New to Mountain Biking?
Essential Tips to Gain More Confidence

“It’s just like a riding a bike” may not apply when venturing onto the trails. Mountain biking requires a certain body of knowledge to ensure off-road adventures are both safe and fun. From knobby tires and seat position to braking and navigating the roots and rocks in front of you, these essential beginner tips and suggestions help you hit the ground riding.

Mountain Bike Size Chart - Mountain Biking Tips

From Road to Trail

First, a little history lesson: People have been mountain biking since the 1800s. That’s when most early cyclers rode on trails or dirt paths that required some sort of off-road technical skill. In the late 19th century, people in the military rode over long stretches of trails to test bikes’ suitability for army use. Yet it’s believed the true birthplace of mountain biking as we know it is Marin County, California, home of Repack (the first mountain biking race, held in 1976).

So what exactly is the main difference between modern-day road biking and mountain biking? Let’s begin with the bike itself.

Mountain bikes are built differently to withstand the tough terrain and to keep riders safe. The tires are typically thicker and more durable than a road bike’s in order to navigate unpaved environments, including roads and trails with rocks, logs, and branches. The handlebars are either flat or rise up, depending on preference, and the frame size should be matched to the size of the rider.

If you have a need for speed, a mountain bike is not for you. Mountain bikes are built for durability and sturdiness in order to travel varied terrain, technical trails, drops, and steep descents. Riding on the mountain versus the road has its advantages, including no cars, the solitude of nature, and a more challenging workout - the varied terrain requires riders to use different muscle groups.

Anatomy of a Mountain Bike

Anatomy of a Mountain Bike - Mountain Biking Tips

When it comes to mountain bikes, be ready to spend anywhere from $300 or more, depending on your level of experience and commitment to the sport.

Trail Tips

Now that you have a good understanding of the bike you’re getting on, it’s time to learn some basic tips and tricks to boost confidence and excitement before you hit the trail.

Choose Your Line

This phrase means choosing the path you’ll take down a trail before you ride. On sections that are more technical than others, walk the route you want to take and imagine how your bike will get down before heading down tire-first.

Get in Position

There are two basic positions: neutral and ready. When you’re biking over relatively flat, nontechnical trails, you should be in neutral position. Your knees and elbows should be slightly bent, index fingers on the brakes, and eyes looking around 20 feet ahead of you. For ready position, which is when you’re about to embark on an up- or downhill, or a rockier route, bend your knees and elbows more deeply, take your butt off the seat, and shift your hips back. Your back will be nearly parallel with the ground.

Perfect Your Mountain Bike Position - Mountain Biking Tips

Don’t Look Down

The best direction for your gaze is straight ahead, about 15 to 20 feet in front of you. This helps you choose your line and anticipate rocks and other obstacles.

Brake Better

Braking well requires good judgment and planning. The number one rule is to never apply too much pressure, especially to the front brakes, which could cause your body to fly over the handlebars. For descents, the front wheel carries more weight than the back, so use one finger on each hand to brake and go lightly to avoid skidding. For optimum control, position your body by shifting weight toward the rear wheels.

Lean In

Not a Sheryl Sandberg bestseller: This leaning in refers to body position in the mountain biking world. Keep your body erect and able to move side to side as you turn. The point here is to guide and have control over the bike and its movements.

Time Your Shift

Before taking a technical ride, beginners should practice shifting gears to help build muscle memory for going up and down hills. A nice rule of thumb is to shift before ascending or descending – this enables you to keep a steady tempo as you pedal, and allows for maximum control and power. Moreover, switching gears while going over tough terrain could lead to a chain popping off.

Stay Loose

Beginner nerves and a lack of confidence often lead to gripping the handlebars too tightly. Keep your arms and shoulders relaxed. Also, maintain a soft bend in your knees and don’t lock any of your limbs. If you feel rigid, slow down, take a deep breath, and give your arms and legs a shake.

Commit with confidence

A lot of mountain biking accidents occur when riders hesitate on the course. Remember that momentum is your best friend, and the bike is built to absorb impact and travel safely over the trail. A sudden squeeze on the brakes can lead to a skid or fall; if that happens, try to keep your arms close to your body versus bracing your fall (which could result in a wrist or arm sprain or break).

Stay safe

Remember that safety always comes first when mountain biking. Bring enough water and a small, protein-rich snack to stay energized and hydrated. Carry a spare tube and tire levers, along with a first aid kit, in a small backpack.

These tips, guidelines, and graphics should help any beginner mountain biker boost their confidence and have fun on the trail. Being smart and safe is the first step toward enjoying the sport. Now put on a helmet, hop on the bike, and see the beauty of nature in many different gears.

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