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Mountain Biking

By B.S.
 
In the spirit of the magazine’s theme of Fitness and Wellbeing we take a look at a healthier form of transport in this month’s Motor and Marine section – Mountain Biking.
Why Mountain Biking? Well – because it’s fun. I’m not kidding; it really does make you happy. At least according to science, exercise reduces depression as it releases endorphins, which are the chemicals in our brain that make us happy. Physical activity, such as mountain biking, also decreases the level of chemicals in the brain that intensify depression. So I guess that’s what makes mountain biking a happy thing … Right?
 
Fitness & Cycling
Okay, if you don’t buy into the whole heightened happiness thing, any type of cycling does provide numerous other health benefits to the cycler. Riding a bike improves your overall cardiovascular fitness. In fact, a recent medical study showed that cycling just 20 miles (32km) per week can lower the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke by almost 50 per cent. Bike riding also offers all of the same cardiovascular benefits as running but without the negative impact that jogging has on your joints. In addition, cycling will build, strengthen, and tone all of your muscles, especially those of your legs, thighs, buttocks, and hips. Your stronger leg muscles will in turn further protect and prevent your hip and knee joints from injury.
 
Regular versus Mountain
We’ve established that regular cycling is good for your health, so why mountain biking? It’s true that the typical mountain biker encounters a few bumps and bruises along the way but the benefits of mountain biking are said to more than make up for the odd scrape or bruise. Besides getting you physically fit, mountain biking will improve your stamina, speed up your reflexes and develop your coordination. Plus it gets you out of the city. Scientific research has proved that challenging, rigorous outdoor activities reduce stress; boost self-confidence levels, and raise self-esteem. If you need more incentive, another reason to choose mountain biking, is that whether on the trail or through a club, it will provide the cycler with an excellent opportunity to make new friends with at least one similar interest.
 
Getting Started
Before you rush out to the wilds on your shiny new mountain bike, it’s best to first seek a bit of health advice from a doctor before doing so. It’s also advisable to do a small amount of research before launching blindly into a rigorous fitness program of any sort. First (if you have one), figure out how to incorporate cycling into your overall daily fitness regime. Next, go online and check out the latest biking gear such as helmets or knee and elbow pads. If you’re not sure that you’re ready to take on the rugged mountain trails just yet, or because your doctor has advised you not to, consider a road bike built for paved surfaces or a hybrid bike designed for both town and trail. Meanwhile, you can investigate the myriad of mountain bikes that are available by reading an appraisal or review in order to gauge each bike’s merits or lack thereof – like this one …
 
The Cannondale Habit XC 
The ‘Habit XC’, whose acronym stands for “Cross Country” is a carbon, full suspension mountain bike with 120mm of travel or ‘cushion’ at both the front and rear ‘shock absorbers’. All models of the Habit roll on 27.5” (61cm) aluminum or carbon alloy wheels and tires. The bike’s frame is comprised of Ballis Tec high modulus carbon and its trail oriented geometry includes a 68 degree head angle, an ultra-light one-piece carbon link, short chainstays, a low-slung chassis, and wide 760mm handlebars mounted on a ‘shorty’ 60mm stem. The Habit’s high-end mechanical features are composed of 180mm brake rotors, HollowGram Si cranks (the things the pedals are attached to) and a custom 50mm damper on the Lefty2.0 fork, which makes that style of fork’s ‘shock absorber’ both smoother and quicker to react. The bike’s eleven gear drive train is the SRAM XX1/X01x11, which has been paired up with SRAM’s Guide RSC brake system.
 
The Habit is available in no less than ten variations, which include carbon or alloy frames and two women’s models. Prices for the various Habit models range from the modest sum of $1,950.00 (70,000 Thai baht) for the bottom shelf, Habit Women’s 2, all the way up to the top of the line, Habit Hi-Mod Black Ink, which will set you back a mere $12,250.00 (433,420 Thai baht)!
 
Performance
Over a 14 mile (22km) ride across terrain composed of sandy track and a rocky dirt fire road with 2,400 (731.5 meter) feet of ascent and then descent, the Habit’s climbing prowess was admirable and its downhill capabilities were excellent. The bikes full front and rear suspension ensured that both rider and bike concluded the journey in one piece. The carbon rims tracked true over the rugged topography, and despite the Habit’s reduced wheel size the bike experienced no pedal strikes during its more than rapid downhill descent. All in all, the Habit’s light weight of just 25.4 pounds (11.5kg), combined with its sturdy build, and small stature, makes it perfectly suited for all styles or mountain bike riding (cross-country, trail, dirt jumping, endure & downhill).
 
Siamese Cycling
Thailand is a perfect destination for any on or off road cycling or a guided cycling tour. The rugged landscape of Northern Thailand with its mountainous terrain, verdant rain forests, and fascinating Hill Tribe villages is one of the preferred locations for serious domestic and foreign mountain bikers. The mountains near Chiang Mai, which are in fact the foothills of the mighty Himalayan Mountain range, are laced with miles of off road trails and breathtaking downhill runs. Whether you’re cycling solo or going with a group Chiang Mai is a mountain biker’s paradise. With mountain tops that reach some 5,700 feet (1,600 meter) into the sky there are hidden trails that have as much as a 4,000 foot (1,220 meter) drop in elevation that could just whisk you by one of the many remote Hill Tribe villages. 
 
There are also a number of tour operators who specialize in guided mountain bike tours of various lengths located at or near many of Thailand’s popular national parks and tourist destinations. Most accept riders of all abilities, provided they are in good physical condition and  have a wide selection of bike tours to choose from, led by an experienced guide or instructor who speaks English (to a varying degree). Each guide also has extensive knowledge of the local trail system, is proficient in the arts of bike repair and rudimentary first-aid. The guides are also equipped with tools and spare bike parts, a first-aid kit, and a means with which to communicate with the outside world.
 
Before each ride a safety briefing is typically held for the benefit of the less experienced cyclers. Most tour groups are not in a hurry to reach their destination. Therefore the cyclers are generally grouped based on their riding ability. That way each sub-group is never compelled to catch up with the better riders in front who are travelling at a higher rate of speed. Tour operators provide bikes, safety gear in the form of bicycle helmets, kneepads, elbow pads and sometimes riding gloves. Occasionally chest and back protection will be provided when a ride takes place on an advanced trail. Drinking water is also provided and often a lunch or meal takes place at an approved restaurant at the trails end.