Undoubtedly the coolest part of my job is helping new people discover the joys of mountain biking. I may be biased, but I think mountain biking is one of the best sports in the world. It's a sport that's accessible everywhere (you just need to be able to go outside). It's a sport with tremendous health and fitness benefits. And most of all, it's a sport that can be enjoyed at just about any age (you'll often see riders ranging from 7 to 77 at mountain bike races and rides all over the US).
Still, it's also a fairly challenging sport with a steep learning curve when you're first getting started. Not to fear though! Here's my starter's checklist for anyone looking to get into the wonderful sport of mountain biking:
While a bike is obviously important, renting or borrowing is usually the best move when first starting out. This allows you to try some different options and to figure out what you like/need before you make a big commitment.
The most important pieces of equipment you'll need to acquire as a new mountain bikers are:
- Cycling shorts
There are of course other things like gloves, glasses, water packs, etc. but these three listed above are key. Making sure you visit your local shop or speak to your cycling friends for some guidance in these three departments will make your introduction to the sport much smoother. Shorts and shoes are your key contact points with the bikes and therefore the trail. While the helmet is important for the obvious safety reasons, it's also a common area of discomfort and can pose temperature control issues if you don't get the right one.
Where you go for your first ride(s) is just as important as what you ride. Even if you're a road cyclist with great fitness or just an all-around athlete, learning the basic skills and techniques of mountain biking on mellow trails is key. If you jump into overly technical riding right off the bat, you'll likely spend most of your time either walking, crashing, or both.
Using the buddy system here is always best. But if you're the first of your friends to jump into mountain biking, no problem! Any local bike shop is going to have trail maps plus experts that can point you in the right direction and get you started on some routes that will allow you to learn and gain some confidence.
Patience and Practice:
One of the biggest challenges when it comes to getting into mountain biking is how difficult it can seem at first. With cycling, you have a fitness barrier that beginners riders have to get over in order to have the strength to really enjoy their time on the bike. And with mountain biking there is also a technical skill barrier. So when you're starting out, it's best to separate these two areas and work on each individually (or the one that you lack, if you already have a background in one). Here's how:
If you're new to cycling, you'll quickly realize that pedaling a mountain bike can be pretty strenuous. Even for healthy, active people, there's a learning curve to adapting that regular/everyday fitness to cycling. The stronger you get though, the more control and enjoyment you're going to have while out riding. The best way to work on this is to simply ride more on easier terrain. Pavement, dirt roads, bike paths, etc. are all great options to allow you to focus on your pedaling and hone in this unique cycling strength without all of the distractions of rocks, roots, and other obstacles you find out on the trail.
Which takes us into that other unique challenge to mountain biking - the technical skill aspect. Like with working on your fitness, the best way to refine your technical skills are to work on them without distraction. To do this, look for flat or slightly downhill trails with some obstacles that are challenging but obtainable for wherever your current skill level is, and ride them while you are fresh. This means riding them before you burn all of your energy on a big climb or big effort in the pedaling department.
The best way to bring these two areas together is to either have certain days where you focus on one or the other, or to break your rides up. For instance, driving to the trailhead and starting with a downhill where you can work on those technical skills. Then utilizing the second half of the ride to build fitness by riding on the road to climb back up to your car. This is a great practice that will allow you to work on both of these key areas while still providing some great mountain biking.
I hope this helps in your adventure into a new sport. I've found that the most delicious fig bar is the one you have out on the trail during a big ride. I think you'll agree!