Learning to mountain bike is hard. There’s no way around it, mountain biking has a pretty steep learning curve and some high consequences for failure. Most people don’t know how to start mountain biking so we have some tips that will make sure mountain biking for beginners isn’t always such an uphill (sic) struggle! So, please read through our list of the top 5 things you can do or bring on an MTB ride to make sure you have an epic day on local mtb trails near you.
Plan your mountain bike ride
The first thing you should do, before you get on your trusty steed is make a plan. Where are you riding? How far are you riding? Where are you riding? What’s the weather forecast? All of these questions will determine how much mtb gear you will need, how much fuel for riding you will need and what kind of mtb clothing you will need.
There’s no need to head out on a 90 minute local mtb trail loop packed for a trip to Patagonia! Likewise, you never want to be unprepared for anything that might happen out on a mountain bike ride in the backwoods.
Buy a mountain bike
The first item on our list is, obviously, a mountain bike. How much you spend, whether you buy a regular mtb or an eMTB, hardtail or full suspension mountain bike is all up to you. Our recommendation is that you consider the types of mtb trails near you, the trails you plan to ride in the foreseeable future and then check in with you local bikeshop and see what mountain bikes they recommend.
At a minimum we would recommend getting an mtb with front suspension, disc brakes and if it’s in your budget, a dropper post. All of these items will make life on the trail for a new mountain biker (or even an experience mountain biker) that much better an experience.
There are hundreds of mountain bike helmets to choose from. Every style, color, size you can think of is out there. Considerations when purchasing a mountain bike helmet are similar to those when purchasing a new mountain bike. Where are you riding? What conditions are the trails in? Do I need a full face helmet? How about an All Mountain Helmet? Our recommendation is that you always purchase a helmet that meets or exceeds the standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. These standards are designed to ensure a riders head has a certain level of protection from injury. Many manufacturers also have their own standards which test & rate helmets at higher than required standards. Giro, for example uses a technology called MIPS (Mulitidrectional Impact Protection System) in their MTB helmets which is designed to reduce the energy transmitted to your brain in the event of an impact. Ultimately it’s your choice which helmet to buy, but buying the best helmet you can is an investment you won’t regret.
Remember, helmets are designed for single impacts only. After a fall be sure to replace your helmet. Many mtb helmet manufacturers have crash replacement programs to allow you to replace a damaged helmet at a discount.
Protective MTB Wear
Falling off a mountain bike isn’t fun, but you can minimize it’s effects with some well thought out protective mountain bike gear. At a minimum we recommend knee pads, gloves and sturdy mtb shoes (flat shoes and pedals are best for beginner mountain bikers). In fact, we require that our MTB Coaching Clients wear at least knee pads & gloves in addition to their helmet. There are many more protective items you can buy, elbow pads are strongly recommended as is some form of eye protection, (MTB goggles or glasses) you don’t want to take a bug, branch or dirt to the eye when riding. Once you improve your skills and are riding gnarly trails (it will come) then you can look into chest/back and neck protection. Those of you with nagging wrist injuries could also invest in some top-of-the-line Wrist Braces.
The key takeaway here is that protective mtb gear is designed to limit injury to the rider, it works and at a minimum you should ride with a helmet, eye protection, knee pads, gloves and proper mtb shoes.
Mountain Bike Clothing
Wearing clothing designed specifically for riding will make your ride more enjoyable. You will be cooler (in temperature…maybe in looks too), safer (nothing to catch in the chain etc) and more comfortable. MTB clothing has a bike specific fit designed specifically for the typical forward leaning position you are in when riding a mountain bike. This helps with comfort and your ability to maneuver your mtb. You can buy men’s specific or women’s specific mtb clothing from most manufacturers.
MTB specific clothing keep you cooler by wicking away sweat, safer as there is no loose material to catch in your bike or trailside obstacles and it’s made of tougher rip resistant materials. A windbreaker is also useful for colder days on the local
What to take in your Mountain Biking Pack
We are assuming that you are riding with a hydration pack, but most of the following can be applied to those who enjoy a more minimal pack free riding experience. First of all, hydration. Make sure you have enough fluid to cover the expected time of your ride. A good rule of thumb is 20 fl oz/hr depending on your weight and fitness level. You don’t have to lug 10L of fluid with you, just plan for a way to refill somewhere. We find mid-ride coffee stops or sandwich stops most enjoyable or if you are shuttling just keep water in the car. The next item you should carry is food, we aren’t talking a full meal, but some sort of snack for energy. We are big fans of bananas, trail mix, fig bars & of course PB&J! Have you heard the saying “If you fail to plan, then you are planning to fail”? Well, if you don’t bring a toolkit that’s exactly what you will be doing. There are a myriad of options for tools these days. We like the stealth option of the OneUp EDC or the Specialized Swat tool as they take some weight off your back. If you go for the OneUp you can stash it inside a pump, another essential item along with tire levers, a tube and Zip-ties (great for trailside repairs). The final essential item on our list is a first aid kid. You should carry enough to handle typical trailside emergencies. We recommend the Recon Medical IFAK Kit from Tact-Med at a minimum.
Carry what you think you will need, but don’t skimp on the essentials!
Learn to ride a mountain bike
The last item on our list is technically a bonus item, as it’s number six. But, if you are new to mountain biking then one of the best things you can do is take a couple of mountain bike lessons with a Professional Certified Mountain Bike Coach. It will do wonders for your confidence, safety on the trail, safety of others on the trail and your overall riding ability. It’s unlikely that you would take up any other new sport without some level of coaching. Taking up a sport like mountain biking, where there is a real risk of injury, without a minimal level of instruction therefore seems crazy, yet many many people do this every year. Don’t become an injury statistic, take a couple of MTB Coaching Sessions and see how fast your mountain bike riding improves!
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Do you need EVERYTHING on this list?
Thanks for reading our guide to Mountain Biking for Beginners. You won’t need every item on this list for every ride, but we wanted to cover the typical questions new riders have.
Remember, when heading out for a ride – plan where you are going, check the weather and tell someone your plans. Oh, and have fun!