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Keith Uhlig mountain bikes at Nine Mile
Keith Uhlig mountain bikes at Nine Mile: Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com blogger and Wausau Daily Herald reporter Keith Uhlig rode with friend Jake Miller at Nine Mile Recreation Area in Marathon County in September 2012.
A mountain biker cruises along one of the trails at Nine Mile County Forest Recreation Area near Wausau over Labor Day Weekend 2012. / Dan Young/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com
Kyla and Don Woodford of Davenport, Iowa get ready to ride at Nine Mile County Forest Recreation Area near Wausau over Labor Day Weekend 2012. / Dan Young/Wausau Daily Herald

Where to go

Popular mountain biking trail systems around the region, as identified in fattireguides.com, an online mountain biking resource developed by Wausau mountain biker Gary Barden and Mark Barden, his brother.
Nine Mile County Forest Recreation Area
Location: 8704 Red Bud Road, Rib Mountain (west of Wausau and south of Highway N.)
Description: 10 miles of single-track and 20 miles of 12-foot-wide (cross country ski) trails, ranging from beginner to expert levels. Technical difficulty: 4 (out of a 5-point scale)
Underdown Recreation Area
Location: Off of Copper Lake Road in the Lincoln County town of Birch
Description: Challenging and hilly. Single-track trails are not for beginners. Technical difficulty: 5
Standing Rocks Park
Location: About seven miles east of Plover on Standing Rocks Road
Description: Plenty of roller coaster hills with a few rock gardens thrown in. Technical difficulty: 4
Nicolet Roche
Location: north of Highway WW in Langlade County on Forest Road 2116, about 25 minutes east of Antigo
Description: Large rocks that allow skilled riders to test their skills and twisty single-track for cruising make this area a great place to ride. Technical difficulty: 4
Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association Trails
Location: Various areas around Hayward and Cable in northeast Wisconsin
Description: CAMBA has built almost 300 miles of marked trails developed in several clusters. There is all kinds of riding in the area, from flowy and fun to steep and technical. The Bardens are partial to the Rock Lake areas, about seven miles east of Cable. Technical difficulty: 4
Copper Harbor Trails
Location: On the edge of Copper Harbor near the intersection of highways 41 and 26 in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Description: About 25 miles of trails specifically designed to give mountain bikers of various abilities what they need. The trails offer views of Lake Superior, and are developed with bridges, ramps and other amenities. Technical difficulty: 5.
Source: www.fattireguides.com

What you need

Randy Lackman, an avid mountain biker and owner of Rib Mountain Cycles in Rib Mountain, says a person looking to start the sport with decent equipment can expect to pay $600 to $800 for basic equipment. But it would be easy to spend several thousands of dollars on a high-end bike and accessories.
Basics
Mountain bike — $450 to $600 for a basic model, thousands for a top-flight model. Riders can expect a basic front fork shock absorber, disc brakes and large wheels that can roll over obstacles.
Helmet — Starts around $40. It’s a must for mountain biking, Lackman said.
Popular accessories
Clip-in pedals and shoes — $50 for pedals, $80 for shoes.
Gloves — $20 to $40
Shorts — $40 to $200
Jersey — $40 to $100
Bike computer — $20

Jordan Wurz of Wausau is ready to ride at Nine Mile County Forest Recreation Area near Wausau over Labor Day Weekend 2012. / Dan Young/Wausau Daily Herald

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After getting in bicycling shape from Spinning classes last winter, Preet Sahota decided in the spring she wanted to take her workouts outside.

“We thought, ‘Let’s go to Nine Mile (County Forest Recreation Area in Rib Mountain),’” Preet said. “We started riding on the double track (there), you know, on the ski trails. Then we started seeing people coming out of the woods and started wondering, ‘What were those guys doing?’”

The other riders were cruising on Nine Mile’s 10 miles of single-track trails, narrow paths running through the woods, designed to challenge riders with hills, roots, trees and rocks. Preet and her friend tried a short segment of trail that led back to the Nine Mile Chalet. Minutes later, they thought, “This is awesome,” Preet said. “We were hooked.”

More on cycling: Cycling news from around the state | Your cycling photos | Create a map for your next cycling trip | Tim Campbell's blog | Never Quite Enough blog | Michele Rides Again blog

Within days, Preet, 35, of Wausau, a doctor with the Bone & Joint Clinic in Rib Mountain, had a new mountain bike, and now, about four months later, she regularly rides the single track trails at Nine Mile and other mountain bike trail systems around the state.

“I’ve done taekwondo, soccer and I run, but mountain biking is by far the most fun sport I’ve ever done,” Preet said. “I like going over rocks and roots. I think it’s fun going over stuff. You feel like you’re conquering something.”

About 40 million people identified themselves as mountain bikers across the country in 2005, the most recent statistics available, according to the research group Outdoor Industry Foundation. That figure had been pretty steady since 2000.

The silent sport culture of the Wausau area has long been steeped with mountain biking. Nine Mile is a destination trail system, with 24-hour and other mountain bike races that attract riders from across the region. While numbers of riders in north central Wisconsin are hard to pin down, it’s clear that there is fresh enthusiasm for the sport here. In February, a local group that focuses specifically on mountain biking, the Central Wisconsin Offroad Cycling Coalition, formed, and it now has 30 to 40 members, Coalition leaders say.

The group began discussions about creating mountain biking trails on Rib Mountain, but it also already has developed a network of about nine to 10 miles single-track trails at the Big Eau Pleine County Park in the Big Eau Pleine Reservoir in the southwestern area of Marathon County. CWOCC also joined the International Mountain Bicycling Organization, a national group designed to support and grow the sport. The IMBA offers funding and help to local groups in designing trails.

Preet joined the CWOCC, and she’s already looking forward to next season, when Coalition members plan to begin offering group rides, which can help newbies hone their riding skills.

For Preet, the friendships she has made out at Nine Mile is a big part of the sport’s allure.

“The camaraderie is phenomenal,” she said.

Gary Barden, 45, a graphic designer and web site developer from Wausau has been mountain biking seriously for about 15 years, and if anything, he loves the sport more now than when he started.

“It such a tough thing to explain,” Gary said. “For me, it was getting on a trail that was not a like a paved road. ... It takes you out in the middle of the woods.”

Gary likes the idea of being in the heart of the forest, challenging both his body and his mind. “I think there’s a level of intensity to the sport that definitely is an attraction for me,” he said.

Gary met his wife, Jen Barden, 39, a physical therapist, at Nine Mile through friends who rode together. Now mountain biking is a big part of the couple’s life together. They usually ride twice a week at Nine Mile, and often spend weekends biking at other trail systems in the region.

Both are competitive and regularly race. Gary likes races such as the Wausau24, a 24-hour race held at Nine Mile, because they often have a low-key, fun atmosphere, while he’s still racing to push himself.

Jen has become one of the top-flight mountain bike racers in the region. She recently won the women’s 17-mile earlier this month at the Copper Harbor Trails Festival, in Copper Harbor, Mich.

But all three riders say the sport is welcoming to all folks, regardless of skill or fitness level. Preet, Gary and Jen all say that fitness is a secondary concern when it comes to mountain bikes — being healthy is a happy side effect.

“It’s fun,” Jen said. “It’s like a video game, only you’re getting exercise and you’re with your friends and you’re out in the woods,” she said.

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