Mountain biking 101: Part 1

Biking is the new golf, according to the experts. In recent years more new bikes were sold in New Zealand than new cars, which indicates just how many Kiwis are discovering this fun form of exercise. ODT sub-editor John Fridd discovered cycling 20 years ago and still heads out on his mountain bike whenever he can.

Imagine a machine which will get you fit, take you places you've never seen, get you to work and back without burning any carbon, lower your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, make you stop smoking, help you relieve stress and - most importantly of all - help you have fun.

Impossible? No, the humble bike is at the forefront of a revolution in New Zealand and all around the world as baby-boomers and youngsters alike realise their sedentary lifestyles are steering them towards an early grave.

Other people are turning back to the bike as they ponder the impact their lifestyle is having on the planet and try to find ways to reduce their carbon footprint.

If you decide to try cycling, you will obviously need a bike, and for the newcomer the choice can be bewildering.
First, decide what sort of riding you intend to do. If you only plan to commute to work on city streets, then a road bike is for you.

Browns Avanti Plus manager Stu Thomas says a good road bike can go up to 40% faster than a mountain bike on smooth tarmac, possibly making that trip to work in the city just as fast as taking the car.

Road bikes come in several styles, starting with flat-bar models which look like mountain bikes but have a road bike frame and wheels. They cost between $500 and $5000.

Next come sports, or endurance, road bikes, which can be used for racing but are more comfortable than an all-out racing bike. These cost between $1400 and $15,000.

Then there are the pure racing bikes, made for full-on performance, and the king of bikes are the time trial bikes, those angular, weird-looking machines bred to cheat the wind.

Road bikes come with between 16 and 30 gears - 20 is the most common - and the frames range from steel, aluminium and carbon fibre, with carbon used extensively for components such as seat posts and forks on the more expensive bikes because of its lightness and stiffness.

Stu says the biggest improvement on road bikes in recent years has been with wheels - "Fast wheels make a fast bike".

Some companies make road bikes specifically for women - including Kiwi Olympic star Sarah Ulmer's SUB brand.
A good woman's bike is not just a matter of "pink it and shrink it", which some brands do, but should be a dedicated woman's product, Stu says.

If you want to commute but also plan to use your bike to go for the odd ride on the Otago Central Rail Trail or some gentle back roads, a cross bike will suit you best.

This mixes features from both road and mountain bikes and gives the rider a more upright, comfortable riding position than a competition mountain bike or racing road machine.

However, if you plan to venture into the hills at weekends for some single-track mountain biking action but also plan to commute from time to time, you'll need a tough mountain bike that can take everything you can throw at it.

If you're buying a bike, you'll find they come in a bewildering array of sizes and if you're buying from the bike shop, staff should make sure you get one that fits you properly.

If you're buying second-hand, a general rule that the bike is right for you is this - when you straddle it while standing on the ground, the bike's top bar is at least 2.5cm below your crotch.

And when you sit on the saddle (these are easily adjustable), rotate one pedal to its lowest point and ensure you can rest your foot on the pedal comfortably, with a slight bend in your leg.
This is also a good way to ensure the saddle is at the right height. Most beginners have their seats too low.

Finally, sit on the seat and try the handlebars. If you're stretching forward uncomfortably, the bike may be too long for you, although you can often make changes to the handlebars to achieve a comfortable riding position.


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