Find the right instructor ― and pedal to two-wheeled Nirvana

No doubt you have some good excuses for missing themountain-biking bandwagon. You were too busy training for amarathon. You're not so stable on pavement in the first place― much less on dirt. But once you pedal onto a single-tracktrail through a field of wildflowers, or coast down a hill as oaktrees blur past, you'll see what all the hubbub has been about.Mountain biking means fresh air, physical challenge, speed, andscenery.

Don't let the guys in neon shirts with $4,000 titaniumsuper-bikes scare you off. You don't need all that. Here's what youdo need: a primer for getting started.

Learn the vocabulary

Early in his marriage, my husband's brother wanted to teach hisnew bride the joys of biking off-road. At a tricky point in thetrail, the couple stalled. Their friends rode ahead. Behind themthey heard voices, increasingly elevated, that culminated insomeone shouting very loudly, "What do you want from me?!"

And the group had a long ride home insilence.

The lesson of the story is that finding the right teacher iskey. Probably you should not be related, through blood or marriage,to your instructor. Taking a skills clinic can jump-start yourmountain-biking education by compressing a lot of information intoone or a few days.

Former mountain-bike national champion Jacquie Phelan teachesclinics for women at a facility in Fairfax, California, where thesport got its start a couple of decades ago. She says she firstteaches newbies the terminology. When people can talk aboutsomething, Phelan says, they are better prepared to do it.Curb-hopping, rear-tire skidding, and dabs-on-the-fly are all partof her one-day course.

The exercises help riders get comfortable on their bikes. "Iunstick them from their attachment to the saddle," Phelan says.Unlike a road biker, a mountain biker needs to shift weightconstantly according to the terrain ― back on a downhill,forward on a climb.

"One other lesson I teach is: look where you want to go," Phelansays. "That's a good one for life too."

Dreamride on slickrock

After you've been bitten by the mountain-biking bug, you'regoing to want to ride in Moab. This small town in southeastern Utahis the country's premier mountain-biking destination.

I learned a ton about biking, as well as about the area, duringthree days of riding with Lee Bridgers and Kenneth Moody fromDreamride, which leads biking clinics and tours. I arrived withsome experience, but I hadn't ridden since the previous summer. AndI'd never tested my skills on slickrock ― Moab's famoussandstone that grips a bike's tires as thoroughly as desert gumboclumps after a rain, providing amazing traction so you can ride upinclines you'd otherwise slide down.

We started with a lesson in a city park, riding over curbs (mademuch easier by the plush full-suspension rental bike) andpracticing riding with our weight way back for greater stabilitywhen going downhill. Our first trail ride was north of town, alonga dirt road out to some slickrock swells. Bridgers's enthusiasticaccount of the region's natural history ― detailing thedifferent strata of rock and Moab's mining past ― kept medistracted, even when I felt tired.

The second day we rode to more challenging slickrock terrain.The two guides stood at the ready, spotting me as I huffed up ashort but very steep climb. Having spotters gave me the courage totry routes that were more difficult than I'd normally attempt.

From the trail we had great views of Monitor and Merrimac,hulking buttes in the distance named for the Civil War ships.During the breathtaking descent back, I found myself riding downledges I wouldn't have gone anywhere near just two daysearlier.After the third day, there wasn't a mountain I couldn'ttackle ― even though I was almost too tired to move.

On our final morning in town, a fellow in a bike shirt caught myeye. "Are you a biker?" he asked, holding out the trail map he'dbeen puzzling over.

"Yes," I replied, with a level of confidence that surprised me,"I am."

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