Though now extremely popular around the world, mountain biking is still a relatively new sport that’s continually growing with each passing season. As bikes become stronger, lighter, and faster, more and more difficult terrain can be conquered on two wheels. Here are a few fun facts about biking sure to make you’re the most interesting rider on your next group ride.
1. Mountain bikes started out as a tool.
Prior to the idea of mountain biking as a recreational activity, “off-road” style bikes were used for transportation over rough terrain. One of the earliest examples of this was their use by Buffalo Soldiers headed from Montana to Yellowstone during the 1890s. The design of these 19th century bikes was a far cry from the sophisticated gearing, shock, and brake systems that mountain bikes have today, and they were much heavier and much slower. But, they got the job done.
2. Mountain bikes were imagined as one-directional.
Not one-directional in a sense of moving forwards and backwards, one-directional in the sense that they were only meant to go downhill. With origins of mountain biking as a recreational sport dating back to 1970, early bike designs were essentially modified cruisers that riders would take to the top of a hill in an automobile or by pushing and then ride down. Though the uphill can still make for an occasional miserable time, it’s probably best that modern bikes can easily go both ways.
3. Americans pioneered recreational mountain biking.
Just like basketball, football, and competitive cup stacking, the origins of competitive mountain biking are also heavily rooted in the United States. The first National Off Road Biking Association (NORBA) Nationals were held in 1983 outside of Santa Barbara, California. It would take nearly seven years before the International Cycling Union would host a similar event on a worldwide scale.
4. Norway hosts the largest race by a landslide.
Currently, the largest mountain biking race in the world when it comes to number of participants is the Birkebeinerrittet in Norway. It’s 53.4 miles long and attracts anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 participants annually.
5. The world’s longest race could stretch across America and then some.
If you’re into ultra-long distance riding, you’ve probably already heard about the Tour Divide mountain biking race. It’s over 2,700 miles long with riders climbing over 200,000 feet throughout the entire ride on a route that stretches from Canada to Mexico.
6. Colorado’s 14ers don’t come close to the highest bike race.
Even if you’re somehow able to get your bike to the top of a Colorado 14er, you’re still thousands of feet under where some riders are competitively biking. The world’s most elevated race is the Trans Himalayan Bike Race on the Tibetan side of Mount Everest at an altitude of 17,160 feet! Just thinking about participating in this grueling ride through thin air should have most bikers gasping for breath.
7. When it comes to mountain biking, age is just a number.
One reason many people pick up biking as a hobby is that it can be a lifelong adventure. While it’s impressive that the youngest rider to ever win a mountain biking world championship was Sam Hill at the age of 16, it might be even more impressive that riders like Fred Schmid compete and win national championships well into their 80s. Fun fact about Schmid, he didn’t even start riding until he was gifted a bike in his 60s.