Whether it’s steep and technical singletrack or a wide, beginner-friendly path, mountain bikes are at home in the woods, charging through mud, cornering around trees, and bounding over rocks and roots.
But the truth is, some mountain bikes have never even touched dirt.
Instead, they recline against storage boxes in the basement or make friends with the weed wacker in the garage. Their tires never feel the glee of wind in their spokes or the splash of a muddy puddle.
Most of the owners of those mountain bikes likely had trail riding aspirations of their own. They bought those bikes intending to ride them. Maybe they got busy. Maybe they were new to the sport and grew daunted by the idea of taking to the woods for the first time, hitting a root at the wrong angle, and going sideways into the brush.
Helping beginner riders gain confidence on their mountain bikes, and learn how to ride safely, is the goal of MTB Skills Classes offered through Portland Gear Hub, a nonprofit bicycle and outdoor gear shop on Washington Avenue in Portland.
Brian Danz, the adult education coordinator at Portland Gear Hub and avid mountain biker, leads the program. For Danz, it’s an opportunity to welcome new riders to a sport he loves.
“I love bringing people into the sport in a smart way,” he said. “One reason I like teaching, it brings different people into the sport. It makes it more accessible. I like seeing the trails populated with all different types of people having a great time in the woods, whatever level they’re at.”
The Portland Gear Hub program includes foundations classes for beginners and specific skills classes for intermediate riders.
The fundamentals classes consist of two 90-minute sessions, where riders will learn the basics of body balance, proper stance for uphill and downhill, shifting, and wheel lifts (that’s learning how to get your wheel off the ground “on purpose, when you want to,” Danz joked).
Intermediate classes hone in on skills like cornering, technical downhill features, downhill flow, and techniques for riding the pump track in Gorham.
Aside from being able to ride a bike, participants don’t need any previous mountain biking experience to take a foundations class; some experience is required for the intermediate skills classes. The environment is welcoming and fun, and riders come away filled with mountain biking pride and prepped with new skills.
“I like seeing those a-ha moments … seeing them push their boundaries a bit,” Danz said. “There’s this interplay between fear and learning, and it happens really well when limits are pushed a bit.”
Riders must bring their own mountain bike and helmet and preregistration is required via Portland Gear Hub’s website. Class size is limited to five riders, which helps instructors offer a more individualized class and makes it easier to maintain physical distance between riders.
To help more participants access the classes, Portland Gear Hub offers a sliding scale, ranging from $20-$60. Those who are financially able to pay the full amount are asked to do so, to help support Portland Gear Hub’s mission to get more people into the outdoors.
Freelance writer Shannon Bryan lives in South Portland and is the founder of fitmaine.com, where she writes about the coolest ways to be active and get outdoors in Maine.
Where to ride
Ready to hit the trails on your own, but aren’t sure where to go?
Find mountain biking trails in your neighborhood with a series of Southern Maine and Greater Portland mountain biking maps from Wending Maps & Wayfinding.
The handy trail maps, which fold up and tuck nicely into a pocket or pack, note trail difficulty and other important elements like parking and area landmarks. They also include post-ride watering holes, local bike shops, and where to find things like gas, cash, sandwiches, and ice cream.
There are 14 maps detailing trails in Kennebunkport, Cape Elizabeth, Gorham, Portland, Freeport, Gray, Bath, and Brunswick, among others.
The maps are designed and produced by local mountain biker Wendy Clark, who has been riding the trails of New England for nearly 30 years. Clark is a member of the New England Mountain Bike Association and the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, and she knows the trails and terrain well. She’s also a graphic designer who believes that knowing where to mountain bike shouldn’t be a secret.
For beginner riders, Clark’s recommendations include the rolling, wide, skate-skiing lanes at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester (Map 11) and the rolling field lanes of Gull Crest in Cape Elizabeth (Map 3). Falmouth Community Park in Falmouth (Map 7) and Twin Brook Recreation Area in Cumberland (Map 9) feature easy-going grassy lanes ideal for true beginners.
Novice riders should check out the West Side Trail in Yarmouth (Map 9) and Portland Trails (Maps 5 and 6). Libby Hill in Gray has wide skating lanes through the woods that are hillier than the true beginner stuff, Clark said, and riders can turn off onto more intermediate single track if they’re feeling adventurous (Map 12). Neptune Woods in Brunswick and Topsham Ponds in Topsham are fun and twisty (Map 13), as are the two flow trails at Winnick Woods in Cape Elizabeth (Map 3).
Maps cost $3.99 each and can also be bundled (10 percent of maps sales go directly to trail materials and maintenance). Pick them up at a local bike shop or order online. For more info about the maps and recommendations on where to ride go to wendingmaps.com and www.facebook.com/wendingmaps.
— Shannon Bryan