A Beginner’s Guide to Mountain Biking – Getting Started

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Mountain biking is one of the best outdoor activities you can do to enjoy life. You power up hills to be treated to a majestic view, only to then fly down at breakneck speeds. It is an adrenaline fueled adventure. If you are new to it, then you are going to need a Beginner’s guide to Mountain Biking, along with plenty of tips and advice for getting started.

Types of Trails

When it comes to mountain biking, there are three types of trails you will encounter.

Single track trails are the most common. They range in width from 2 ft – 3 ft (0.6 m – 0.9 m) or just about as wide as your shoulders. They are just broad enough for one or two bikes to pass. Most of them tend to be for one way travel. Because they were made for mountain biking, the trails weave more. They require more skill than a double track.

Double track trails are like two lane highways. They follow old logging routes and vehicle roads, so they were created with the intention of accommodating a wider vehicle. They have a gentler grade and are less technical. Double tracks are the best trails for beginners because you do not need much skill to bike it.

Mountain bike terrain parks are quite fun. Imagine roaring through a national park with redwoods and sequoias. You combine fun fueled adrenaline rushes with the peace and quiet of nature. They include a variety of features such as bridges, switchbacks, berms, half pipes, and jumps of various sizes. There is a lot to keep you entertained. For beginners, they require a good amount of skill, but they do have easier trails.

Go to a Clinic and Learn from the Best

If you read about mountain biking and then learn it in person, it is a powerful combination. Because of their experience, an expert coach will lay a sturdy foundation for you and give a proper overview of everything you need to know. At a clinic or local MTB camp, the class sizes are relatively small, so you will get plenty of attention to answer all your questions.

Because you are mountain biking, not just road biking, everything is different. Mounting, dismounting, cornering, descending, foot position, and arm position are distinct from the techniques of road cycling. Also, there will be a variety of rental bikes there. You can get a feel for different bikes and see what you like when buy one in the future.

After taking a clinic, you will be patting yourself on the back because you will remember the wise words and advice of your coach when barreling down that hill. Going to a clinic or MTB camp is the number one thing you can do to lay a solid foundation for mountain biking.

Mountain Biking Styles

Manufacturers categorize their bikes based on the styles below.

Fat biking is, well, fat. The tires are at least 3.7 in (9.4 cm) and can be as wide as 5 in (12.7 cm) or more. As a result, you can travel through snow and sand quite easily. For beginners, it is quite easy to use because they are very forgiving on a rough terrain; it is very hard to fall off your bike. Even though they are meant for fine grain terrain, you are not limited to those areas, you can use a fat bike anywhere you like.

Trail biking is the most common, but there is no specific kind of racing to this style. These kinds of bikes are all-purpose, so they are perfect for riding a mixture of climbs and descents. They will cover the terrain for a weekend getaway. These bikes are efficient, fun, and a reasonable weight, perfect for people who want a general purpose bike.

All-mountain/enduro biking is trail riding on steroids. The hills can burn out your legs and the descents can be quite long. There are plenty of man made and natural features, so keep your eyes up. Bikes for these trails are light and nimble. The word enduro comes from the racing world. In these kinds of races, the uphill is untimed, but the down hill is, so it is important to fly down the hills.

Downhill/park style biking is like a ski resort, but for mountain biking. You take a lift up the hill and then can travel down the hill. For this style, you need a full-face helmet and body armor. The bikes do not have much suspension, more durable components, and fewer gears. Be careful though. You fly down hills, so you have to quickly react to the terrain as it appears.

Cross country biking is about riding and climbing fast. If you are thinking about competitions in the future, then this is the style for you. Distances range from a few miles to upwards of 25 miles (40 km). Because of the emphasis on competition and distance, bikes are lightweight and efficient.

Buy a New Bike

An old, used, and outdated bike will not do you any favors. It is more likely to break down and slow you down. Mountain biking is a relatively new area for bikes, so you need a modern bike to handle the hills, turns, and challenges you will face. You can find deals in end of year clearance sales, demo bikes, and unsold floor models. They are all new and they will all work well.

When talking to a sales rep, ask a lot of questions. A bike is an expensive purchase, so you should know all about what you are getting into. Also, do not be restricted by your current ability when buying. A bike is a long term commitment, so you are getting it for your future skill level, not for the level you are at now.

When purchasing, seriously consider dual suspension. It makes life a lot easier for your rear end. Also, a hard tail will help you build skills that you desperately need. Both of these can up the price.

If you do not like the bike, you can always resort to Craigslist or eBay. It is not the end of the world.

How to Dress for Mountain Biking

When mountain biking, a proper pair of clothes will make life a lot easier. For each style, a different set of clothing is required. The style you choose dictates what you wear.

Shorts: you can either wear tight-fitting shorts or loose fitting ones. The latter are a lot more comfortable, but, if too baggy, they can get caught up in your bike. If you are a casual mountain biker, then loose fitting ones will be your best bet. The former, though, are good for competition racers. If you see yourself racing, then go with the tight shorts. Either way, use padded shorts. They give you the extra cushion you will need.

Jersey: just like the shorts, jerseys can be either loose fitting or tight. Plenty of jerseys have a fair amount of pockets, but, if it does not suffice, then a backpack will work give you plenty of room to store you belongings. Aim to get one that dries out quickly and washes easily.

Gloves: these are underrated. When your grip gets sweaty, these will help. If your hands or wrists get tired, then a solid pair of gloves will pick up the slack. Full fingered gloves keep your hands warm on those frost bitten days. If you want finger less gloves so you can pick up things easier, that works too. Either way, you will have more grip, fall safer, and keep your hands warmer with a pair of gloves.

Top Beginner Tips

When mountain biking, you should have know some handy tips to help you out.

  1. Ride at your own pace. Even if someone is barreling past you, it won’t matter at the end of your ride. It may seem like you are going slow or a bit faster than most, but it is okay. This is not a race. If you have to walk up that hill or take a break, there is not a mountain biker who has not done that before. Take your time and enjoy yourself.
  2. Watch other people. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what to do. If you see someone else do a jump or take a corner really well, then they are doing something right. How did they do it? What did they do on their the bike to enable them to do that? If you pay attention to them, then you can do it yourself.
  3. Gravity makes life easier. Speed can be scary, but it can also be your friend. If you ride fast down a hill, then it will seem almost effortless to go up the next one right after. If there is a rock in your path, then your speed will make going over it painless. Use gravity to your advantage.
  4. Watch the trail ahead. Sometimes there is bend ahead or a sudden rocky patch. You need to be aware, so you do not get caught off guard. When you look ahead, you can plan how you will confront the terrain in front of you. It makes mountain biking hassle free.
  5. Forget the underwear. If you are wearing tight biking spandex, you do not need underwear. The spandex is tight, so you do not have to worry about it. They are designed to fit right against you for maximum aerodynamics.

Shoes and Pedals

Platform pedals, if you are a beginner, then you will probably want to do without clips. You will be able to get off and on the bike much more easily. It improves your technique and prepares you for clipped pedals. They make the transition much smoother.

Clipless pedals, despite the name, these do attach to your shoes. You have more control, but also more responsibility. If the terrain turns rough, you have to commit more. Be aware that you can adjust them, so that some shoes come off the bike easier than others.

When learning to ride on these, give yourself plenty of time and start easy. If there is one thing that will deter you from biking in the future, it is diving in too deep right off the bat. Start off on something like a grassy field or a light hill, where you can fall without hurting yourself badly.

Mountain Biking Accesories

Mountain bike helmets keep you safe. Always wear one. They offer more protection than do road bikes. Look for one that has plenty of ventilation and protection at the back of the head. If down hill biking, you are going to want a full face model. All helmets, though, will give you plenty of protection.

Hydration packs keep you well hydrated. In hiking, you can stop at any moment and take a swig of water on the side of the trail. When it comes to mountain biking though, it is more difficult. The convenience of a hydration pack makes life a lot easier. You can sip while you ride.

Chamois butter prevents chaffing. In your nether regions, skin rubs against skin. With chamois butter (or Vaseline), it can alleviate some pain you are experiencing. Use it before a long ride or even short rides. It makes the adventure a lot more comfortable.

Other accessories like quick repair kits and brushes help you maintain your bike in the field. You can also consider something like a bike computer to keep track of your distance. These are all add-ons to the bike.

Final Words

Mountain biking is a wonderful activity. You strengthen your legs through uphill climbs and feel the adrenaline rush by zooming downhill. At the top of a good vantage point, the view is breathtaking. It is a spectacular adventure. You are now ready to embark on a fun fueled experience.

If you have any thoughts, questions, or think anything was missed, do not hesitate to comment below and please do share this article. Thank you so much and I hope you make it a great day!

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22 Comments on “A Beginner’s Guide to Mountain Biking – Getting Started”

  1. Mountain biking sound like great fun but also scary on extreme courses. I’ve been doing some research as I’d like to get into this sport but just don’t know if I’ve got the guts for big drops. Also, never worn spandex before. I guess there is a first time for everything.

    Thank for your tips Alex. It has given me some confidence to try it.

    1. Hey Vince, mountain biking is a lot of fun, but it also takes a lot of trust in yourself. Spandex do take some getting used to. It is good to know that you have been inspired by this article. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  2. I dig this whole website. I liked the tips you provided for beginners looking to try out mountain biking. I myself do bmx and some distance cycling. Mountain biking is on my radar! Any advice on how to save up enough money for a mountain bike? haha.
    Well overall this site is great man and keep it up.

    1. Hey Anthony, I appreciate the compliment. It is good to know that you found these tips helpful. Unfortunately, I do not have any advice on saving money to buy a mountain bike. That is a job of another website. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  3. Great content, I feel like a biking expert after that!

    I used to do some mountain biking when I was younger, looking at those pictures reminds me of the amazing scenery you get to experience 🙂

    1. It is wonderful to hear that you found it helpful Jen. It must have been a blast to mountain bike when you were younger. The pictures are quite nice. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  4. You’ve done well covering the essentials for people who want to start mountain biking! This is extremely helpful, thank you 🙂

  5. I used to do a fair amount of Mountain Biking when I was a kid. I also crashed a lot when I was going down hills, because I flat out refused to brake. As a kid, we do stupid things.

    As a result, I crashed my bike many times. None were serious, but I could have definitely benefited from taking one of these classes. I was unaware they were available. Is there a site dedicated to these types of classes, or do you just google it?

    1. Hey Ernest, it is wonderful to hear about your experience as a kid. I had the same problem quite a lot too. It is important to stay safe. 

      When it comes to finding classes, my best suggestion would be to Google search for classes near you or call up your local bike shop. Google is your best fried for these kinds and your local bike shop will be able to give you some direction. I hope this helps you.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  6. I recently moved to the Blue Ridge Mountains and took up hiking. However many of the people in the circle are also into mountain biking and want me to get into it as well.

    It looks like a great way to spend the day and explore the area. Your article has been very helpful, I learned a ton here!

    I may need to work on getting into shape a bit before I make this leap. Any suggestions on where I might start with that issue?

    1. It is good to hear you moved to the Blue Ridge Mountains. They sound quite beautiful and peaceful. Mountain biking is a wonderful way to enjoy the scenery. 

      If you are trying to get in shape for mountain biking, I suggest you start small at consistent pace, but think big. In other words, practice on a regular basis and push yourself a bit more each time. If you go hard all at once, you will discourage yourself and set yourself back. Do something that you will stick with. I hope this helps you.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  7. Hi Alex

    I am in the processing of becoming a mount biker and your great information has really given good tips on becoming a Mountain biker, kindly tell me which model would you recommend for a beginner?

    1. Hello Mercy, it is good to know that you found this information helpful. When selecting a mountain bike, this is the kind of thing you want to a store for. They will explain everything to you. You can try out different bikes at the same time and get a feel for them. They are experts. I hope this helps you.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  8. I am a novice mountain bike rider but I have acquired some decent gear over the past 5 years.

    You have hit on so many things that took me many years to discover but once again you have a lot of great information here that is really easy to follow.

    I appreciate your insight and the topics you cover. My kids and I love the outdoors. We still have to drag their mom along but I have been able to convince them that the outdoors is much better than sitting in a city and playing video games. Sorry, that is a slight exaggeration but you probably get my point.

    1. It is wonderful to hear that you have acquired some decent gear. I appreciate the compliment on my article. You are right that it takes some dragging to get people to go on a mountain bike ride if they aren’t careful with the time they allot for video games.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  9. Our nephew would like to get more seriously involved in mountain biking , your article has inspired him to approach a local clinic to learn from the experts. Like you mention, mountain biking along rough terrains requires an entirely different approach when compared to road biking which he daily rides. To learn the proper techniques of mounting & dismounting to cornering & descending along with the correct cycling positions will be an invaluable start to his serious mountain biking journey.

    Thanks for the info,

    1. It is wonderful to hear this article inspired your nephew Simon. Mountain biking requires a different approach from that of road biking. The techniques are different.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  10. Alex,

    I prefer to trail ride. As a senior person, the other stuff is a little out of my comfort zone. Riding with a hydration system and a handle bar bag is the way I go. Helmet and good pair of shoes comes next. The weather tells me what to wear, I prefer not to ride in the rain if possible.

    Biking has been a part of my life since I can remember. Your information will help those who wish to begin or are having troubles with equipment.

    I am taking my 12 year old son on most of my journeys now, he is starting to want to go out on his own to break new trails. What do you think is a proper age to start on mountain biking?


    1. Yes John, trail riding is quite fun. There is a lot of variety to do so. I tend to be a minimalist when I ride too. It is good to know you have been biking for quite a while now.

      In regards to your question, someone is able to mountain bike when they are physically capable. If someone can only start when they are 20, then it is the case. To mountain bike, it takes some training if the hills are quite large. If both of you feel confident in his ability, then go for it. I hope this helps you.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  11. Hi there,

    I enjoyed reading your post as I’m a fan of mountain bike and I’m now initiating my teenage son and most the points here are very useful for him.

    You write it in a very clear and simple way that he was very excited to the idea we will be riding soon. I could never convince him that he doesn’t need an underwear with a tight biking spandex and thank you for touching that clearly and simply.

    I’m looking forward to more posts from you
    Thank you.

    1. It is good to know you enjoyed this article Babacar. 

      Even though he may think you need underwear when you wear mountain biking spandex, you do not.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

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