully become available again soon, but in the meantime, RBP is offering discounted repairs for their customers.
Hit the Trails:
Access to trails is often a substantial and common barrier to entry for many communities. Fortunately, we are incredibly lucky to live in the Truckee Meadows where proximity to outdoor spaces is far from a problem. If anything, our difficulty lies in exploring all the trails in our area! That being said, with so many options, it can be overwhelming to figure out where to go for your first couple of rides. The most important factor in planning your first ride, is finding a trail that is suitable for your fitness and skill level. Now’s the time to be honest with yourself- How comfortable are you on a bike? How often do you exercise? How well do you know the local trail systems? These are critical questions to ask yourself. If you’ve never mountain biked before and don’t exercise often, then maybe riding the 15 mile trail with 2,000 feet of climbing isn’t the best idea. I don’t mean to discourage the desire to push yourself, but all too often, I’ve seen beginner riders get in over their heads and ultimately have a bad biking experience. Mountain biking, like every other sport, is all about progression. Start off easy and master the basics; as you gain comfort on your bike and improve fitness, then start challenging yourself on more difficult trails.
To find trails, I really enjoy using websites like The MTB Project, AllTrails, and my personal favorite- Trail Forks. These free resources are accessible via the web and are also available in app form. They provide extensive maps of all the local trail networks, as well as provide specific trail information such as: mileage, vertical gain/loss, difficulty (usually measured like a ski resort, i.e. green, blue, black), and current trail conditions. Before heading out for a ride, check out one of these resources, pick some trails, and make a plan.
Be Kind and Leave No Trace:
Mountain biking etiquette can be a tricky thing to learn because it involves a number of unspoken rules. Sometimes, you can find information about trail etiquette on signs at the trailhead, however, often it's just something you need to know. Either way, trail etiquette usually just requires some common courtesy and common sense. Remember that we all make mistakes from time to time, and if something happens, just smile, apologize, and get on with your ride. No need to beat yourself up over it! Just do your best to not let it happen again. Let’s talk about some common, good etiquette practices while on the trail:
Right of way: Most trails in the Truckee Meadows are designated as multi-use. This means that they are open to hikers, runners, bikers, and sometimes even equestrians. To keep the flow of traffic moving smoothly and to prevent collisions, trail users follow right of way guidelines. Typically, bikers yield to hikers, and hikers and bikers yield to equestrians. When yielding, do your best to move to the side of the trail without damaging any vegetation nearby. Once the hiker or horseback rider passes, you can remount and resume your ride. Personally, as a trail runner and a mountain biker, I think it’s most courteous to yield to uphill traffic. If a biker is riding uphill and I’m running down, I usually get out of the biker’s way even though they should technically yield to me since I’m on foot. It’s incredibly difficult to unmount and remount your bike when on an uphill incline. That being said, as a biker, I never assume that a hiker will yield to me unless they explicitly say so and wave for me to come through.
Passing: When you need to get around somebody on the trail going the same direction as you, always verbally call out that you would like to pass. When passing, slow down, give the person as much space as you can, thank them, and get on with your ride. If you are riding with a group, it is courteous to tell the individual being passed how many more bikers are behind you. Easy-peasy!
Trail Direction: This is one of those guidelines that is often unspoken. For bikers in particular, there are often trails that are generally accepted for ascending and trails generally accepted for descending. This is usually not a hard and fast rule, however, climbing up a downhill oriented trail is not advisable. If you are curious about the generally accepted trail directions, I would recommend checking Trail Forks. Also, never hesitate to ask other bikers if you are unsure about the direction in which to go.
Trail Conditions: This one is pretty straight forward- if the trail is wet or muddy, don’t ride it! Riding muddy trails creates deep ruts that ruin the trail for everyone else. If it has recently rained or snow has melted, be sure to wait a few days before getting back on the trail. Once again, all the previously mentioned trail finding resources offer user generated trail reports which can give a good indication of the conditions. Peavine is one of my favorite trail systems to ride. It offers almost year round riding with a plethora of exciting trails to choose from. Before venturing out on Peavine in the winter or early spring, check out IsPeavineDry?. This is the best and most up to date resource for Peavine trail conditions. Finally, as a general rule of thumb, remember that South facing trails will be the quickest to dry out, followed by East and West facing trails. North facing trails will always take the longest to dry due to the lack of exposure to direct sunlight.
Music: At most trails, there is no official rule on music. This can be a bit of a hot topic, so hopefully I don’t come across as preachy. First things first, please do not wear headphones! It’s important to be aware of your surroundings while on the trail. It’s rude when someone is trying to pass, but you can’t hear them because you're too busy jamming out. If you insist on using headphones, consider only using one or keeping your music quiet enough so that you can hear people behind you. Alternatively, riding with a speaker in your backpack is not much better. Remember that not everyone wants to hear your music. People come to the trails for different reasons. Some people come to enjoy the serenity and get some peace and quiet. With that in mind, please be considerate and don't blast your music. If you really want to listen to music and also be courteous, consider playing music quietly from your phone speaker. This allows you to be aware of your surroundings, while also not amplifying your tunes to everyone else on the trail. As I said, there’s usually no official rules on this, just please practice common sense and common courtesy.
Phew! That was a lot of information. But if you stuck it out until the end, nice work. As you can tell from the many paragraphs above, there is much to consider before hitting the trails… and we’ve only just scratched the surface today. Remember, that jumping into this sport will be a learning process. As with anything, learning to mountain bike will be challenging and even frustrating at times. Take a deep breath and don’t give up. Ultimately, mountain biking provides an incredibly rewarding and euphoric experience unlike anything else. There are undoubtedly barriers to entry in this amazing sport, but together as a community, we can work in unison to encourage new riders, disseminate information, and be welcoming to all who wish to recreate on the truly awesome trails of the Truckee Meadows. Let’s continue to break down barriers and make mountain biking accessible to all.
Reno Bike Project (RBP)