Go Mountain Biking

An off-road adventure

Hansi Johnson mountain biking on a trail through the woods.
Hansi Johnson

photo by ryan taylor

One day in the early 1980s, Hansi Johnson and a friend were walking by a local bike shop in Winona when he spotted his first “mountain bike.” It was around the time companies started designing bikes specifically for riding off-road, up and down hills, and through the woods on narrow trails. As a kid who lived out of town, this seemed like something he had to have. So the two friends got jobs bailing hay, saved their money for the bikes, then spent their days riding up and down the bluffs on deer trails and paths they discovered. They found that riding on hilly dirt paths between trees took more bike-handling skills than riding in a straight line on pavement, but the thrills were bigger, too, like riding a roller coaster with no rails. These days, Johnson is among the leaders pushing Minnesota to the front lines of the mountain biking world. When he was regional director of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, he helped develop Duluth’s Traverse Trail and worked with a local cycling group to get the city designated as a Gold-Level Ride Center, one of only six in the world. “In Minnesota,” Johnson says, “we’ve done a good job of building intentional trail systems, built for mountain bikers, or at least with them in mind. A lot of people pooh-pooh Midwest mountain biking, but then they get out here and get on our trails, and they’re like, ‘Oh my God! This is amazing!’” In recent years, the sport has grown along with the number of trails, but the essence hasn’t changed: getting your bike off the road and into the woods. These days we might all need a little more of that. “For me, the best part is to just go outside and be in the moment,” Johnson says. “For that one hour I’m riding, I’m not worried about anything other than that next rock or that next little hill. It refreshes me to go out and deal with the world again.”

Get Started:



Use flat pedals, not clip-ins. Pick a beginner trail.


DNR’s “I Can Mountain Bike” program, REI classes, Spirit Mountain lessons and coaching


Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists, International Mountain Bicycling Association, Minnesota High School Cycling League, ERIK’S Riders Club, trail-specific riding groups


Beginner/Easy trails: 2 out of 4 stars; Most difficult trails: 4 out of 4 stars


Sit back on your seat so front wheel can roll over obstacles. Control speed. An occasional fall is possible; try to break it with your handlebar, not your hand.


Required: Mountain bike (not a 3-speed or road bike—you’d be surprised), helmet. Recommended: Gloves (for vibrations, falling). Wise: Pump, tube, and know-how to use them.


Shared suffering sprinkled with glee