Are you a beginner mountain biker looking to up your game this spring and summer? Or have you been meaning to try mountain biking, but don’t know how to start? Use these tips to get you going.
Aside from riding a bike that needs maintenance or doesn’t fit you, one way to guarantee an uncomfortable day on the trails is to forgo essential gear and protective equipment.
Though padded bike shorts might not be your chosen way to make a fashion statement, after one bumpy ride on my hardtail without them, I invested in two pairs of padded . (Pro tip: leave the undies at home.)
Might seem silly at first, but they keep your hands from falling asleep, and protect your skin from stray branches.
And don’t even think about hitting the trails without a helmet. It should fit snugly enough that it doesn’t move around on your head, but also shouldn’t interfere with your ability to see.
Speaking of seeing, wearing sunglasses or some sort of eye protection is a must to keep rocks, dirt, and other particles out.
Having a bandana or Daily Tube from Black Strap handy to wipe your face down doesn’t hurt either!
Take a look at trail maps before you go, and bring them with you. Choosing a trail that will force you to tackle terrain you’re not ready for is dangerous, and won't be as much fun as a route that's beginner-friendly. And if you're looking for a short ride, double check your map so you don't inadvertently find yourself on a 20-mile loop trail. Lastly, a bike computer is a nice item to help you keep track of speed and distance. Consider pairing it with maps to give you confidence on how far you've traveled and where you are on your map.
Bring a spare tube, tire levers, pump or CO2, and a patch kit; and make sure you know how to use them before your ride.
Finally, don’t forget food and water. Keeping your water bottle in a cage attached to your bike is an option, but water bottles can get mighty dirty on the trail, and there isn't always a convenient time to grab them. Consider a hydration pack, and do what works best for you. With respect to snacks, grab something palatable that’ll give you quick energy without filling you up too much. Munk Pack ready-to-eat oatmeal, Simple Squares, Kratos bars, Clif bars, Kate’s Real Food bars, and Ally’s Bar are great options.
“Choosing a line” means looking at a stretch of terrain and deciding how you’re going to get from point A to point B. This starts with looking further ahead of you on the trail and reading the oncoming terrain. When looking further ahead, the terrain doesn’t seem to rush at you as fast and gives you more time to react.
Next, choose your line, and keep your eyes on that line as you move. Don't want to hit a giant root in the middle of the trail? Pretend it's not there, and focus your eyes on where you want to go, not where you don't want to go. I quickly learned that choosing a line doesn't necessarily mean that's where I'll go, but we all have to start somewhere!
Though this might not seem true on your first ride or two, keeping up a bit of speed, as long as you’re in control, is a really good thing. If you’re moving too slowly going downhill or on flat ground, you might not make it over rocks or roots you encounter. If you’re moving too slowly approaching an uphill section, you might find yourself walking up the hill unnecessarily. It’ll take practice to find the balance between going too fast and not fast enough, but practice makes perfect.
When you feel like you’re out of control going downhill, your first instinct might be to clamp down on your brake levers. To prevent yourself from taking a nose dive over the handlebars, keep your fingers off the brake levers. When you do need to slow down, remember the front brake carries most of the stopping power, but if it’s the only one you use, things won’t end well. Use both the front and rear brakes.
And to make it easier to get up hills, anticipate when you'll need to downshift. Don’t wait until you’re in the middle of the hill to shift into an easier gear. It's difficult to do and generally not great for your chain & drivetrain. When you are in the right gear and climbing, be efficient. Stay seated; you need weight on the back wheel to keep moving forward, and weight on the front wheel for steering. Pedal hard, and if all else fails, pedal harder!
Mountain bikers, what other beginner tips do you have? Sound off in the comments!