Welcome to the wonderful world of mountain biking! Whether you’re a beginner just getting started or a seasoned veteran looking to step up your game, mountain biking delivers an unbeatable adrenaline rush. I’ve put together this guide covering all the key topics to help you make the most out of this exciting sport. Let’s dive right in!
Choosing Your Ride: Hardtail vs Full Suspension Mountain Bikes
One of the first big decisions any new mountain biker faces is what type of bike to get. The two main options are hardtail mountain bikes and full suspension mountain bikes. Both have their advantages and disadvantages depending on your riding style and local terrain.
Hardtail mountain bikes only have front suspension and a solid, non-moving rear triangle. The lack of rear suspension makes them lighter, more efficient pedaling, and cheaper than their full suspension counterparts. Hardtails work well for cross country riding and less technical trails. Their stiff frame allows you to efficiently put power from the pedals directly to the rear wheel. Just don’t expect them to soak up major impacts and bumps! Popular hardtail brands include Trek, Specialized, Giant, and Cannondale.
In contrast, full suspension mountain bikes have shock absorbers at both the front and rear wheels for maximum bump absorption and control. This makes them ideal for riding rough terrain, fast descending, big jumps and drops, and technical obstacles. The plush ride does come with some sacrifices though – full suspension bikes are heavier, less efficient for climbing, and more expensive. Leading full suspension brands to look at include Yeti, Santa Cruz, Transition, and Pivot.
Most riders end up owning one hardtail and one full suspension bike to cover all their needs! As a beginner, it’s smart to start out on a quality hardtail to develop your basic skills. Then you can add a full suspension rig later when you’re attacking more challenging terrain and trails.
Hitting the Trails: Essential MTB Gear
Now that you’ve got your new mountain bike, it’s time to equip yourself with some key gear to hit the trails safely and comfortably. Proper equipment enhances both performance and enjoyment while reducing risk of injury when riding off-road. Here’s a rundown of mountain bike essentials every rider should have:
A good mountain bike helmet provides vital head protection when riding over uneven ground and obstacles where crashes happen. Modern helmets are lightweight, well-ventilated, and offer extra coverage for vulnerable areas like the rear of your head. Look for safety certifications like EN1078, CPSC and MIPS technology when choosing a helmet. Popular options include Giro, Bell, Troy Lee Designs, Fox and POC.
Cycling glasses are another critical piece of safety gear, preventing dirt, mud, insects and errant tree branches from impacting your eyes at speed. They should fit snugly while allowing ventilation to prevent lenses fogging up. When buying MTB eyewear, consider lens tints like grey, amber and clear for different lighting conditions. Top cycling glasses brands include Oakley, 100%, Smith and Rudy Project.
Gloves give you improved grip and shock absorption while protecting your hands from blisters, cuts and abrasions. Full finger MTB gloves strike the best balance for most riders. Premium options use gel padding and durable fabrics like synthetic leather or neoprene for the ultimate in comfort and protection during hours in the saddle. Check out gloves from Giro, Fox and Dakine.
Don’t neglect footwear either. Mountain bike shoes connect you to the pedals so you can generate power and maintain control. Flat pedal shoes have sticky rubber soles for grip, while cycling shoes for clipless pedals lock into the mechanism for ultimate pedaling efficiency. Five Ten, Shimano and Pearl Izumi make good MTB shoes.
Fueling Your Ride: Nutrition & Hydration
Mountain biking is physically demanding, so wise trail nutrition and hydration ensures you can keep turning those pedals without running out of steam. Packing the right snacks and fluids can make or break your riding performance and enjoyment.
Even short 30-60 minute rides require some form of energy replacement. Fast acting carbs in the form of sugars are the preferred fuel for high intensity cycling. Energy gels, chews, bars and drink mixes provide easily digestible carbs in portable, mess-free packages. Tailor your intake rate based on effort level and duration. Brands like Clif, Honey Stinger and Skratch Labs dominate the world of bike nutrition.
Beyond carb replacement, longer 2+ hour backcountry excursions require some electrolyte supplementation to maintain optimal muscle function and energy levels. Stock up on beverages and food with sodium, potassium and magnesium to offset what you lose through sweat on long, hot rides. You’ll avoid painful cramps too. Scratch Labs, Nuun and SaltStick make electrolyte products purpose built for cycling.
And of course you’ll need plenty of plain water before, during and after rides to stay properly hydrated. Dehydration saps power and concentration fast. Hydration packs from CamelBak and Dakine allow you to carry ample fluids hands-free. Alternatively use bottle cages and cycling bottles from quality brands like Polar and Podium for shorter rides.
Don’t forget to refuel after rides as well. Chocolate milk, protein shakes and regular meals replace depleted glycogen to speed muscle recovery so you bounce back faster for the next big adventure!
Skill Building: Mastering the Fundamentals
Once you have appropriate gear, it’s time for the fun part – progressing your mountain biking abilities from beginner to expert level rider! MTB skills separate the pack quickly once trails get rowdy. They don’t come easy though and require diligent, focused practice.
Balance and body position provide the platform for all other abilities. Standing and cornering drills build a stable riding stance. Drop your heels, bend your knees and elbows and stay centered over the crank through variable terrain. Loose upper body with pressed down feet equals control.
Shifting weight appropriately maintains tire traction for climbing, cornering and descending. Unweight during transitions, getting air or absorbing hits using a quick push-pull of your feet and handlebars against the ground. Stay heavy through turns and tech features using your legs as shock absorbers.
Braking is crucial for managing speed and avoiding disasters. Gradually progressive braking avoids locked wheels and lack of control. Front and rear brake dosage depends on conditions and gradient. Perfect modulation comes with practice. Repeat steep roll downs to hone in effective braking feel and force.
Pumping terrain efficiently generates and maintains momentum by timing downward forces and upward explosive movements without pedaling on undulating trails. Spot takeoff and landing spots, load then explode off lips by extending your legs and arms. Carry speed floating across rough sections by seeking smooth trajectories lowering and raising your bike.
Start easy and work methodically harder on each core skill. Take lessons and clinic to receive professional pointers dialing in proper form. Videotape your attempts to compare against better riders too. Mastering advanced techniques opens up more adrenaline packed trail challenges sure to stoke your passion further!
Stay tuned for more mountain biking tips and inspiration in future articles. For now it’s time to get out and ride using this basic knowledge foundation! See you on the trails…