Mountain biking is not only exhilarating, it’s a great way to get into nature – so it’s no wonder more of us are doing it. Healthista talks to four time world champion Tracy Moseley about what you need to get started
Most of us are familiar with the Middle-Aged-Man-In-Lycra (aka MAMILs) peddling seriously along the road, with all the latest kit to boot.
But one of British cycling’s biggest talents, four time World Champion mountain biker and Osprey athlete Tracy Moseley – who herself has succeeded in a male-dominated sport – is encouraging women to give MAMILs a run for their money by discovering the empowering, fitness- enhancing powers of mountain biking for themselves.
Growing up on a farm in Malvern, Worcester, Moseley’s older brother would challenge her to ride along planks and up bricks.
‘He was the one that started racing first, dragging me along,’ remembers Tracy, who recently became mum to Toby, 11 months. ‘I was about 14 when he said, ‘You know, you should have a go, you’re way better than all these girls I am racing,’ and that convinced me to try it.’
Now 40, Tracy is the proud holder of one world championship in downhill mountain biking (a sport which has been said to require ‘balls of steel’) and three time world champion in a new mountain biking event called Enduro, which emphasises endurance and cross-country mountain biking.
‘Enduro is like a car rally, you ride within a 40-50km loop, predominantly downhill with a big fitness element as you can be cycling for the better part of a day.’
While fewer than half the participants in competitive British mountain biking are women, the good news is, says Moseley, that more women are taking up mountain biking for leisure and fitness, not to mention the sheer exhilaration factor.
According to Sport England’s latest Active Lives data, released in December 2018, some 122,200 women in Britain go mountain biking regularly (at least twice a month).
Indeed, as more of us embrace solo travel and adventure holidays involving kayaking and hiking, companies such as mountain biking specialist Go-Where offer a Mountain Lassie: Enduro Raid weekend in Scotland where you pedal along trails in the Tweed Valley, learning how to navigate rocky terrain.
More women are taking up mountain biking for leisure and fitness, not to mention the sheer exhilaration factor, says Moseley
Alternatively, a week-long Royale trip takes riders into areas that are still under the radar to many mountain bikers, covering little-known trails of the Cairngorms, Deeside and the Angus Glens.
In January British Cycling launched their #OneInAMillion campaign, which aims to get one million more women on bikes by 2020. Click here to get involved.
‘We are seeing a lot of women taking part in mountain biking for the leisure aspect,’ says Tracy. ‘It’s a great family activity to go riding along a mountain bike trail in a forest, it’s safe, it’s outside and a great way for everyone to keep fit, rather than being in a gym’.
So for the beginners and improvers out there, what are Tracy Moseley’s essential recommendations for getting started in mountain biking?
1. Find a trail
A good starting point, is your local mountain bike trail centre which will come with way-marked, graded routes, generally in forestry land, with all the amenities such as bike hire, bike wash, bike shop, cafe and changing facilities provided.
Tracy also suggests looking for a race to get you motivated. Events include downhill, like Tracy used to do, cross-country and cross-country marathon.
Find a local mountain bike trail with all the amenities such as bike hire, bike wash,etc
‘Mountain biking is a great way to see a new holiday destination too’, Tracy suggests. ‘There are terrain and trail holidays in every country for every level,’ she says. Her favourite? ‘It has to be the Swiss Alps. I use a company called Bike Verbier which create destination mountain biking holidays and some of the most amazing single-track trails on the side of a cliff edge which is awesome.’ Sounds exhilarating, if terrifying!
View this post on Instagram
Great few days in Verbier. As ever the weather and trails did not disappoint !! It was cool to show @vojomag @mbrmagazine and @wideopenmag just why I have been riding in Verbier every summer for the past 11yrs !! 😊⛰🌞🚲🇨🇭 Thanks @purebikingverbier and @bikeverbier for the guiding and local knowledge and laughs !! @verbier @verbierbikepark
British Cycling’s flagship women’s cycling programme, HSBC UK Breeze, recently launched a pilot programme of guided mountain bike rides in Cumbria, Scotland and Wales, with a view to rolling the programme out further in the coming years. You can find out more and book onto a free ride here.
2. …and a bike
While most trail centres will have facilities for bike hire, Tracy suggests that if you want ‘a decent quality mountain bike you will probably still need to spend between £500-1000. That will buy you something that lasts’.
Look for something with a hard tail at the back to help with your balance when going over obstacles, she advises. Tracy’s favourite mountain bike brand is Trek, which she says have reliable bikes for all levels and price points.
3. Get the right backpack
‘I tend to make loads of snacks to carry with me (see below) so I need somewhere to carry all the food!’ says Tracy. ‘Seriously though, it’s important to be self-sufficient when you’re going to be ten miles away from the car. So make sure you always carry your spare tyres, a rain coat (see below), bike pump, water and snacks.
‘It’s why I love the Osprey Raven 10 backpack. It’s women specific which means it’s been made to fit a woman’s body, which is so important I don’t know why someone hasn’t thought of that before. Plus, the shape means it stays on your back even on the steepest descent,’ says Tracy.
The backpack also features a 2.5 litre hydraulic reservoir for liquid to keep you hydrated, a quick attachment for a helmet and LED light attachment.
4. And dry pack
‘Osprey ultralight dry packs are so useful for many different reasons, I keep all my spare bike parts and tools inside one to keep them clean and dry I always carry and extra dry baselayer in my pack too so they are amazing for stuffing things small, compartmentalising and keeping it all dry,’ says Tracy.
5. If you’re biking away
The Fairview 40 travel pack.
‘This is a great pack for when you want to just travel with hand luggage on a short trip away but also want to keep your hands free around the airport,’ says Tracy. ‘ It has neat backpack straps that hide away for transport.’
6. Take a good multivitamin
‘When I was racing I used to take a good multivitamin to make sure I wasn’t missing out on anything,’ says Tracy. ‘I always opted for the Healthspan Elite range, which is approved by a regulatory body called Informed by Sport because it’s all been batch tested to prove there is nothing else in it, such as contaminants and nothing that would be considered a banned substance. If I was going to take anything it had to be something that was tested as safe’.
7. Get fit to ride
When Tracy was doing predominantly downhill racing, which often involved fast sprints downhill on her bike, the focus of her training was strength.
‘I would train three days on and one day off, though since becoming a mum a year ago, I have had to become more flexible in my schedule,’ says Tracy.
The focus of her training was strength when Tracy trained for downhill racing
‘In the downhill days, I needed explosive strength so it was all about getting my muscles stronger for powerful sprints,’ she says. ‘That meant doing lots of squats to build up my leg strength but also lots of upper body work because you need that to be able to control the bike over difficult terrain.’
‘I also used to do a lot of indoor rock climbing, because that would build up grip strength – for mountain biking, grip is super important – and upper body strength.
‘Now, because enduro events are so much more fitness focused, I tend to do more cycling and cardiovascular fitness training.’
‘When you are exercising for long periods, it’s easy to get dehydrated and you lose a lot of salt from your sweat,’ says Tracy. ‘I use a British company called Precision Hydration who do tablets with strengths you can choose depending on how much you sweat and how much salt you lose. I also ensure my Osprey Raven hydraulics reservoir is topped up so I have easy access to water on long riding sessions.
‘It helps because if I’m competing somewhere really hot, I can keep on top of my hydration – it’s really not something I would skimp on’.
9. The right fuel
‘I make a lot of my own snacks, which has stayed with me since my racing days when I really needed to make sure I was eating the right things,’ says Tracy.
‘I make little oat bars or energy balls sweetened with dried apricots, maple syrup or apple juice, rice cakes, even Christmas cake which is so energy dense. Just wrap them in little foil packets and put them into your bag – it’s much better to make the snacks yourself and be in control of your own diet than be at the mercy of a packet food. ‘The main thing is to make sure you carry lots of small snacks that aren’t too dry so they’re easy to digest.
‘I quite like the recipes from Deliciously Ella, because they’re usually made with organic and healthy ingredients’.
10. The easier option
‘We’re seeing the advent of e-bikes now which are great off road too,’ says Tracy. ‘They’re a great way to get introduced to the sport if you don’t have a high level of fitness.
‘It means you can go out with friends riding, get involved, feel the exhilarating nature of the sport, hopefully get addicted and then progress onto a normal bikes. E-bikes are definitely opening the doors for more people into mountain biking. I like the ones from Trek.’
Tracy is an official athlete of Osprey Europe.
Main photo credit to photographer Pete Scullion.