Gear up for a wheel thrill

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The Independent Culture
Learning to ride a bike is a rites-of-passage type of activity which takes your mind off various youthful problems - like puberty, acne and hating your parents.

You might think there's not too much excitement to be had from riding a bike once you're older, but you'd be mistaken: cycling through London is possibly one of the most extreme activities anyone can hope to take part in. And the dramatic increase in sports bikes over the last few years indicates that a new breed of cyclist is emerging from among the thousands in the UK who currently cycle daily.

Two events this weekend highlight the increasing popularity of adrenaline cycle sports: the RAV4 National Mountain Bike Series Finals in Ludlow, and the PlayStation National BMX Racing Championships in Peterborough.

Britain's top BMX professionals and club riders will be converging on Peterborough. This event is the highest point in the domestic season, and will see more than 400 riders competing in 32 different categories.

The fact that there's an under-6 category shows that BMX riding hasn't been as popular since the 1980s. Racing follows a template similar to that of motorcross; eight riders begin behind the same line before riding hell-for-leather across various ditches, jumps and table-tops to the finish line

In addition to racing, spectators will also have the chance to witness the "King of Dirt" freestyle competition, where competitors perform breathtaking jumps and stunts - whoever invented the phrase "big air" clearly had this event in mind.

The increased popularity of mountain bikes is very impressive. Downhill mountain- bike racing lasts between three and five minutes, with competitors racing one at a time against the clock. Whoever records the fastest time wins.

Dual racing sees two competitors abusing gravity by racing side by side down the flattest and steepest hill they can find, while the slalom version puts each competitor in separate lanes.

Twice BMX World Champion Scott Beaumont recently turned to mountain bikes. The 20-year-old professional, riding for Kona, will be one of the main contenders at Peterborough. "I achieved everything I wanted to in BMX, and I needed a new challenge," he says.

Race conditions are often wet, slippery and laced with every booby trap that Mother Nature can devise - all encountered at speeds of around 50mph.

"I never worry about getting hurt, it's my job, and, whatever the conditions, I have to go out there with a winning attitude."

Twenty-five-year-old Tim Ponting rides for the Animal PlayStation team. Currently lying in second position, a good ride this weekend could see him take the overall title.

"The increase in television coverage has really helped raise the sport's profile," he says. "The bikes we ride can be quite expensive, but you can race your bike or ride it to work or the shops.

"There's no feeling like racing downhill; it's an addictive, exhilarating feeling, and you just can't wait to get on your bike."

Beaumont rides a race-ready Kona bike worth pounds 2,300, which boasts more features than you can shake a stick at. Ponting rides a custom-made Orange bike costing a mere pounds 4,000. Yet, while prices can rise to pounds 6,000, you can start with a Halfords model from around pounds 100. If you do decide to buy a bike, be prepared to become an addict.

Alister Morgan

The RAV4 National Mountain Bike Series Finals in Ludlow & The PlayStation National BMX Racing Championships in Peterborough, today and tomorrow. Call the British Cycling Federation (0161-230 2301) for more information

FIVE PLACES TO TRY MOUNTAIN BIKING

Cheltenham & County Cycle Club

19 Halland Road

Cheltenham

Gloucs GL53 ODJ

VC Jubilee Adur Outdoor Activities Centre

Brighton Road

Shoreham-by-Sea

West Sussex BN43 5LT

London Dynamo Bikepark

The Court Yard

250 Kings Road

Chelsea

London SW8 6NT

Eastern Region Mountain Bike Association

11 Haggers Mead, Earl Stonham Stowmarket

Suffolk IP14 5JA

Builth Wells & District Cycle Club

Ty-Gwilyn, Llangorse

Brecon

Powys LD3 7TT

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