Hardly any other outdoor sport reflects the spirit of our times as well as mountain biking, a mixture of high tech, nature and lifestyle, exercised by managers and dropouts alike. It all started small and crazy. Let’s leave the Swiss Army and their suspension bikes from the 1940’s aside... In 1973, the Californians Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze and Charles Kelly had the idea of using well-sprung heavy Schwinn bikes with balloon tyres to race down the mountains instead of climbing up. The media took it up enthusiastically and in the early 80’s, the first mountain bikes went into mass-production after a lot of technical refinements during the pioneer days. Shimano, Specialized, Cannondale and Trek were among the first producers. This started the global success story of the adventure of mountain bicycle holidays.
In 1988, the first MTB World Championships took place in Crans-Montana (Switzerland). In 1989, Andi Heckmair from Oberstdorf crossed the Alps to Lake Garda on a mountain bike. The alpine crossing was born, which has become a mass movement. The adventurous sport turned into an recreational sport with many facets.
All of them share the intense experience of nature which combines the feeling of freedom with adventure, and athletic challenge, but also with relaxation, pleasure and enjoyment. Similar to mountain climbing we overcome obstacles, go unknown ways, alone or in a group. Our spirit, soul and psyche are challenged while feeling relaxed at the same time.
We enter areas untouched by the broad masses who cycle on paved roads. Mountain bikers often ride in isolation on natural paths, dirt roads, forest tracks and on grassland, and climb mountains, but they can always take breaks, and enjoy panoramic views. This makes for a unique lifestyle with freedom, independence and adventure and offers a great contrast to our organised daily life.
This is why the trend has continued for 30 years. And mountain bikes have technically evolved: Full suspension, disc brakes, carbon frame, lighter and more stable bikes, even the eBike has reached mountain bike level. According to experts, cyclists will soon storm up the mountains with electrical support. The technical development of mountain bikes has opened up the field for many new disciplines:
Marathon: The aim here is to cover long distances. Usually, we need a comfortable “full-susser”, a mountain bike with full suspension, suspension forks in the front and a rear wheel with suspension travel from 8 to 12 cm.
Cross Country:The discipline mountain bikes are primarily designed for, nowadays also an olympic discipline, is exercised mostly on single tracks on a highly technical level, with light fullies or hardtails of less than 12kg weight.
Enduro: This discipline is about a high-quality riding technique on difficult trails which require a robust and well-suspended bicycle with suspension travel from 15 to 18 cm, using wider tires.
Freeride: the Non-plus-ultra of the mountain bike sport, suspension travel needs to be up to 20 cm. We run mostly downhill on freeride trails.
Downhill: The ultimate adventure! With extremely robust bicycles with suspension travel of up to 25 cm, usually equipped with a helmet, arm, leg and back protector, the speed down the hill is as high as possible.
Dirt-jumping:practised in bike parks and on special events. Very close to the BMX scene. Full of kickers and jumps, using stable mountain bikes with small, agile frames and smaller (24 inch) wheels.
Today, beginners can rent mountain bikes and equipment in many places and try out different types of bicycles before buying one. Before purchasing a bike, a proper consultation from an expert is required. There are so many bikes in every price range. If you own a bike, do not forget to regularly have it serviced.
The range of tours as well as specialised tour operators have both increased. There is hardly any European country that does not organise races and bike holidays. North America, South Africa with its Cape Epic race, island crossings in Mauritius and Cuba, desert trips in Morocco, Sinai and Namibia, tropical bike journeys through Vietnam, Costa Rica, Brazil or Tanzania, the search of solitude on two wheels in the Himalayas, Mongolia, Alaska or in Kyrgyzstan - on a mountain bike, you can explore the entire world as an individual or with an organised group of travellers.
When organising excursions or longer tours, the fitness of the different participants must be taken into account. Everything is possible from an athletic cycling style with few stops, well-developed cycling technique and physical condition, to an easy multi-day trip. Therefore, a proper preparation that considers possibilities and limits is crucial.
Technical training in one of the many bike parks, schools or bike-training centres is strongly recommended before starting out on a cycling trip as the technical requirements for off-road cycling are much higher than for classical cycling. A good cycling technique and appropriate speed is the best protection against roots, potholes and stones!
However, you should not forget to be considerate of nature, animals and hikers. Do not leave any waste and ride in a way that swerving and stopping is possible at any time. This is definitely not detrimental to your enjoyment.
Hardly any other outdoor sport reflects the spirit of our times as well as mountain biking, a mixture of high tech, nature and lifestyle, exercised by managers and dropouts alike.