By Ryan O’Dell
For new mountain bikers, the thought of racing may conjure up images of sponsored professionals, each one of them young, ripped and rail thin, chasing dreams of podium glory, but the reality of modern mountain bike racing in Ohio may be much different and more inclusive than you imagine with many healthful benefits that may be worthy of consideration.
Ask any mountain biker why they do it and you’ll likely hear, “because it’s fun.” There’s a reason everyone from preschoolers to former presidents and school-aged children to cycling legends have fallen in love with riding their bike off-road. In addition to being fun, mountain biking offers a plethora of physical, emotional and social benefits to those who ride.
Though you may encounter a few bumps and bruises along the way, mountain biking helps more than it harms. According to Peopleforbikes.org, three hours of biking per week decreases your chance of heart disease and stroke by 50 percent. A study in the European Journal of Epidemiology found that women who bike more than 30 minutes each day have a reduced risk of breast cancer. Furthermore, teenagers who bike are 48 percent less likely to be overweight in adulthood.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults get at least two and a half hours of moderate-intensity physical activity every week. This type of exercise must be rigorous enough for a person to break a sweat and raise their heart rate. I think it’s safe to say that mountain biking counts toward the CDC’s weekly guidelines!
One last thing to note, mountain biking proves to be an ideal alternative for the growing number of older Americans who may be suffering from knee injuries after years of high-impact sports, such as running. The sport offers similar cardiovascular benefits to running, but without the impact on your joints. Former president George W. Bush took up mountain biking after a knee injury put an end to his running regimen.
In addition to the myriad physical benefits of mountain biking, the sport also plays an important role in participants’ emotional well-being. According to a 2007 study by Dr. Andrew Lepp at Kent State University, outdoor activities decrease stress, raise self-esteem and provide people with a sense of challenge and adventure.
Exercise in general helps decrease anxiety and improve mood. The Mayo Clinic notes that exercise helps stave off depression by releasing endorphins (brain chemicals that trigger a euphoric high). Physical activity also decreases the immune system chemicals that make depression worse. And that, my fellow mountain bikers, is why you typically end a ride happier than you started. Mountain biking acts as a distraction helping riders temporarily take their mind off of any worries. This escape from reality breaks the cycle of negative thoughts that contribute to anxiety.
There are plenty of opportunities for interaction in this sport, whether you join your local cycling club, sign up for a mountain bike race or bump into other riders at the trailhead. Pleasant social interaction can improve your mood and provide you with the opportunity to make new friends–or at the very least, new riding buddies.
Whether you rode over your first log, mastered that technical descent or cleared a particularly gnarly rock garden, meeting mountain biking challenges that you have set for yourself can give your self-confidence a major boost. Improving your stamina and becoming more physically fit will help you feel good about your outer appearance, giving you the courage to go about your everyday life.
According to the Shimano Research Group, more than 50 million Americans have tried mountain biking [source: Shimano]. While this seems like a huge number, it’s nothing compared to the huge benefits that this sport offers in terms of physical and emotional well-being.
Mountain biking isn’t only an adventure: It can also help you stay fit. Depending on the speed of your rides and the terrain you’re covering, mountain biking can burn between 10 and 16 calories a minute, or 600 to 1,000 calories per hour. At that rate, biking can help you lose extra pounds or maintain your current weight. Over time, biking can increase muscle strength, improve cardiovascular health and help you build endurance that will carry over to other parts of your life. Biking just two to three hours a week can improve your lung capacity by up to 20 percent, making hiking up the stairs in your home a breeze [source: Adams].
Beyond its physical benefits, this sport also offers a number of emotional benefits that contribute to an overall sense of happiness and well-being. According to Dr. Andrew Lepp at Kent State University, outdoor activities can prevent and reduce stress, increase self-esteem, and offer a sense of challenge and adventure. Mountain biking also provides social benefits, and can help riders build a strong community [source: Lepp]. Even those simply looking for outdoor adventures are sure to enjoy the many mountain biking benefits that come along for the ride.
And speaking of adventure, mountain bike racing offers riders a more fun path toward improvement with added benefits that include comradery, well-marked courses, plus recognition and rewards that may include cash, prizes, or even trips to exotic locations.
Born in 1999, The Ohio Mountain Bike Championship Series (OMBC) was established to offer riders of all shapes, sizes, ages and skill levels, from rank amateur to professional, with opportunities to improve skills, overall health and well-being, while making new friends within the mountain bike community. Hosted by nonprofit mountain bike clubs across Ohio, OMBC donates thousands of dollars each year to the groups that support and maintain the trail systems we enjoy.
As mountain biking has been trending more towards becoming a family sporting event with an increasing number of women and kids joining “dad” on their bikes, a new generation of mountain bikers are showing up at racing events. To accommodate these new riders, OMBC offers three classes based on distance from as little as five miles for first timers up to thirty miles for Pro/Expert level riders.
There are FREE races and skills clinics for kids aged three to ten years old and discounted pricing for Junior and High school racers, making races more affordable for families. Parents are welcome to ride with their kids at OMBC kids’ races.
For adults, there are 18 divisions to choose from that include Women, single-speed bikes, Clydesdale (over 200 pound riders), and ten year age groupings that include a 50+, 60+ and even a 70+ legends division. Whatever your age or skill level, OMBC has a division for YOU. Why not give it a try?
Take advantage of this special offer for Compass Media Fitness Health and Recreation readers! To help you take the first pedal stroke, OMBC invites YOU to join us at the next regular series event and your entry is FREE! This offer is for first-time OMBC riders only. Simply bring this article to the registration table. No advance entry required. You can learn more at www.ombc.net. Be sure to like us on Facebook with a link from our home page for timely information and answers to any questions you may have.
Even if you don’t plan to race right away, we invite you to come out to see for yourself, pre-ride one of the race courses, or volunteer an hour of your time to help. Getting on your mountain bike and pedaling along a trail at one of Ohio’s beautiful state parks may just be your ticket to better health!
Ryan O’Dell is the Ohio Mountain Bike Challenge Series Director.
Ohio Mountain Bike Racing offers Physical, Emotional and Social Benefits
for Riders of ALL ages and Skill Levels, Including YOU