Earlier this month, hundreds of cars choked the roadways at Cedar Hill State Park near Joe Pool Lake.It was a curious site with inflatable canoes, bicycles and people of all ages rigged out in shorts and running shoes. The event was the Eco Lonestar Adventure Race, a relatively new kind of event that is growing across the state.They don’t all go by the same name; “adventure race” is only one. They are also known as Paddle, Pedal and Pound races and they all have something to do with outdoor activities such as mountain biking, kayaking or canoeing, sometimes running and sometimes swimming.Some of them, perhaps the more adventuresome, include orienteering, navigation and climbing. But they all include mountain bikes, those fat-tire, shock-absorber, multi-gear bicycles.“I would say we sell mostly mountain bikes and we sell them all year round,” said Steve Scaggs of the Denton Bicycle Center. “We sell road bikes, too, but they seem to be more seasonal. People can ride off-road any time of year and they don’t seem to be bothered by colder weather.”The racks in the Denton shop clearly show the growing interest in mountain bikes; and they also show the advances that have been made in that kind of cycling.Perhaps it’s because I’m something of a dinosaur when it comes to sports equipment. I have fishing reels that are easily 20 to 30 years old. I know there are newer technologies available, but if it works, I keep using it. The same applies to boats, guns and just about any outdoor equipment I own. Of course, some of it can also be attributed to the fact that I’m cheap.That’s why sticker shock hits me faster than some people and it was no different standing there in the middle of a bike shop where price tags dangled with large dollar signs.Asked what would be a starting price for a decent, first-time, practical off-road bike, Scaggs took a few steps back and placed his hand on a bicycle that cost nearly $700. He thought about it a minute and decided it could be done with something in the $600 range, but the more expensive one would be a better choice.For serious bikers, I know that’s just a whisper of a price. I’ve seen them in the thousands of dollar range, but for someone just starting out, and not knowing if they’re going to enjoy the sport or not, even the $600 price is a nervous gamble.It’s all arguable, of course, and if all you’re looking for is good exercise then just take down grandpa’s old Huffy, put a new baseball card in the spokes and roar off.But, if you want a fun, outdoor experience with maybe just a little competition thrown in, it is hard not to be mesmerized by a bike with hydraulic brakes, three gears on the front and nine on the rear for a total of 27 options with push-button accessibility, and real shock absorbers for front forks.The one Scaggs was showing me had 29-inch wheels, up from the old standard of 26, he said, because the bigger wheels could easier handle bumps such as tree limbs and small boulders. “They take a little longer to get rolling,” he said, “but when they get rolling they keep rolling.”You can get into mountain biking for a little less money. The cheaper bikes, generally in the $400 range, are decent if you’re just looking for riding on worn pathways in the park, but they can’t sustain the beating the more expensive bikes can handle.The cheaper bikes have single-wall rims, he explained, while the higher priced ones have double-walls. “The more money you spend, the higher quality frames you get. All the components are better. If you can afford it, you’ll definitely see the benefits.”And, after all, he explained, the mountain bike is really a utility kind of bike. You can use it to commute, ride the roadways, off-road and anything in between. “It’s kind of like having a pickup truck,” he said. “You don’t always haul things in the back, but it’s there if you need it.”Well, when you put it like that …Mostly, I think, the lure for mountain bikes has something to do with getting off the roadways where you have to battle for right-of-way with motorized vehicles that are faster, stronger and often times more belligerent. Fat tire bikes take you off the road and into nature and there are more and more places now to ride.
For more information
Fort Worth Mountain Bikers Association, fwmba.org
Dallas Off-Road Bicycle Association, dorba.org