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Hitting the Trail - Also Rocks and Logs

`I LOVE it, I love it, I love it!'' says Marc Abrams of mountain biking. The bike shop owner is a seven-day-a-week bike rider and an organizing member of the New England Mountain Biking Association. Today he's agreed to take a reporter out on the trail - a ``little'' eight-mile jaunt at a nearby nature reservation.

He rides a titanium-framed mountain bike - light, strong, corrosion-proof, and expensive (about $2,000). It's a high-performance model; low-end bicycles start at around $350.

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``The more you spend [on buying a bike] the better the strength-to-weight ratio, which makes it easier to maneuver through the woods,'' he says. At 27 pounds, his bike is ultralight.

The sun has just seared its way through the clouds as we put on our helmets and start pedaling along the trail.

Ah, no cars.

``You know, on a menu, how they label meals either `mild' or `hot and spicy'?'' Mr. Abrams yells over his shoulder. ``Well, I'd call this next hill `hot and spicy,''' he says as he switches to a low gear. The sight of a mountain biker going up a steep hill is amusing: The rider pedals so fast, it seems he could gain more ground by running.

But mountain bikes are designed with up to 21 gears to ease uphill pedaling. They also have sturdy frames and fat tires to take abuse. ``Fat tires mean no more flat tires to a lot of people,'' says Abrams, smiling as we stop for water.

Bike riding on a trail means maneuvering over a natural obstacle course - you have to dodge huge rocks, bump over logs, cross streams, and walk up some of the tougher hills. Going through pine forests and meadows is cool and breezy, while going over rocky roads makes you feel as if you're riding a jackhammer.

Mental exercise is also necessary. You must look ahead to ``pick a line'' on the trail to determine your tack. Some people ride more leisurely than others, Abrams explains. He likes to enjoy the surroundings, rather than race. Either way, you still come out dirty - something mountain bikers take pride in.

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Toward the end of our trek, we meet up with some hikers and a couple of dogs. ``Hello,'' Abrams says politely to each person. He can't stress enough the importance of trail courtesy. Horses, too, need to know when you're coming.

``Mountain bikes are so quiet, they've been known to spook horses and people,'' says Abrams. One final huff-and-puff hill, and we're back where we started, feeling pleasantly worn out.

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