by Tom Tero

If it seems like there are more mountain bikers than ever on the trails, you’re not imagining things. Mountain biking has hit a peak of popularity
that shows no signs of slowing down. I spoke with Chris Carleton, owner of Allspeed Cyclery & Snow and enthusiastic supporter of Portland Trails, and he exclaimed, “Mountain biking is growing big time!” It’s not only good for business, it’s also good for Portland Trails, as mountain biking brings in a new group of potential members and volunteers who get acquainted with the trails.

Mountain biking has deep ties with Portland and its trails. Many trails in the city were originally carved out by industrious bikers back in the 1990’s. While many of these trails were illegal at the time, they quickly became part of the community and enjoyed by all, not just mountain bikers. Over the ensuing 25 years, Portland Trails has assumed stewardship over many former mountain bike trails and made them an official part of the 70-mile trail network.

Changing economics, access, and attitude has helped fuel the sport’s popularity. The image of mountain biking used to be that of young daredevils flying off jumps, riding too fast, and building illegal trails. Today, the typical mountain biker is often more like me: a middle-aged professional who wants to stay in shape and have fun. Equipment is much safer and easier to use, so a beginner can get out and ride the easier trails right away. The cost of bikes has also gone down too so you don’t have to break the bank to get into the sport. There are even accomplished instructors available to help you learn the technical skills needed to ride safely.

One of those instructors is Brian Danz, the Portland President of the New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA). In coordination with the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, he teaches Foundations of Mountain Biking courses on the Eastern Prom every other Wednesday night and on the Stroudwater Trail on Saturday mornings. He likes to emphasize that mountain biking is accessible to everyone and that you don’t have
to be hardcore to hit the trails. His classes are free and you can find the schedule and more info on the Foundations of Mountain Biking Facebook page.

Brian’s favorite place to take beginners is the Stroudwater Trail, as it’s a fairly flat trail where newbies can get a sense of how to handle their bikes. The Portland Trails network has a great mix of easy, moderate and technical sections, so as your skills advance you can tackle more challenging terrain without leaving the city! There also more women than ever taking up the sport, and manufacturers have gotten much better about building bikes that fit women specifically. Groups like Single Track Sisters, which boasts nearly 300 members, lead regular women’s rides during the week. They too have a great Facebook page for more info.