6 Important Tips that Every Aspiring Mountain Biker Needs to Know
While most of us learn to ride a bike at an early age, mountain biking requires a lot more technical skill, strength, and endurance. Mountain biking has quickly become a mainstream sport involving several different categories of riding including downhill mountain biking, freeriding, trail riding, cross-country riding, and dirt jumping.
If you’re thinking about getting into mountain biking, there are several factors to consider. While you don’t need to be an Olympic athlete to tackle the sport, there are a few basic things you need to know before strapping on that helmet and taking to the dirt trails. Here are some important tips to consider before entering the world of mountain biking.
Choosing the Right Bike
The first step to finding the mountain bike that’s right for you is to do your research. Search online using an informative website to read the latest reviews, guides, and useful tips for purchasing a mountain bike. You will be able to discover the best bike brands and equipment. Learn what to look for in tires, brakes, cranksets, shifters, derailleurs, handlebars, and more.
It’s important to understand that mountain bikes come in many different styles and can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands. The first step to buying a mountain bike is to decide what your budget is. This will narrow down your available choices. You want to start with selecting a bike whose frame fits your size. From there you want to research what suspension you will want.
Dual-suspension bikes are designed for riders taking on rough terrain, as the dual-suspension will minimize the impact on the rider and improve traction. Rigid bikes (those with no suspension) are designed to be used on flat smooth trails. They may lack suspension but are generally much lighter weight and require less maintenance. Riders looking for something in-between may want to look into hardtail bikes which offer a nice balance between being lightweight and offering front suspension. Hardtail bikes can be used for cross-country biking as well as mid-level difficulty trails.
Another thing to consider is wheel size. The most popular tire size is 29 inch tires, due to their great traction and smooth riding. The other common size for tires is 27.5 inch, which are stronger, lighter, and more nimble the 29 inch tires. Which one you go with will depend on the type of terrain you will be tackling.
Mountain bikes require more maintenance than traditional bikes due to the fact they have many working parts. Riding across different terrains can put a lot of strain on the various parts of your mountain bike and you should know how to check your bike to see if it’s in need of repairs and know how to make basic repairs in the field.
You should inspect your bike before every ride to make sure all parts are in good working order. This will help you avoid injuries and ensures you won’t cause more serious mechanical issues while riding.
One of the most important things to check is your bike’s brakes. Without working brakes you cannot control your speed coming down hills nor can you navigate trail cornering effectively. Brake pads wear out over time and will need replacement. Check your brake cables for looseness and cracks.
You will also want to check your bike’s drivetrain, the system that includes your pedals, bike chain, derailleur, and rear-wheel cassette. You want to make sure your drivetrain is well lubed up with oil lubricant so it can work efficiently and avoid grime and dirt from trails. Make sure shifting is smooth and easy to perform and take note of broken cassette teeth and chain links. Make sure your seat isn’t loose and remember to adjust it to your height if using a rental.
Check your tires for tread wear and make sure they are inflated properly. The ideal tire pressure will vary depending on the terrain you will be tackling, but should be kept somewhere around 30-45psi. The lower the tire pressure the more traction you will have, but note that they will be more susceptible to punctures and flats. Lower pressure is often ideal for riding in mud or snow. Always carry a tire pump, tire repair kit, and extra tubes in case of a flat or when you will need to change tire pressure for different terrains. You should also carry a basic bike repair tool kit to fix or adjust the various components of your bike.
Practice and Training
As stated before, mountain biking requires great core strength, endurance, and skill, especially for those thinking about bikepacking. If you are just starting out, it isn’t wise to think you can tackle difficult black diamond trails right away. You should begin by doing a bit of cross-training first to strengthen the various muscles needed for mountain biking. After getting in shape, practice riding on level smooth trails to get a feel for your bike. Get to know how your suspension and brakes work before doing any downhill runs.
Slowly build up your endurance over time, not attempting to accomplish long distance trails right away. You can make use of a stationary exercise bike at home to build up your endurance in your spare time or when the weather is poor.
Always warm up before your ride, as loosening your muscles and increasing your blood flow before tackling challenging terrain will help you avoid injury due to your body not being ready to quickly react to the conditions. Practice riding on different terrains and learn how to handle each condition.
Listen to your body and never overdo anything. Also don’t attempt to take on portions of trails you are not comfortable with. You should not try to compete with other riders. If you feel more comfortable walking your bike through certain areas or need to push it up hills due to a lack of strength, this is wiser than straining your body or experiencing an accident.
The key to riding on trails is to always make sure you are in control of your bike. Always keep track of your speed and slow down at bends and blind curves. Always pay attention to what lies ahead of you since your bike tends to follow where you are looking. Take notice of hazardous debris, snakes, and trail conditions that lie ahead.
Riding with a more experienced rider is a great idea for two reasons. For one, it’s always good to travel with someone else in case of an injury or breakdown. Having a more experienced rider will also allow you to learn more advanced riding techniques and they may be able to help you with more serious bike repairs.
Don’t be afraid to take breaks while riding to avoid fatigue. Staying relaxed while riding will also help you avoid fatiguing more quickly. Use momentum to get you through challenging trail sections to save on energy and try to maintain your center of gravity over your rear wheel to maintain traction. Remember to shift gears to reduce the strain on your legs when going up hills and maintain control when coming downhill.
Health and Safety
Mountain bikers are prone to accidents and they can often occur in remote areas. You should be well trained in first aid and always carry a basic first aid kit to deal with injuries or other ailments.
Riders should always wear a helmet that fits properly and one that adheres to strict safety standards in order to avoid serious head injuries that can be caused from falls. Falls are quite common in beginner mountain bikers. As a beginner, you should also think about wearing gloves to protect your hands from blisters, as well as protective eyewear, elbow and knee pads, and proper footwear.
Mountain biking requires a lot of energy and it’s easy to become dehydrated rather quickly. Always pack enough water and high energy snacks with you. Plan for the possibility of your bike breaking down and have enough water to get you through hiking back to your vehicle if you cannot make repairs.
Always carry a trail maps or a GPS and have a cell phone in case of emergencies. Be aware of local wildlife and avoid biking at dawn or dusk in areas that are populated by dangerous predators. Make sure you have adequate health insurance or travel insurance if travelling abroad. Medical treatment is quite costly, especially in some nations. Just make certain your travel insurance policy covers mountain biking.
Trail Safety and Etiquette
There are often both local laws and unwritten rules in regards to mountain biking. Designated mountain biking trails generally have guidelines to follow such as one way trails and the need to yield for pedestrians or horseback riders on shared trails. Always follow trails signs and route markers.
Be aware of your skill level and never try to attempt trails you know are beyond your current limits. This not only puts your safety at risk but potentially also puts the safety of other riders on the trail at risk. Never ride trails that have been closed, as they may have been closed for safety reasons. Trails may have been damaged from recent storms or forecasted severe weather may make riding the trails hazardous such as in high winds which can bring down trees or when forest fires are present in the area.
Always warn other bikers and hikers that you plan to pass. If you notice damage to a trail or debris that may cause biking accidents, either remove the debris or somehow mark the area for other riders to avoid. Be sure to pack all your trash with you and never litter on the trails. You should also avoid riding on trails after heavy rain which can damage trails from deep ruts left by your bike. Don’t ride on trails that are not meant for bikes as this can have a negative ecological impact on the area.