Finishing the Cape Epic will be a challenge for me. Not only will I have to train a lot, I also had to learn to ride a new kind of bike: mountain bikes. If you are new to mountain biking, here is some advice from my own experience.
Choosing an Inappropriate Bike
If you are interested in riding dirt singletrack trails, you will have to get a real mountain bike! Road bikes, city bikes, and cruisers are not appropriate tools for riding MTB trails. Trying to ride off-road with an inappropriate bike might cause you to fall more often and get discouraged. I am very lucky to ride the Liv Pique! Some things that make this a perfect choice for riding off-road are :
Wide, knobby tires
Suspension fork and rear shock
Optimised geometry for climbing and descending on rough terrain
Disc brakes for increased stopping power in all conditions
Gearing that makes it easier to ride steep climbs
Size and fit are also major things to take into account. It is very important to feel comfortable, and a bad posture on the bike may cause various pains. For example, when I picked up my bike at the local Giant & Liv store in Toulon, the mechanic took my measurements and adjusted my bike for the best possible fit (including inseam to adjust the saddle height).
Not Wearing a Helmet
It is not compulsory (in France) to wear a helmet while cycling, but it is strongly recommended! Even though you will not be riding on the road with your mountain bike, you will take risks. The ground is changing constantly and even a second of inattention can cause you fall and get injured. Protecting your head by wearing a helmet is one of the most important safety precautions you can take.
You can also wear other protective gear to lessen your chance of getting injured. You might feel that you’re looking like a knight wearing his armor before getting into a battle, but as the adage says: « Prevention is better than cure ». My friend Gabie lent me some elbow and knee pads. At the beginning, I was quite skeptical, but after my ride, I was really happy to have them! Wearing protection helped me feel more secure and confident on my bike.
Underestimating the Effort
Mountain biking requires both cardio fitness and strength. I ride my road bike regularly, including 80 km rides during the weekend. When I was told that my first MTB ride would be 35 km, I felt reassured. In reality, I should have felt a bit worried… Many parameters are involved to estimate the effort required for an MTB ride: distance, elevation, terrain, etc. For example, this ride consisted of a lot of climbing and elevation gain. I can tell you that after 20 km I was exhausted! After that, we had to go downhill, which is also tough and physically demanding. Because of tension in my body (beginner mistake as well) and concentration, I ended in a state of great fatigue. Because of this, it is always a good idea to start small and work your way up to longer rides. Going on a ride that is over your head is dangerous and can make you feel less inclined to go mountain biking again.
Riding Outside your Skill Level
Mountain biking is a really technical sport, so it is better to go step by step. First, you will have to get used to your bike and learn different skills, and then you will be able to go on longer rides, including rides with more elevation change and technical descents. Personally, I have chosen to get into a club and to start riding with the slowest group (they take breaks regularly, take pictures, etc.) I know they have enough experience to give me good advice and I won’t feel pressured to ride outside of my comfort zone.
Not Bringing Proper Supplies
There are also many things you should not forget to bring with you. As I have already explained, MTB is physically demanding, so you will need snacks to avoid bonking. I usually take bars or dried fruit with me, but you can also take gels. Do not hesitate to eat regularly. It’s better to take a snack before getting truly hungry. Water is also really important. You can take it in a bottle but I prefer having my hydration pack with me. Another thing that you should really not forget is tools. Be sure to have them with you everytime you are riding your bike. For example, if you are going on a long ride in the middle of nowhere you will be happy to have inner tubes in case of flat tyres.
That’s it! I hope this advice will help some girls that want to try mountain biking. I still have a lot to learn, but for the moment, the best advice I could give you is: Have fun! No pressure! MTB allows you to enjoy nature, breathe fresh air, push your limits, but above all, you will be sharing unforgettable moments with friends!
Hailing from different countries, with different backgrounds, careers, and obligations, the women of the Trail Squad are just like you: they are moms, nurses, designers and teachers, and they love mountain biking. Together, these women are setting out to complete the most EPIC mountain bike stage race of them all, the 2018 Absa Cape Epic.