How Mountain Bike Trails Work

Choosing the Right Mountain Bike Trail

Mountain biking can be a leisurely ride on a well-worn wooded trail, or a challenging trek with inclines and obstacles around every corner. When choosing a mountain bike trail to ride, consider the types of outdoor adventures you're looking for. Then, read bike and outdoor magazines, mountain biking Web sites and tourism guides that have information about trails that interest you.

Each trail should include a topographical map to help you plan your ride. Know how to read the map and select a scale which will give you the most detail. Once you know what the trail has in store for you, be sure you have the skill, strength and stamina to handle it.

Information about each trail should also let you know how easy or difficult the trail is for biking. Some trails use the IMBA Trail Difficulty Rating System described in the previous section. Others have ratings that don't follow any particular standard. These ratings are often created by other mountain bikers, hikers who share the trails or those who own or maintain the trails.

If you're looking for longer rides akin to hiking on two wheels, look for cross-country trails. Competitive cross-country trails can be 16 to 28 miles (25.8 to 45 kilometers) long for the long tracks, and about three-quarters of a mile (1.2 kilometers) for short tracks. The long-track competition is the one that joined the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.

If you're looking for speed in your adventure sports, downhill tracks may be for you. Competitive downhill events include descents that last 4 to 8 minutes, and head-to-head competitions lasting only seconds. Cyclists wear heavier gear for downhill, and they can reach speeds up to 60 miles per hour (96.6 kilometers per hour).

If you're focusing on skill and technique rather than endurance and speed, look for shorter trails with more obstacles like mud, water and rocks. Such trails also inspire competitive events called observed trials, where riders are challenged not to put down a foot or reach out a hand for balance.

No matter what trail you choose, be aware of the laws in your area that govern where you can ride. If the trail is not specifically for mountain biking, determine if you're allowed to bike there. Also, know the usage policy for the trail you want to ride, such as whether or not you're allowed to camp.