Mountain Biking for Beginners: How to Get Started
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Mountain biking is a great way to combine exercise and the outdoors. While relatively young, the mountain biking scene has exploded in recent years and is now more accessible than ever. If there was ever a time to strap on your helmet and hit the trails, it’s now. Luckily, we’ve made it easy and laid out everything you’ll need to get started in our guide to mountain biking for beginners.
How to Find Beginner Mountain Biking Trails
The biggest hurdle beginner mountain bikers face is finding suitable trails to ride. It used to be difficult and involved hiking into wooded areas to dig out trails. Thanks to the rise in popularity, finding trails near you is easier than ever. There are dozens of services dedicated to making the sport more accessible by mapping out mountain biking trails. Here’s a list of resources you can use to find local trails:
Trailforks: Trailforks is a great app for anyone who loves to be outdoors. Members have documented more than 300,000 unique rides across the globe, resulting in over 400,000 miles of mapped-out trails. Trailforks stands out from the rest of the apps on this list because it includes trails for a variety of outdoor activities, such as trail running or skiing!
Singletrack: Unlike Trailforks, Singletrack is solely focused on mountain biking and provides a comprehensive list of trails. Their website is a great resource for beginner mountain bikers because it provides gear reviews and user-submitted travel stories. If you’re looking for inspiration for your next ride be sure to check out Singletrack.
MTBProject: MTBProject is another excellent resource for scoping out new trails. Their app’s user interface is super user-friendly and geared towards beginners. For example, there are pictures posted with each trail, so once you’ve picked your ride, it’s easy to find. This is the best mountain biking app for beginners.
Beginners are advised to stick to mainly green trails. Once you feel comfortable on the greens, feel free to move up at your own pace. The best trails for first time riders are relatively flat with moderate elevation changes. They won’t have drops or other sudden changes in the terrain. Some may have jumps but don’t worry they will have optional ride arounds.
How to Pick The Right Mountain Bike
Picking the right bike for you is a crucial step in getting on the trail. Many factors go into choosing the right mountain bike. For example, you need to consider the terrain and difficulty of the trail you intend to ride on. Keep reading to see our mountain bike breakdown and the best mountain bike for beginners.
Rigid: Rigid bikes have no suspension at all, hence the name. They are easy to maintain and usually the cheapest option, which is why they seem favorable to many beginners. This type of bike is geared toward long distance rides or when you need to put the power down, such as during large uphill segments of your ride. Due to the lack of suspension, they have excellent stability and control, which is why these bikes are also good for bikepackers. For the fiscally responsible adventurer, we’ve compiled a short list of rigid bikes recommended by Bicycling.com:
Liv Brava SLR
Specialized Sirrus X 4.0
Marin Pine Mountain 2
Velo Orange Piolet
Hardtail: Hardtail bikes are the most popular mountain bike for beginners. They provide the best of both worlds when it comes to comfort. Hardtail bikes have suspension on the front wheel but not on the back. They’re suited to absorb bumps in the trail while still being able to put down power through the hardtail. Cross-country riders love them for this reason. An added bonus is you can often lock the suspension for when a rigid bike would be preferable, such as during rides up steep inclines. Overall, this style makes a great all-mountain bike and is perfect for beginners. Check out these hardtail bikes, recommended by Bicycling.com:
Rocky Mountain Growler 20
Salsa Timberjack NX Eagle 29
Specialized Fuse Comp 29
Scott Contessa Active 50
Dual Suspension: Dual suspension bikes offer the most comfort for the rider. As the name implies, the bike has suspension on the front and back wheel. When you ride a dual suspension bike you will notice a small “sway” as you pedal. That feeling is the suspension on the back absorbing some of your pedaling power. Because of this, dual suspension bikes are not the best for going up hills. What they are great for is speeding down treacherous terrain or flying high off dirt jumps. They are also the most expensive and difficult to maintain bikes on this list, which is why they aren’t recommended for beginners. If you’re looking for the extra comfort, or the extra thrill, consider these dual-suspension bikes recommended by Bicycling.com:
Marin Hawk Hill 1
Kona Process 153
Spot Ryve 115
Cannondale Habit Carbon Women’s 1
Liv Pique Advanced Pro 29 0
Specialized Rhyme Expert Carbon
Essential Mountain Biking Gear
You won’t need all of this gear for every mountain biking trip, but here are some things you should have with you (besides your bike).
Helmet: Depending on the terrain and difficulty of the trail you’re riding you might want an XC (Cross-country) helmet or you might want a full-face helmet. As a beginner, it’s likely you will only need an XC helmet. Full face helmets become must-haves once you graduate to more dangerous terrain. Mountain bike specific XC helmets are similar to road bike helmets except they’re made of more durable materials and with more cushion. You can get great helmets from brands like Smith or POC.
Hydration: Mountain biking is a strenuous activity and that means you need to stay hydrated. Lots of bikes offer a spot to hold a water bottle. Hydration is key to having a good time while mountain biking.
First-Aid Kit: Accidents happen a lot when mountain biking! You’re bound to fall off your bike at least once. It’s paramount to be prepared for when this happens, no matter how serious. A good first-aid kit should have gauze, bandages, and antibiotic ointment at the very least.
Multi-tool: This will come in handy if you fall and your chain comes loose or you need to make minor trailside adjustments.
Bike Repair Kit: While not essential for every trip, you will want to remember to pack a repair kit if you're planning a longer ride.
Jersey: Mountain biking jerseys are made to have a looser fit than regular clothes. This keeps you cool and allows them a wider range of motion.
Shorts: Shorts are key, as long pants are liable to get caught in the bike’s chain. They also provide superior ventilation and a wider range of motion.
Gloves: Another common article of clothing many mountain bikers don is gloves. Gloves protect your hands in the case of a fall and wick away sweat for a better grip on the handlebars.
Protective Gear: Many mountain bikers prefer to have another layer of protection beyond their clothing. Shin guards, elbow guards, wrist guards, and chest plates are common pieces of protective gear.
Eye Protection: It can get sunny out there and it’s not safe to ride if you can’t see the trail. You don’t need anything special, regular sunglasses or goggles will do the trick.
Flashlight: This is only necessary if you plan on riding at night. If so, we recommend bringing 2 lights, one for your head and one for your bike.
Map: Navigating unfamiliar territory can make getting lost easy. It’s important to have some form of map with you when you’re on the trail. The most convenient form is a map downloaded to your phone. If you choose this method be sure to bring a portable charger.
Emergency Whistle: In the unlikely event you fall and aren’t visible to the trail, an emergency whistle could save your life.
Tips for Beginner Mountain Bikers
The biggest thing to remember when mountain biking is it’s more than riding a bike. Mountain biking requires your full attention and effort. Next time you head out for a day on the mountain, remember these tips to keep you safe and improve your riding:
Keep your stance active and ready. You want to use your legs to absorb the larger bumps in the trail.
Keep your focus 10-20 ft. in front of you. As you descend, you’ll want to keep your eyes down the trail so you can pick the line you want to take and identify any hazards.
Don’t try to catch yourself if you fall. No one likes to fall but it happens. Don’t break a wrist or arm trying to stop your fall with your hands. Instead, keep your arms close to your body and try to roll out of crashes.
Break before turns, not in them. You want to break before you enter the turn. If you brake while turning, your tires will slide out and you are likely to fall.
Remember to practice good trail etiquette. Yield to those coming up the hill and leave enough room for others to pass on the trail, such as hikers or horses.
Rent a bike before purchasing. Mountain biking equipment is expensive! Make sure you enjoy the sport enough to invest by either renting a bike for a day or borrowing from a friend.
With that, we come to the end of our beginner’s guide to mountain biking. Our guide should provide you with enough knowledge to get you on a bike and to the trails. The rest is on you, so get out there and have fun!