18th May, 2017
A few people have asked me recently how to get started mountain biking so I pulled together a few thoughts.......
Where can I ride?
In England and Wales, you can ride on bridleways, byways open to all traffic, restricted byways, unsurfaced roads,
Forestry Commission stone tracks, some unsurfaced Forestry Commission tracks, Forestry Commission mountain bike trails, cyclepaths and cycletracks as well as canal towpaths and purpose built mountain bike trails. Scotland has more relaxed rules and you have the right to access most land for recreation. It is worth checking with a local shop or club if you are unsure where to ride. Trail centres are an ideal starting place as the trails will be graded; green are the easiest, blue are a bit harder, then up to red and then black. You can often hire a mountain bike at trail centres so you can try before you buy!
What kit do I need?
A reasonable, basic hard-tail (front suspension only) mountain bike can be bought for £500-£800, generally you will get a higher spec and lighter hard-tail for your money compared to a full suspension bike. Hard-tails need less maintenance too and certainly improve your bike handling skills. That said good maintenance and cleaning is a must in the winter months or wet conditions.
If you already have cycling kit for riding on the road then this will be fine for mountain biking, but if you want to clip in then you will need mountain bike specific shoes with recessed cleats suitable for walking if needed. Don’t forget your gloves, they give you better grip, therefore better control, protect your hands if you come off and keep you warm!
Consider carrying a small backpack or hydration pack with some water and snacks to keep you hydrated and fuelled as well as waterproof jacket. A spare inner tube, tyre levers and a pump (that you know how to use!) are essential in case you get a puncture and a basic first aid kit is always a good idea. Always carry your phone and let someone know where you are going if riding solo.
To enjoy mountain biking it is worth spending some time practising skills and techniques for off road riding. You can watch videos on the British Cycling Insight Zone, You Tube or invest in some tuition to master the skills needed to ride fast and efficiently on more technical terrain. Always ride within your own technical ability and fitness. If you have any doubt about your ability to ride a section of trail, walk it first and take a look.
Look ahead as far as you can so you can spot easiest line/route though any obstacles, roots, trees, muddy sections, rocks etc.
When you coast/freewheel, try to keep your pedals level so they don’t bang into tree stumps or rocks.
Always look where you want to go! If you look at the tree you will go towards the tree!
Adjust your speed and gearing before obstacles.
Standing up and freewheeling with your feet level gives better control over the bike allowing it to move under you and allowing you to roll over most things. ‘Unweighting’ the bike, allows you to absorb bumps by using your arms and legs alongside any suspension your bike may have.
To descend stand up on the pedals, and keep your arms and legs soft at the joints to soak up the bumps. Keep your body low and move your hips back so they’re above and slightly behind the saddle.
Keep your pedals level, but drop your heels so you are braced against them. Then if you have to brake or you hit a bump, you can absorb the force of your body pushing forward using your legs, not your arms and handlebars. This should also stop you flying over the handlebars if you need to stop suddenly.
Spot the climbs in plenty of time and change into an easy gear in advance. Generally it is better to sit and spin at a steady pace in an easy gear up hills rather than stand and pedal hard, as you are less likely to lose traction.
Control your speed coming into corners, brake beforehand to a speed your are comfortable with, and roll through.
Stand up, keep your knees flexed and open wide, and lean the bike underneath you. Dropping the outside foot and putting your weight through this foot will push down on the tyre and give you added traction.
A mountain bike is designed to roll over obstacles like rocks and roots. When you approach an obstacle, look ahead to it, then look on to your exit point, keep your eyes on the exit point and try not to look at the obstacle as you ride through it.
Riding off road is more demanding usually than road riding as the uneven terrain means every ride is an interval session! The more technical nature of mountain biking means it is more of a total body workout so not only will you ache in some new places you will also require more recovery than for an equivalent time spent riding on the road.