Everything You Need to Know to Start Mountain Biking for Beginners!

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Mountain bike trail

Here we go!  Minutes before riding my very 1st official mountain bike trail!  

“Your biggest challenge isn’t someone else.  It’s the ache in your lungs and the burning in your legs, and the voice inside you that yells, ‘Can’t’.  But you don’t listen.  You just push harder .  And then you hear the voice whisper, ‘Can’, and you discover that the person you thought you were is no match for the one you really are.”  

–  Unknown

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The Mountain Biking Lowdown:

My husband loves a thrill, going fast & wild, and has been mountain biking since his teens.  I didn’t start until my mid 40’s, so I’m long past feeling invincible.  Mountain biking for beginners, especially, is intimidating.  The trails are no joke.  Things that are nothing as a hiker suddenly can look scary & dangerous on your bike at 20 miles an hour (or faster!)  Trails & terrain vary, but the paths are veined with deep ruts & tall tree roots, and large rocks bulge up to criss-cross your path.  There are grueling uphills and steep, sometimes white knuckle, downhills (at least for a newbie like me!)  Many twists and tight turns, humps & bumps, on narrow paths with trees squeezing the trail’s edge to dart & dodge around.  Not gonna lie, it was scary the 1st time (the steep downhills & wet course, in particular).  I didn’t know if, at this stage in my life, I was capable, if I was strong enough, fit enough to keep up with the crowd & not get hurt.  And those are the same reasons I pushed myself to do it.  I don’t want age or fear telling me what I’m capable of.  I want to smash past my limits and conquer my fears.  It’s now or never!  This is what Bill’s years of experience & my first-hand insight as a beginner taught me.  It’s everything you need to know on mountain biking for beginners … to be prepared, go safely, and actually enjoy it!       

Sticks & stones on a mountain bike path rated ‘easy’.  Wish you could see the depth & ruggedness better.  They’re bigger than they look!  Nothing for a hiker, easy if you’re going slow, but when you’re trucking along at a good click or an incline or decline, these spots can be scary.  Sometimes you can hug the smoother side, if you want.  Sometimes, there is no smoother side.

Beforehand:

  1. Check tire pressure. Know how to change out the tire and put the chain back on.  You’re putting your bike (and your body) to the test! 
  2. Choose a Beginner trail/ course. It isn’t like hiking where if you’re active and fit, you can handle any trail difficulty.  Not so with a mountain bike course, it’s a different animal.  You’ve been on bikes your whole life and ruled them as a kid, but going this speed on such a rigorous, exerting and, sometimes, hazardous course is unlike biking you’ve done before.  Though there is quite a range in difficulty, even among beginner courses.  The state park mountain bike trails were more difficult than the city park’s trails I’ve tried.
  3. Check the direction.  Some trails are one-way only and they’re narrow. Check the trail maps & signs. 
  4. Take a Claritin or similar if you have allergies like me. You’re likely riding through woods & weeds. 
  5. Go when it’s dry. Mud is fun, but it’s easier and safer when dry.  Those bald roots and wet clay are very slippery after rain and can make your tires feel like they have no traction.  Sometimes slogging through thick mud.
  6. Go early. We went on a Saturday morning at @ 10, just after a light rain, and there were very few people.  By sunny noon, the crowds were pouring in and when sharing those narrow paths, going both directions, you take turns pulling over.
  7. Go on a weekday, if possible. 
  8. Wear bug spray if you’re biking in the woods if you’re in a buggy region.

What to Wear:

  1. Cycling helmet
  2. Cycling Gloves (I had multiple blisters from gripping the handles & hanging on!)  These are padded and grippy.  Same ones we used for via ferrata ‘rock climbing’ in our Via Ferrata Kentucky trip!
  3. Wear Pants– if your foot falls out of the pedal, it will rake up your shin- not fun. Also, plants & twigs are whacking you, and poison ivy is plentiful.
  4. Padded cycling pants– Unless you ride a bike every day, your rear-end will hurt the day after any bike ride.  Exponentially so for mountain biking.  Do yourself a favor and buy padded leggings or bike shorts & a gel-padded bike seat!  These are what I wore.  Thank me later!  🙂 
  5. Stiff-soled shoes, such as hiking boots or shoes that have a metal or similar shank along the inside of the sole. Otherwise, your feet can get pretty sore standing and pumping uphill.  Plus, it gives you more stability so that your pedaling will give you more power.  Pro tip: tuck in your shoe-laces tightly so they don’t get caught in the chain and flip you!
  6. Optional-  Light-colored sunglasses for that stray whipping branch, but not dark tint to hinder your view.  Chapstick.  

What to Bring:

  1. Water! Bring the biggest H20 bottle your bottle holder will hold or a Camelbak-type back pack.  You’ll sweat more than you realize and be thirstier than you think. 
  2. Ladies: Tissue pack– you will be mouth breathing and your lips, especially with chapstick, will get gummy.  Plus, snot-rockets aren’t cute!  😊    
  3. Cell phone for pix & emergencies
  4. Take a trail map, so you don’t accidentally keep adding onto other trails and hooking onto an extra 10 mile loop!  Many trails are tied together and cross paths. 
  5. Bike pouch– Holds everything and velcros or buckles to your bike. Like a fanny pack for your bike that fits your phone & essentials. 
  6. Take a spare tube & mini tire air pump.  It’s not unusual to pop it on the mountain bike trails.

Slippery when wet!  If I wasn’t sliding around, kicking up mud, I was working hard to slog through it.  Part of the challenge if you go after/ during a rain.  Fun, but challenging.  

On Your Ride:

  1. Stick it out for several miles. Give yourself time to get used to it.  You’ll be clicking along at uncomfortable speeds with steep hills and twists & turns in such narrow, quick succession that you may hate it at times… but hang in there, love.  With each mile, you’ll grow more confident, more adept, and you’ll be smiling before the end of your ride.  I went from dislike to hate to enjoying it by the end of our 5 mile ride.  I rode off that trail feeling like a boss!  Shredding the limits of what I thought this mama could do!    
  2. Etiquette: Let uphillers go, downhillers should pull over.  Be courteous and take turns pulling aside to let oncomers ride through.  Let large groups pass through together.  Ask if anyone else is coming with them, so you don’t separate a group and most importantly, don’t have a head-on collision. 
  3. Attack Position (shown in a photo below)- Is a neutral, ready position.  Used for more stability over rugged spots and prepared for the unknown on new trails, down small hills.  Standing with pedals parallel & level (in the 3:00 & 9:00 position) with your dominant foot forward.  Knees & elbows bent & wide, and a secure grip on the handles.  Body crouched down over and nearly parallel with the bike.  Rear-end hovering over the seat.  It’s a ready position, not pedaling.  Also eases the beating your body will take over a series of rough bumps, your legs will be your shock absorbers.  
  4. Go with someone who’s been– this is very helpful, so you can watch how they take the path right in front of you and you can watch what happens when they go over it. They can go behind you and tell you what you need to adjust and give you tips. 
  5. Walking your bike isn’t illegal. If there’s a spot you’re highly uncomfortable with- a tiny, narrow ‘bridge’, a super high cluster of roots, a death-defying hill, you can walk the spot, then climb back on.  It’s preferable to ride the whole thing, but if you’re on a really difficult trail that’s scary for you, don’t panic over it.  Just make sure to let the faster, experienced riders on your trail pass you.   
  6. Use the Toe cages– This was very counter-intuitive to me.  I didn’t want my feet ‘trapped’ in the toe-holds.  In a wreck, seconds matter & I wanted my feet free to land on the ground.  But, for mountain biking, it’s safer.  They keep your feet in while climbing because they can easily slip off when climbing a hill, stopping your momentum and throwing your balance. 
  7. Try to stay in 3rd or 4th gear when possible, so you can shift up to 1 or 2 when those uphills get tough.
  8. There are lots of uphill– 1st gear is your friend. Stand & pedal when you need to, and you will need to a lot!   
  9. Pedaling downhill (not the steep ones that you’re already ripping down) in higher gear (3-5) for continued momentum up the smaller hills, just ahead.
  10. Brakes– Right side = Back tire, Left brake = Front tire. Your back tire (right brake) is your primary brake, especially going downhill.  Use the left brake (front wheel) sparingly, pumping it or just scraping the wheel when going down steep hills when you need the extra braking, so you don’t flip over your handlebars.
mountain biking attack position

“Attack position” that I mention in #3 earlier, under ‘On Your Ride’.  Neutral & ready.

Rewards of Mountain Biking:

Mountain biking is adrenaline rushing, it’s sweaty and hard, quads aching.  It’s the thrill of accomplishment and challenge, it’s panting & heart thumping and breaking through age and physical and mental limits you put on yourself and that others saddle you with.  It’s living life at another level, it’s pushing your body- gaining strength, capability, staying young & not waiting on another year to pass you by.  It’s exhilaration, it’s freedom, it’s doing what you thought you couldn’t, what most won’t try.  This is about squeezing every last drop of joy and life and zest you can get out of ‘now’.  You’ll never be younger than today.  You’ll never be fit till you start.  You have no promise of tomorrow, you have only today.  Do something new.  Do something that’s good for you, that’s going to make you better, stronger, braver, even if it scares you.  Go start living!  Do it now! 

Useful Mountain Biking Gear:

(1) Uphill, baby!  Don’t walk it up.  This is what you’re here for!   (2) The downhill’s seem to either super steep or super bumpy!  

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Once Upon a Wheat

Terri & Bill Wheat

Hey, there! I’m Terri & my husband Bill and I have 4 kids (2 boys & twin girls + a pup!) and we’ve been traveling since our kids were little. At this mid point in my journey, I’m trying to shove as much as I can into this precious gift of life and squeeze all the joy and growth and learning I can out of it. Making memories that matter, building a life of joy & meaning, actively pursuing my greatest potential. I have a zest for life, for learning, for growth & I want to give you the resources & inspiration to have better vacations and get more from your life!

Everything You Need to Know to Start Mountain Biking for Beginners!

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Everything You Need to Know to Start Mountain Biking for Beginners!