John is a fervent writer, gamer, and guitar lover. He is a former automatic-transmission repairer, welder, and hobbyist game developer.
Mountain biking, it seems, is more popular than ever. Whether you’re looking for a way to get yourself in shape, you want to hit dirt jumps and get insane air time, or you just want an active hobby that gives you something you can tinker with, mountain biking fits the bill. But, like many popular activities, it can be a little scary when you first start out. This guide aims to make this wonderful sport just a little less intimidating.
1. Age Is Just a Number
It’s never too late to get your first mountain bike. As long as you can physically ride, you shouldn’t let the fact that you’re a little advanced in years (or a little young, for that matter) stop you from hitting the trails. Of course, take this tip with a healthy dose of reality; if you’re just starting out at 50-years old, there probably isn’t going to be a Red Bull sponsorship for free riding in your future but the trails, bridleways, and bike parks are there for you as much as anyone else. There is a plentitude of options when it comes to trails and difficulty. Start biking on trails where the terrain keeps you entertained while still helping build endurance and confidence.
2. Your Bike Doesn’t Need to Be the Best
Unfortunately, a common occurrence in mountain biking is a somewhat snobbish attitude regarding people with “cheap” bikes. This attitude is by no means held by a majority of mountain bikers, but it is out there.
Whether you have an affordable bike because it’s the best you can do, or because you don’t feel like you can justify spending thousands on a mountain bike, or any other reason, that’s fine. As long as you are a respectful mountain biker, it’s nobody else’s business what rig you choose to ride.
That being said, this is another point where reality needs to be acknowledged. With mountain bikes—as with many things in life—you get what you pay for. You shouldn’t feel pressured to buy a more expensive bike just to fit in, but you do need to be realistic about what your bike can do. Perhaps try buying a used mountain bike for a cheaper cost and using it while you test out your new hobby.
Modern bikes come with classification, with class 1 being suitable for city riding and generally smooth surfaces, all the way up to class 6, which is intended for competition downhill racing and is about the most durable bicycle you will find. Pay attention to the classification of your bike.
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3. It’s Better With Friends (But Not Essential)
If you have any friends who are mountain bikers—or who are interested in taking up the hobby—try to arrange the occasional group ride. If that fails, the mountain biking community is incredibly friendly, and you can usually find people to ride with online. Look out for community boards or check out apps like Meetup where other locals may be organizing group rides. That being said, you shouldn’t let the lack of riding partners stop you from heading out on your bike. Just because it’s better with friends doesn’t mean it’s not a great time without them. The important thing is you get out there.
4. Don’t Push Yourself Too Far
Mountain biking is a sport that caters to all skill levels, and the learning curve doesn’t need to be a steep one. There’s enough variety out there for you to achieve a nice, gradual improvement, stepping up to more challenging trails only when you feel ready.
Of course, you’ll need to find a balance between not pushing yourself too far, too fast and not pushing yourself enough. If you’re not at least nudging up against your comfort zone occasionally, you won’t improve your mountain biking abilities.
That being said, there is no law that says you must get better—if you are out there enjoying yourself, feel free to just keep on enjoying yourself. It is worth noting that the higher your levels of fitness and skill, the more options you’ll have when it comes to places to ride.
5. Observe Trail Etiquette
Good trail etiquette ensures everyone can have a good time without getting annoyed or hurt. Here are some of the main things to know;
- Make Yourself Known: When you’re coming up on other trail users, whether they be walkers, horse riders, or even slower-moving bikers, don’t just blast past them without warning. Slow down a bit and announce yourself. Similarly, if you find yourself being caught up by faster-moving trail users, find a spot to let them safely pass you.
- Respect the Trail Fairies: If you find a bonafide mountain bike trail that’s been built by hard-working trail builders, whether it’s an official trail or a hidden gem that shouldn’t technically be there, be respectful of the hard work they have put in for you to enjoy. That means not cutting corners and damaging berms, putting right any damage you might accidentally have caused, and generally leaving things as you found them.
- Help Those in Need: If you see a mountain biker (or anyone else, for that matter) stuck at the side of a trail, check and see if there’s anything you can do to help. After all, it might be you at the side of the trail one day.
- Be Prepared: Things like inner tubes and chains aren’t free, so try to be prepared for punctures and snapped chains. Because of the friendly nature of mountain bikers (and the above point about helping), there’s a good chance you could find someone to give you their spare inner tube, but it’s not really fair to put them in that position. Other people’s generosity should be your backup, not the only plan. Try keeping a supplies pack with you while you ride. There are small and cheap packs available that include tools like patches, glue and tools to remove the tire if punctured.
Don’t Bonk: “Bonking”... isn’t what you might think. This is the term used to describe completely running out of energy when out on your ride. Your muscles feel weak, you feel lethargic, and it’s generally a terrible feeling. The two things you can do to avoid this are to make sure you’ve consumed enough calories before your ride (carbs are better here), but also to take a couple of snacks just in case, such as energy bars or gels.
Mountain biking is a great way to get some of those great outdoors, whether you like a gentle ride in the sun or you want to be doing 30 mph downhill, weaving through trees and leaving finger marks in your grips. Just remember to be respectful of nature and of others and be realistic about what you and your bike are capable of.
© 2022 John Bullock