In order to learn how to ride a mountain bike, there are some basic concepts and techniques to be aware of that will make your riding infinitely more enjoyable. From proper tire pressure to picking the right trail, these tips will put you on the right path to becoming a better and more confidant mountain biker.
- Trail Selection. Depending on where you live, your options may be limited or practically boundless. Make sure to check local blogs and mountain biking club websites to pick an appropriate beginning to intermediate trail. There is no point starting on a steep, sandy singletrack if you can’t make it more than a few feet. Instead, pick a gently graded, hard-packed trail that will allow you practice the following techniques.
- Proper Mountain Bike Setup. Whether your mountain bike costs $200 or $2000, its performance will ultimately depend on fine-tuning it to your body. Adjust your seat so that when you pedal, there is a slight bend in your knees at the point of maximum leg extension. Tires should be inflated according to trail conditions, but in general require less air than road bike tires. Slightly under-inflated tires will help absorb some of the shocks.
- Proper Clothing. Wear shorts or compression shorts…you don’t want anything getting caught in your chain. As a beginner, you will probably not be using clip-in pedals, so make sure that you have short shoe laces and keep them tucked in at all times. A helmet is a must, as are sunglasses. Not only will a pair of shades save your eyes from the sun, they’re good protection from debris flying up off the trail. What you wear on top is important for regulating your body temperature during your ride. You will be exerting yourself, so make sure your shirt is as light as possible. If you must wear a long sleeve shirt because it’s chilly out, make sure the sleeves will stay rolled up if you start to get hot. Finally, riding gloves are not a necessity but highly recommended. They may save your hands and wrists from rough vibrations on the trail.
- Proper riding technique. You may stay seated while riding on flat or downhill portions of a trail, but a more aggressive standing position will be necessary for uphill sections. By standing up on the pedals and leaning over the handlebars, you can distribute the center of gravity over the front tire, which will give you superior steering and balance. When steering your mountain bike, especially through a narrow section of the trail, think motorcycle racer, not Indy 500. Lean in the direction you wish to go with your whole body, instead of sharply jerking the handlebars. Do not grip the handlebars too tightly because your hands will become fatigued.
- Navigating Obstacles. One of the main mental blocks to enjoying mountain biking is overcoming your nervousness of rocks and obstacles lying in your path. A simple technique to get over small to medium-sized rocks and roots is to pull up on the handle bars right before hitting the obstacle. It is much easier to stay balanced when your back wheel rolls over the rock than if your front wheel hits it head-on. When rounding tight curves, slow down before the turn and accelerate into it, just like driving. Avoid using your breaks whenever possible so you maintain the momentum you’ve been building up.
These techniques and tips should get you well on your way to mastering mountain biking. Of course, as you become more comfortable with these guidelines, you’ll develop your own and learn what works for you.