Mountain Biking 101

Mountain biking is one of the great lifetime sports. You can start when you’re eight and keep pedaling into your eighties. You don’t have to live near the mountains, either. Some of America’s best off-road cycling can be found in Florida, Michigan and Texas–places where the nearest decent size hill is hundreds of miles away.

Here are five basic tips to help you get started:

1. Buy your bike from a reputable bike shop. Professional bicycle retailers know how to help you select the right bike and they have the experience to fine-tune your basic set-up—particularly the saddle height and handlebar position—to assure comfortable riding for years to come. Most bike shops offer a free (or discounted) tune-up after three months. When you buy a bike from a store that specializes in selling bikes you begin a relationship that should provide years of reliable service and useful advice.

2. Do a little research to find great places to ride. Whether you’re planning to pedal pavement or dirt, you’ll probably be surprised by the number of opportunities close to home. Start by asking the staff of a local bike shop. Then contact the parks and recreation department of your city and county; they may have maps or phone numbers you can dial for more information. State and national forests boast abundant unpaved roads and trails, most of which are likely to be open for bicycle use. The Web is a great place to find trails; begin your search with these words; (name of your state) mountain biking trails. In the last three years, more than 100 new mountain biking guidebooks have been published that focus on U.S. trails. Find them at a local bike shop, bookseller, or public library. Many states publish a state recreation map that shows trails.

3. Be prepared. No matter where you ride, always wear an approved bicycle helmet. Other essential off road riding gear includes a spare tube and tire levers, a pump, cycling gloves, a chain tool, and three or four standard allen wrenches. Two common mistakes many mountain bikers make are not bringing enough water and forgetting to pack a lightweight rain jacket.

4. Follow these simple riding tips. If your bike fits, you know where you’re riding, and you have all the necessary gear, you should enjoy a great ride. Pedaling narrow trails requires a few special skills that you can develop and improve during every ride.

  • Start by keeping your arms flexed—not locked.
  • On rocky or rutted trails, try to follow the path of least resistance. Imagine where you want your bike to go, and don’t focus on the obstacles you want to avoid (because if you do, you’ll probably hit them).
  • Learn to use both your front and back brakes.
  • On steep climbs, lower your elbows and drop your upper body closer to your bike’s top tube. This will help you maintain tire traction.
  • Finally, hold the handlebar firmly but not with a death grip. Too much squeezing will make you tired and increase the likelihood that you’ll make steering mistakes.

5. Pedal responsibly. Follow IMBA’s universally recognized Rules of the Trail. Ride on open trails only. leave no trace. Control your bicycle. Always yield the trail to other trail users. Never scare animals. Plan ahead.