Riding a mountain bike looks like so much darn fun. The woods! The trails! The sailing through nature!
It also looks mildly daunting. The trees! The roots! The rocks that might send a rider tumbling!
For novice mountain bikers – or curious folks who’d like to give it a try – there are free Foundations of Mountain Biking – Skills Clinics being held every Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. on the Eastern Prom and Stroudwater Trail in Portland. The clinics will alternate weekly between a novice to begintermediate clinic on the Eastern Prom – where you can learn the basics about form, braking, and timing, as well as bike fit, shifting technique, and trail etiquette – and a beginner to advanced-intermediate clinic on the Stoudwater Trail – which starts with a skills overview and lets you get used to using those skills on a trail (with plenty of stops for do-overs, group discussion, and practice).
Clinics begin May 31 and continue until September 13 and are presented by The Bicycle Coalition of Maine. Brian Danz teaches the clinics – he’s an avid mountain biker and certified mountain biking instructor. He’s also a welcoming teacher.
Brian starts with the basics: knowing the bike. (When I first took this clinic a couple years ago, I had been riding a road bike for several years, but admittedly knew very little about the bike’s components. That became clear as Brian went over the parts of my old hand-me-down mountain bike and pointed out that the brake pads were hardened and the tires were hovering in about-to-pop mode.)
So the lesson in bike parts – from pedals and cranks to brakes and derailleurs – is extremely helpful, and it gives us novices a guide for what’s what, what to look for, and how the parts should function when they’re working properly.
Then the clinic moves on to form. The Eastern Prom proves to be a ideal mountain bike training ground, with room to ride up and down gentle inclines to practice keeping a ready posture and the all-important gear changing. It’s all about the gear changing.
And right next to the tennis courts is an impressive little hill (it seems much, much steeper when you’re trying to ride a bike up it the first few times) to really put those newly acquired skills to practice.
For the record: I tried riding up this hill three times and never made it up all the way. I blame that pesky gravity. (It’s always tryin’ to keep me down.) On the upside, that hill is always there, so I can return any time to conquer it. And I will.
Once everyone has a handle on the basics, it’s on to the nearby trail, which you may already have jogged or walked. The trails here are perfect for beginners, with just enough turns, inclines and wooden bridges to test yourself without ending up way over your head too soon. I enjoyed tipping over into some foliage and leaving a body-sized dent in the greenery. (Which reminds me: Helmets are required. Mountain biking = high probability of falling down.)
The clinics run all summer and interested riders can join in any time. Bring your own mountain bike if you have one, or you can see the good people at Portland Gear Hub (now at 155 Washington Ave., Portland and 207-761-7632) to borrow one.
While these clinics are ideal for new riders, experienced riders looking to hone their skills are welcome, too.
Foundations of Mountain Biking
All Wednesday night clinics are free and run from 6 to 8 p.m.
Locations alternate, with clinics held every other week at Portland’s Eastern Prom and Stroudwater Trail.
Upcoming Wednesday skills classes: May 31, June 7, June 14, June 21, June 28, July 5, July 12, July 19, July 26, August 2, August 9, August 16, August 23, August 30, September 6, September 13.
For more info and the schedule: www.bikemaine.org/mtbskills
Join the Mountain Biking Skills Facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/bcmmtbskills