Mountain biking is a fun way to get outdoors and explore areas that would otherwise be tough to explore and experience. It allows you to enter terrain where no vehicles are permitted and you cover a lot more ground than you would on foot. Mountain biking can be a bit intimidating for the newcomer, but it doesn't need to be. Here's the 11 things you should know before getting started - or if you're a seasoned rider, this list may be a good refresher.
1. Quality matters, but you can find affordable options.
If you're just getting started mountain biking, the first piece of equipment you'll consider is your bike. It's important to note that a true mountain bike is critical to your safety and fun. Don't try to take a road bike or a hybrid on tough trails - it's dangerous and won't be fun.
The first thing to consider when picking out your bike is your budget. The more you'll be riding, the more reasonable it is to spend more on your bike. It's not necessary to buy a high-end bike if you're just getting started. Try out the sport on beginner trails and see how you like it first. Or check out a rental shop before making a purchase yourself.
Most beginners will start out on cross-country trails. These types of trails are perfectly suited for middle-market bikes that go for $200 to $750.
2. Safety gear is critical.
Newcomers to mountain biking need to focus on safety gear in order to keep riding and having fun. The right safety gear will keep you on the trails longer, avoiding mishaps.
The most basic safety equipment for any type of bike riding is your helmet. Helmets are absolutely mandatory in all riding conditions and experience levels.
Beyond a helmet, riders should have a pair of biking gloves, knee and elbow pads, and consider a back protector. You'll thank yourself later.
3. How to find a beginner trail.
It's important to make sure the trail difficulty matches your riding experience. There are plenty of beginner trails out there to enjoy. Getting caught in an experienced singletrack or freestyle trail isn't fun when you're new, it's just stressful and dangerous.
Check out the MTB Project for local trails in your area. You can search on the map near your home or anywhere else and cycle between skill levels. The site also provides photos, rider reviews and information about trail features.
4. More experienced riders will be happy to help you.
Mountain biking is a community, and every rider remembers the days when they were new to the sport. Riders share a love for both the outdoors and the sport, and welcome newbies who enjoy the same.
When you're in the trail parking lot and can't find a trailhead or don't know how to adjust a piece of your equipment, just ask. It can feel a bit embarrassing, but most riders welcome a chance to help someone new to the sport. Plus, you may make a friend to bike with in the future.
5. Rider positions and braking
Knowing how to distribute your weight and set up your riding position makes a huge difference when you're on the trails. Using your weight to manipulate your bike will help you fully control it, more effectively utilize your energy and stay safe on the trails.
Follow the three basic positions below, based on the type of terrain, and you'll be conquering trails in no time.
Your ready position should be used the most out of the three positions. It's your go-to position when you're coasting along or evaluating upcoming terrain. When you approach a turn, incline or decline use the ready position so you're able to react quickly.
- Weight should be evenly distributed on the bike pedals, keeping them level.
- Stand from the pedals, with an athletic bend in the knees.
- Hands rest on the handle bars; fingers can either be near the brakes or a couple can hover over them.
- Your spine should be neutral without arching your lower back or slouching.
- Look 15-20 feet ahead, focusing your gaze on where you want to go (more on this in #7 below).
Uphill Climbing Position
When you're climbing a hill, body position is critical to ensuring you keep the bike steadily climbing. Without the proper position, your back tire will spin out or you'll lose momentum and the bike will come to a stop.
- Try to keep your weight back a bit, while remaining seated or just hovering above the seat. This will keep weight on your back tire while it's doing the work.
- Lean forward with your low center of gravity and hips back so you keep some momentum moving uphill.
- Keep looking uphill at what's ahead, maintaining steady and smooth pedaling.
- Downshift before you hit the hill to make the climb smoother and easier on your gears.
Downhill Descending Position
Most riders find downhill to be the most fun part of mountain biking. It's not grueling on your legs like the uphills, and you can get a comfortable amount of speed to carve through the trail. Downhills can also be very dangerous, and body position is just as important here as it is while climbing.
- Keep your weight balanced and slightly forward with your butt off the seat, knees and elbows bent.
- Tilt your pedals so your heels point slightly down. This, along with comfortably bent elbows, will allow you to manipulate the bike while cruising downhill.
- Hover over the brakes so you're ready to slow down if needed. Make sure to use proper braking and don't go too heavy on your front brake or you will flip over the handlebars.
- Gaze further ahead than you do in the other riding positions. You'll start traveling more quickly downhill, and need to think ahead more than you do on uphills or flat terrain.
6. Frequent shifting makes life a lot easier.
You should get familiar with all the gears on your mountain bike and how each feels in terms of resistance and speed output. Trails are constantly changing and you should be shifting along with the differences in terrain.
The goal with shifting should be to always maintain momentum. You want your bike to continue its forward momentum at all times and your feet steadily pedaling. When you approach a hill, it's important to shift before you hit the incline, so you maintain momentum and pedaling power. Make sure to avoid shifting while climbing - it can harm your gears and cause your chain to pop off.
Also make sure not to cross-chain your bike, as it can cause damage to your bike and put it under a lot of stress. Your bike is cross-chained when it's in gear combinations that stretch the chain or put it at an extreme angle. Take a look at your gears before you're riding and see how different combinations look. You want to avoid your chain running from the small to small chain rings and cogs, as well as from big to big. Test it out before riding and you'll see the difference.
7. Look where you want to go.
This is one of the most simple yet powerful tips that can be given to a mountain biking newcomer. It's also one of the most common mistakes among newbies.
For some, it's hard to avoid looking at that giant rock obstructing one side of the trail, or the tree on the outside of the upcoming sharp turn. The problem is, your bike will naturally go in the direction of your gaze. If you're looking at that rock or that tree, odds are you're going to head right for it. When you turn your head left, your body position turns with it, and so does your bike.
Instead, look where you want to go. This allows you to scan the terrain that's ahead and prepare to shift, alter speed and steer. It will also naturally take you on your desired path, avoiding obstructions.
8. The importance of downhills.
Mountain biking is about maintaining momentum. This means that the downhills are your friend. These parts of the trail allow you to give your legs a break, while gaining speed that you can utilize in the features ahead.
It's very common for new mountain bikers to slow down or heavily control their speed on downhills. This is plenty acceptable when you're new and want to maintain safety. However, you should aim to use the downhills to your advantage as soon as you're comfortable. Controlling your speed on descents will force you to pedal a lot harder throughout the day, and will burn you out much more quickly.
Make sure to shift before you start descending downhill. You want to move to a gear that's harder to pedal when traveling downhill. You'll have a lot of momentum on your side, and these harder gears will allow you to gain even more speed with your pedaling. You'll be traveling faster and with much less resistance than normal, so these gears will feel easier to pedal than normal.
9. How to fall.
It's inevitable and eventually bound to happen. You're going to fall at some point, which is completely normal in the sport of mountain biking. The key is to ensure your falls don't ruin your day by banging up your bike or causing an injury.
If you're wearing the proper safety gear we mention above, you're already off to a great start. Your helmet and other protective gear will help the fall cause much less damage than it would otherwise.
It's a smart idea to practice your falls in a field or grassy area. Ride your bike at an easy, slow pace and practice jumping off both your right and left sides, leaving your bike on its side. This will simulate anything that catches your handle bars and causes them to jerk in either direction (a fairly common occurrence).
You should also practice jumping over the front of your bike, simulating a situation that launches you forward. To practice, start riding at a steady pace, then brake heavily and jump over the handlebars, letting the forward momentum carry you.
One other note on falling is to try to land soft. This is easier said than done, but you can cause a lot of damage by putting your hands out in front of you with elbows locked. This is instinctual, but can cause injury to your shoulders or elbows when you hit the ground. Instead, try to roll and diffuse the impact as much as you can.
10. Basic bike repairs.
Completing basic repairs is part of the mountain biking sport, so you should make sure you're prepared for the common issues that arise. A bike toolkit is one of the basic things that should always be in your bag (more on that below).
You should be prepared for flat tires, which are simple repairs if you're prepared. Before hitting the trails, find your bike's wheel release. This will allow it to disconnect from the frame. Then, use the tire lever in your pack to wedge the edge of the tire off of the wheel, exposing the punctured tube. Next, fill up your new tube about halfway before putting it back into the tire and completing the process.
The other common issue that you'll run into is a slipped or disconnected chain. This is caused by a host of factors and can be largely avoided by proper shifting and chain maintenance. Start by noting what gear you're in and placing the chain back on the appropriate spot on the cog. Low number gears indicate positions that are small and closest to the bike. Then, use the derailer to allow the chain to fit back on by pushing it toward the handlebars. Once the chain is attached, pedal the bike a rotation or two, ensuring the chain is properly connected.
11. How to pack.
It's important to ensure you pack the right items for a day on the trails. You should pack your bag with snacks, water, repair items and spare clothes if the climate or weather may change.
Also make sure to pack suncreen, sunglasses, a tire pump and mini first-aid kit. These items will ensure you're ready for all of the situations that we mentioned above. A properly packed bag ensures you're prepared for anything the day throws at you.