cool. They're hot. They're radical, dude!. They're mountain bikes, and they've taken over
the bicycling world. If you stop into your local Sears or Mega-Mart, you'll probably find
nothing but bikes with thick knobby off-road tires.
And you've seen the ads - dudes and dudettes with piercings through their tattoos,
churning these bikes through the mud after landing a 10-foot dropoff. It's an extreme
sport, man! Broken bones? We laugh at broken bones, dude!
But is that really what's happening? Sure, there are some bulletproof
18-year-olds out there in the mud - but the surveys tell us that over 90% of mountain
bikes never see a speck of dirt! Instead, you'll find them slowly cruising quiet
neighborhoods. It's like the SUV craze - they level mountains in the ads, but they ride to
the grocery in real life. After all, most people prefer their bones shaped pretty much the
way they are now!
There is a middle ground, though. Mountain bikes are slow and sluggish on the road, but
once off-road, they really can take you places you wouldn't normally go. It's like hiking
in the woods, but you go further and see more.
Like our ride to Lisbon.
It was a crisp fall Saturday. With one kid away at college, and the other on a band
trip, we were free to play. We decided to try for Lisbon. I'd done some scouting and
talked to some friends, and I was pretty sure we could do most of it off-road.
We started off with our tires pumped up hard. We had a few miles of our village streets
to traverse, and hard tires roll easier on the road. It was a pretty day, and the fall
colors were just warming up as we cruised through the familiar neighborhoods.
Since we were on mountain bikes, we took a shortcut through the local forest preserve,
just outside of town. The bike club does volunteer work to maintain the trails, so bikes
are welcome. It's not a large park, and we've been there many times, so the trails were
familiar. Still, it's always a pleasant challenge to balance and pivot around the little
obstacles on the paths. Moving less than 10 miles per hour, it's a challenge with no risk.
If we miss, we simply put a foot down!
through the park, we followed a little road until we came to the abandoned railway. Here
we started exploring. I'd checked the county map, and I'd seen how the railroad line once
followed the creek to Lisbon. Now the tracks were gone, but I'd heard the right-of-way was
mostly clear. We turned off the road to see if it was really possible to ride the whole
The railroad gravel that remained was rough and unpleasant. Dropping our air pressure
helped a lot, but we were quite happy when the bumpy gravel smoothed out, just as we came
to a large wetland.
Now, in the old days, this would have been a swamp. Today, it's an environmental
treasure. I handed Peg my pocket binoculars to show her the turtles sunning on a log - and
that meant she was the one lucky enough to follow the great blue heron skimming
majestically over the water. Within five minutes, we'd spied two species of woodpeckers,
one red-shouldered hawk, several mallards and the usual friendly flock of chickadees. I
knew I'd be coming back with my bird book, and soon!
But Peg was impatient to move, so we got back into gear. The rail-line trail moved into
the woods, and soon crossed a tiny creek. Unfortunately, what had been a four-foot-long
bridge was now just two parallel beams. One of us was brave enough to walk across the
beams, pushing the bike. The other decided even a few feet was too far to fall, and walked
a pathway around the obstacle, using a stepping stone to cross the little creek. I won't
say who was who, but my feet stayed dry!
We were soon treated to some wonderful cruising. The rail line trail passed through
cool forest, with a dark, mossy hill to the left, and occasional trickles from waterfalls
flowing through the ferns to the creek below. Our path was level or slightly downhill, so
we rolled easily, enjoying the view of the creek below.
As we left the shade of the woods, we paused to drink from our water bottles. While I
looked up for birds, Peg noticed something not far from us on the ground - the proverbial
snake-in-the-grass! Ah, but this was a pretty thing, a nice-sized garter snake. We both
enjoy snakes, and I was lucky enough to catch him before he slid away. He seemed quite
calm as we inspected his coloration, and marveled at the quick, sensitive tongue touching
our fingertips. Within five seconds of setting him on the ground, he was off again, going
to wherever snakes go.
Soon, we turned off the trail onto the streets of Lisbon. It's a pretty place - a tiny
old town, and not as prosperous as it once was. But that means the beautiful old buildings
haven't been replaced by modern tin boxes, and the traffic is calmer. It even has a little
town square, complete with civil war cannon and a pretty gazebo.
Better than that, it boasts not one, but two classic diners - the steel-trolley kind
with little booths, round stools at the counter, and the aproned cook doing his thing in
full view. We chose the one with the '50s theme, and enjoyed a burger and fries, washed
down with early rock-n-roll. Hey, eat to ride, ride to eat, and pretend you're young
Our cruise home was just as pleasant, and very slightly uphill - the better to burn off
the french fries. A highlight was watching a scout troop on a canoe outing pass by.
Judging by the friendly waves, there's a natural bond between those of us who enjoy the
We arrived home pleasantly tired, with only a little mud on our shoes to prove we'd
been off-road. And to us, that's what mountain biking is about. No big risks, no radical
moves, no broken bones. It's about going places we wouldn't normally go, and seeing things
we'd otherwise miss. It's a way to enjoy the day and the natural pleasures that still
abound, once you get a little off the pavement.
It's mountain biking for grownups.
- Frank Krygowski