Mountain biking 101: the basics

How to start mountain biking?

If you follow me on Instagram you probably already know I got seriously hooked on mountain biking. It all started, as most of my stories, with my boyfriend, who used to bike very often when he was younger. I was not overly keen on trying, as you might imagine, as I come from an area so flat highest hill I had to ride my bike onto was probably the driveway to my garage. Also, it seemed exhausting and I’m not in the best of shapes. Riding up a hill, descending on a steep slope – well, that was not for me. Plus, I didn’t even have a bike. Nevertheless, a while ago, my boyfriend finally convinced me to go to Bieszczady Mountains for a biking trip.聽 If you follow my blog you probably already know how much I love this place, you can read about my adventures there here and here.

A picture of a bike on a grassland in the mountains.

I started my journey with a basic question; what do I need to start? I ended up missing a rather important piece of a puzzle; a bike. Choosing a perfect mountain bike is not easy, actually it’s so complex I left it altogether to my boyfriend, who did an amazing job of researching most optimal bike for me. You can check out my bike here.

Choosing a perfect mountain bike is not easy

My boyfriend is a very detail-oriented and thorough person. He started by a step-by-step interview with me of what exactly I wanted from my new bike.

Mountain bike types

Before we purchase a bike we have to answer a very important question where and how we want to use it. With current technological and cultural development of mountain biking we encounter numerous opition to pick from; recreation biking, stunt cross-country riding for faster riders, stunt-jumping riding and even downhill. For me, the decision was rather easy and without question I chose a bike dedicated for calm, recreational riding.

Price

Like with everything price is one of the main factors in picking a bike. Price span of mountain bikes vary from couple of hundered to thousands of Euro. If you want reliable bike that won’t break on the first trip my advice would be not to go for the cheapest option. For my budget (if you’re interested I can show you just how I gather all that cash in less than 3 months) I decided to spend 450 Euro.

The frame

One of the most important factors while picking a bike is definitely size of the frame. It is probably the only part of the bike you will not change in time, so it has to be perfectly adjusted to our size and weight. For recreational mountain biking frame is designed in a way, that enables calmer, more comfortable ride. Taking into account information written on the producers page I have chosen size M (I’m 168 cm), or 17” (producers sometimes use different sizing system).

A bad day on a mountain bike always beats a good day in the office

For a budget that I had choice of gears was not tremendous. It is always a good tip to purchase Shimano gears from the classified group, for example Tourney model. Another, for me probably the most important factor was how the bike looked. I loved it’s slim line (and no, Kross didn’t sponsor this post ;), colours and how dangerous it looks.

Where to purchase?

You can buy your bike at a stationary shop or online. For me it was important to purchase mine at a local Kross dealership. It was extremely convenient for me as the seller callibrated my bike before I went for my first trail. If you want to buy your bike on the Internet be careful: online shops sell bikes in parts for assembling! Also, before I purchased my bike I took a very detailed look at all the parts and since I found a single scratch on the front gear I got 5% discount for everything I purchased that day. Also, be aware of servicing your bike – mountain bikes require check-ups and it’s quite difficult to send your bike via post.

Start with the equipment

Mountain biking requires some preparation for better performance and general safety. My advice? Get the following equipment:

    • Helmet – a crucial tool for a safe journey. Make sure your helmet is correctly positioned and set – it should cover not only the top of your head, but also a part of the forehead,
    • 聽Gloves – fingerless gloves for less friction. You definitely don’t want to get blisters!
    • 聽Cycling shorts – don’t ever hop on a bike without the shorts! Purchase the ones that have a built-in pad that offers a long lasting seat comfort on the bike. Trust me, you’ll thank me 馃槈
  • 聽A backpack – for you to carry necessary equipments; a bottle of water, snacks, bike pump etc.

Rules to live by while riding a mountain bike

You’re all set now and have everything you need, except experience. The main thing I had to learn is simply not to be afraid of steep slopes. I was terrified I was going to break my neck, so a break was in use almost all the time. Going uphill suddenly seemed like a piece of cake. What I learned is that it’s vital to remember to use correct breaks – my advice? – improvise and with time rely on your instincts and experience. Generally, the more the bike is loaded, the stronger the breaks are. If you’re breaking while going downhill, be careful about using a front break – you might fly over the handlebars! For beginners I advice to try the breaks (with both hands) on a flat surface first and then descending on a small hill to gain experience.

Use appropriate gears!

There is a rule I learned during my trip to Bieszczady recently – if you’re going uphill and your front gear is set on low (first chainring) make sure to not set rear gear too low or too high. Optimally, back gear should be positioned on, more or less, 4, 5 or 6th sprocket for first chainring. The optimal rear gear position for position 2 of front gear is anything from 1-8. Optimal position of back gear for position 3 of front gear is 1, 2 and 3. I made a mistake of going uphill with lowest possible gears and my bike only squeaked in pain. Make sure to adjust your gears properly.

Remember, that number of sprockets and chainrings differ in each bike!

Choosing appropriate bike gears.

Trail etiquette

There are several rules you have to follow while embarking on a route;

    • The most important rule there is in the mountains in general is “leave no trace”.聽 Don’t ever leave garbage, don’t go where the path doesn’t lead you. Make sure not to destroy nature (by carving your name into a tree or picking flowers). Leave each place you go to like you’ve never been there, unless it requires cleaning,
    • 聽be polite – say hi to everyone on the trail, offer assistance if you see someone who needs help, one day it might be you,
  • be careful while riding on the streets (your path might lead through several kilometers of regular road), ride along the curve, don’t stop abruptly, have lights on at all times. Mountain biking can be dangerous, so be cautious.

Riding a bike on streets

Don’t be afraid and enjoy yourself!

I was very much afraid of enjoying myself on a bike. Quite frankly, not only was I freaked out about steep slopes, I was also very aware of every single loose stone on the trail. Only when I gained some experience and got to know my bike and how it tics I finally started having fun. I advise you to take things slowly and simply allow your skills to lead you down the mountain bike path 馃槈

Have you ever tried mountain biking? Let me know how it went! If you’re planning to start I hope my tips are going to make things much easier!

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Yet another trip to the mountains

Those of you who follow me on Instagram probably already know that I had visited Bieszczady mountains last week. For those, who still didn’t click that follow button – yes, I took a week off from the “big city” and travelled all the way to Bieszczady mountains AGAIN. It took me around 5 hours to drive there and I have truly and passionately enjoyed every single moment there.

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Bieszczady is a mountain range running from Poland through Ukraine and Slovakia and is a part of Outer Eastern Carpathians. I have many times heard of beauties of that particular place, but up until last year I never had a chance to visit. I have described my last trip in details here.

An area of no light pollution

From what I’ve learned only Bieszczady Mountains out of all the mountain ranges in Poland maintain the original darkness of night, all the other areas are light polluted to varying degrees. This is probably one of very few places in which you can experience true darkness of the night. The night sky is absolutely stunning, I can’t even begin to describe how many stars can be seen there. Unfortunately, I don’t own any camera that could catch that picture and give it justice.

Winnie-the-Pooh house shelter

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Winnie-the-Pooh house is a shelter located on the top of the mountain in Bieszczady. It is the highest located shelter in this mountain range. The place has no electricity, nor running water and only sells tea (also with a little bit of additives like… cherry vodka) and other assortment for tired hikers. 聽You can also sleep there, for a symbolic price, if you ventured too late into the mountains and want to have some rest there.

I was quite interested about the history of this place. I have learned that it was build just after the war to check the borders. Later on, when the borders shifted a little bit, it was given to the Polish Tourist Association which runs it until now.

The road leading to the Pooh-house leads through the Carpathian mountain pasture of Wetlina, which is quite an easy route really. When we ventured there we’ve seen such little kids on the way, we were pretty ashamed we got so flustered after each peak.

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A great place to practice hiking

I am not used to hiking. For my entire life I lived in the place that was flat as a bottom of my shoe. The first time I tried hiking I didn’t really like it that much – I was sweating, tired and simply hated looking so terrible. After some time though, I got used to it and now, except that I whine all the time anyway, I really like it. Especially the feeling of accomplishment when I reach a great, great place and can finally rest.

Bieszczady mountains can be demanding. Can take a lot out of you and leave you exhausted. But each time you finish a hike you already want to go back. The mountains have undeniable charm that draws people back. I met a nice man while climbing to the Winnie-the-Pooh house, who told me he visits Bieszczady for the fifth time and already plans to come back for more.

Although getting tired is not so difficult here, you can also find various routes which are not as demanding. That way, the range is perfect both for experienced, and inexperienced hikers.

A great hotel base

Bieszczady was quite a popular touristic spot in the 90s and now it goes back to its full glory. Both Floret and I enjoyed nearly every single one of the accommodation spots we stayed in. Many of these places offered a lot more than we expected and we loved the owners, who were extremely nice.

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We ate dinner with such a view in one of the places and I totally loved it. The owner was so sweet she even drove us to the mechanic who worked on our car. Oh yeah, my car broke – again. Fortunately, they fixed it in time and we could continue our journey.

We also got friendly with other owners who even treated us with some delicious fruit infusion, let us play with their cute cat and adorable dog and made us a bonfire. I really loved staying there and if you get a chance you should definitely go and stay in the village of Precisne. It is a little remote from the more popular places, but I really enjoyed staying there.

How did we spend our time?

When we booked our holidays we were expecting some beautiful weather and great hiking conditions. It was a little rainy, and the sky was usually cloudy, but we didn’t let it destroy our holidays. Actually, we loved it even more.

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For a couple of days we were simply hiking and making a BBQ in the evening (we walked through more than 65 km) and we needed some rest, hence we decided to spend one full day on the beach at the Solina Lake, relax and try some kayaking. We also checked several other places, such as Ar艂am贸w SPA Center. We loved every single second of this trip and we can’t wait to go for another one already.

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Let me know what do you think of this place? Where did you go for a holidays?

Dorota

 

A trip to Bieszczady Mountains – for the spirits!

Hello world!

Let me take you along on my last year’s trip to Bieszczady Mountains in Poland, just to show off some of the most amazing places in my country and maybe convince you to visit.

It started off with my best friend M. calling me to ask if I want to tag along with her boyfirend, two other friends and her on a trip for a long weekend. It was in August and my boyfriend Floret and I didn’t have any plans except playing PlayStation all day long (ah, the almighty Uncharted 4).

I immediately agreed and after consulting Floret we packed our stuff and I think the same day (or was it the next day after work, can’t remeber…) we went on a trip. The region of Bieszczady is 7 hours away from where I live in Warsaw, and when we got there it was already around 2 am!

The first thing we did was setting up our tents. At the time it was pitch black and we didn’t see any view nor the surrounding and when we woke up we saw how perfectly we chose a place to stay.

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The tent we chose for this trip, or maybe Floret did, was great. It didn’t let through any moisture, it was rather big for two people, and most importantly easy to assemble. We bought it especially for camping trips since a year earlier we had doubtful pleasure of staying in a tent that was so tiny I had to sleep with my back against the “side”, with moisture all over me. Not to mention we slept in it in the middle of a storm, under olive trees on some Godforsaken Island in Croatia – but that might be a topic for another story.

During the first day we took some time to enjoy Solina Lake.

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It was the first time I ever swam in a like. I know… sounds pathetic, I am 27 years old and I ever swam in a like once almost a year ago. Unfortunately, before… I simply couldn’t swim. Floret tought me how two years ago and it was my first chance to ever try in non-pool conditions.

Later on we went for a campsite, which was one of the most amazing places I’ve seen so far. Full of people, young, very laidback – kind of like a comune.

That day Floret and I decided to skip hiking trip (I didn’t have appropriate shoes so we went to a nearby town Sanok to get some). Fortunately for me, Sanok is a city in which my absolute favourite painter was born – Zdzis艂aw Beksi艅ski – and where his museum is located. After his death – which I might describe along with his work in one of the next posts – he gave all of his paintings to the city and the museum. There I had a pleasure to see my absolute favourite painting of his:

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Which ironically makes me realize I can’t take pictures straight!

When we got back to our camping site we arranged a little celebration. It was the first time I ever was in Bieszczady mountains and Floret (who originally comes from a city nearby) ordered us drinks that nearly killed me. It honestly burnt my throat!

It’s called Bieszczadki Pies (Bieszczady’s dog). It is very similar to a drink called “Mad dog shot” which consists solely of vodka, concentrated raspbetty syrup and tabasco sauce drops. Except in this particular case there is no vodka – because that’s barbarric. There is pure 95% alcohol spirits.

Of course the guys (Floret and Ms boyfriend) did not warn us. Vodka looks exactly the same as spirits so I went for it normally, like a good Polish girl should, and… I lost my breath. I caughted, cried, drank a whole bottle of coke and still had a taste in my mouth. And boy how drunk I got! After one shot I already felt tipsy.

The next day, after my “initiation to Bieszczady Mountains” we went for a 26 km, 9 hour long trip around the Mountains. We chose a trail to Bukowe Berdo and as you can see on pictures below, it was stunning!

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At the end of a trip we reached a road where we waited for a bus that took us back to our camping site. We travelled for many hours and were exhausted. When we reach our tents we took a shower and went for dinner. Let me tell you, everything hurt me. And then, by miracle, I ordered hot wine and the pain just immediately disappeared 馃檪 Magic 馃槈

Sidenote: the main photo of this blog is from there as well:

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Thank you for sharing this trip with me. I hope you feel at least a little bit inspired to visit Bieszczady Mountains and Poland.

Have a great Tuesday!

Dorota