Cycling is having a moment right now. The Covid 19 pandemic sent a lot of folks to the garage to dust off the old Schwinn. It also sent a lot of folks to the bike shop to upgrade or repair the old Schwinn. Local bike shops have seen their inventory fly out the door as people rediscovered fitness options that allowed them to get outdoors and exercise while many of the local gyms and fitness clubs were closed. Bike racks have never looked so bare. This is true of the specialty bike shops as well as the big box stores.
With cycling becoming more popular than ever, one particular type of cycling is gaining even more popularity. Mountain biking in the 417 has been a thing since the mid-’90s, it is now enjoying a bit of a renaissance. It’s hard to put a finger on one single thing that is driving this phenomenon. Likely, it’s a combination of things. In nearby Northwest Arkansas, they have created a cottage industry out of trail building. In the Springfield area, we have many miles of mountain biking trails, with more to come in the near future. Local entities like TrailSpring, MORC (Missouri Off-Road Cyclists), and Ozark Greenways are doing their part by making cycling more appealing and accessible. Another factor is the machine itself, the mountain bike. Never before have mountain bikes been more capable, durable and most of all, fun. All of our local shops represent most of the major brands of bicycles and gear.
Let’s dig into the sport of mountain biking a little. What is “Mountain Biking”? We don’t have any mountains here, so why is it called “mountain biking”? Essentially, the sport was born in the mountains, and the name just stuck. Mountain biking may be better described as all-terrain biking. It’s generally done on minimally groomed, but still established trails, cut through the woods, hills, and hollers of land that would be ill-suited to farming or development. Think about a piece of ground too remote, rocky, or too steep to build a house, graze cattle or plant a garden and you likely have an excellent place for a mountain bike trail. There are several different styles of mountain biking and all the big bike manufacturers seem to have a bike especially suited to each discipline. We’ll get into that another time though.
The mountain bike has a pretty colorful history. As far back as the late 60’s guys used to build up these clunkers from vintage frames and parts. They would then take them out to ride the steepest and roughest stuff they could find. Out of this, designated trails were born, and after that purpose-built bikes followed. Modern-day mountain bikes enjoy solid engineering, well-thought-out ergonomics, and space-age materials. They generally have fat knobby tires to maintain traction on unpredictable surfaces, like rocks, dirt, and exposed tree roots. They have straight bars instead of the downturned handlebars we’re more familiar with for greater control on tight twisty trails. They have lower gear ratios than their road cousins for climbing steep and rocky sections. Most mountain bikes today have some sort of suspension, usually, an air-sprung front fork, and many times a shock absorber for the rear wheel too. This gives the bike the ability to soak up bumps, rocks, and roots such as one would find on a typical mountain bike trail. Taken to extremes, it allows the rider to jump and/or drop from great heights without destroying the bike or the rider. Modern mountain bikes come in several different categories depending on the type of riding a person wishes to do.
Within an hour of Springfield, we are blessed with several awesome trails that are well suited to mountain biking. Through the efforts of several entities, we have many more on the way. Each has different features and characteristics that make them unique and provide the rider with a lot of variety depending on your mood and ability.
Mountain biking is a very fun and satisfying sport. If you can ride a bike, you can mountain bike. It doesn’t have to be the extreme style of riding that you may have seen on TV or YouTube. Much of what is featured in the videos are executed by very talented and hard-working athletes who are in the uppermost percentile of riders. The trails in our area are built with progression in mind. Riders of all abilities can find something they like. If you wish to try it out, but you’re still intimidated, there are many avenues to learn. For many of us who have been involved with the sport for very long, the mantra goes; Smiles Over Miles.
If you’re looking for a new outdoor activity, mountain biking is one that will put a smile on your face. Not sure where to start? MORC is a local club of MTB enthusiasts where you will find lots of encouragement and advice.
About the author: John Long is a BICP Level 2 Instructor, a member of MORC, and Dirt Society. He currently races for SBC/BO (Springfield Brewing Company/Bicycle Outlet) race team. John is an avid volunteer, regularly doing trail maintenance and leading skills clinics for club members. John also teaches MTB skills for Ninja MTB Performance.