Mountain biking is probably the most fun you can have on 2 wheels - more challenging than the road and just as exciting as riding on the track. Mountain biking is all about good times, good company and the thrill of a tough ride through some amazing scenery.
Mountain biking grew up in California in the 1970s as a group of riders who wanted to get off road started designing their own bikes, based on children’s models with fat balloon tyres. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the familiar mountain bike appeared, and it has stayed popular ever since, appealing to riders who like a few more thrills and spills with their riding.
Your bike, your kit
First, you’ll need a bike. You’ll notice the differences between a road bike and a mountain bike straight away, most noticeably the straight handlebars and the knobby tyres. For a first mountain bike, steel and aluminium are durable and hardwearing, with steel having the edge, although it's heavier. The fatter the tyres, the smoother the ride on all types of terrain and fat tyres are a good choice for a beginner.
Next, you need a helmet. If you want to ride the rough stuff, or even head for the high speed pleasures of downhill, you need to protect your head from what can be frequent crashes, especially when you're first starting out. You don’t have to spend a fortune on a helmet, just make sure it conforms to European safety standards and that it’s fully adjustable for a correct fit. No newbie foreheads please - your lid should be level on your head with the forehead protected. Ventilation is important too if you’re going to be out all day, so pay extra for decent vents, or even a switchable aero system that lets you decide the level of ventilation.
Now let’s think about what you should wear when you hit the trails. The number one rule of thumb is that it should be breathable and able to wick moisture from the skin. During the summer, you'll want to hit the dirt in a t-shirt and baggies, and that’s ok too. It pays to have a good merino base layer, a wicking and breathable jersey and some baggy shorts and trousers for the colder weather. It might surprise you that many mountain bikers use bib shorts just like road riders - the padding and protection of a good pair of chamois shorts, worn commando with some good chamois cream, will give you maximum comfort when you’re out for a day in the dirt.
If you’re just starting out, you may prefer standard flat pedals, in which case good trainers will be just fine, though dedicated mountain bike shoes for flat pedals will be stickier and give you excellent contact. If you already ride with cleats on a road bike, you may prefer the same system on your mountain bike, as the stiffer shoes and superior contact really enhance the power transfer through the pedals. When you’re just starting out, good flat pedals and shoes that fit well will give you a comfortable ride. Invest in some proper socks too, as you’ll find they support your feet better, if you want to get out for the whole day.
Lastly, you’ll need a good pair of gloves with excellent grip and padding, to cut fatigue and lessen the risk of injury when you crash. Get yourself some protective glasses too, with clear lenses for visibility -these are an essential piece of gear to avoid the risk of serious injury from tree branches and flying pebbles. They’ll keep the rain and the mud out of your eyes too, for clearer vision when you’re riding in poor conditions.
Once you have some comfortable and protective gear sorted, you’ll need to think about the kit you can’t afford to be without. First, grab yourself a good duffel bag to store everything in and try and find one with some waterproof pockets, so you can store that funky smelling kit after a day in the saddle.
Now add your essential tools - a high powered mini pump, tyre levers, a multitool with a chain breaker and a spare inner tube, so you can deal with any basic repairs and flats the trail might throw at you. It’s also worth investing in premium tyres and a digital tyre pressure gauge - getting your tyres to the right pressure helps prevent punctures and gives your tyres better traction.
Next grab a 2-3 litre hydration pack. Yes, you can carry a bottle in a cage on your bike, but unless you know you’ll be able to replenish your water supply, a dedicated wearable pack gives you a water supply to last throughout the day. Make sure you take enough gels and energy bars, so you don’t suddenly get so hungry that you have to take a break just as the trail gets tough.
When you hit the woods, make sure you have a lightweight first aid kit, your wallet and a smartphone with you. Used with a mount and an app like Strava, your smartphone can double as a pretty decent bike computer, as well as being handy if anything should happen when you’re riding alone and need assistance.
When the day’s ride is done, don’t forget a good quality bike rack to get your bike home safely and without damage, some bike cleaner to maintain your bike after you’ve encountered plenty of mud, and a proper repair stand, so you can do everything from cleaning and repairing to oiling your chain like a pro.
Nice to haves
Once you feel comfortable riding off road, there are some non-essential upgrades that you’re liable to want to make. For example, investing in clipless pedals and compatible shoes is a smart move. You’ll also probably want to invest in some dedicated cold and wet weather gear, like a wind and rainproof jacket and winter shoes, jersey and trousers. Make sure gear is well cut to minimise drag and folds down to fit into your bag.
Then there are the bike upgrades. Carbon is the way forward when weight and handling starts to become an issue, and you’ll want to start riding full suspension for the superior feel. Carbon wheels work supremely well with disk brakes which have been the preferred method of braking in mountain biking for years, thanks to the superior wet weather performance. Mountain bikes can run upwards of £10,000.
If you intend to be out into the evening, good LED lights with a combination of flashing and steady functions are essential and a good headlight will be worth its weight in gold. Unless you fancy an