How To Start Mountain Biking, What Do I Need?

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Moving around and on two-wheels is an excellent way to keep fit and enjoy the fresh air. However, taking a simple bike ride around town may not seem as appealing, especially to a thrill seeker. This is where the wild adventure of mountain biking starts. When you’re surrounded by pine trees, your regular fresh air becomes fresher, and the ride becomes even more exciting as you pedal up muddy mountains and dirt tracks. Mountain biking is a fun way to loosen up and interact with nature. Compared to normal road bikes, they have different amazing characteristics such as bigger tires with rugged tread which is suitable for stability and durability on off-road terrain. It has an upright cycling position that lets you enjoy the view and a suspension system on some bikes which absorbs shock to give you a more comfortable ride.

When you are starting with mountain biking, or you are a beginner, you have to look at the following:

  • Types of Mountain Bike Terrain 
  • Types of Mountain Bikes, what suspension?
  • What Clothes Do I Need for Mountain Biking?
  • Mountain Bike Helmets
  • Mountain Bike Shoes and Pedals
  • Hydration Backpacks
  • Mountain Bike Repair Kit Essentials

Riding past trees and other terrains on two wheels can be an addictive sport and mountain biking is popular for just that reason. So if you’re willing to learn this extreme sport and know what it feels like, you should get prepared properly for your first trails, gradually develop the necessary skills required to negotiate those trails comfortably and find trails that are suitable for your skill level.

How To Start Mountain Biking, What Do I Need? 1

Whether you are a beginner, or you just start mountain biking, there are several steps you should follow to safely start and improve your skills:

  • Getting Prepared:
    • Get Yourself an appropriately-sized Mountain Bike
    • Get a Helmet that Fits Properly
    • Consider Extra Safety Gear
    • Come Prepared
  • Building Skills:
    • Start Slow
    • Look Ahead, not Down
    • Brake Properly
    • Learn the Correct up and Downhill Techniques
    • Develop  Proper Shifting Technique
    • Ride with others
  • Finding Biking Trails
    • Talk to Your Local Bike Shop Employees
    • Learn the Rules
    • Walk the Trails First
    • Seek out Well-known and Popular Trails

Do you want to find out all the things you should know before starting mountain biking? Do you need a guide on what you need to get started as a prospective biker? You have come to the right place. In this article, you’ll find everything you need to know before your first ride, including an overview of the different types of mountain bike terrain, types of mountain bikes, and the basics for getting geared up in preparation for an amazing time on the trails!

Types of Mountain Bike Terrain 

For beginners, starting on trails that are relatively smooth and flat are expected, but your ability to navigate around or over obstacles will begin to develop as you gain more experience. This becomes part of the fun experience of the sport. Mountain-bike trails are usually marked by skill levels (beginner, intermediate, expert, and double expert) and they are maintained. Here are the types of terrains:

1. Singletrack:

This is the most common trail type, it has a width that varies from just wide enough for a bike to pass to a track that’s just wide enough for two bikes to pass. A lot of single track trails are open to one-way travel and wind their way through the best terrain that the landscape offers.

2. Double track:

As the name suggests, double-track are usually double the width (or more) of a typical single-track trail with just enough room for two bikes to ride side-by-side. Double-track trails often wind their way through abandoned logging roads, fire roads, or power-line roads. These trails are usually a simpler grade than a single track and tend to have less-technical features.

Mountain bike terrain parks are now popping up everywhere from jump-and-pump tracks under urban overpasses to lift-serviced trails at ski resorts. Be ready to see features such as elevated bridges, jumps of various sizes, berms, banked corners, and hairy downhill switchbacks.

Types of Mountain Bikes

The type of bike you ride usually depends on where you plan on riding. The suspension type and wheel diameter are two main features that determine the type of terrain that a bike is capable of riding. When it comes to the types of suspension and wheel diameter, there are several options.

– Suspension Type:

1. Rigid:

Although not the most common type of mountain bike, rigid mountain bikes don’t feature any suspension. However, they are easy to maintain and are usually less expensive, but most bike riders prefer bikes that have suspension for greater comfort.

2. Hardtail:

For these bikes, there is a suspension fork in the front tires to help absorb impact on the front wheel, but the rear of the bike has no suspension. Hardtails are usefully less expensive than full-suspension bikes, and they have fewer moving parts (which often means less maintenance).

Most hardtail can lock out the front fork when a fully rigid bike is desired. A lot of cross-country riders are tending toward hardtails as they allow for a more direct transfer of power between the pedal stroke and the rear tire. Hardtails can also be used at home and on most mountain trails. The low cost and easy maintenance also make them a great option for everything except serious lift-serviced downhill trails.

3. Full suspension:

There are several kinds of full-suspension bikes, but the general idea is for the front fork and rear shock to absorb the impacts of the trail. This reduces the impact on the rider drastically, increases traction power, and allows for a more enjoyable ride. A full-suspension bike can absorb a lot of trail bumps and chatter, however, the bike can also “bob” a little causing you to lose some of the energy transfer when climbing uphill. As a result of this, most full-suspension bikes have the ability to lock-out the rear suspension to provide a better power transfer and a more efficient climbing. Those bikes designed for downhill riding typically can handle a lot of movement in the suspension, compared to bikes designed for cross-country and all-mountain riding.

What Clothes Do I Need for Mountain Biking?

Clothes specifically made for biking allows for a more comfortable ride, no matter the style of biking you’re doing. On that note, the different styles of mountain biking will determine the type of clothing you’ll use.

1. Shorts:

Varieties of mountain biking shorts range from form-fitting styles (often worn by cross-country racers) to lose baggy styles. They have a more casual look, more coverage, and durability for snags along the trail. Generally, they are made to have an inner lining with a padded chamois that helps to reduce saddle fatigue as well as some of the trail impact.

2. Jersey:

Just like shorts, jerseys also range from form-fitting to lose casual-looking styles. Regardless of fit, you’ll still want to choose something that wicks sweat and dries up quickly. You’ll also want clothing that you can wash and dry with less trouble. Some jerseys also offer the options of pockets, although you might not need them if you’ll be carrying a backpack.

3. Gloves:

You’ll be surprised to know how well a good pair of gloves reduces hand and wrist fatigue, so it’s important to get a pair with padding at the palm area. Full-fingered gloves not only keep your hands warmer, but they also provide some texture between your fingers and the grip on the breaks and gear shifters. Also, both the fingerless and full-fingered gloves add protection in case of a crash.

Mountain Bike Gear and Accessories You Need

1. Mountain Bike Helmets:

These helmets typically offer more coverage and protection than the typical road bike helmets. When shopping for one, look for the one with plenty of venting and protection at the lower back of the head. If you’re doing downhill riding, consider a full-face helmet as they are a lot safer and most bike parks rent these models. Regardless of style, all models available on the market must pass rigorous safety tests. Some helmets now feature the new MIPS technology, a low-friction layer that limits the rotational forces to the head and brain when the helmet gets hit at an angle.

2. Mountain Bike Shoes and Pedals:

This combination usually depends on your comfort level and the type of riding you’re planning to do.

  • Platform Pedals– people new to mountain biking and those that are less confident on mountain bikes are usually advised to start with flat platform pedals so that they can easily get on and off the bike and put their foot down quickly without needing to unclip from the pedal. This is a good way to build technique, and even when you make the transition to clipless pedals, it is much smoother. So if you are purchasing platform pedal shoes for downhill riding, get the ones with tacky soles so that they can easily sink into the pedal pegs.
  • Clipless Pedals– As your skills progress, you can go from flat platform pedals to clipless pedals and compatible shoes, or better still, you can stick with platform pedals. Clipless pedals- which unlike the name attached to your shoes- offer a lot more control and power transfer, but demand more commitment in tricky terrains. When you’re learning to ride with clipless pedals, make sure you undergo plenty of practice on soft grassy terrain to get used to connecting and disconnecting your foot from the pedal. Now for all styles of riding, consider shoes with hard, protective covers and decent grip for when you have to hike and for protection against water, rain, and mud.

3. Hydration Backpacks:

Hydration packs are usually too bulky for road bikers, but they come in handy for mountain biking because of their convenience. When shopping for suitable backpacks, go with one that has sufficient storage space for extra clothing, repair essentials and snacks, and a clip to secure your hydration sleeve to the shoulder.

4. Mountain Bike Repair Kit Essentials:

When you pack a few in-the-field mechanical items, you’ll be saving yourself a lot of hassle and walking. These items include a spare tube, a hand pump or CO2 inflator, and a small multi-tool with several wrenches and a chain tool.

How to Start Mountain Biking

A. Getting Prepared

1. Get Yourself an appropriately-sized Mountain Bike

Choosing your first mountain bike is the most important yet difficult buying decision that you’ll have to make. There are different criteria to consider: first, your bike should match your height, then your body type, as well as the length of your leg. If you get a bike that doesn’t fit you well, then it will be uncomfortable and inefficient to ride. Before you purchase your bike, begin by setting your price range, then work from there to determine the kind of bike you can afford, and how the various features and types of mountain bikes match your choice. You may also visit a bike shop to make your decision easier. Several bikes will even offer repair, discount, warranty, or service plans. On that note, there are three styles of a mountain bike that are available  on the market, depending on your interests:

  • Rigid mountain bikes as discussed earlier, have no suspension, meaning that they have fewer mechanical parts to worry about. You can easily transition to riding it and learning the parts more easily. It’s more difficult to ride off-road, but it is less expensive.
  • Hardtail bikes have suspension only in front and they are good for most beginners who are ready to start tackling difficult terrain, offering a suspension fork on the front wheel and a rigid back wheel.
  • Full suspension bikes are the most expensive kind of mountain bike, but they offer suspension in both the front and back wheel, making them the most effective and comfortable bike to ride on, even on the difficult roads mountain biking demands.

2. Get a Helmet that Fits Properly

Another important thing to do if you want to start cycling off-road is to get a helmet. You should never go on a mountain bike ride without your helmet. A helmet is a basic gear for mountain biking, and it is quite affordable, offering nice touches like a removable visor and adjustable fit system. Your helmet should fit tightly, but not too tight that it obscures your vision or pull down hard over your ears. Head protection is important while mountain biking and several companies have been making advances in technology to help reduce the detrimental effects of rotational head impacts.

3. Consider Extra Safety Gear

Although it is not necessary for preliminary rides, several pieces of safety equipment are available at different levels of expense. So as you gain more experience in the sport, you may find that you need more. It all depends on you, your riding style, and your needs. Some mountain bikers would consider a trail incomplete without:

  • Gloves
  • Arm braces
  • Shin guards 
  • Water bottle

4. Come Prepared to Take a Beating:

On your first rides, and even some rides afterward, it’s likely that you fall at some point, and your bike will take a beating. Since you’ll be riding over rocks, bumping up against branches, and tearing around just having a great time, all these are expected. You might even get some scratches and bruises during your first couple of rides, so prepare for light abrasions. It is also a good idea to have a water bottle and phone with you when you ride. When riding in groups, make sure you or someone in your group has:

  • A lot of water
  • Simple first aid kits
  • A patch kit and multi-tool
  • A small air pump or Co2 inflator
  • Extra socks
  • Rain gear or warm layer of clothes

B. Building Skills

1. Start Slow

The first thing to do is get comfortable on your bike, adjusting the seat and handle-bars to the proper specifications that you’ll feel comfortable with while riding. You can also find some unpaved but level ground surface to ride on to get used to the different feel of biking on a rough surface. Try to get around in the grass so you’ll become comfortable and get the bike dialed in. Next, work upon some hills to practice shifting and balance on your bike. Then try riding off curbs or doing bunny hops to prepare before heading out on the trails.

2. Look Ahead, not Down

 When you’re on a trail, you should always keep your eyes scanning about 15 yards ahead of you for obstacles, low-hanging branches, and steep turns that may come up in the trail. It can sometimes be tempting to keep your eyes fixed on a particular turn. It will only cause you to lose your balance and ignore the upcoming obstacles. So always look ahead.

3. Brake Properly

 For experienced mountain bikers, learning to shift their weight slightly to increase the braking effect on their bike without braking for very long is common. It is more of a controlled fall instead of an extreme slowing down.

When going downhill, push your bottom back in the saddle so you’re crouching over your rear wheel. Apply the brakes evenly. Clamping too hard on the front can cause you to flip, while brake too much on the back can cause you to go into a skid, so be careful to avoid both.

It can be tempting to clamp onto the bike brakes as soon as you see your first steep downhill or narrow channel, or steep turn. On the trail, try to avoid riding your brake, instead learn to use speed to your advantage over difficult obstacles. The bike is specially designed to have high resistance, and it’s easier to lose your balance when you slow down, making the obstacles even more dangerous. To learn to control the speed, “feather” the brakes by putting just a little pressure on them at the same time.

4. Learn the Correct up and Downhill Techniques

Approaching the various grades effectively will keep you moving quickly through the course and it will be more comfortable while maximizing your efficiency. Learning how to properly navigate up and downhills is a big part of mountain biking.

  • When you are going uphill, make sure you stay seated and lean forward on your bike. While on the road, standing on your bike can give you extra power in your pedals, but it can also make you spin out on the dirt. So keep your butt in the seat, go easy on the pedaling so it’ll go light on the chain and downshift before you hit the hill, then keep pedaling nonstop.
  • Another thing to note is that when you go downhill, the most important thing is to relax. Don’t doubt yourself. Instead, lower your saddle, and don’t over-steer or try to control things too much. Just look ahead and stay focused on obstacles, then stand up off the seat, keeping the pedals parallel to the ground. Try not to lock your elbows or joints as it can be quite painful if you jam a tire or flip.

5. Develop  Proper Shifting Technique

Shifting of gears allows you to slip the bike chain to a smaller or larger diameter gear on the bike. This makes pedaling require more power to pedal (for smaller diameter gear) or less power (for larger diameter gear). It is important to try to shift the gears before it becomes necessary for you to do so. Here, try anticipating up-hills that will require you to shift up and switch gears before you begin to slow down considerably.

Finally, shift after a power-stroke. If you feel the need to reduce the power you use to pedal, make one very hard stroke, followed by a “soft stroke” that will earn you the momentum you created. Shift on the soft stroke to make sure the chain slips appropriately.

6. Ride with company

One of the best ways to build mountain biking skills is to hit the trails with other experienced riders. This will help you develop your skills while providing you with company as you pedal. When you’re on the trails, don’t try to hit every jump, root, and rock you encounter, don’t try to keep up with the more experienced people. Just go at your own pace and skill level, according to your technique to mature with time. Don’t forget to wear your protective gear also.

C. Finding Biking Trails

1. Talk to Your Local Bike Shop Employees:

Other mountain bike riders in your area will most likely be familiar with local places that allow bicycles on their trails. Many state parks even have some that are specifically made for mountain biking. Also, in some towns, different clubs build and maintain trails specifically for mountain biking. Consider the most appropriate location or trail for you as a beginner and check it out with some other mountain bikers in your area. Common mountain bike trail locations include:

  • State or national parks
  • Rural access roads
  • Private property (with permission)
  • Fire roads

Finally, search for trail-finding apps to help you locate new trails. Reading reviews from other bikers who have used them will also help.

2. Learn the Rules

When you’re riding trails, you should stick to bike-friendly trails and give way to pedestrians. Most times, beginner trails might also be walking trails, and sometimes you’ll come across hikers, people on horses, dogs, and children playing, so it’s important to learn the rules and stick to them. Don’t go too fast if the trail is especially busy with many people, and don’t blindly shoot around corners without looking ahead first. Make sure you’re aware of other riders around you. Step off the path when they approach you from behind. Also, don’t shoot around people walking or spray sod in their faces. The road is shared and doesn’t belong to you alone.

3. Walk the Trails First

It is normal to want to familiarize yourself with parts of the trail while walking. It is a great idea to know what you’re expecting ahead, to know where the big hills are located, and what you will need to do. It can even be a fun project to scout your trail, making the first ride through it even more exciting. Think of it as preparing ahead as a pro.

4. Seek out Well-known and Popular Trails:

As mentioned earlier, there are different apps as well as online and local communities that exist to help you find trails in your area, however, you might also want to make the trip to a popular mountain biking destination, especially once you get some experience with the sport. For instance, Colorado and North Carolina are the two states with the most mountain biking trails in the US.

Final Thoughts

Mountain biking is an amazing and thrilling sport because it includes such a wide range of people. Different people can find something to their likings such as relaxed fire road rides or extreme downhill and free-ride. There are many skills to learn but as long as you can ride a bike, then you are good to go. There are several trails available at different places, so you will never run out of locations to ride and you will certainly meet many amazing people and make new friends along the way. Finally, while you’re not at it, make sure you lock up your bike with a strong lock, then to transport your bike, check out recommended bike racks. We hope that this article was very helpful in your mountain biking experience. Have fun!