Tune up and take off

  • Barry Truman / Special to The Herald
  • Friday, April 2, 2004 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

If you want to get out in the hills and cover some territory, see some scenery and be home for supper, consider mountain biking.

But if it’s something new to you, consider it carefully.

You can find out what you’ve been missing before you take out a second mortgage to buy your first bike. Check out books on riding, maintenance and the trails you’ll ride. For $15, joining the Backcountry Bicycle Trails Club of Seattle (BBTC) connects you to a network of bikers. The Cascade Bicycle Club is another good source.

The BBTC (www.bbtc.org) offers basic classes such as its Boot Camp beginning in May to get you started mountain biking, and there are many fairly easy trails open to bikes in Western Washington.

It’s a good way to get outside for some adventure without any special physical training.

I have owned a mountain bike for 13 years, although I’ve always secretly contended that a mountain bike is a 1950s fat-tire bike with gears, knobby tires and lousy brakes.

I was recently taken to task for my medieval attitudes, however, by Leah Ellis and her brother, Jesse, of Spokemotion Cycles in Monroe, who gently enlightened me.

Good bike shops will take the time to size, fit and accessorize a bike to the customer’s needs. If a bike doesn’t feel right at the store, it never will. Quality mountain bikes, generally fitted with front shocks, start at about $200 (unaccessorized), which includes a free tune-up after a certain time period, and usually a warranty. The tune-up can go far in keeping your new bike riding right, especially under the pressure of off-road use.

A few accessories are crucial:

Helmet — It must fit snugly and should have certification from an accepted safety-rating organization. Helmets come in two shell sizes, are adjustable and start at about $30. Scrape your knees, but cover your brain.

Gloves — When gripping, braking, falling or enduring the cold, you lead with your hands. I carry a light and a heavy pair of gloves and usually use both.

Tire pump — The fancier ones make it easy, but standard frame-mounted pumps are cheaper and work fine. A spare tube might save a long walk, and biking tool kits should include tire levers.

Eyewear — Cycling glasses or sunglasses are a good idea.

Suspension — My bike has no suspension, and my vertebrae don’t either. Shocks, especially on the front, are advisable for anyone who plans to leave the beaten path.

Kickstand — This is an optional item. Some riders feel a kickstand gets in the way or is potentially dangerous.

Water — I have a bottle that slips into a sleeve on the bike’s frame and never comes out, but any number of hands-free drinking systems are available.

Food — Donuts are difficult to pedal off. Energy bars are excellent if you can tolerate the taste.

Clothing — Cotton gets sweaty and ultimately robs the body of heat. Synthetic, perforated rip-stop fabric "breathes" and is comfortable and light, and is especially desirable in biking shorts, which should be padded underneath.

Shoes — Sneakers are ineffectual pedal pushers. Any good, snug, hard-soled shoe with tread will do. They have to be comfortable because you will get off and push that bike sometimes.

Basic training — Stretch and go. It’s wise to start with short, easy rides, then bike yourself into shape.

Maintenance — Bikes should be kept out of the weather, and the wheel bearings should be greased four times yearly with a Teflon-based grease. WD-40 and similar products actually remove grease and can cause wear. Use a bicycle-chain lubricant regularly.

Above all, as Leah Ellis puts it, you "just need to remember, it’s for fun. You don’t need to be extreme — if you just want to go out where there aren’t any cars and get muddy, do it." She adds, "Don’t get ahead of yourself; go with friends who know what they’re doing."

And be safe: Don’t ride where bikes are prohibited, wear your helmet and remember that brakes are often just placebos when wet.

  • Lord Hill Park: easy to moderate

    Directions: Drive east on Highway 2. Turn right onto Freylands Road and follow to stop sign at Old Snohomish-Monroe Road. Turn right and continue to 127th Avenue SE. Turn left and climb the hill to Lord Hilll Park sign. Turn left, then proceed up the hill to parking lot.

    Biking: After studying the trail sign at the entrance, descend a short, steep hill, leading to gentler grades. Stay on main trails and off those that exclude bike use.

  • Snoqualmie Valley Trail: easy

    Directions: Drive Highway 203 south from Monroe to Duvall. At the second light, NE Stevens Street, turn right and enter the parking lot for McCormick Park.

    Biking: The trail follows the old railroad grade south through farmlands and wetlands to Carnation and beyond. It’s crushed rock and original railroad ballast surfacing, with trestles decked from Duvall to Tokul Road.

  • Al Borlin Park (Buck Island): very easy

    Directions: Drive Highway 2 to Monroe. Turn right on Main Street, cross railroad tracks and turn left on Railroad Avenue. Follow to the stop sign at Simons Road, then left to the park sign. Keep right to enter and park in lot.

    Biking: Straight ahead 200 yards is the Skykomish River. Short trails to the west pass through pleasant forest to an open field. The trail closest to the river may be closed due to flood damage.

  • Pilchuck River Road: easy to moderate

    Directions: Drive the Machias Road north from Snohomish to Dubuque Road. Turn right and continue to the Lake Roesiger Road (later becomes the Menzel Lake Road.) Go left, crossing the Pilchuck River at 5.2 miles, and, 0.8 miles further, reaching a large gravel-surfaced opening on the right. Keep right and park on the roadside by an iron gate.

    Biking: This pleasant, gently-sloped, packed-gravel road becomes tangent to the river after a half mile, then occasionally revisits it en route to the Spada Lake Basin. Subject to sharing with off-road vehicle traffic on weekends.

  • Scotty Road: moderate to strenuous.

    Direction: Same as above, except continue 2.6 miles along Menzel Lake Road to Scotty Road and turn right. Drive to the iron gate and park on the roadside (gate may be open, but this is a good starting point).

    Biking: Ride a short distance to another gate, then ahead to a gravel pit. (A right turn here leads, in short measure, to the broad and beautiful Worthy Creek valley.) Straight ahead is the road to Hanson Lake. After passing a swampy lake on the left, the road bears right and climbs. Ignore two significant spurs to the right.

    Backcountry Bicycle Trails Club: 206-283-2995; www.BBTC.org

    Cascade Bicycle Club: 206-522-BIKE; www.cascade.org

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