With the return of fair weather, it’s time to gear up for another great season of mountain bicycling.
Nevada County boasts some of the best trails around for a range of skill levels from beginner to the most extreme risk takers.
“You couldn’t ask to live in a better mountain biking community,” said Jon Pritchett, a local doctor and chair of the cycling group, Bicyclists of Nevada County.
“We have great trails here. You can ride endlessly. There’s this huge network of trails in the county,” he said.
Pritchett has been an avid mountain bicycle rider for 13 years now. He started when he was still in medical school in his late 20s.
“I was really out of shape,” he remembers.
Concerned about his health and the heart disease and diabetes that ran in his family, he went to a local bike shop, bought his first mountain bike and started riding.
He lost 50 pounds and discovered a passion for off-road bicycling.
“I love the backcountry. I like the interaction with nature,” he said.
Now Pritchett rides every day and peddles an average of 5,000 miles annually.
Grouse Ridge Trail tops the list of Pritchett’s favorites for technical challenge and mountain serenity.
“That’s my favorite trail, hands down. It’s probably as remote as you can get,” Pritchett said.
Contrary to the young, extreme renegade image typifying most people’s characterization of the sport, Pritchett fits a more realistic demographic of mountain bicyclists: white, 40-year-old professional male.
“We have more professional family members than young, rowdy folks,” said Pritchett.
Of the 150 BONC members, about 70 are active.
Nevada County and the surrounding region is considered one of the top “world class” mountain bike destinations in the U.S, drawing crowds to the famed Downieville trails and the hundreds of miles of public trails within the Tahoe National Forest, Bureau of Land Management, Nevada Irrigation District and State Park lands, said Tour of Nevada City Bicycle Shop owner Duane Strawser.
Pritchett says mountain biking provides aerobic activity and varying degrees of roughness, dirt, mud and “coming into contact with the ground” in other words: falling.
“A lot of people thrive in pain and suffering,” he said.
More girls and women needed
Mountain biking is popular in the U.S. with nearly 40 million participants annually, according to International Mountain Bicycling Association.
Despite it’s popularity and a strong, local, recreation-based community, a noticeably smaller percentage of women and girls rides mountain bikes.
Jet Lowe started the nonprofit group YBONC as a support structure for schools that want to start bicycle clubs. While 150 youth participate in the program, only two are girls.
“What’s the carrot to get more girls involved? I really don’t know,” said Lowe.
She speculates it starts with families and today’s culture.
“It’s just not on their radar,” she said.
Lowe introduced bicycling to her own children early on, as soon as a bicycle helmet would fit and they could sit up in a bike trailer towed behind mom. Lowe’s daughter is now a sophomore at Oregon State University and rides and races her mountain bike regularly.
“I think we need more role models for women,” said Ellen Lapham, a member of BONC’s board of directors.
At 69, Lapham rides 15 to 20 miles a week. She’s been riding mountain bicycles since the mid-1980s while living in the Santa Cruz Mountains and prefers steep climbs.
“I like being in wilderness. I like the challenge of going places I haven’t been before. I like the solitude … I’m willing to try anything. If I find something that is a little too hairy for me, I’ll walk,” Lapham said.
While some women like the physical challenge, others might be put off by it.
“It doesn’t have to be super hardcore. I think that’s one of the misconceptions,” said Christa Baker, a college sophomore and BONC board member. She remembers being one of only three girls on the high school mountain biking team at Nevada Union, compared to about 30 boys. She is trying to organize a mountain bicycling club at Sierra College.
Mountain biking can be “aggressive,” and the rough terrain might deter some girls and women from the sport. Baker says what are needed are more skills clinics to build confidence.
Locally, group rides are available for beginners of all ages and genders. A monthly ride schedule at Tour of Nevada City Bicycle Shop offers family rides, true beginner rides, intermediate and advanced rides.
The bike shop sees good participation by women on the rides possibly because two women cyclists lead rides and work at the shop, a deliberate effort to make people feel more comfortable, said husband and wife owners, Duane and Connie Strawser.
“It seems like men and women both need encouragement when they are new to riding. They often think every ride is going to be extreme. I like to ride just for exercise, stress reduction, to enjoy nature and to enjoy my riding friends,” said Connie Strawser.
Where to start
Pritchett suggests visiting a local bike store and investing at least $500 to $1,000 for a decent bike that is fitted to you, a helmet, pair of gloves and shorts made for biking. If pulling that bike out of the garage from hibernation, it would be good to take it in for upgrades. Three local bike shops can help folks get back on the trail in the right condition, Pritchett said.
Connie Strawser says she is happy to take any true beginner out on a ride. Just give her a call.
A good trail for beginners is the Pioneer Trail, Pritchett said. It’s a wide trail with good sight lines and no obstacles. Park at the Old 5Mile House on Highway 20 and ride to White Cloud Campground. Round trip the ride is about eight to 10 miles.
Another one to try is at Empire Mine. Park at the Penn Gate and ride until you get tired, then go a little bit further the next time, says Lowe.
BONC will host a Group Ride May 11 on the South Yuba River Trail. Bicyclists will ride two to six hours based on desire and ability. Meet at 10 a.m. at the campground above Edwards Crossing.
Contact freelance writer Laura Brown at 530-401-4877 or email@example.com.