Getting started: Mountain biking

Mountain biker

Not far from your lake are trails meant for riding. For some, all you need is that old Raleigh sitting in the shed (after you lube the chain and check the tires). For others, a mountain bike with suspension is the best machine for scooting over obstacles and rolling down singletrack, narrow, bike-width paths through the forest.

Thomas Hughes, whose cottage is south of Beaverton, Ont., on Lake Simcoe, likes to hit the rail trails in his area, especially a 30 km section that connects Cannington and Lindsay. “You can ride between these towns, which makes a good day trip for a regular cyclist,” he says.

For beginners, rail trails—with no steep descents or climbs—are great. For those who want to get into more technical riding, Hughes recommends the routes at Durham Regional Forest, south of Uxbridge. Some trails have challenging parts, but nothing to discourage the beginner. “Most of the obstacles that you can’t ride over, you can walk around,” Hughes says.

Sarah Truscott heads to her cottage north of Minden almost every weekend in the summer with her full-suspension bike. If she’s driving up Saturday, she’ll stop at Buckwallow Cycling Centre, a private trail system five kilometres north of Gravenhurst. As with most mountain bike trail systems, Buckwallow has routes that vary in difficulty. The easy routes can resemble dirt roads, while the harder ones can have roots, rocks, and logs to manoeuvre around.

“I’ll spend half a day riding,” Truscott says, “and then head back to the cottage and enjoy the sun on the dock. That’s what I like to do: Get my exercise, feel like I’m taking advantage of cottage country, and relax by the lake. It makes for a great day.

Mountain bike 411:

Disc brakes: The stopping power on a mountain bike comes from disc brakes, which are more powerful than conventional side-pull or cantilever brakes. Disc brakes also work well in wet and muddy trail conditions.

Pedals: When you get a new bike, the pedals cost extra. You can choose ones that require special shoes and cleats that lock in. This set-up gives you the most efficient pedal stroke and control. Newbies should consider pedals with a wide platform, for more support.

Suspension: A full-suspension bike cushions bumps and bounces for both wheels. “Full suspension makes it easier for a less experienced rider,” says Michael Cranwell, the general manager at Duke’s Cycle in Toronto. “The shocks at the front and rear soak everything up and let you make mistakes without getting pitched.”

Gears: Most mountain bikes these days come with a set of 10 gears on the rear wheel. The smallest, with 11 teeth, is the highest gear, for high speeds. The largest gear, which can have as many as 36 teeth, is a low gear, meant for getting you up steep climbs.

Wheels: Mountain bike wheels come in three sizes: 26, 27½, and 29 inches in diameter. The largest size is becoming the most popular, since big wheels allow the rider to roll over rocks and roots more easily.