Mountain biking can be an intimidating sport to get involved with, but for me it was a truly is a life-changing activity. I lost my fitness and self-esteem in college after being a celebrated high school athlete and didn’t know how to get it back. I started racing mountain bikes as a way to force me to get fit during the week hoping that I wouldn’t suck too badly at the races on the weekends. Turns out the sport gave me so much more than fitness. It helped me understand how to face and conquer fears, how to be kind and patient with myself while learning something new, how to trust in my abilities, and how to change negative, fear-based thoughts to positive ones in order to keep the wheels rolling forward. Not only did this intimidating sport bring fitness and finesse back into my life, it also introduced me to a community of awesome people who welcomed me into the sport with open arms.
If you’re new to the sport, here are a few pieces of advice and some riding pointers to get you started on your path to becoming a ripping shredder.
- The bike. When you add in rocks, roots, steep hills and exposure, mountain biking is not “just riding a bike.” A poorer-quality bike can inhibit your experience, but the price of a new mountain bike is definitely a barrier to entry. If you don’t own a bike, begin by visiting a few different bike shops near you and demo a bunch to see what feels good. I recommend a new entry level or decent used full-suspension bike, so you get the feel for mountain biking on a comfortable bike. Hardtails (bikes with no rear suspension) are less expensive and great buys, but they can be a bit uncomfortable and more challenging to handle if you decide to ride more technical terrain (trails with rocks, roots, and obstacles) in the future. Make sure the suspension is tuned for your weight before heading out and learn how to change a flat tire just in case.
- Proper gear. This is another investment, but many times the gear you get will last a long time. Think about borrowing or buying some basic gear to get you started. A decent helmet is a must because protecting your noggin is important. The right shoes to go with the pedals on the bike make a huge difference. If you don’t know how to ride clipped in, start with flat pedals and good, stiff rubber soled shoes. A hydration pack is nice for easy access to water, snacks, and tools. Gloves are pretty important for a solid grip and protection from branches brushing against your fingers. And of course, knee, shin, and elbow pads aren’t a bad idea because they’ll protect you if you fall and will give you more confidence to try new things. Not everyone loves riding with padding between their legs, but I do recommend a chamois that’s not too bulky to get your bum region accustomed to sitting in a bike saddle.
- Take a lesson! People believe that since they already know how to pedal a bike, they will pick up mountain biking quickly. Trial and error on a mountain bike can be dangerous so I recommend taking a lesson or two to make sure you’re developing good habits and have a deeper understanding of how to approach mountain biking as safely as possible. Here’s a few organizations who can help: www.ladiesallride.com and www.gritclinics.com.
Here’s how to rock your first clinic:
- Practice a few basic skills in a safe place like grass before you head out on the trails.
- First, the bike doesn’t have a brain or eyes, so always look ahead where you want to go, NOT at the things you don’t want to hit. Your bike goes where your eyes go.
- Pedal around and play with the gears and brakes so you understand how they work.
- Only use one finger, your pointer finger, on each brake and gently see how they respond when used one at a time and then together.
- Stand on your pedals while coasting and move your body up and down, forward, and back above the saddle.
- Drop your heels a little for support, especially when practicing braking. Learn to move around above the bike and also move the bike beneath you.
- It also helps to bounce around and stomp your feet on the pedals to get comfortable with the suspension.
- All of this will help you understand that the light bike needs to be controlled by you, the strong capable human. You are the pilot, not the passenger.
As you progress, learning to get the front wheel up onto obstacles opens the door to more challenging terrain. Here’s how to make that happen.
Basic Wheel Lift
- Coast smoothly with level pedals
- Stomp your feet down to load the bike
- Spring back up and bring the front wheel with you
Pro Tips: Load and explode!
Want to extend it?
Manual Wheel Lift—a longer wheel lift with a slightly different technique
- Keep your momentum
- Stomp your feet down, then push your weight back
- Extend your arms and legs to lift the front wheel
Pro Tips: Get behind the balance point (your butt should be in line with rear axle) and don’t lift with your arms
How to do a Wheelie – One of the most efficient ways to help your wheel up onto obstacles while you’re climbing
Pedal Punch Wheel Lift
- Choose a fairly easy gear—not too easy, not too hard
- Stay seated and start uphill
- Pause your pedal stroke at 12 o’clock (this is your “power” position)
- Punch down on the pedal, and
- Lean back with your chest to unweight the front
Use flat pedals, for a quick dismount
Keep a finger on each brake, the rear brake (righty rear) can save you (but be careful—it will bring your front wheel down quick)
Pause, Punch, Lean back