May 15, 2007

My intro to singletrack riding

This past Sunday, my cyclocross bike and I took the plunge and I had to change my mind about mountain biking.

For years, I've been conflicted about mountain biking. Having seen a lot of the trails I hike turn into sidewalk-wide mud pits due to being plowed up by knobby tires, having been disturbed on peaceful rambles by the shouted conversations of mtb riders whizzing by on the trail, and having almost been run down once or twice, I've generally felt that bikes should not share trails with hikers and equestrians. There's one park in my area (Schaeffer Farms) that was developed by local mtb associations and that's primarily, unofficially reserved for bikes. That's fine. I've been happy to keep my feet off their trail if they keep their tires off mine. But, at the same time, being a biker in addition to a hiker, I could kind of understand the appeal of mountain biking. I've ridden for years along the C&O Canal towpath and loved every dusty, muddy, rocky, gorgeous mile through the trees along the Potomac River.

I did give mountain biking a try once about a dozen or so years ago. My ex-boyfriend, whose total experience with bikes really revolved around a (probably stolen) bmx, decided one day that we should try out the trails at Schaeffer Farms. All I really remember of the ride is being so busy looking at the scenery that I kept running into things. That ride pretty much convinced me that the whole mtb thing probably wasn't my cup of tea.

Since buying a cyclocross bike (Specialized Tri-Cross) last year that can supposedly handle a variety of terrain, I've been wanting to test it's abilities. It's excellent on the towpath. It's capable on the road (can't keep up with most of the other women I ride with, but that's partly the bike's limitations and partly mine). The only thing left was singletrack. Finally, this past weekend, some of my riding buddies dragged me around the DC Beltway to Rosaryville State Park for a spin on 10 miles of fairly simple trail.

It was a blast. We took it easy, averaging about 7mph and taking lots of breaks to re-group &/or catch our breath. I found, though, that it was really surprisingly easy. Granted, it's rated as a beginner/intermediate trail and I avoided log obstacles and walked one stream crossing, but I was able to keep up most of the time with the more experienced, stronger rider who was leading us. The bike's gearing handled the rollercoaster hills just perfectly (though my forearms cramped up from squeezing the hell out of the brakes on downhills). By the time we hit the halfway point, I had figured out the rythm of the trail, using the little humps like a slingshot to propel the bike up larger rollers, and guiding it around tree roots and curves with my shoulders and hips instead of the handlebars. And, of course, the woods and meadows the trail passed through were beautiful, albeit a tad blurred. I also had a moment of validation. At one point, a couple of young guys pulled up on the side of the trail to let us pass. As I approached them, I heard one of them say "A 'cross bike. Cool!"

So now I'm hooked. I don't see myself ever bombing down a hill or across a stream, and I definitely don't see myself climbing over logs, but I can see me and the Tri-Cross flowing along a swoopy, smooth trail like Rosaryville pretty frequently. Which makes planning where to ride on my day off just that much more difficult. Toooo many options

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