Thinking of Mountain Bike Riding in Ottawa?
Think Ottawa Mountain Bike Association. OMBA
Now that you have found us, here are a few of the things we offer and enjoy as an association.
OMBA is a very social organization and group rides is something we have done for over a decade. We know that trying new things can be intimidating and it can be really easy to talk yourself out of something you might enjoy simply because you don’t know what to expect. Don’t worry, this guide will (hopefully) provide some advice that will help your first OMBA group ride be awesome.
WHY RIDE WITH OMBA?
Why ride with OMBA? Good question. I asked it myself before my first ride. I figured I’d just suit up one day and head out into the forest. Good thing I didn’t. If you’re used to riding a few gravel roads and dirt paths (as I was) and you’d like to expand your riding, maybe take it to a higher level, but don’t know how or where. OMBA is just what you have been looking for.
There are over 300 members, some very competent technical riders, some speed demons, and some just out for a fun ride on a natural surface with natural obstacles. These guys and girls know the best places to ride, know how to ride them and are willing to share the information, teach you how to ride it, expand and maintain the trail network, and advocate on your behalf (maybe with your help) to make sure that Mountain Bike riding is allowed, accepted and encouraged in the Ottawa area. Building positive relationships with landowners takes a significant amount of time, but as stewards on behalf of the City of Ottawa for the South March Highlands (SMH), this has helped us gain credibility when dealing with other land owners for access.
You’ll find many of the members build and maintain the trails at SMH. It is like nothing that you would expect in the middle of a suburban development. There is crazy stuff to ride in there and if you don’t know what you’re doing it’s easy to get lost (well, less easy now that there are signs) also, it’s really useful to ride with people who know the trails as they can help you both ride within your limits, and expand them. So, let’s get specific, here are some advantages to riding with OMBA:
1. Navigation: There are trails all over the City, and there is usually a group ride taking advantage of them. On Tuesday nights there is a ride at Camp Fortune and another travelling group ride, using various riding areas mostly around the west end of town. Joining them is a great way to learn new areas to ride. You’ll be in good company and they are always No Drop options, (you will not be left behind, whether it is skill or mechanical failure). Thursday nights you will usually find a group at SMH. SMH is big, and you can get lost. The trails have various levels of difficulty and a group ride can help you stay within you comfort and capability zones. Have a safe and fun riding experience. Thursday night rides really do help orient new riders to the area.
2. Etiquette: Many mountain bike trails are mixed use public space, SMH is no exception. Part of being able to maintain access to these public spaces is good ‘citizenship’ on the trails. Going on a few group rides helps you get a feel for the informal protocol associated with sharing trails and helping to minimize recreational land use conflict.
3. Mechanical Assistance: While you are ultimately responsible for being able to keep your bike and equipment working on the trail, newer riders may not always be prepared for mechanical difficulty either by not bringing appropriate spares (tubes, chain links etc.), or not knowing how to use them. Typically, the OMBA ride leader or members of the group will be able to assist riders to continue their ride in the event of broken chains, flat tires and the like.
4. ‘Medical’ Assistance: Mountain biking can be as (relatively) safe of dangerous as you like, but it always carries a risk of injury. Riding with a group can be really beneficial in the event of a crash where your bike might be OK, but you are not. Ride leaders will typically carry a first aid kit while riders in your group can help you through the initial shock experienced in the aftermath of a crash.
5. Skills: As new rider or as a seasoned skilled rider, there is always something to learn. Some things look unrideable and in need of a dismount to get over. Riding with a group can give you a better sense of what obstacles can be tackled without dismounting and the best way to attempt to ride over them. If the group decides to have a learning session on a feature they will help you in your first attempts at features (rock steps, drop offs, bridges) by acting as spotters to prevent you from having to make any unplanned dismounts from your bike. If you are a seasoned skilled rider, pass on your skills and advice, or be prepared to learn something new.
6. Social: Tired of receiving blank stares when you talk to your family and co-workers about tire choice, derailleur adjustments and suspension tuning? Ride with OMBA. Aside from all the practical advantages, it’s just fun to hit some awesome trails with some people who won’t look at you weird if you mention your interest in acquiring yet another bike (they come in three wheel sizes now!), spend more on bike tires than car tires or have bicycle-mounted lighting systems that provide enough illumination to support professional nighttime sporting events. Also, if you’re an exercise-to-eat sort of rider many OMBAers do a post-ride rendezvous at a nearby eatery/watering hole.
WHAT TO WEAR
Don’t worry about looking weird (I got that covered), or stylish (PJ has that covered), worry about being comfortable. The following are some quick tips on how to dress for comfort (if not to impress).
Apparel: Clothing is another area where it’s easy to go crazy and part with your cash alarmingly quickly. While you don’t need to get the latest and greatest there are a few things in the area that I would like to recommend.
Shirt/Jersey: A cotton t-shirt is great for all sorts of occasions, but not the greatest for mountain biking. While you can t-shirt it up I’ve found that regular t-shirts get really wet and clammy over a reasonably long ride and aren’t as comfortable as more fast-drying athletic tops. You can buy purpose-made cycling jerseys and the like, but anything designed for sports or exercise from a department or discount store works too. My OMBA top was purchased at a dollar store in Florida (not by me) and it works great.
Pants/Shorts: Modesty had me doing my first few rides in long track pants from a discount store represented by a particularly large predatory cat. They were a disaster, they were hot, kept sliding down from the waist, were prone to getting caught in my bike chain and did nothing to stop mosquitoes from attacking. I’ve since switched to sportier polyester shorts, again from a discount retailer, but you also can’t go wrong with purpose-made mountain biking shorts or the much-maligned spandex (or whatever they are made of) cycling shorts.
Footwear: Footwear (and corresponding pedal choice) is one the criteria you can use to classify riders. Simply put, there are those that ride with shoes with cleats and pedals that clip together (unintuitively referred to as ‘clip less’ systems) and those that use good old platform pedals with ‘regular’ shoes. Again, either is fine in principle, but if you have not used clip less before or are going for your first ride in SMH I’d advise against clip less until you know what you’re getting into. If you go for non-clip less try to use shoes that have a stiff, flat grippy sole (skate shoes in particular come to mind). I got by with low-cut hiker-type shoes but they tend not to grip pedals that well causing you to lose control of your bike when the going gets gnarly.
Headgear: Wear a helmet! It’s a required item for OMBA rides for good reason. You obviously have an above average intellect as you are interested in mountain biking and are reading this article. Why put your precious brain cells at more risk than you need to. Remember, one of the things that makes riding at SMH fun is lots of rocks.
Other protection: Couple other things to consider. Goggles or protective glasses to keep branches out of your eyes. Knee and elbow pads (those rocks again), and gloves. I highly recommend gloves as they help you control your bike, keep your hands comfy if they are of the padded variety and will help protect your hands in a spill.