mountain biking (thing)
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"A type of bicycle which breaks down more often than other types."
These are the three main forms of competition, i.e. The Big Three. Although you may find several others listed at Wikipedia, these are the only disciplines I have ever seen at a sanctioned event (not to say you wouldn't ever find the others at national/regional competitions). For instance, so called endurance events (i.e. 24 hour races) are souped up versions of XC competition.
These races take place on a varied terrain circuit. Which is to say, courses generally consist of a 5 to 8 mile loop which is repeated a number of times. Most races are somewhere between 20 and 40 miles. Please note that cross country mountain biking is the only discipline present in Olympic competition. When most people think of a mountain bike, they are thinking of a cross country mountain bike.
Pretty much a downhill time-trial. Downhill racing is not for the faint of heart. When was the last time you flew past trees less than a foot away at over 50 mph? The bikes used in downhill racing are completely different beasts than those used in cross country racing and are usually well over 30 lbs in weight.
My favorite discipline. A dual slalom course consists of two identical, man-made, downhill, BMX style tracks with berms and jumps. Most races are over in less than 30 seconds. The bikes used in DS competition are somewhat toned back downhill bikes, i.e. they are lighter and don't have as much travel up front in the shocks (although you could probably do fine with either style of bike). I personally ride my XC hardtail with the seat lowered all the way down when I am competing in a dual slalom race.
These are the two major groups of recreational riders. It is important to note that there is a fair degree of overlap between these two groups. Additionally, many racers may ride alternative disciplines recreationally.
Consists of trail riding. If any of you noders out there have never gone mountain biking, or are looking for a great way to stay in shape, I recommend cross country trail riding. While many trails are extremely difficult technically (rocks, roots, cliffs...), there are also many easy cross country trails, which require almost no technical ability.
Involves riding your bike off of high drop-offs and hoping that nothing breaks... again...
Roots of the Sport
The origin of the sport of mountain biking is a testy issue for some riders, as there are several opinions on the true roots of the sport. What follows is a brief rundown of some of the highlights of the sport's early history.
I could go into the early politics of the sport. Disagreements between NORBA and USCF, and ownership bullsh*t, but that stuff is boring. Go read about it somwhere else. All I know is this, almost twenty years to the day after the first DH competition at Repack, XC mountain biking was included in the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta.
I myself ride mountain bikes for the Mizzou Cyling Team. I love mountain biking. The only thing I don't love is when people haven't ridden the trails in awhile, and spiders have taken over. Now get off your lazy ass and go ride the trails... and get rid of all those spiders for me.