Do you like the thought of being out in nature and getting great exercise at the same time? If you answered yes, then mountain biking could be the sport for you.
Mountain biking isn’t about riding up mountains - though you can ride up and down them if you want. Started in the US in the 1960s, using bombproof bikes based on kids’ coaster bikes like the Raleigh Chopper, these sturdy machine with their knobbly tyres and tough brakes are designed to cope with anything you might encounter riding the trails.
What’s your style?
There are five different styles of mountain biking and the one you like best will impact on the bike you buy.
Trail riding is usually a fun activity with friends on light and efficient bikes, while cross country focuses on speed and climbing proficiency and requires a pacier bike. Enduro riding is like trails riding on steroids with bigger everything for a really leg-sapping experience. Enduro bikes are designed to handle flying downhills and yet be light enough for the climbs. Downhill is all about careening from the top of the climb to the bottom as fast as possible on a bike with plenty of travel in the suspension, fewer gears and more durable components. Finally fat biking uses bikes with giant tyres that can be up to 5 inches wide making them ideal for snow, sand and general trails. They’re also a great choice for beginners thanks to the fact that they’re very forgiving, whatever the terrain.
Invest in a mountain bike
So let’s start this beginner’s guide to mountain biking by looking at what your mountain bike should deliver.
- Aluminium bikes are light, strong and relatively inexpensive - a decent hardtail with a suspension fork and rigid frame will set you back around £1000, but entry level models cost around half that.
- The combination of suspension fork and rear suspension not only gives a more comfortable ride over rough terrain, but keeps your tyres in better contact with the ground.
- Disc brakes rule in mountain biking, as they can cope with mud and water with ease.
- Choose between original 26 inch fat bike tyres, 29 inchers for a better roll over bumpy ground (great for beginners) or the 650B that allows for better suspension.
Once you’ve found a bike that delivers the qualities you’re comfortable with, it’s time to grab your gear and hit the trails.
You and your kit
Obviously you need to invest in a bike, and there are certain other pieces of kit that are must haves. Others you can choose to add as you get more into the sport.
Top of your essentials list should be a helmet. There are plenty of arguments about helmets for riding on the road, but mountain biking can be a dangerous sport, so we recommend you find a helmet that fits and is comfortable to protect you over rough terrain. Your helmet should fit snugly without excessive movement and have a secure chin strap with pieces that fit over the ears.
Next on the list for beginners is a good pair of gloves. Find a pair that fit well, feel comfortable and give a full range of movement. When you first start out you’ll crash, probably a lot, and your gloves offer great protection. They’ll also protect your hands from blisters created by the vibration of riding over rutted ground.
Finally, don’t head out for a ride without a small rucksack with water, snacks, a pump, a puncture repair kit and a multitool. Nothing’s worse than looking forward to a great day’s riding and having it ruined within minutes by an untimely puncture that you can’t fix.
You don’t need any special riding kit to get started, but over time, you’ll want to invest in a dedicated jersey and shorts with a good chamois, sunglasses to protect your eyes from any flying stones and debris, and some comfortable socks to wick moisture from your feet.
Essential riding tips
- Start off slow and steady - once you’re confident on your bike, you can really begin to challenge yourself
- Learn to switch between a neutral riding position and an active one - get out of the saddle, hunch over and keep the knees and arms relaxed to cushion any impact
- Be aware of what lies ahead on the trail and be ready to deal with it
- Learn to brake with a light and consistent pressure on front and back brakes at the same time to avoid crashing
- Plan your route and don’t overstretch yourself - and either ride with friends or let someone know where you’re riding
- Get fit! Your body takes a pounding during a day’s riding, so do some weights, yoga for your core and ride your road bike to improve your bike handling skills
Getting started with a club
British Cycling has plenty of information about getting into mountain biking, including a list of mountain bike centres around the country that offer all the facilities you need to get started, including clearly marked trails of varying degrees of difficulty.
You can also find a mountain bike club which is a great way to quickly build skills and confidence. You can go out on group rides and benefit from coaching sessions that will have you riding the trails like a pro in no time.
Find professional coaching
If you think you’d benefit from professional tuition, there are plenty of mountain biking schools and courses run by professionals who’ll help you to analyse your riding style to really get the most out of your riding experience. Tuition is never cheap, but it is a surefire way to really get the best out of your investment in a mountain bike and the related equipment.
Simply search for ‘Mountain Bike training near me’ and then contact the providers that offer the skills and experience you need to get out on the trails having the time of your life.