Basic Guide: Mountain Biking
Mountain biking is a great way to stay in shape, get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer. There’s nothing more relaxing than getting away from it all with a trip into the woods either solo or with a buddy to get some exercise and fresh air. With so many different kinds of trails out there, with a million different kinds of terrain, odds are you’ll find a mountain bike trail nearby that suits your skill level. There are trails that are more like dirt roads in the woods, some that have a few obstacles, and more.
Mountain bikes are pretty different from road bikes, and are still evolving as new equipment is developed. Generally mountain bikes have a flat bar design, a more low-slung frame, and wheels with big (generally 2”+ in width) tires with an aggressive tread pattern to give you traction in the dirt. That’s about where the generalizations end, however. Some mountain bikes come with big suspension forks, some with rigid forks. Others have a rear shock, some don’t. And they also come in three different wheels sizes (26”, 27.5”/650B, 29”). Beyond that are differences in brake design, how much give the fork and shocks have, the kind of drive train, etc… It’s a lot to consider, and it may take you some time to find the right bike for you. Just remember, the right bike is the one that makes you feel safe, comfortable and confident on the trails, not the one that you feel will make you look cooler. To help make more sense of picking the mountain bike that’s right for you, check out our article here, or stop by your local Performance Bike shop.
To help get you started for your ride on the trails, here are a few tips and tricks to help you get started.
- Your Bike: Before going for a ride check your tire pressure and brake function. To check your tires, connect a pump with a gauge to your tire. If it reads under the manufacturer spec (usually printed on the side of the tire), inflate it to the correct pressure. If you haven’t ridden in more than 3 days, just go ahead and inflate it anyway. To check your brakes, squeeze both brake levers and try to push the bike forward. If the wheels turn, tighten your brakes. How you do this will depend on whether you have v-brakes or disc brakes. If you’re looking at your brakes and wondering how to proceed, you can check out this article, or take the bike to your local Performance shop for a Spin Doctor tune-up. For more tips on maintaining your bike, click here.
- Helmet: Never ride without a helmet. There are many styles to choose from, but remember the most expensive may not always be the best for your needs. All helmets sold in the U.S.A. meet government safety guidelines, so shop according to your taste, needs and budget. For more information about choosing a helmet, click here.
- Eyewear: Eyewear is more essential on the trails than anywhere else, and not just because of the sun. Glasses are important to shield your eyes for stray sticks, bugs and dirt that can reduce your ability to see, or result in a trip to the ER.
- Clothing: Cycling-specific clothing, such as shorts or bib shorts and jerseys are made with technical fabrics that wick away sweat, help you stay cool, and may include pockets for storage. The shorts also include chamois pads to reduce friction and increase comfort. Baggy overshorts can help protect your legs and the lycra shorts underneath from sticks, twigs and more, as well as giving you additional storage space.
- Essential Equipment:
- Hydration Pack: No matter how far you’re planning on riding, always bring a hydration pack or water bottle. This is especially true if you plan to be gone longer than an hour, if it’s very hot, if you’re riding on new trails, or if you’re going on a group ride. You should drink about 20 oz. of fluid per hour. For more information about staying hydrated, click here.
- Food: If you’ll be gone longer than an hour or riding with a group, always bring something to eat. Sugar-knock can come at unexpected times, especially for cyclists who are just getting started. Having a bar, gel or some chews ensure you’ll have some extra energy in case you need it. For more information about cycling nutrition, click here.
- Repair Kit: Changing a flat can seem pretty intimidating, but it’s actually one of the easiest repairs you can do on a bicycle. Not knowing how to change a flat or failing to bring the necessary tools will mean you’ll either be stranded on the trail, or relying on your riding group to change your flat—a fact that they will probably not appreciate. To change a flat, you’ll need a spare tube, patch kit, or sealant, tire levers and a pump or CO2 cartridge. You should also bring a multitool, to tighten any bolts that may come loose while you ride. To learn more about changing a flat, click here.
- First Aid Kit: The reality is that even if you don’t crash, riding a bike through the woods means that you’re pretty likely to come out with at least a few minor scratches or cuts. In your hydration pack, carry a basic first aid kit with anti-septic wipes, adhesive bandages, and some tweezers (for removing splinters and ticks). Some bug spray is also a good addition.
- Whistle, Phone, Trail Map: If you’re riding on new trails, there’s always the chance of getting lost. Pack a whistle, your phone and trail map to avoid getting lost, or signaling for help if you do. Some hydration packs, such as those from Osprey, have a whistle built into the sternum strap buckle.
Remembering a few simple rules of the trail can help keep you safe while riding.
- Finding Trails: To find trails in your area, there are a few online resources you can use (a simple Google search for “MTB trails” along with your area should give you some results), but the best way is to talk to other cyclists. Stop by a local Performance shop, or ask someone you know familiar with cycling. Usually, they’ll be all too happy to share their knowledge.
- Trail Etiquette: Most mountain bike trails are dual use, so it’s important to be courteous to hikers or other users. Don’t ride in large groups, don’t litter, and don’t ride when it’s muddy. Following these simple guidelines will ensure the trails remain as pleasant for others as they were for you. For more tips on trail etiquette and use, check out this article from IMBA.
- Night Time Riding: Most cyclists prefer to do their riding during day light hours, but if you’re more of a night owl, more power to you. When riding at night, always wear brightly colored, reflective clothing, and make sure you use a powerful beam that can illuminate the trail at least 10+ feet in front of you. You need to have enough light to see where you’re going, and avoid any unseen obstacles.
- Have Fun: Remember, this is supposed to be fun. Get out for a ride and enjoy yourself. Stay fit, stay healthy and just enjoy the journey. If you’re riding with a group, you may feel like there are tons of rules out there, and probably occasionally feel like you’ve committed a faux pas but don’t worry about it. Even the most fit, experienced racers were beginners at some point, and they’re more understanding than they let on.