Off-Road biking is getting international attention

In preparation for the Summer Olympics, I will be spending the next several weeks looking at some lesser-known Olympic sports. Specifically, how these athletes train and the injuries they face.

Off-road biking, often called mountain biking, has steadily grown in popularity over the past 25 years. Cycling in general is on a dramatic upswing since the price of gas has risen.

There are over 60,000 competitive male and female riders in the United States ranging in age from 5-80. The inclusive nature of this sport makes it attractive to families and social for those looking to meet other health-minded people.

Zane’s Cycles of Branford, Connecticut is the world’s largest dealer of Trek bicycles and offers entry-level equipment, including a fully equipped bike and helmet, for approximately $450.

The international flavor of off-road biking is exemplified by the fact that it has become a sanctioned Olympic sport.

The USA Cycling/Mountain Bike National Championships were held this month at Mount Snow, Vermont. Over 2,000 riders from throughout the United States qualified for what has been described as the “Super Bowl of off-road cycling.”

Nicholas Girard of Glens Falls, New York is 19 and has been competing for four years. He became involved after visiting a local bike shop and seeing a video about the sport. He is now at the expert level and hoping to move up to the pro level. During his off-season, which extends from November to May, he spends time working out in the gym. He primarily lifts weights to improve leg, shoulder, and core muscle strength.

Heather Irmiger, a 29-year-old professional rider from Boulder, Colorado, has been competing for 11years. Irminger would like to see more women involved in competitive cycling.

“There are women-only programs to introduce people to the sport but none of these address women’s competition,” Irminger said.

The principal injuries in this sport involve the shoulder. They include shoulder dislocation, fractures, and torn rotator cuff. Concussions are rare thanks to newly designed, lightweight helmets.

The Olympic competition will be a cross-country event involving steep inclines, dramatic descents, and many jumps extending over a 20-25 mile course. The length of the course depends on the difficulty of the terrain.

Cycling has come a long way since the Schwinn cruiser, but participation in any form will lead to improved health and longevity. Fun is just an added benefit.

Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is Chief of Neurology at The William W. Backus Hospital and in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC, in Norwich. E-mail him at If you wish to learn more about sports health topics, listen to the podcast or go to the Healthy Sports blog at

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