If you want to start mountain biking, then you don’t need to subject yourself to the terror and skill involved with navigating the Red Bull Rampage. Getting out in the fresh air for some exercise, and plenty of fun are the only expectations you need to have a good time on your bike. Here are some beginner mountain biking tips to make your ride a little easier.
What is Mountain Biking? It’s the thrill of adventure, the exhilaration of speed, and the enjoyment of being out in nature, all rolled into one exciting sport.
What Is Mountain Biking to You?
Taking your biking adventure off-road onto trails and tracks is an exhilarating way to spend your morning. Flying down the hillside on a thin dirt line with the backdrop of mountains and dense forest makes you realize why you love being alive.
Any mountain biker will tell you that riding on the dirt is very different from cycling on the road. Off-road riding offers unpredictable terrain with occasional risks. Taking a wipeout on a beginner ride can leave you feeling discouraged with the sport.
As a mountain biker, you take the sport as seriously as you want. If you feel like biking down a few quiet trails on the weekend with some friends, then that’s fine. If your dream is to compete in extreme mountain biking competitions, then that’s great too.
The types of mountain biking popular with enthusiasts vary depending on the interests of the biker. Some might focus on calories burned mountain biking, keeping them in shape and feeling fit. Others might want to feel the thrill of racing down treacherous terrain at high speed.
Different people have different goals for what they want out of the sport. However, all beginners pretty much start on an even playing field when it comes to skill level.
Top Beginner Mountain Biking Tips
If you’re a new rider, you don’t need to spend hours trying to find the holy grail of how to mountain biking articles or videos.
We want you to take to the trail like a duck to water. In this brief guide, we’ll run through some beginner mountain biking tips that keep you safe and enhance the enjoyment of your ride.
Tip #1 – Riding Position
Your body position while riding is the most critical key to a successful experience.
Riding off-road trails involve blasting down dirt straights, avoiding rocks and large stones, jumping over roots, navigating ruts, and traversing over sand or mud surfaces.
All of these riding terrains offer a unique rider experience. Therefore, you need to make sure that you position yourself for movement and balance when riding your bike over each type of terrain.
Beginners can take note of the two riding positions when learning to navigate any type of terrain on their bike.
Position 1 – Neutral
If you’re making your way through the less technical sections of the trail, you need to have a neutral riding position.
The neutral position keeps your bike rolling while allowing for a quick transition to the ready riding position when approaching technical parts of the course or trail.
The neutral riding position is as follows.
- Pedals in the level position with weight distributed evenly
- Slight bends in the elbows and knees
- Your index finger on the brake lever, those bikers using rim-brake systems might require 2-fingers on the lever
- Your eyes are looking forward, 15 to 20-feet ahead at all times. Focus on the line.
Position 2 – Ready
When you start to enter steeper, rocky parts of the course, things turn technical. In this terrain, you need to move to the ready position.
The ready position allows you to respond to immediate changes in the course terrain, such as seeing a root pop up around a corner, requiring you to jump over it without hesitating. Some riders call the ready position the “attack” position.
The details of the ready position include the following.
- Level pedals with even weight distribution
- Deep bends in the knees and elbows
- Glutes off of the saddle
- Hips shifted back, past the saddle-pole line
- Back low to the frame of the bike, parallel to the ground
- Index finger on the brake (2-fingers for rim-brake systems)
- Eyes focused on holding the line 10 to 15-feet in front.
The ready position increases your center of gravity, allowing you to maneuver quickly when necessary to avoid a mistake that could result in a wipeout.
The biggest tip is to focus on the line, and ensure that you’re looking for any peripheral obstacles. Riding technical parts of trails or courses is a lot of fun, but make sure you stick to your experience level.
Technical sections in some off-road trails can be downright scary for beginners, leading to a severe injury.
Tip #2 – Adjusting Saddle Height and Positioning
Choosing the correct saddle position for climbing and descending can make all the difference to your ride.
When climbing, position your saddle for pedaling performance. You should have a slight bend in your leg at the bottom of your pedal stroke. Aim for 85% to 95% full leg extension through each pedal stroke.
When descending, drop the saddle 2 to 3-inches lower than the ascending height. This saddle position lowers your center of gravity, giving you control and confidence when flying down steep descents.
Every rider has their preference for an ideal saddle position. Play around with your saddle position to find out what works for you.
Tip #3 – Setting Your Line
One of the biggest beginner mistakes is looking at the place they don’t want to go. For example, the newbie comes racing around a corner to find they suddenly have to move around a tree.
Unfortunately, the pressure and stress of the situation can make the newbie look straight at the tree, instead of the line.
The body follows the eyes, and if they are staring at the tree, then that’s where they end up going. The result is a crash that can cause a visit to the hospital.
Newbies must learn to focus on the trail, looking 15 to 20-feet ahead on open sections, and 10 to 15-feet ahead on technical parts of the trail or track.
Tip #4 – Braking
Braking might seem like a simple concept. Unfortunately, the reality is that braking is a specialist technique, and it takes the rider some time to get in tune with braking forces on their bike at different speeds and on different types of terrain.
As a mountain biker, you need to learn how to keep your braking consistent and controlled. The majority of the bike’s braking power comes from the front wheel, but grabbing a handful of front brakes sends you flying over the handlebars.
Smoothly apply pressure to the lever in a controlled and consistent manner, while using the back brake to assist in emergency slowdown situations. Using the rear brakes is a great way to drift around corners, but be careful you don’t skid out.
When braking, remember to position your hips slightly back and prepare your arms to take control of the bars as you apply the brake. Always keep a slight to deep bend in your knees, depending on how hard your braking.
Riders using disc-brake systems can get away with using one finger to work the lever. Rim brake systems require two fingers on the lever at all times.
When to Hit the Brakes
The cardinal rule of braking into turns is to start braking and finish before you enter the corner. Breaking in the turn might result in either the front or rear wheel locking up, forcing you to lose control of the bike. Braking too hard into corners using the back brake results in skidding out.
When approaching the turn, slow down to a speed that allows your momentum to carry you through. Using this strategy, you can concentrate on your technique while powering out.
Beginners need to remember that momentum is your friend when riding trails. Sometimes you need momentum to overcome obstacles in your riding path, and braking too hard causes you to miss a jump or ledge that you would have made if you were moving faster.
Tip #5 – Gear Shifts
Every mountain biker needs to learn to shift through gears efficiently. A proper shifting technique reduces the wear and tear on the gears and chain while allowing you to move between terrains without breaking your pedaling stride.
Shift often – As a beginner, you need to practice shifting through the gears. This practice builds muscle memory, allowing you to shift intuitively after a few sessions.
Shift early – Shift before you start climbing or descending. Beginners that find themselves struggling to choose the right gears should always err to the side of an easier gear than a harder gear.
Another essential tip for newbies is to prevent “cross-chaining.” Cross-chaining occurs when the chain stretches awkwardly between the small cog on the rear wheel, to the small gear on the front, and vice versa, in both triple and double-chainring setups.
Cross-chaining results in the chain popping off of the cog, and it also reduces the service life of the chain by stretching the links. As a final tip, remember to keep pedaling as you shift, or you risk breaking your chain.
Tip #6 – Coming Off
No matter how good you are at mountain biking, sooner or later – everyone falls off. Coming off is just a part of the sport, and it’s something that everyone deals with eventually if they keep riding for long enough.
However, there are a few tips we can give you to help mitigate the damage on both you and your bike when you do take a tumble.
If you do take a minor fall, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and then check your bike for damage before getting back on the saddle. There’s a chance that the fall might twist your handlebars, damage your gears, or your chain might come off.
When falling, learn to brake your fall. Try not to fall with your wrists outstretched, as this can lead to a “FOOSH” (Fall On an Outstretched Hand) injury that can cause damage to blood flow in your thumb.
Tip #7 – Etiquette on the Trails
Most of the time, you’ll be using a trail that has other bikers, or horseback riders, and anyone else who likes hanging out in the Great Outdoors. Follow these rules to show respect to other people on the trail.
- Yield to any bikers traveling uphill
- If you’re on a single track, lift your bike off of the trail and out of the way of the oncoming rider
- Slow down when approaching hikers or horses, and give them plenty of room
- Whistle ahead to anyone with their back turned toward you to let them know you’re coming
Tip #7 – Lesser-Known Gear and Accessories
One of the coolest things about mountain biking is all of the gear and accessories that come with participating in the sport. However, make sure you don’t overdo it with the accessories, and stick to items that provide functional benefits to your mountain biking experience.
The first gear tip is for your shorts. Never wear underwear under your cycling shorts. The friction created from the chaffing motion while pedaling will leave you walking funny for days after you finish your trail.
We highly recommend you pick up dome “Chamois butter” from your local bike shop or online retailer. Rub the butter between your legs before putting on your cycling pants, and never worry about chafing again.
Sunglasses are one of the essential parts of your gear. Sunglasses keep the bugs and dirt out of your eyes when you’re moving down the trail at high speed. Getting something in your eyes could result in you missing your line, hitting an obstacle.
Wrapping Up – Learn the Basic Repair Jobs on Your Bike
Since mountain biking involves navigating rugged terrain, accidents and damage to equipment are more commonplace than it is on the road. While tubeless technology stops the risk of getting a flat, your bike could experience damage like a broken chain, or a cracked or bent derailleur hanger.
Visit a local repair shop and pay attention as they fix your bike. When you’re out on the trail, carry a small repair kit with you to handle minor adjustments, like moving levers that shift after a crash, and the like.
2 thoughts on “Beginner Mountain Biking Tips”
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i’m a runner, not a mountain biker, but this is a great post. Very thorough and informative. I’m always curious about other sports and you’ve given a great guide for anyone looking to get started. Thanks!