It’s always fun to get outside on two wheels. It’s one of the best ways to stay in shape, and you get to fill your lungs with fresh air. But if you’re an adventurous person, and you love engaging yourself in extreme sports, you may not love the idea of riding your bike around town. If you’re one of those enthusiastic adventure seekers, then mountain biking is exactly what you need.
According to some surveys, there is an increasing number of people who are getting into this sport. And the obvious reasons are that mountain biking is fun, filled with thrills, and it offers a lot of health benefits. Not only do mountain bikers get to have a good time in the mountains, but they also get to burn a lot of calories, strengthen their lungs and muscles, enhance their brainpower, and more.
So, unless you’re physically incapable, or you think you’re too old, there is no reason why you wouldn’t want to go to the mountains and have your share of fun with your bike.
In this comprehensive mountain biking guide for beginners, you will learn everything you need to know about mountain biking, where to start, how to prepare yourself, what equipment you need, how to choose your gear, and so on.
Things to Consider.
Mountain biking may seem like a dangerous sport, but in reality, it’s not. Of course, it involves speed and overcoming different obstacles, which can be pretty challenging at times. But in reality, it is not as scary as the media often portray it.
Any sport which includes risky maneuvers is done by professionals who have had countless hours of practice. And at the beginner’s level, you don’t have to conquer a steep slope or a very rough trail. You can slowly work your way up and face harder challenges as you get better and better.
It can be even more intimidating if you’ve never ridden your bike on a wooded trail. But don’t let that fact put fear in your mind. Be confident in yourself and prepare for a fantastic experience which you’ll never forget.
- Find someone with experience.
As with any other sport, it’s always a good idea to be taught or guided by someone who knows exactly what he/she is doing. Some people are born with special abilities. They can learn to do something just by looking at others. But these types of people are rare. And it is not wise to go out and try to learn the techniques and tricks all by yourself.
Maybe you’ll do pretty well even if you do it all alone but having an expert beside you for a company can make a huge difference. It’s the best way to make sure that you make your progress slowly but steadily.
- Prepare your body.
Mountain biking requires a lot of strength and stamina. If you’re a health-conscious person, and you do a lot of workouts or run for miles every morning then you’re almost ready to get your adventure started. However, if you’re not used to exercising, you will need to put in the extra effort.
Hit the gym, if it’s possible. Or run at least a quarter-mile daily for a week, and double the distance the following week. Do this for at least six weeks. This will allow your body to endure the high-intensity workout of riding your bike. Keep in mind that mountain biking is a total body workout, and you need to prepare your body beforehand.
Note: As you begin to train your body for fitness and endurance, it is crucial to eat well, and most importantly, never fail to get sufficient sleep.
- Determine the type of mountain you want to conquer.
Many rookies make the mistake of buying their bikes without knowing where they will be riding. To avoid this, it’s crucial to figure out whether you will be riding on gentle slopes, flat land, steep hills, pebbled/muddy trails, or even snow-covered trails.
If you know the mountains around where you live, you should be able to figure this out easily. This is extremely important because it will help you get the most suitable bike based on your plans and needs.
- Avoid overspending.
Another thing to consider is the price of your bike. There are bikes that are designed for professional bikers. These are high quality, super durable bikes full of cool features, but these bikes have a very high price.
As a starter, you don’t need to buy those expensive bikes. This doesn’t mean that you have to look out for the cheapest one, but you also don’t have to buy one with a costly price tag.
Look for the ones that are rated for beginners as those bikes usually have more safety features. And remind yourself that you’re going to learn the basic mountain biking skills with that bike, so it would be a bad idea to buy an expensive one.
- Choose your trail according to your skills.
Many mountain bikers have been humbled by tough trails with steep climbs and drop-offs. It would be a bad move to follow the same trails that experts choose. You don’t need to push yourself too hard, so go easy on yourself. As mentioned earlier, you’ll find it easier if you can find an experienced rider to guide you. He/she will help you choose your trail accordingly.
There is no shame in being a beginner. Every great mountain biker starts somewhere. First, learn whatever you can by climbing beginner-friendly bike trails and work your way up, to even greater challenges.
- Invest in good safety equipment.
What will happen up in the mountains as you ride past the rocky, wooded, or bushy trails can never be predicted. This is why you need to prioritize your safety. We will cover this with more details in the next part, but crucial safety equipment includes a helmet, eye protection, gloves, shoes, and first-aid kits.
You cannot expect to gain the skills of mountain biking without the right gear. These are the essential gear for mountain biking:
- Bike helmet.
Just like the most important safety feature in a car is the seat belt, for two-wheeled riders, a helmet is the most important one. A bike helmet should not be considered as an option. Even if you don’t have other safety gear, your helmet should be on your head whenever you’re out riding.
In case of a fall, a good quality helmet will protect your head from severe injuries. It will also shield your head from falling rocks, sticks, and other objects. Helmets come in a lot of different styles, designs, and they vary a lot in their price. You need to consider the fact that helmets with a higher price tag are usually the ones that can efficiently absorb high impact.
There is a big difference between a regular helmet and a mountain bike helmet. A good mountain bike helmet offers better protection, and it comes with better ventilation.
- Eye protection.
This is the second most important safety gear you need to have. Although you find some helmets which have a visor that acts as a shield against foreign objects entering your eyes, you should not consider the visor as your eye protection. Good eye protection will help you see the trail clearly regardless of the conditions.
Riding past a dusty trail can be challenging if you’re not wearing eye protection. It can also be dangerous to encounter a bright flashing light from the sun, or its reflection when climbing a steep mountain at a higher speed. This is why you should consider getting good eye protection.
- Mountain biking gloves.
Without gloves, you may get blisters on your hands within the first few minutes of riding. And as a mountain biker, you can expect a few falls along the way. Falling off the bike is a part of the sport. But you don’t have to be worried much if you are equipped with all the necessary safety equipment including helmet, and gloves.
Holding on to the bars for an extended period of time can cause your hands to sweat, and this can result in a lot of discomfort and cause your hands to tire more easily. A well-designed mountain bike glove can prevent discomfort, provide excellent grip, and protect your hands from scratches and bruises. Gloves can also reduce the number of shocks and vibrations when climbing rough trails downhill. Numb hands are incredibly common for mountain bikers.
Biking gloves don’t have to be very fancy and pricey. You can opt for gloves that have a mid-ranged or reasonable price tag. Whether it’s a full-fingered glove or fingerless gloves, just make sure that it has breathable material, has a good grip, padding for the palms, and they must fit your hands perfectly. Loose or tight-fitting gloves can cause a lot of discomfort.
- Mountain bike shoes.
Buying shoes online can be a challenge if you don’t know the size of your feet, or you’re not familiar with the size chart. And this can be even harder when it comes to choosing your mountain bike shoes. Make sure that you know the shape and size of your feet.
Most mountain bike shoes are cleated and are designed to provide maximum comfort and durability. Most importantly, you need to ensure that the shoes you buy have a stiff sole, which will provide good traction.
- Clipless pedals.
This device can lock your shoes to the pedals; this will allow you to pedal more efficiently. If you think you’re going to need clipless pedals, make sure that you buy the shoes accordingly. Not all mountain bike shoes are designed to work with all types of clipless pedals.
- Padded shorts.
The padded seat on your bike and the suspensions are not enough to make you cover the long-distance if the trails are rough. This is where you will need a padded bike short. It will significantly enhance comfort and minimize chafing.
- Hydration pack.
This is probably one of the most important things you need to carry when you’re on a mission to conquer the mountains. You may have already realized that mountain biking requires a lot of strength and energy. If you’re not well prepared physically, it can ruin your day. Make sure that you eat and drink well before you move out and also carry sufficient water, energy bars, and energy drink.
Most hydration packs come with enough storage space for carrying a tool kit, water bottle, and even an extra pair of pants and jacket. You should consider carrying at least 2 liters of water.
The cool thing about the hydration pack is that it allows you to have access to water while you focus on the trail ahead of you with your hands on the handlebars.
- First aid kit.
A lot of mountain bikers at the beginner’s level tend to overlook the importance of carrying a first aid kit. As you get more involved in this sport, you will realize its importance. Despite the fact that you are well equipped with all the safety gear, you never know when you’ll suffer a major cut or a serious injury.
Carrying a small first aid kid won’t add too much weight, and it’s not a lot of trouble. Even if you don’t hurt yourself, someone may need it, and you might even save someone’s life if you’re carrying a first aid kid.
The essential things to add to your first aid kit are bandages, pain killers, a pair of small scissors or a pocket knife, antiseptic wipes, whistle, and tape.
- Bike repair tool kit.
Flat tires are a pretty common sight. Whether you’re riding a trusted old bike or a brand new one, you should be prepared to fix it when it happens. Besides getting flat tires, you may encounter a broken chain. You should be able to make a few basic repairs if you have the needed tools beside you.
In case you don’t know how to fix your bike, you can always call others for help. Finding an expert to accompany you along the way is always a great choice. After you’ve learned all the basic skills and you’re familiar with various techniques, you can venture out on your own adventure.
Here are some of the tools you need to carry:
- Chain tools
- A small hand pump
- At least two extra inner tubes
- Tools required to dismount and mount the wheels
- A pack of chain lubes (This is very important if the trail is dusty, and has some rivulets or streams)
- Bike lights.
You may say that you won’t need the lights since you don’t plan on climbing the mountains at night. You’re probably right, but you need to be prepared because you never know what may happen out there. You may or may not need it, but if your bike fails, and it gets pitch dark, you wouldn’t want to be left in the mountains just because you don’t have a light.
So, don’t forget to buy a light that has sufficient lumens and long battery life. If you don’t want a bike light, you can even buy a headlamp.
- Sunscreen and lip balm.
The sun may be good for any outdoor activity, but it is never good for your skin. Yes, you can get a good dose of vitamin D from the sun, but prolonged exposure to the sun can result in sunburns and even skin diseases, especially if your skin is sensitive to sunlight.
It’s a good idea to apply a sufficient amount of sunscreen to the parts of the body that are not covered by your clothes. And also, keep your lips hydrated by applying lip balm.
When it comes to mountain bikes, you get to choose from a lot of options. Not all mountain bikes are the same; they all have different designs and features. If you have made your final decision on the trail conditions, it should be easy for you to pick your bike. If you already have a mountain bike, make sure that it is in excellent condition, but if you need to buy one, make sure you familiarize yourself with the following types of bikes, and their features.
For many years, the 26-inch wheel size was considered standard, and it was the most popular. Mountain bikes nowadays come with different wheel sizes. You can now choose 27.5 inches wheel size or even 29 inches. The bigger the wheel size, the heavier your bike will be. But, bigger wheels can handle rougher and harsher terrain more easily. You can even buy a 24-inch wheel size for your kid.
Below are some of the most common mountain bikes.
- Rigid bikes.
This type of bike does not have any suspension, and hence they are known as rigid bikes. Rigid bikes can be quite uncomfortable to ride, especially when riding a rough terrain downhill.
Some rigid mountain bikes have fat tires that absorb up to 80 percent of the shock. Generally, rigid bikes are much cheaper, and they are easy to maintain. But most experienced mountain bikers don’t prefer this type of mountain bikes.
- Hard-tail bikes.
As its name suggests, hard-tail bikes have suspension on the front wheel, but the rear is rigid. These types of mountain bikes are extremely popular because they are very comfortable to ride.
There is a good reason why the rear does not have a suspension while the front is equipped with a suspension fork. The front suspension plays its role in absorbing most of the impacts and shocks when riding downhill.
On the other hand, the rigid back allows an efficient power transfer between the rear tire and each pedal stroke. Hard-tail bikes are great for almost any type of trails.
- Full suspension bikes.
Full suspension bikes come with a suspension on both the front and the back. Since the suspensions absorb most of the shocks, they provide the most comfortable ride.
The only negative side to it the fact that the transfer of power is less efficient as compared to rigid back bikes. However, most modern full-suspension bikes are equipped with a locking mechanism that can hold the rear suspension locked whenever the user wants to do so.
- Learn to do basic repairs.
Mountain biking can be full of unexpected things – the terrains can be rough, your bike may fail to function smoothly, and a lot more things can happen. Every biker, regardless of their level of experience, must know how to do basic repairs.
If you already have this skill, work on brushing up your mechanic or engineering skills. If you don’t, try to learn from your friends. There are lots of good tutorials you can find on the internet; make good use of them.
- Treat your bike with care.
The condition of your bike is an important safety feature. If it is not functioning properly, you’re putting yourself in danger. For example, if the brakes are not working well, it can be very dangerous. Always remember to have it cleaned thoroughly after taking a ride.
Mountain bikes are often exposed to debris, dust, muddy waters, and other elements. Check that each and every part and component are working smoothly as it is supposed to and occasionally lube the chain to prevent rust build-up.
- Try to learn the basic front-wheel lift.
If you’ve been riding bikes ever since you were a little kid, you should be able to pull this off without a lot of effort. This may sound unrealistic or impractical. But when you’re out in the wild, this skill can save you from hitting a rock or a piece of wood.
Mountain biking is one of the most fun outdoor activities available. It is relatively safe, and it gives the same thrill of backcountry skiing, but in warmer weather. We highly recommend it to anyone, as it provides great health benefits, as well as a nice rush of adrenaline. We hope that this guide has been helpful in outlining the gear and knowledge required to start safely learning to mountain bike.