Tackling trails on two wheels picks up speed

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Tackling trails on two wheels picks up speed

It’s a Sunday morning in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi province, and 18 people are riding bikes on a rocky trail at Mount Undu, which rises 822 meters (2,696 feet) above sea level.
Some of the riders miscalculate the slippery rocks as they cross a stream and tumble into the cold water, but the group pushes on. They dismount to peek over the edge of a sheer cliff, to marvel at the view. When they need to go up a steep rise, the bikes are hoisted on the riders’ shoulders. You can hear them breathing hard, their shirts soaked in sweat.
“Stress fades away when I’m riding on a mountain road,” said Im U-gyu, a senior official with the Korea Off-Road Bicycle Association.
Mountain bike lovers can today be found throughout Korea. Residents of Yongsan district in central Seoul, a group from Maseok, Gyeonggi province, and staff with the Dam design firm have all formed their own mountain biking clubs.
“Mountain biking does not overstrain your body, but it gives you a good enough workout,” Mr. Im said.
Because bicycling doesn’t impact one’s body as much as running, it is an attractive choice for heavy people, the elderly and people with weak knees.
Also, those with slipped discs don’t need to worry because riders don’t have to straighten their back when riding a mountain bike. Exercising surrounded by nature can help release stress. The thrill of speeding is another plus.
The 1-year-old biking club at Dam design firm is the brainchild of Lee Jong-hwa, an employee who rallied other staff to join him on occasional rides. The company later moved to Ddukseom island in the Han River, where they set up a changing room and bike parking. So far, 12 of 30 employees have joined the club.
“We go biking on Mount Namsan and Mount Namhan twice a month,” said Oh Pyeong-guk, the company president. “Some people commute by riding a mountain bike. After starting to bike, 12 people [on staff] have quit smoking and drinking.”
“Mountain biking has the added benefit over road biking of allowing you to enjoy nature,” said Im Chang-gyu, 40, an employee at Dam. “Now I am addicted to it.
“We started by biking on paved roads in the park and then moved to more difficult trails on Mount Namsan or Mount Namhan,” he continued. “After gaining some more experience and building up strength, we will be ready to take on Mount Gwangak, Mount Susaek and Mount Umyeon.”
Yeom Gi-seok, 42, a resident of Maseok, Gyeonggi province, has been mountain biking for a decade, and he’s expanded his interests to include wintertime snowbiking.
Mountain bikes, whose fat, thick-treaded tires and wide range of gears allow riders to travel over far more rugged terrain than road bikes, were introduced to Korea in the 1980s. Today, from 700 to 800 mountain biking clubs exist, as well as at least 10 mountain biking competitions. Many regional governments are holding such competitions to attract more visitors.
As in any activity, mountain bikers need to stretch before riding to relax their leg, arm and neck muscles. They also need a bike: A new one costs from 300,000 won ($260) to 10 million won for competitive-class racing. Riders are urged to also wear a helmet, sunglasses, gloves and padded shorts for protection.

by Namkoong Wook
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