MTB in Hong Kong
- Parent Category: MTB in Hong Kong
- Published on 18 June 2008
Riding up and down
A mountain bike can climb slopes with up to a 30% incline and go down a 45% incline and more. The limitations are lie in tire traction and grip
Long ClimbA long climb can be made easier with a few posture adjustments:
- As soon as the slope becomes steep, sit further in front of your saddle and lean forward by flexing your arms. This posture will maximize your leg strength and optimize your balance.
- Try to save as much as energy as possible with your upper body, and avoid pulling on the handle bar. On any slope your ideal posture should let you make strictly no effort with your arms – you should be able to steer with the tip of your fingers.
Slope start and ride upIt’s extremely common to have to jump on the bike in the middle of a steep trail section. You must know how to start riding in such a situation:
Gears must be set to easy (small chain ring – large sprocket, 3X9/8/6).
You can either stand above your saddle or sit, but the bike’s angle must be as straight as possible
- Your first pedal stroke must be set at 10 o’clock.
- Lean forward. Lower your chest by bending your arms to prevent the bike’s front from lifting under your first pedal stroke.
- The first stroke must give you enough momentum to very quickly find the other pedal. Expect to lose your balance slightly for the two/three first pedal strokes.
- Look forward to the point you want to reach – as long as you look forward and keep pedaling you’ll manage to go where you’re looking at. DO NOT look at your front wheel or you will follow that instead of where you want to go.
- Pedal quickly to find enough momentum and balance.
- Then pace cadence to sustain the distance to clear.
- Riding steep uphill slopes
- Keep your upper body leaning low and forward to keep a low gravity center.
- Remain seated on a moderately steep slope.
- Keep your elbows close to your trunk.
- Look forward and focus on a point you want to reach. Always look to something forward, never look at your wheel even you start losing balance.
- Try to spin faster to gather momentum.
- Respect an effort and a cadence you can sustain for the entire slope.
Very steep climbs
Climbing very steep slopes put you on a thin line between balance and traction: Lean too far forward and you'll lose traction, spin your rear wheel and stall - Lean too far back and the front wheel lifts.
- Get off your saddle as soon the slope gets very steep, but remain almost in contact with the saddle's tip
- Collapse your chest very close to the handlebars, keep your flexed elbows close to your trunk
- Focus on the next point you want to reach
- Don't try to hop your front wheel by pulling on your bar in order to go over obstacle - it will destabilize you. Just roll over it. If the obstacle is too sharp to roll over it use your balance instead of your arms to lift the front wheel.
CAUTION: It is common to lose balance on extremely steep climbs. The front lifts and you may flip back and land on your back. To avoid this, cling to your front brake only. DO NOT use your back brake or you’ll flip back.
For very steep slopes do not try to use momentum to tackle it: you will burn out within meters. Instead start slowly and pace yourself.
Graphic: Steep up and downs. The closer your center of gravity gets to the wheel, the less traction or grip your tires will have. For steep uphill the chest gets close to the handle bar, for steep downhill the stomach comes close to the saddle
Graphic: when it goes wrong. [left] standing too up straight on a downhill brings the center of gravity too close to the front, there is no room to absorb an impact. [right] Standing too far back while going up and the front wheel lifts.
Downhil slopes: downhill slope start
Starting down a steep slope can be difficult on a narrow or a rutted trail. Train on a clear path first, try to get as quick as you can in a stable posture and to ride down on the straightest like possible.
- Apply both brakes.
- Stand on one pedal.
- Quickly sit on the saddle and release the brakes.Immediatly find a good balance on your feet.DO NOT try to look at your feet when reaching the pedal. Look at the trail!
- Look forward and immediately adopt a crouching posture by positioning the pedals horizontally, shifting your hips back and lowering your upper body. You must be in balance on your feet
riding downhill -
- A long downhill trail can be particularly straining if you are tense. The more relaxed you are the faster you’ll go.
- Get your buttocks off the saddle and shift your hips backward. Flex your arms at the same time. You must be able to slightly pinch your saddle with your inner thighs. You must be as balanced as possible on your two pedals.
- If the terrain is smooth you won't need to be too far above the saddle, 1 inch is enough. But always be prepared to absorb an impact you didn't see coming. The rougher it gets the further back from the saddle you'll get and the lower your upper body will go
- Look as far forward as you think you can stop. Constantly scan what’s upcoming and keep your eyes focused only on where you can ride.
Photo: HANGING from the bar. Leaning too far back with arms completely extended. Impossible to steer.
Fire in your forearms?
Have a tight grip on your handle bar but very relaxed arms. If you feel your forearms and shoulders burning on a long downhill, it means you are not low enough and not in balance on your feet.
Your arms must be used to push you back just before the impact, you must use your balance and weight to absorb the impacts, not just your arms.
Graphic: Lean back right before the impact. If you didn't lean back enough your arms are absorbing the impact.
Core Skills: Pedaling
Pedaling is not just about spinning your legs. It’s about applying power when you need it. It’s also about using the right gear at the right time to roll over an obstacle or climb a mountain.
The gearsBicycle gears allow you to use a sustainable amount of strength to make you climb almost any slope’s inclination.
A regular mountain bike has 3 chain rings and 9 rear sprockets. Theoretically there are 28 gears (3X9) but the gears are overlapping:
A 30 teeth chain ring driving a 15 teeth rear sprocket (ratio 1:2) is equivalent to a 36 chain ring (middle chain ring) driving a 13 teeth sprocket. In both cases one pedal revolution will generate two wheel revolutions.
Stay alignedTo guarantee the gears functioning in at their optimum, the chain must be lined up as much as possible with the rear sprocket driven by the chain ring. Chains are flexible only to a limited extent, and will quickly wear out or break if used improperly. The wear is multiplied exponentially while riding in wet and muddy conditions.
Rule of thumb:
Big chain ring drives the 4 smaller sprockets.
Middle chain ring drives all the sprockets except the smallest and the largest one.
Small chain ring drives the 4 larger sprockets.
Always spin your legs
The right way to use gears for trail riding is to pedal within the same range of intensity regardless of the slope you have to climb. The slope doesn’t decide for you the effort you must make to climb it (although a very steep slope may do!).
This means you must try to stay in a sustainable effort zone at all times by changing gear, making spinning easier on steeper climbs and harder on a flat or a downhill until you get in your effort zone.
You must always feel some resistance under your feet. If it’s too easy, you’re spending more energy spinning your legs than pushing on the pedals.
Get off your seat for extra power
Standing up will give you extra power because you will use your weight to push the pedals down. But when you are standing up you are using your upper body much more and it will increase your effort load drastically. It's difficult to sustain a long climb standing up. Even on a very steep climb you'll have advantage to remain seated.
However, it is good sometimes to get off the saddle for a few seconds and pedal slowly using your weight on a heavy gear – it will help you relaxing your legs.
There are many situations that require a reserve of extra power. You’ll need to push the pedals extra hard for a few second to go over an obstacle you haven’t anticipated.
If you are already pushing hard on your pedals to climb up the obstacle’s slope, you won’t have enough energy left to get over the obstacle itself. This could be going over one or two steps, or just powering through a rough section.
Example: A typical mistake is to zoom down a hill, pedaling on a high gear to gather momentum for the next climb, and then getting stuck on the climb because the gear is too high.
Change gear constantly
You must constantly try to find the gear that allows you to spin with the same intensity. For technical trail riding (most of Hong Kong riding) you may change shift gear every 10 seconds.
You must shift to an easier gear everytime you see an obstacle or a surface that will slow you down. It can be a sudden climb, a few rocks or a tight curve; all this will slow you down so you'll need to be in a lower gear to easily pedal through.
Tip: Gear numbers are always given from right to left in increasing number.
For chain rings 1 is the largest chest ring (furthest right) – 3 is the smallest chain ring (further left).
For the cassette 1 is the smallest sprocket (furthest right) – 9 is the largest (furthest left).
You must always keep pedaling to change gear.
Graphic: gearing sequence
Practice: Chain alignmentFind a flat, long area that is clear of obstacles and people, since you might need to look at your chain while riding.
Get to the lowest gear (3X9).
Ride and progressively change gears with your rear derailleur. Go 9 > 8 > 7 > 6.
Now change chain ring 3 > 2
Pedaling is immediately harder. So ease it by going up 2 rear gears 6 < 7 < 8
Now you’ve found the ratio you had while on the small gear, you can accelerate. Shift down with the rear derailleur: 8 > 7 > 6 > 5 > 4 > 3 > 2.
Now get on the large chain ring 2 > 1
Shift 2 gears up on the back 2 > 3 > 4
Now you can finish the sequence and get to 4 > 3 > 2 > 1.
Start to slow down and proceed to the inverse sequence: front 1 to 3 and back 1 to 9.
You should be able to go through the all sequence with 200 meters.
Practice 2 – anticipate
Find a path where you can gather momentum and which ends in a steep slope.
Accelerate enough to get on a low gear – large chain ring and small sprocket (1X3)
As soon as you hit the slope start changing gear in order to keep applying the same power as you’re going further up. This exercise will force you to find the adequate gear quickly. Stop changing gear when you feel comfortable with the effort you’re making.
If no slope is available determine a distant point where you’ll stop. Accelerate until you’re getting close to the largest gear (1X1/2/3). Start slowing down, and alternate gear changing and braking. You want to reach the stopping point in a very easy gear (3X6/7/8).
Core Skills: Steering
Steering seems natural. It’s the first thing you learned while riding a bike. However, turning on tight corners, or riding at high speed on curves, don’t count among common cycling abilities. For mountain biking, however, you’ll need push your steering abilities to remain comfortable and safe on narrow trails.
Engaging into the curve
Steering with a bike is far more than just turning the handle bar towards the incoming curve. You will only turn successfully if you’re leaning into the curve and then turning.
Leaning into the curve is something you’re doing “naturally” but you must explore this ability to then tackle switch-backs (hair pin turns) or curves at high speed.
Photo: learn to trust your tires' grip
Remember the idea of the weight attached to your heart with a string, which we used to explain the forces involved in braking? The same thing applies while turning, but in this case the weight can’t go outside of the line traced between your two tires.
Tight turning will generate braking forces caused by the friction of your front tire’s side against the ground.
As with braking hard, turning tightly requires you to adopt a low posture which will leave you plenty of room to adjust your steering and control your tilt. The faster you go the lower you must be.
Graphic: not leaning inward makes turning impossible
Look at where you want to goYou will only turn where you’re looking at. So look as far as you can on the inside of the curve. Look at it with all your upper body, turn your head towards it, turn your shoulders, and twist your entire trunk towards the curve.
Carve your curve
Raise yourself slightly off your saddle and stand on your outward foot. Being off your saddle helps you to absorb the terrain’s irregularities (your legs and arms are your best suspensions). Turning is an exercise in fine balancing, so you don’t want to be bounced around by your saddle.
Planting down your outward foot helps you gain grip: you are lower on your bike so it’s easier to gain balance. You also want your inward foot up to prevent your pedal clipping a rock or the ground.
Graphic: on rough curves give yourself room to absorb terrain's irregularities. Do Not hae your inward foot down
Steering stops you
The tighter you turn, the more resistance from the ground the front tire will encounter. You must not only lean into the curve but be ready to feel a braking force pulling you forward. Here again, the balanced crouching posture is key to tight turning.
- Find a paved area delimited by curbs. A wide path – 30 feet will do. Make sure the surface is clean and not slippery (free of gravel, leaves, moss). The area must be flat. You will practice making a 180º turn within the path’s width.
- Ride close to the curb on either side – let’s say for now, the right side.
- Plant your outward foot down on the pedal (crank is vertical) and very slightly lift your buttocks from the saddle
- Look at the curb on the other side, turn your head and your shoulders towards it: you will automatically lean towards it and turn.
- Press on the handlebar on the curves inward side (left if you’re turning left). Pressing on the handlebar is necessary for high speed or very tight curves
- As soon as you’ve passed the center of the road, force yourself to stop looking at the curb and look at the center of the road. If you look at the curb you will hit it – remember, look where you want to go, not at what you want to avoid.
- Successful? Now do it the other way. Start from the left side.
- Most people will have a better side. Usually turning left is easier.
- Now you’ve done it both sides, try the same thing but 6 feet closer to the opposite curve. Try at the same speed. The curve’s radius is now tighter; you’ll need to lean more.
- Keep trying until you manage to turn 180 degrees at slow speed within 6 feet, both ways.
- Now try again to curve wide but faster, and then progressively reduce the curve’s radius.
CAUTION: if you hit the brakes while leaning sideways you will almost automatically drift outward. You do not want to have your front tire drifting, so do not touch the front brake while turning. You can lightly adjust your speed by applying some back brake. The faster or tighter the curve, the more you must avoid braking.
Now you have familiarized with leaning into the curve, you know where to look at and how to engage in a curve. You know you must control your speed and brake beforehand, and not touch the brakes while leaning into the curve.
Core Skills: Braking
Riding trails on a mountain bike makes you brake much more than you ever used to in any other type of cycling. You will often have to use the full capacity of your brakes in order to stay on the track. You must explore how quickly your brakes can stop so you’ll know your optimum braking distance for a given speed
Always be ready to brakeYou must ALWAYS ride with at least ONE finger on top of your brake levers. You must be ready to brake anytime.
Adjust your brake levers so your fingers fall on the lever’s tip, and your forearm, wrist and fingers are aligned.
Remember from the Balance section how your center of gravity projects a point on the ground that falls midway between your two tires.
Graphic: The harder your brake or hit something, the more you will be pulled forward by gravity
When hitting the brakes this line attached to your heart is moving forward – like a string with a free weight attached.
If this string ¬points further than the front tire’s contact point with the ground, you’ll be pulled forward and go over the handlebar. Braking hard is like hitting a rock—if your brakes are strong your center of gravity will be thrown forward beyond your ultimate balance point.
Graphic: braking or hitting an object is the same, your center of gravity must remain behind the front wheel's contactop int with the ground
This balance point shift has a dramatic effect on your braking. All your weight gets on the front tire and the rear one is left with almost no traction. You need traction (or grip) to brakes. With weight your tire plants into the ground and stops you. Without it, it just skids.
Brake balanceBalancing your brakes means applying sufficient power to slow down the wheels without stopping them from turning, or causing the bike to skid. Because braking involves a mass transfer from rear to front, you’ll need more power to slow down your front wheel than your rear. The brake balance varies with how hard you are braking and how steep the slope is that you’re going down.
Riding on a flat section of tarmac, the braking balance between front and rear will be about 70% front / 30% back. But as soon as you’re braking harder, the front percentage will increase up to 100% front / 0% rear in extreme cases.
MISCONCEPTION: Some people think the back brake is safer going downhill. This is absolutely wrong. You cannot stop on a steep downhill with your back brake only.
Some extreme situations make braking impossible. If the deceleration is too brutal or if the slope is too steep, the mass transfer will be completely horizontal. No weight will be applied to the front tire and no grip will be available to stop you. You will only slide down. Avoid putting yourself in such a situation in your early mountain biking days! The only way to get out of such a situation is to let the bike go until you hit a spot, giving you enough grip to brake again – these are advanced riding skills.
Braking postureBraking harder than usual is like hitting an obstacle.
Get off the saddle and shift your hips back, get your upper body closer to the bike and allow some flexibility to your arms to absorb the impact.
Going down a step or over any kind of obstacle will require releasing the brakes for a split second – just enough time to get over the obstacle. You do not want to add up the impact of an obstacle with the impact of braking. So if your bike tilts down while rolling down a step, you must release your brakes to avoid your center of gravity being thrown forward and over.
Graphic: braking adds up with impact and slope
Practice: Caution!All the following exercises can be conducted any time during a ride. Start on clean, paved paths and repeat the practice when you can on other terrain. Go from paved ground to hard packed dirt to loose soil, mud and gravel (the most dangerous). Your goal is to brake progressively harder and in the shortest distance possible, without skidding.
Practice: Discovering your brakes.
- Find a flat surface where you can ride for 100 meters at moderate speed.
- Find a mark on the ground that will define your braking point.
- Ride towards it at moderate speed.
- Get in a safe position, off the saddle (very slightly), stable on both feet, horizontal crank (if your crank are not horizontal you will automatically turn while braking).
- Get ready for braking by shifting your upper body backward. Here again shift your hips back first, collapse your upper body and then push slightly back on your bars but DO NOT have your arms fully extended – you’re ready for the braking impact.
- BRAKE ON A STRAIGHT LINE. DO NOT attempt to turn while braking. Use more power on your front than your back brake. DO NOT cling on both brake levers, go progressively, and repeat the drill to increase the braking power.
- Come to a complete stop and notice how far you are from your braking point
- Repeat the exercise until you feel comfortable braking hard and you’re not skidding anymore.
- Then find a gentle slope where you can gather a lot of speed, and try to stop in the shortest distance possible without skidding.
CAUTION: DO NOT HANG from your bar, with your arms completely extended pulling on the grips. This posture will release most of the weight from your front tire and will not allow your front tire to gather the initial traction to stop you. Instead, it will end up skidding.
CAUTION: If your front tire skids, IMMEDIATELY release the front brake.
Practice: Getting over rear skiddingRepeat the skidding exercise but use your FRONT BRAKE only.
You will notice that your braking distances are almost equal to your previous ones using both brakes. This is the demonstration that most of your braking power goes into your front tire.
Now try to apply the back brake again, just a little, a very little. If you skid you’re applying too much of it.
Practice: Slowing down on a steep slope.
- Find a paved, clean and dry steep path
- Gather a moderate speed.
- Adopt a balanced position off the saddle (see practice in Balance chapter).
- Progressively apply the brakes and slow down to a walking speed.
- With the slope you will be likely to skid more, so be very gentle on your back brake.
Try then to come to a complete stop on the slope’s steepest section. Try to hold your balance for one second (for this keep looking further down, don’t look at your bike), then release your brake and let it go.
Braking hard without skidding is essential to staying in control of your bike. You’ve discovered here how to balance your front and rear brakes, and how to avoid skidding. Braking balance will be essential later in many typical riding situations. Now that you also know how to counter the effect of mass transfer, you’re ready to hit a very wide range of obstacles. Bear in mind that you will use exactly the same braking skills going down a steep trail.
Core Skills: Perception
All mountain biking moves are triggered by your perception of your riding environment and how you see yourself and your bike going through.
Maintaining awareness of where you can go, what you can do and how your bike will react is a skill in itself.
Look ahead to where you want to go
This sounds obvious, but most of the trajectory mistakes that lead to a crash are due to looking at what is not on your path. Looking forward to where you want to put your wheels is key. If you’re looking at something else while riding, the tilt of your head will put you off balance and you’ll start turning towards it. So you must ignore what isn’t in your way and just look towards where you want to go.
Graphic: Red arrow = braking distance; look further or crash
Look as far as you can stop
Always look as far as you can brake, so you can stop before hitting an obstacle you can’t overcome. You will need to practice braking on various surfaces to have a better idea of where to look. But as a rule of thumb: look further ahead going fast on a downhill; look closer going slower; look as far as you can see the trail on a curve.
You must always plan your next move after the obstacle. If you just keep looking at the obstacle and not beyond it, you will be unprepared for what lies ahead and may something you haven’t seen.
Graphic: Think ahead of you moves, never look at your front wheel getting ove/down obstacles
Roll over it
Your bike can take a lot of abuse, and can roll over a wide range of obstacles. You can roll straight over pretty much everything that is 1/4 of your wheel – this means almost 6 inches. There are few obstacles found on trails that are larger than 5 inches.
You must experiment going over obstacles. Take time finding increasingly bigger obstacles ,like rocks (start small – don’t go bigger than 5/6 inches), hit them straight on and pay attention to the consequences on your speed and your balance.
Graphic: The wheels can get over almost anything 1/4 of their size but beware of the impact
The ground brakes for you
Every obstacle you hit stops your bike’s forward motion. If you’re getting on rough terrain you’ll need to pedal much harder. If you’re going down a rough section your bike will abruptly slow down.
Graphic: very rough surface, like a rock garden, will eat up all your speed
Get a grip
Your tires, if in good condition, can provide you with amazing grip as long as enough weight is applied to them to keep some traction.
The grip is the tire’s ability to keep traction despite the forces applied to it. If those forces become greater than the tire’s traction abilities it will immediately start to drift.
The ground surface will greatly modify your tire’s traction capabilities. Therefore, it is important to always identify the soil types conditions. Here is a list, going from strongest grip to weakest grip:
- Ideal Conditions: Moist, hard packed soil offers the most grip, allowing the tires’ knobs to dig in.
- Hard packed and dry, dry stone: The compacted soil and stone surface offers a lot of grip to tire rubber. Be careful with dust that is a loose element on a hard surface.
- Loose surfaces, dirt or sand: Loose surfaces offer very little grip at first, but as soon as the tires dig in (turning or braking) it suddenly provides a lot of grip. This makes it difficult to negotiate.
- Debris: Trails are often covered in debris such as dead leaves. Like loose surface a layer of debris provide almost no grip until the tire manage to get through
- Mud: Clay, when damp, is like soap. This requires pushing the tires down to a more solid layer of dirt. Mud covering a hard surface makes the surface extremely slippery. Beware of rocks and roots covered by a layer of liquid mud.
- Gravel: Gravel is certainly the most unstable ground surface. Gravel reacts like ball bearings. A thin layer of gravel on a very hard surface is the most hazardous configuration. A thick layer requires the rider to dig the tire in order to achieve traction.
All the challenges in mountain biking lie in counterbalancing gravitational forces. When your front wheel hits a rock you’re thrown forward. Looking at it closer you’ll understand that your bike is stopped by the impact but your body keeps going forward. If you’re going too far forward you’ll go over the bar.
While riding a trail you will constantly have to anticipate moments of impacts and prepare for them. You’ll have to adopt a posture that will let you absorb the impact before you’ll have reached the limit of your balance on the bike.
Graphic: Your body is independent from your bike. If your bike stops, your body will keep going forward
Hit obstacles straight on
Imagine every stone giving a kick to your front wheel. The kick can be very powerful. The bigger the obstacle, the bigger is the kick.
If the obstacle kicks your wheel straight on you’ve got all your mass aligned to resist it. But if you are hitting the obstacle with an angle it will kick your front wheel sideways – there will be no way to get it back online and you’ll crash.
Always plan to hit an obstacle as straight on as possible.
The straightest line is the best
As soon as you’re hitting a rough zone try as much as you can to cut through it. Steering generously while going over a rocky zone increases your chances of jack-knifing and wedging your wheel in a gap between two stones. Hold firm, get the right posture, stay relaxed and let the bike do its work. Just make sure there aren’t any obstacles along the rough section that your wheel can’t go over.
Practice: Look at the trail.
Practice braking down a trail section into a series of obstacles.
Look at the trails as a succession of slopes, curves and obstacles you can roll over.
Even in a difficult trail section there are easier zones—zones where you can brake without challenging your balance, and zones that are flat enough to turn sharply.
Here is an example of how to look at a challenging trail section:
Scan the trail:
The trail is relatively narrow and bordered with a steep down slope – where you don’t want to fall. There are big rocks on the sides, some emerging from the ground, and two set of steps. The trail section is roughly 20 meters long.
Now only look at your path; not the steep and scary down side!
Now check for the obstacles on your path, check for everything you could clip with your pedals or shoulder.
Now only look at the obstacle you’ll have to ride over: 1 set of 2 steps, followed by one rock, followed by a set of 3 steps.
Now consider your path as just slopes and bumps – everywhere your bike will tilt or experience a significant impact. This is the only thing you need to focus on because you will modify your posture to withstand it and brake when necessary.
The trail section isn’t as intimidating as it may first appear; broken down, it’s just two sets of steps (slopes) and a bump.
All you need to know about getting started in Hong Kong
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Guides, Touring Companies, and MTB Instructors
Guided rides and skills courses
For the new to HK finding your way around the labryinth of trails can be a real nightmare and having the necessary skills to be able to ride some of these trails can be a real challenge. But help is to hand a few companies in HK are offering skills courses and guided rides
Few companies in Hong Kong offer the novice or new rider better opportunities to brush up on skills and find out where to put those skills to practice
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Julien's Mountain Biking Skills Manual
The mountain biking skills section will teach you a set of fundamental skills that will make your riding safer and faster. The lessons listed bellow were developped by Julien Lallemand as an answer to the technical difficulty of Hong Kong trails for beginners and intermediate level mountain bikers.
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This mountain biking skills section will teach you a set of fundamental skills that will make your riding safer, better and faster. This section's content is brought to you by Julien Lallemand. Julien developed a mountain bike skills teaching method and taught regular mountain bike skills clinics in Hong Kong
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Here are some special tips to remember when you hit the trails or when the trail hits you right back in Hong Kong!
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