I moved to Lake Tahoe to snowboard, but then the snow melted. On foot, I fell in love with trail running. Then I discovered mountain biking. I climbed twisty, smooth singletrack to lakes I didn't know existed, and to views that I never would have seen. Riding downhill served a new challenge: Picking my way through rocks, small logs and tight turns required upper body strength and balance. I fell in love, again, with a new sport.
Mountain biking--riding over trails, rocks and tree stumps on a bike with fat, knobby tires, shock-absorbing suspension and in a more upright position than road bikes--is packed with adventure.
And there are the fitness benefits: Pedaling uphill can burn up to 600 calories an hour while building cardiovascular endurance. Heading downhill, you rely on your upper body for balance as you negotiate challenging terrain. Riding both up- and downhill is low-impact (read: joint-saving, and a nice break from running), and you use different muscles than you do running.
With its gear-intensive, head-into-the-woods and skills-required nature, mountain biking can be intimidating to beginners. But it doesn't have to be. Advances in women specific products and a few tips on how--and where--to ride means that anyone can pick it up and have fun.
If you trail run, ski or snowboard, you're used to picking a line through the terrain--a skill that will suit you well mountain biking. Ex-professional cross-country racer Eron Chorney offers a few more tips to get you started.
Know your gears. Learning how to shift up into a harder gear and down into an easier one before you tackle the trail will help you maintain your speed over any obstacle. Perfecting the use of your gears will aid you greatly both up- and downhill.
Stay balanced on the uphill. When climbing a hill, lean slightly over the front of the bike, keeping your arms bent and your butt firmly on the saddle. This prevents your back wheel from slipping.
Sit back going down. When descending, position your weight over the back of the bike, even behind the saddle, as you stand up on the pedals. To control your speed, squeeze your front brake (in your left hand) lightly off-and-on, while constantly, lightly squeezing your rear brake (in your right hand).
Stay loose. Keep your arms and legs slightly bent, and avoid a too-tight grip on the handlebars. This will allow your body to absorb the impact of the varying terrain. It also helps you maintain control of your bike.
Most bike shops rent bikes, and a helmet comes with the rental. But owning your own bike will allow you to go exploring whenever and wherever you want. Plus, you'll improve more quickly by fine-tuning the fit and learning the ins and outs of your bike. You can ride in running shoes and pedals with baskets, but switching to clipless pedals and mountain bike-specific shoes will give you more efficiency with every pedal stroke.