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Beginner Mountain Biking Tips

Make Cycling an Outdoor Adventure: Beginner Mountain Biking Tips

Forget what you think you know about mountain biking. As an avid cyclist and spin fanatic, my first time mountain biking — in Moab, UT, no less! — was completely different than what I expected. The views are spectacular and can take you from an alpine forest to a dry desert within 10 miles. Most importantly, it's nothing like road cycling: you're more likely to fall, and everything (from the actual bike to riding technique) differs. If you love the outdoors, hiking, or cycling, mountain biking may be your new favorite pasttime. And while getting in the saddle for the first time is intimidating, these beginner tips will have you descending with ease.

  • Size matters: Much like a road or spin bike, you want to make sure your mountain bike is the right size for your height and inseam length. In general, the seat should be set at a height that allows your knee to be bent ever so slightly when the pedal is in its lowest position. The handlebars should be positioned slightly lower than your seat so that your back is at a 45-degree angle.
  • Safety first: A helmet is a must. More so than road cycling, you're bound to fall while mountain biking. You want to make sure your head is protected when you hit the rocky trail. It's also important to wear covered shoes that work well on the trail should you end up walking any part of the way.
  • Pay attention to your body: Mountain bike terrain is notoriously uneven and bumpy. Prevent joint injury by keeping the knees and elbows soft to absorb any shock. Your arms, legs, and shoulders should be relaxed, and avoid gripping your handlebars too tightly. On occasion (and when necessary), pedal while standing up since this will help take some of the pressure off of your back.

To find out what else you'll need to know for mountain biking, read more.

  • Practice makes perfect: Before even heading down the first trail, get familiar with your bike and its gears: higher gears add more resistance and feel harder while pedaling, and lower gears are easier to pedal (ideal for a steep uphill). Practice biking up and down hills so you can figure out when to use which gears, but before you even head out, take a spin on a flat surface just to get used to your bike — play around with the gears, practice riding out of the saddle, and get used to its brakes.
  • Speaking of brakes: Be gentle on the brakes: whenever possible, try to ease into a stop by slowly decelerating. Most importantly, use both the front and rear brakes when stopping on a mountain bike. Because the terrain is uneven and traction is poor, hitting the front brake will cause the rear wheel to lift off the ground, and in some cases, you end up flying over the handlebars. Not good.
  • Line of sight is important: During your first ride, it's easy to intently look at things you don't want to hit, namely trees and rocks. Called "target acquisition," the more you focus on these objects, the more likely it is you will probably hit them and, in a worst-case scenario, fall. Instead, look ahead and down the trail where you can get a full view of everything that is in your path.
  • Learn how to go downhill: When first starting out, it's likely you will encounter more downhill rides than uphill climbs. It's important to lift your bum off the seat and shift your weight slightly back while keeping your body low. This will give you more control (and also helps to prevent saddle soreness the next day). If you have enough downhill momentum, both feet should remain stationary on the pedals, parallel to the ground (think of your feet as being in the three and nine o'clock position of a clock).
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