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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).
jafrum jafrum 5 years
That is a very good exercise and a stress reliever task. But be sure you guys wear your helmet when you go biking. Thanks for posting! \u00a0
sparklestar sparklestar 9 years
I stick to the smaller bike trails. We did a cycle route around a local resevoir the other day and it was lovely! About 11 miles all around and a good day out. :D
justanerd1975 justanerd1975 9 years
Poor Leilanic, I wouldn't want to go with him either! :( I like your idea about going with a friend who is just learning, too :)
Leilanic1 Leilanic1 9 years
How do you get past the fear of falling? My husband mountain bikes all the time and really wants me to love it but after going out twenty different times and crashing...I'm a bit leary of going again. I know a lot of it has to do with the fact that he takes me on intermediate trails and wants me to 'man up' so to speak and keep up with him. Plus he's drill sergeant barking at me to grind my pedals and go go go....This year I finally threw in the towel. It wasn't fun. I just ended up bloody, sore and pissed off. I figured it was better for our relationship for me not to go mountain biking with him. I wouldn't mind getting better but I think I need to go with other riders who are at my same skill level. I've gotten over my fear of going down hill now it seems I fall more going up hill.???
jspark jspark 9 years
Also, don't forget to keep your pedals even while you are coasting. Normally my you'll have one of your feet in the low position when you are relaxed, it takes a little bit more work to keep both feet even. However, it's very important to keep your feet even because unlike road biking, you never know when you may mis-calculate the height of a rock or root and if you catch your pedal on that it will most definitely mean a crash.
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