Let’s Move Quad Cities celebrates the spirit and determination Quad City area residents take to promote movement and fitness. During National Bike Month, we welcome guest blogger, Becky Bernard, office administrator for the RI County State’s Attorneys Office and avid off-road cyclist. At 47 years old, Becky shares her passion for off-road cycling and mid-life fitness!
Off-Road Cycling is Why I Move
by Becky Bernard, Friends of Off-Road Cycling
I have always been active, though biking never interested me beyond that magical age of 16 when I got my driver’s license and no longer needed the bicycle!
I have always enjoyed being outside, and as part of that, my life has been enhanced over the years with riding motorcycles (trials, motocross and street bikes), kayaking, hiking, camping, running, inline skating, playing racquetball, swimming, and cross country skiing.
However the off-road bug didn’t bite until the ripe age of 40. I severely sprained my ankle playing racquetball and needed an alternative outlet. ORA Orthopedics physician Dr. Michael Pyevich suggested biking, and I recall thinking to myself, “…but I don’t want to ride a bike!” Apparently I was mistaken.
What inspired you to take up bicycling and specifically off-road cycling?
My friend lent me a bike and we went for a ride along the Hennepin Canal bike path in Colona, Illinois. I really enjoyed the peacefulness that riding along the canal and remote wooded area offered, however easily distracted (I think I am your classic ADD adult), boredom set in as we pedaled along.
I began riding up and down the hillsides and edges of the woods along the Hennepin Canal. My friend said, “I have a place for you to ride!” He took me to Sylvan Island in Moline the next day to ride the off-road (mountain bike) trails. I WAS HOOKED, and I have been mountain biking ever since! I think riding motorcycles from such an early age made my transition to mountain biking seamless.
What do you like best about the sport?
The joy of being in the woods for me is unparalleled.
Living a somewhat hectic life between my work and personal life, when I am outside surrounded by the beauty of nature and its peacefulness, I recharge. Mountain biking adds a technical component that forces me to keep on my toes, challenging me both mentally and physically.
The sense of accomplishment I get from clearing a certain tough section of trail is personally rewarding and empowering. And I can’t minimize the adrenalin rush that comes with it! Last, being extroverted, I love being around people, and I have found that people who mountain bike have a perspective about life that resonates strongly with me. I have met people riding along a trail out in the middle of nowhere whom I would now consider some of my best friends.
It looks extreme, can anyone participate?
Absolutely anyone with a desire and moderate physical ability can participate! That said, it is important to always wear a helmet when biking and to use a well-maintained and functional mountain bike. A hybrid bicycle will not suffice for mountain biking.
There are degrees of difficulty: Mountain bike trail difficulty is categorized similar to downhill ski trails — green (easy), blue (intermediate) and black diamond (difficult) trails.
FORC hosts a number of beginner group rides and skills sessions each year including a class my friend and I started – “Mountain Biking 101.”
Tell us about “No Chicks Left Behind.”
I started the sport cycling with men who complained that their wives or girlfriends just weren’t getting it (learning to mountain bike) so they asked me to take them riding! This turned into No Chicks Left Behind skills sessions where I would work with women to teach them foundational mountain biking skills in a safe and supportive environment.
I heard from female participants how the NCLB environment was more conducive to learning absent their male counterparts. They reported being less intimidated, less self-conscious, and having confidence… that if another “chick” could successfully navigate a section, then perhaps they could as well!
Because mountain biking has brought such a terrific perspective to my life, it is exciting to see when other riders “get it.” Mountain biking is a male-dominated sport but we are seeing more and more ladies on the trails. I hope this continues! Mountain biking is a great activity!
How do you think off-road cycling can improve or help people in their lives?
Off-road cycling is challenging. The physical rigors help riders improve their fitness, but the technical challenge strengthens a rider’s mind and improves confidence. With off-road cycling comes many technical sections along the trail. I have daydreamed plenty about overcoming various obstacles over the years, and as I achieve a goal, I become more confident — setting new goals to accomplish. I think this extrapolates to everyday life.
Do you need a special bike and a lot of nerve?
Yes and “kind of” yes!
Riders encounter technically challenging terrain (riding over boulders, jumping over logs, taking drops, getting “air”) and their bikes must be structurally sound enough to withstand the abuse.
A hybrid bicycle will not suffice for mountain biking. Every bike shop in the QCA sells quality mountain bikes. I would discourage someone getting a mountain bike from a big box store. Those bikes won’t hold up and the problem usually encountered is that upon landing after a drop or something similar that the bike fails and as a result, the rider may get injured.
Nerve? Yes, riders need to have some nerve to get out there, though there are enough beginner trails that anyone can ride.
It’s often more about the mind than the body. For instance, we ride skinnies (riding on top of a downed tree or log across the length of the log versus up and over it – imagine riding the length of a 4 x 4 laying on the ground).
Riding a skinny requires mental fortitude. People can ride along a bike path and stay on the middle line for long distances. Raise that 6 inches or several feet off the ground, and it becomes an entirely different challenge. It’s more mental than physical (but it’s fun!).
Tell us more about FORC.
FORC (Friends of Off-Road Cycling) is an amazing club! I consider FORC to be a premier mountain biking club. The club is composed of many passionate men, women and children who share a love of mountain biking.
Our goal is simple – to promote mountain biking in the Quad Cities area. We advocate. We teach. We encourage. We promote. We work hard. Even better, we dream.
There was one off-road trail system in the QCA seven years ago at Loud Thunder Forest Preserve. We now have 5 trail systems built and a 6th in the planning phase.
We are fortunate to have excellent relationships with our land managers and sister cycling clubs who have shown tremendous support for our cause. What are you waiting for? Get involved! We will show you the ropes!
For more information about FORC, click here.
Becky’s favorite local Quad City cycling trails
Sunderbruch Park, Davenport, IA
Scott County Park, Parkview, IA
Westbrook Park, Dewitt, IA
Illiniwek Park, Hampton, IL
Stephens Park, Moline, IL (FORC received permission from the City of Moline in April 2015 to begin building mountain bike trails in the park. These efforts are slated to begin in May.)
Each park has a designated Trail Steward and Trail Care Crew assigned by FORC who operate in accordance with IMBA (International Mountain Bike Association) standards for optimal trail sustainability.
Excellent trails systems within an hour and half or two drive from the Quad Cities: The Peoria / Bloomington, Illinois area has 7 parks all which are a ton of fun to ride (Wildlife Prairie Park, Jubilee Park, Black Partridge Park, Farmdale Reservoir, Independence Park, Dirksen Park, and Comlara Park). Sugarbottom in North Liberty, Iowa, Beverly Park in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and FDR Park in Dubuque, Iowa are fun trail systems.