Cycling is seemingly more popular than ever at the moment. As increasing numbers of people realise the environmental, health and even time-saving potential of commuting by bike, cities are slowly adapting to give cyclists greater priority on the roads.
And with the Tour de France increasingly capturing public interest in recent years, in addition to the hybrid commuter bikes, there has been an explosion in the numbers of sleek racing machines on the roads.
But away from the tarmac, there is a whole world to explore - often only minutes from your doorstep. And if you want to do this, the best option is to get your hands on a mountain bike.
Also known as MTBs, mountain bikes are designed to handle everything the countryside can throw at you - from rocky terrains in the woods, to steep dusty trails in the hills.
Of course, it is the sheer versatility of mountain bikes which has led to them dominating the market over the last 20 years - even though their natural home is off the beaten track, they are comfortable and practical on the road too.
While you can buy a basic 'real' MTB - in other words, one that isn't going to break into pieces if you go on lighter forays into the countryside - for around £300, as with anything, you really do get what you pay for. Technology in the off-road world is improving all the time, though prices have increased substantially over the past couple of years.
There is a wealth of choice at all price levels, and you can easily spend £2,000 on a good mid-range MTB - and a whole lot more if you really want the top-end technology. And there are so many options these days, it would be a good idea to go along to a local bike shop to get your head around what it is that will suit you. They will also be able to help with sizing, and also provide tips and local knowledge.
In short, there are three basic kinds of MTBs, the most simple being the traditional rigid bikes - i.e. one without any motorcycle-style suspension systems. These tend to be among the cheapest, though there are some exceptions for the experienced purist who is seeking a more retro ride.
Probably the most common mountain bike, though, is the 'hardtail', which has a suspension fork at the front, but with a traditional rear. These offer a good compromise between simplicity, efficiency and light weight, and will be able to deal with most situations a rider will confront.
However, if you are keen to tackle some of the more extreme terrain - or are just looking for extra comfort - then full suspension could be the way to go. With both wheels able to move independently, a full suspension MTB will absorb a fair amount of the bumps you roll over off-road. While the technology is constantly trickling down from the upper reaches of bike ranges, good full suspension MTBs - i.e. ones that aren't compromised by excessive weight and hence sluggish performance - tend to cost more than £1,000.
Don't forget the extras…
Once you've found your ideal bike, there are a few more essential purchases - starting with a helmet, which is a must. Then there's gloves to protect your hands, specific cycling shorts (don't worry; there's alternatives to tight lycra these days…), footwear, lights etc. There is also the option of making it a family pursuit, as it can be a great way to fit exercise into family holidays - though kitting out multiple people is clearly going to be even more expensive.
All in all, getting into mountain-biking can be a considerable investment. A loan may be a good way to make all the purchases you need in one go; they can be an effective way to spread costs.
And while it may involve a significant outlay, bear in mind that this is a sport that can be enjoyed all year round, and will be both great fun, and great for your health.
Issued by Sainsbury's Finance