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mountain biking beginners guide in 14 simple steps

You are passionate about getting active and outdoors?
Whether you’re an athlete, an adventurer embarking on off-the-grid travels, a nature enthusiast who can’t resist being outside or looking for a fun summer adventure, mountain biking offers the adrenaline rush you crave.
Whatever your starting point is, here we show you how to start mountain biking.
The benefits are various. Time spent outdoors refreshes the mind and builds physical strength, it’s also a perfect group activity.
But it can be hard to get started. What gear or equipment will you need to buy or borrow, and what skills do you need and where do you even mountain bike and meet other riders?
Here in this guide, we will explain everything in a simple, beginner friendly way. So that you are ready to get out on the trails and mountains tomorrow, with the right equipment and knowledge.

What is mountain biking?

The origin of mountain biking

Mountain biking started in California in the 1960s. Cyclists adapted their bikes with bigger tires, shifters and motorcycle brakes to make them able to go off-road.

Mountain biking today

Since its beginnings mountain biking has come a long way, it’s even an olympic discipline by now. There are specialized bikes for different mountain biking disciplines like downhill racing, trail biking and off-roading. At various price points, because mountain bikes can be very expensive, it’s also very popular to rent or borrow them.

What equipment do I need?

Mountain biking can be a very equipment heavy activity, but for your first mountain biking adventure, you won’t need all the professional equipment. We show you what equipment you really need and no worries, you can borrow most of it for a low price.

1. What bike should I get?

The short answer is: get an all purpose mountain bike, but get the best one that fits your body size and budget (borrowing will help with that). If it’s your first mountain biking adventure or just one in a while, there is no need for a specialized mountain bike for one specific discipline.
Before you worry about the costs of buying a new mountain bike, no need to worry, you can borrow mountain bikes from $25 per day by clicking here.
For the size, this sizing chart will help you:

2. Other equipment

Aside from the obvious equipment like the bike itself and a helmet (you should always wear one when mountain biking), there is not much more equipment to bring.
Actually a bike and a helmet are the only necessary equipment for a mountain biking adventure. But there is more equipment that will make the adventure safer, more fun or easier.
Consider bringing (in a waterproof backpack), first aid kit, chain lube, spare tubes, phone charger, flashlight, sunscreen, tire pump and lever, GPS and a multi-purpose tool for some basic repairs.
Carrying these little pieces of equipment will definitely improve your mountain biking experience, you might have most of them at home anyway, otherwise it’s also possible to borrow some of these online.

3. Clothes

No worries, you don’t have to wear the super tight padded cycling shorts you know from road cyclists. In fact, you’re not necessarily required to wear any kind of special garment. For your first couple of rides you’re going to be fine with some regular sports or active wear. Just put on some weatherproof, breathable garments made from a durable fabric like nylon, polyester or spandex. In warm weather a lightweight jersey will be best. Also for your own safety wear a well fitting helmet, protective kneepads, sunglasses and gloves.
As with the equipment, also for the clothing there are some items that are not really required but will definitely improve your riding experience. Those are things like padded cycling shorts, especially on longer excursions in the saddle, they will keep you comfy.

4. Clip-in pedals and shoes

If you have seen mountain bikers before you might have observed that many of them are wearing special shoes with which they clip into special pedals. Although they look super professional, you’re going to be very well prepared for your first rides even without having clipping shoes and pedals.
Riding clip-in pedals actually needs some training. Your first time riding them, you might forget to clip out of them when coming to a stop and painfully fall off your bike. So for your first couple of mountain bike excursion, rather stay away from clipping pedals and just go for regular pedals and regular sporty shoes.

How do I mountain bike and which skills do I need?

Mountain biking is a full body activity. The way you sit on the bike, your body position, can make the difference between a controlled and easy ride or putting unnecessary effort and riding uncomfy. It will also be the difference between mastering a manouver or falling and crashing.
Basic skills

5. Climbing hills

For riding uphill or climbing hills, first shift your bike into a lower gear, then increase the cadence (the speed you turn the pedals at), lean forward into the handlebar a bit and always stay seated. By being in this position the weight is distributed onto the front of the bike which stabilizes it and improves traction on a steep ascent.
As with all sports, also for uphill mountain biking, breathing is key, always keep a good rhythm and don’t hyperventilate.

6. Riding downhill

For going downhill, shift the bike into a higher gear and pedal slower or not at all (depending how steep the downhill is). A steep descent can be very intimidating, so always remember you have some brakes on your bike and it’s no shame to stop on a downhill and take a short break.
When riding downhill, keep your body loose, bend your elbows (they absorb shocks), stand over the saddle but keep strong knees. That’s it. The first downhills will be a bit intimidating, but then it’s definitely going to be a lot of fun!

7. Braking

The brakes should be used more like a dimmer than a light switch. Meaning, you don’t clutch on to them with full force but rather gradually fasten them. Pulling the brakes abruptly may cause you falling off your bike, especially when pulling the front brake too hard, you might end up flipping over the handle bar.

8. Shifting gears

When shifting up and down the gears, don’t change the cadence too much. Don’t stop paddling and don’t increase the cadence by a lot. Just keep on paddling firmly and don’t put too much load on the pedal and chain while shifting, that can break them.
Although your bike might have a lot of gears, you will not use all of them, there are useless gears on your bike.
For example if your bike has 3 chainrings in the front and 7 in the back, you’re most likely not to need all 21 gears. Actually some overlap and are the same combination like chainring 2 in front + 3 in the back and 1 in front + 6 in the back.
You’re most likely to use the highest and lowest gear combinations the most.
Avoid cross chaining, meaning when being in the smallest chainrings in the front (left) you should stay towards the biggest chainrings in the rear (left). Cross chaining will break the chain, the shifting mechanism and might lock the wheel.
Advanced skills

9. Changing a flat tire

You might have bad luck and end up with a flat tire on your first ride. Don’t worry, it’s not the end of your adventure (if you know how to repair it). It’s quite easy to learn, this Youtube video might help you.
But besides the skill of knowing how to repair it, most importantly carry the right equipment for it. You should bring a spare tube, levers (to remove the tube from the mantle) and a pump. If it’s your own bike, you should always have this equipment in a little bag under your saddle or in your backpack. If you borrowed the bike, ask the owner for it, most likely they are willing to provide you with a spare tube and repair kit and show you how to do it.
How much air should you pump into the tire? Easy. Don’t make it too hard, that will make your ride uncomfy. Don’t put too little, that increases the probability of punctures. Put as much or as little as you feel comfy with (you can always adapt during the ride by pumping more or releasing air). Most mountain bikers prefer between 30 and 45 PSI (2 – 3 bar).

10. Compressing

The compressing technique is also called “weighting” it’s most beneficial when riding downhill because it transfers kinetic energy from the bike frame into the wheels.
It’s done by crouching down at the waist and then pulling off the handlebars with your arms, while pushing down into the pedals with your legs. Compressing enables you to regulate the bike’s movement for more precision at higher speed.

11. Releasing

The releasing technique (also called “unweighting”) is used for rounding corners because it lightens your bike so it avoids bumpy roadblocks or hairpin corners.
Use both arms and legs at the same time, then push off of the bike quickly and in a vertical motion and then return to a crouched position. This evenly distributes weight across the bike, so you’re not losing balance.

Where do I ride and meet other mountain bikers?

12. Riding in the wild

In the outdoors you can ride wherever it’s not strictly forbidden. Sand tracks, special mountain biking trails, backroads, just stay away from going straight through wild meadows and bushes (don’t disturb the wildlife). You can ride up hilltops and discover the beautiful landscape or take a lift uphill and go downhill on the trails. It’s all possible.
Especially on trails watch out and take care for other riders, don’t stop in the middle of the trail, it’s dangerous for everyone. In the wild, watch out for animals and other wildlife.

13. Riding at trail centers

For your first ride, you might want to choose a trail center. There are many of them in the US, Canada and Europe, all with trails for different experience levels and marked routes.

14. Finding other mountain bikers and help

If you borrowed your mountain biking gear, you already know one other rider, most likely an enthusiast with loads of experience and knowledge about the sport, who is willing to share this with you and give advice for your first mountain biking excursion.
If you’re not that lucky or bring your own equipment, don’t worry, it’s still easy to meet and connect with other riders. Either in the wild, on the trails, at the trail center or on apps like Strava.

Ready for your first ride?

With all these tips and advice, you are set and ready for your first mountain biking adventure. Don’t be too ambitious on your first ride though! Don’t do stuff you don’t feel well doing and don’t let yourself be pressured into doing stupid stuff by other riders. Don’t break your neck!
Missing the proper gear to go out for your first mountain biking adventure right now? Easily find private mountain bike and gear rentals in your area here.
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