Adrenaline makes her a vicious cyclist

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Adrenaline makes her a vicious cyclist

Since her romance with extreme sports became an obsession four years ago, Jenny Lee has been wakeboarding, snowboarding, windsurfing and surfing. A year ago, she added mountain biking to her list.

Give Ms. Lee a couple more years, and she could become one of Korea's best mountain bikers, says Jung Han-shik, the owner of X-Bike, one of Seoul's top bike shops.

Ms. Lee, 26, is stubborn and gutsy. When most people -- particularly beginners -- give up, she keeps going and going, even if that means getting off her bike and carrying it.

On a recent morning, Mr. Jung and Ms. Lee are hanging out at X-Bike in eastern Seoul. Rows of mountain and racing bikes line the floor and hang from racks. The back wall is covered with tools.

The first item that catches Ms. Lee's eyes is a tricked-out mountain bike. It has a titanium frame, worth about 7 million won ($5,800). It has carbon handlebars tooled by the component maker Thomson and a carbon stem seat by Easton. Nice stuff. Whoever buys this will have bought the best.

Ms. Lee stares at the frame and sips coffee, a frown crossing her face. "Riders look at a bike before they look at the owner," Mr. Jung explains. "That's all they need to gauge the rider's skill and commitment."

"You've got a good bike," Mr. Jung says to Ms. Lee. Good is a 1.5 million won Corratec frame, a lightweight German design. The handles are scratched from riding in city streets.

Ms. Lee passes X-Bike on her daily commute to her job at Air Wave, an e-commerce site for sporting goods. Last March, she dropped in to X-Bike and walked out with a bicycle. "I thought I'd bike to work," she says.

During her free time, she cycles along the Han River. She also joined the 40-member X-Bike community, which includes many expatriates. The group goes biking every Sunday, and at least one more day each week.

The first time Ms. Lee went mountain biking was last May in Mount Hwaya, Yangpyeong County. Her peers biked up, but it was more difficult for her.

Decked out in full gear ?padded pants, helmet, gloves, shades, clip shoes ?Ms. Lee conquered the mountain, but only after she dismounted when she couldn't keep cranking and carried the bike up on her shoulders.

When she got to the top, she peered down and nearly panicked: The mountain's slopes were dauntingly steep. But she took a breath, crouched low and biked down, whipping under tree branches, hurtling over rocks, trying to maintain balance and control.

Along the way, her friends stopped to pick mountain strawberries and take in the early summer air.

After hanging out with the group, Ms. Lee earned the nickname "Ggobugi," a play on the word geobugi, or turtle. Her smile, her newfound friends say, resembles a turtle's.

"I'm not a BMX maniac," Ms. Lee says. But virtually every morning and night, she can be found with the rest of Mr. Jung's crew at X-Bike, talking about mountain trails, riders and their rides. The shop opens at 10 a.m. and closes "whenever I feel like it," Mr. Jung says. Sometimes, that's 2 a.m.

Ms. Lee starts chatting about some of her best rides. There was the one last Chuseok, or Korean Thanksgiving, when a dozen people got together to ride up Mount Cheonggye in Gyeonggi province.

She was proudest of climbing Mount Acha, in eastern Seoul, a couple of days before Christmas. Mount Acha is a testing ground for cyclists. With 25-degree slopes, bikers either make it or fail.

Her goal for this year is to criss-cross Jeju Island. "The trails aren't too rough, and they're long and picturesque," she says.

Now that the weather is warming up, she'll be back outdoors, pedaling to get fit for Jeju. And, when the summer heat is burning, she'll be back in the water, windsurfing. Unless she really becomes addicted to biking.

"The adrenaline from mountain biking is like a drug," Mr. Jung says. "That's what's addicting."

"I'm not addicted," Ms. Lee says. "But every once in a while, I'll get shivers in my body."

"That's it!" Mr. Jung says. "The more you ride, the more you feel that, and crave it."

by Joe Yong-hee
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