With so many different bikes, bits of gear available and places to ride, getting started in mountain biking can be bewildering to the newbie. Here’s ten tips that aim to get you out there hitting the trails as quickly as possible…
Beware the bike-shaped object
This is a so-called mountain bike that may seem to come with many bells and whistles, but it will weigh a ton, ride terribly and start to fall apart the first time you take it on a proper trail. Buying your bike from a bike shop rather than a supermarket will help avoid such monstrosities.
£500 should get you a decent bike
While some may consider £500 a lot to some to spend on a bike, this is a good benchmark to aim for when buying your first new mountain bike. A bike at this price should come with decent parts, be reliable and great fun to ride. There’s plenty of decent bikes around at this price from the likes of Calibre, Voodoo, Marin and Carerra to name but a few. We really like the £525 B’Twin Rockrider 560.
Don’t forget pedals
Most proper bikes come without pedals. If they are supplied, they are likely to be cheap and offer little in the way of useful off-road grip, so replace them as soon as you can. Budget to spend £30 to £50 on a set of flat or clipless pedals, though if you go clipless, you’ll also have to buy dedicated shoes – more later!
Wear a helmet
It almost goes without saying that you shouldn’t ride off-road without a helmet to protect your bonce. Crashes are par for the course when mountain biking and we’ve lost count of the times a lid has saved us from a proper injury. There’s tons of helmets out there, but get one that’s well vented, has a deeper fit and a short peak.
Other gear to consider
While skateboard style shoes will work pretty well with flat pedals, proper mountain biking shoes offer stiffer soles, durable uppers and toe protection. If you want to use clipless (also called SPD) pedals though, you’ll definitely need dedicated shoes that can take a pedal cleat to attach you to the pedal.
Going clipless means more efficient pedaling and being able to forget about your foot position, but many prefer the freedom that flat pedals offer. We also recommend getting a pair of MTB shorts with a padded internal undershort and a pair of gloves.
Mountain biking is thirsty work and you’ll need to take a drink of some kind with you on rides lasting an hour or more. Obviously you can carry drink in a regular backpack, but stopping to take your pack off and have a drink means unnecessary faff and wasted ride time. You can keep a drink within reach by fitting a bottle cage to your frame, or better still, get a hydration pack that has a drinking tube on one of the shoulder straps and has space to carry other riding gear.
Other gear we always take with us on a ride are: a mobile phone in case of emergency, a spare inner tube, mini pump and tyre levers for obvious reasons, a bike specific multi-tool for on-trail mechanicals and adjustments, and an energy bar or two in case we run out of steam.
Find a ride buddy
Last but not least, always ride with someone else – particularly when you’re starting out. Your riding buddy will help with moral support when things tough, lend a hand in a mechanical and make sure you both get home safely. They’ll also be someone to have a laugh with out on the trails and relive your ride stories later. If you can’t find a buddy or just want to make new MTB friends, British Cycling can help with their buddy finder and organised group rides suitable for beginners all over the country. If you really have to ride alone, make sure you let someone know where you’re going and when you’re likely to be back.
Try a trail centre
While there’s likely to be local trails near to where you live, heading to the nearest dedicated mountain biking trail centre will enable you to ride trails designed for your level of skill and experience. Trails are graded from green (easy), blue, red, to black (hard). Graded trails allow you to have fun and improve your riding without running into a trail obstacle that’s way beyond your ability.
Know your limits!
Mountain biking can be dangerous and merely being able to ride a bike does not necessarily give you the skills needed to hit the black runs straight away. If you’re riding marked and graded trails, stick to green and blue runs to start with and gradually build to reds as your skills and confidence grow. If you fancy riding ungraded trails, look online and speak to others who may have ridden them to get an idea of the ability level needed before you go.