Are you passionate about getting active and exploring the rugged outdoors? Then, mountain biking is ideal for kicking that intrepid lifestyle into high gear. Whether you’re an athlete learning a new competitive sport, a wanderluster embarking on off-the-grid travels or a nature enthusiast who can’t resist being outside, this activity offers the adrenaline rush you crave. But which beginner mountain bike tips are most helpful to a novice? What gear or equipment will you need, and what skills are required to maximize both safety and performance?
Here at The Adventure Junkies, we’re breaking down these basic questions with our five beginner mountain bike tips. In this guide, we explain everything in both simple and straightforward terms to give you a foundational understanding of the sport, so that you’re ultimately empowered to conquer all those peaks, trails and ridges with confidence.
Although you’re discovering this activity for the first time, that lack of experience won’t keep you from progressing in the sport. With the right equipment, information and techniques needed to perform on all cylinders in various riding conditions, soon enough you’ll go from rookie biker to expert trailblazer. And here’s what you should know in order to make that happen!
TIPS ON MTB PARTS
The bike itself is a complex piece of machinery, and all the components must work together efficiently to ensure a smooth and successful ride.
Located on the rear wheel, gears are controlled by rings on the handlebars which you can adjust while on the bike. But if the gear shifts or slips from position, there’s an issue with the derailleur, a mechanism that operates both the chain and gears. This might occur because of cable tension or friction, but when ignored, it will compromise your bike’s precision. Cycling Weekly’s video on realigning inaccurate gears is a useful resource.
Bikes are generally manufactured with plastic pedals, but it’s recommended that you swap these out for a clip-less metal variety which is sturdier, longer lasting and more weather resistant than standard issue plastic. The foot grip on metal is also more secure than plastic which increases your balance when navigating technical terrain. Our guide to mountain bike parts offers detailed information on choosing the most efficient pedals.
Because you’re seated for the majority of a ride, optimum comfort in the saddle is essential, so test out numerous models—don’t just settle for whatever your bike came with. Consider the materials, shape and width of each saddle before making a decision. Men often prefer a lightweight, narrow style that offers support in the back, and women tend to choose a wider design with extra padding to reduce pressure on the lower body.
Prior to hitting the trails, check your tire pressure, as this determines the amount of traction on uneven surfaces. When the tire pressure is too high, the wheels can bounce off the ground, causing a potential safety risk. But when the tire pressure is too low, you could experience either a flat tire or dented rims. An ideal pressure range is based on several factors like the topography, tire volume and tread, rim width or even your weight.
Since the handlebars are used for steering, it’s important to adjust them for your own height, so you’re not exerting too much energy leaning down or reaching up. A lower handlebar position is often preferable because it reduces the center of gravity and improves ground traction. But lowering it too much decreases control over the bike, so you want to strike a balance. When figuring out the height, this tutorial from BikeRadar can help.
The metal on a standard chain will corrode over time, ultimately causing rust in the drivetrain and inner workings of the bike. To avoid this hazard, clean and lubricate the chain on a regular basis which can extends the lifespan and optimizes its functionality. Opt for a ceramic lube formula which leaves behind no grease or grime residue, doesn’t require frequent applications during the ride, and withstands damp or rainy weather conditions.
Photo by istockphoto.com/portfolio/grafner
CLOTHING AND EQUIPMENT
When you’re riding long distances in high elevations, being comfortable and prepared for the unexpected will make your overall experience more enjoyable.
While you don’t need an entire biking wardrobe, it’s worth purchasing some quality essentials to protect you from the elements and maximize your performance. Look for weatherproof, breathable garments made from a durable fabric like nylon, polyester or spandex. In particular, you will need a lightweight jersey, padded shorts, cycling gloves, a secure fitting helmet and ergonomic kneepads. Also, if you frequently ride in colder, precipitous climates, outerwear is beneficial too, and our guide for choosing the right MTB jacket has you covered.
Aside from the obvious reinforcements like a water bottle and protein bars, don’t venture onto a trailhead without the necessary gear.
Inside a collapsable and waterproof backpack, store a first aid kit, chain lube, spare tires, solar phone charger, flashlight, sunscreen, tire pump and lever, GPS, derailleur hanger and multi-purpose tool for basic repairs.
Keeping these items accessible ensures that you can manage safety hazards, unpredictable events or mechanical issues you might encounter.
PRACTICE YOUR IDEAL FORM ON THE BIKE
Your body’s position in the saddle impacts how controlled and proficient your riding will become, so focus on maintaining proper form over speed or technical savvy.
9. PRACTICE RIDING UPHILL
Shift the bike into a lower gear, then increase the power and frequency of your pedaling. Next, lean forward into the handlebars and slide toward the edge of your saddle, remaining firmly seated. This position distributes weight onto the front wheel in order to stabilize the bike and give the tires more traction needed for a steep ascent.
10. PRACTICE RIDING DOWNHILL
Shift into a higher gear, then decrease the pedaling or stop altogether, depending on your level of momentum. Keep the body loose, with bent elbows to absorb the shock of elevated inertia on the descent. Stand over the saddle, but make sure not to buckle the knees, and position your feet so the front pedal is higher than the back. Maintain a steady grip on the handlebars but don’t oversteer—move your shoulders and upper-body in the right direction, and the bike will respond accordingly.
A fluid, dynamic ride goes beyond just basic steering, so understand how these body movements and techniques can work in your favor.
Also called “weighting,” this tactic is most beneficial for downhill riding and transfers kinetic energy from the bike frame into the tires. Crouch down at the waist, then pull off the handlebars with your arms, while pushing down on the pedals with your legs. Compressing enables you to regulate the bike’s movement for more precision despite an increased velocity.
Also called “unweighting,” this tactic is most beneficial for rounding corners and lightens the entire bike, so you can avoid bumpy roadblocks or hairpin curves. Using both the arms and legs simultaneously, push off the bike in a quick, forceful and vertical motion, then return to a crouched position. Releasing evenly distributes weight across the bike, so you won’t lose balance.
According to Outside, the brakes should be treated as “dimmers, not light switches.” In other words, don’t clutch onto them abruptly but use gradual flicks of pressure to moderate your speed along rough terrain. This technique helps you regain confidence on the bike if you’re feeling intimidated by those sharp turns or pitched gradients.
Photo by istockphoto.com/portfolio/warrengoldswain
14. DON’T BE TOO AMBITIOUS ON YOUR FIRST RIDE
Before testing your skills on a breakneck mountain ridge, scout around for beginner trails in your local area, then progress to intermediate and advanced trails over time.
15. FIND TRAIL CENTERS
The ideal starting point for novice riders is a trail center, many of which are located nationwide and offer trail classifications for every experience level. The surfaces are graded for smooth navigation, and the facilities often have rental bikes available if needed. In addition, the routes are clearly marked and feature picturesque nature views for a scenic, exhilarating introduction to the world of MTB! For information on trail centers near you, check out the International Mountain Biking Association.