In the current age of health, wellness and fitness mountain biking is a booming sport.
With the physical and mental health benefits of being active and outdoors it is not surprising that every year more and more people take up mountain biking. The Rampage-esque image of ‘maniacs’ in full body armour throwing themselves down the side of cliffs is fading. Now, with relatively easy access to forestry paths, parks and greenways for most and with trail centres being actively developed around the country mountain biking can mean anything from a recreational spin around the local park with the family to a weekend racing in one of the national cross country, enduro and downhill series’.
So, for those of you still thinking about it, or if you have recently started venturing offroad on your bike, this is a list of the top 10 tips for beginner mountain bikers.
10 Tips for Beginner Mountain Bikers
1. Buying your first mountain bike
It goes without saying, but to able to go ‘mountain biking’, you will need a bike. If you are not yet sure how much you will enjoy it and want to hold off on spending the money on your own bike, most of the official trail centres have facilities where you can hire bikes. This is a great way to dip your toe in the water and see if this sport is for you. You can also try contacting your local bike shop or mountain bike club. They may be able to help you borrow a bike or direct you to a rental facility.
2. Clothing and equipment
In addition to a bike, you will need some equipment for both safety and practical reasons. Mountain biking as a hobby can be a money sink as there are countless items that you can buy. But, at the very least you should get yourself a [mountain bike rated helmet][helmet]. You won’t need to go all out on a full-face helmet, but avoid helmets designed for road cycling.
If you’re not used to spending much time on a bike saddle, we would recommend that you get a comfortable pair of padded bike shorts. These are like a pillow for your tender parts and will make the whole experience a whole lot more comfortable. As this is Ireland and the weather does what it will regardless of the season, we recommend that you buy a good sweater, softshell or rain jacket.
Beyond those items, you don’t need but we would suggest a good pair of gloves and if you are going to be riding on trail centre trails, some knee pads.
Obviously, the more you start riding, and as you get better and more excited about mountain biking, the desire, or ‘need’, for more and better gear will naturally arise. But, the most important things are the bike and helmet and using them.
3. Hydration and food
Mountain biking is a physical activity. Before any ride, it is a good idea to make sure you consume plenty of fluids. Start drinking at least half an hour before. If you’re going to be out for more than an hour, bring a bottle of water with you. Your body releases more water than you think, and if you go on a longer ride, you risk dehydration which leads to fatigue. Proper hydration will make for a much more enjoyable time on your bike.
On shorter cycles, under 2 hours, you will not normally need to bring food. If you plan on staying out for longer, it is a good idea to bring some fruit, granola bars or a sandwich you can consume. Bananas or natural protein bars work well and are easy to carry in a pocket. You can also buy energy gels and energy bars that you can bring as a backup for a quick shot of energy.
4. Spares and tools
Accidents happen. Be prepared and don’t let a punctured tyre spoil your ride. At a minimum, you need a spare inner tube of the correct size to fit your bike’s wheels, a pump, and preferably a pair of tire levers. In addition, it is a good idea to carry a multitool that has a selection of Allen keys.
At some point, every mountain biker has to fix a puncture out in the wild. Try changing an inner tube at home. It will let you practice without the pressure of a deadline to get home, rain pouring down your neck or a bunch of impatient friends starring over your shoulder.
5. Plan your ride
Your mountain bike can take you to places that you wouldn’t otherwise see or experience. This also means that there is a risk of getting lost. In Ireland, you won’t be days from civilization, but why risk wasting hours going the long way around. If you’re not going to be with someone who knows the trails you will be riding, use Google Maps or cycling apps like Strava to scout the area you will be in.
Don’t be overconfident. Take it easy and slow down the first time you ride a new trail. Scout out the terrain, and look ahead of you so you give yourself time to react to whatever the trail throws at you.
And always tell someone where you’re going and how long you expect to be out for.
6. Mobile phone
Bring your mobile phone. Put it someplace waterproof - e.g. in a zip-lock bag, and then in your backpack or jacket pocket. If you get lost you can use it to navigate. If the worst happens and you have an accident damaging your bike or injuring yourself, you can call for help.
7. Join a club
While riding on your own can be fun, some things are just more fun in a group. And mountain biking is definitely one of those things. Try to find a local cycling club with a mountain bike category or some friends to ride with. They can show you were the local spots are. And group rides can make some of the less exciting parts of a ride go by much quicker and can improve your skills quicker than you would on your own.
8. Stick with it
You have to crawl before you can walk, and the first few rides you may find hard physically, but don’t give up. The more you ride, the better it gets. Initially, it may be helpful to ride the same route repeatedly, so you can familiarise yourself with the terrain, and also so that you can see your skills and confidence progress.
9. Practice balance and technique
It takes strong legs to ride a bike, but on a mountain bike, you actually use your whole body. Many people who start mountain biking stop very quickly they suffer from lower back pain. Spend some time training the rest of the body, not just your legs. There are a lot of exercises you can do at home that strengthen your core and lower back muscles.
For an idea of what sort of exercises are beneficial for mountain biking, do a search on YouTube. Or check out the 12 Week MTB Fitness Programme that we tried ourselves and found very easy to follow and gave good results.
10. Be respectful
Be mindful of the rules on your local trails. Just because it is ridable does not necessarily mean that it is open to mountain bikes. And avoid riding on private lands without the landowner’s permission. At trail centres, most trails are designed to be ridden in one direction. Take note of any signs and avoid riding into traffic.
Most trails are used for many different purposes. Be respectful of other trail users like hikers or horse riders. Alert them to your presence well in advance, Be polite and avoid getting in each other’s way.
After all these tips, remember that the key is to get out on your bike. Be outdoors. Ride for fun. Ride with friends and at your own pace. Mountain biking can be extremely rewarding and a hobby for life.
Header photo by Maksymilian Sleziak on Unsplash. All photos courtesy of Unsplash