Looking to take up mountain biking, but not sure where to start or have unanswered questions? This essentials guide will see you in the right direction, with advice on what clothing to wear, what tools to take with you, and where to ride. We’ll presume you’ve got a mountain bike already if you’re reading this, but why not check out our guide to £500 hardtails if you’re in the market for a first mountain bike.
Clothing – What to wear
You can wear whatever you like for mountain biking, you really don’t need any special kit. A pair of shorts, a t-shirt, a jacket if it’s raining or cold, and trainers is really all you need to get started.
Moving on from there, a helmet is a must really (more on that later) and padded shorts can make sitting in the saddle for several hours more comfortable than being sat on your pants.
Once you get into mountain biking, you can start looking at dedicated clothing designed specifically for the sport. Jerseys and jackets made from highly technical fabrics so they stop you getting soaked in sweat and keep the wind and rain out.
A good jersey is a smart investment, it’ll keep you dry and more comfortable than a t-shirt. And for cycling in the UK, a jacket is a must. One made from a windproof or waterproof fabric will be a great investment and mean you don’t have to let bad weather stop you getting out on your bike.
Mountain biking shorts are cut and shaped for pedalling and often featuring useful things like zipped pockets and made from tough and durable materials to survive a few impacts with the ground. Some mountain bike baggy short are sold with a padded liner that clips into the shorts. These provide extra comfort, cushioning your behind against the firm saddle. You can buy a padded short seperately and wear under your favourite baggy shorts.
Sunglasses, if it’s sunny, or glasses with clear lenses, are good for keeping mud splatter out of your eyes. Keeping your vision clear when hurtling down a tricky descent is obviously a Good Thing.
Gloves are often a good idea, save wear and tear on your hands, provide extra grip, offer some warmth and protection from brambles and crashes. Lastly, you might want to invest in some knee pads because, you know, crashes can happen.
A helmet is a must really, the chance of crashing and hitting your head on a root or rock is high when you’re riding in the woods or over the moors. Of course you don’t have to wear a helmet, it’s not law, so you can make your own choice. Based on our experience here at TWB there’s a lot more potential for crashing and hitting something like a rock or tree stump when mountain biking, and sometimes it’s the silly low speed tumbles that hurt the most.
What to take with you
You don’t need a lot of stuff on a ride but a few things might be considered essential. Here’s a list of kit the TWB usually have stuffed inside a backpack to cover most eventualities.
- Spare tube
- Multi Tool (with chain tool)
- Water – in bottle or hydration bladder
- Money (for cake)
Those are your bare essentials. You can probably fit them in pockets, but a lightweight backpack is often a more comfortable way to carry your ride essentials. A regular backpack will do the job.
Water on the go
Mountain biking is thirsty work, so you’ll want a water bottle so you can keep your fluids topped up when you work up a sweat. The downside to a water bottle is that it’s not so easy to drink on the move, especially when riding over tricky terrain, and the spout can get covered in mud and cow poo, which you really don’t want to ingest.
A hydration pack, a backpack with a water bladder and hose, not only means you’ll be able to carry more water on a ride, so you can ride further between water stops, but means you can drink more easily on the move. The packs are designed to be comfortable with dedicated storage for all your tools and bits and bobs, and come with lots of extra features designed for mountain biking, like an optional rain cover or helmet strap.
Where to ride
The UK is dotted with purpose-built trail centres are many have graded trails, starting from family and beginner green graded trails, through to blue, red and finally, black graded trails. They make it easy to transition to the more technically challenging trails as your skills grow, so you don’t have to dive in at the deep end. Some trail centres even have skills area to start on before you hit the trail proper. Most trail centres are equipped with good amenities, including a cafe, bike shop and showers.
www.mtbroutefinder.co.uk is a good resource for finding local trails. This is a good place to find all the official trail centres in England, here’s information on the Welsh trail centre network, and this is a guide to mountain bike trails in Scotland
There are probably trails closer to home, a mix of natural trails through dense forest of across open moorland, depending on where you live. A really good place to start is simply buying a map and looking for permissive route in your neighbourhood. Alternatively, a really good resource is www.bridlewaymap.com which highlights all bridleways in the UK.
That’s a good place to start. Joining a local club or finding local mountain bikers on Facebook is also good, and there’s Strava as well, which is a good way of finding the local riding hotspots in your neck of the woods.
Next time, we’ll look at some of the essential basic skills that you need for mountain biking.