Biking Off Road: Ultimate Guide To Getting Started As A Beginner

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Biking off road is a huge amount of fun. Going out into nature off the beaten track to explore is a feeling like no other. In recent years many new riders have started riding dirt but struggle because they don’t know where to start.

For off-road riding, you have a whole different set of bikes and lots of new components you might not have come across on bikes designed for the road or the track.

Here at BikeTips, we get asked many questions from cyclists who want to get started with off-road riding. 

In this article, I am going to tell you everything you need to know to make it as easy as possible, discussing:

  • 4 Incredible Benefits to Biking Off Road
  • How To Pick The Right Off-Road Bike 
  • Complete Kit List For Off Road Biking
  • Getting Your Bike Ready To Ride
  • 6 Essential Tips For Beginner Off-Road Riders

Let’s jump into it!

Biking Off Road: Title Image

4 Incredible Benefits to Biking Off Road

There are infinite reasons why you should start cycling off-road. Here are what I’ve found to be the four most important benefits to my life since I became a mountain biker:

#1. Improve Health And Fitness

Riding a bike is an excellent way to improve your health and fitness. It’s a low-impact form of exercise that can burn many calories and work many muscles in your body simultaneously without huge recovery periods. 

#2. Exploring Nature

Riding off-road is the best way to get out and explore nature. It gives you many different route options to ride, but you can expect no traffic and constant peace and quiet when biking off road. 

#3. Expand Your Social Circle

If you enjoy riding off-road, it’s only a matter of time before you bump into other like-minded cyclists.

Many people take to mountain biking because it’s a great way to make new friends, and there are many clubs to get involved with.

#4. To Challenge Yourself

Cycling is a sport where you will always be able to challenge yourself, but when it comes to off-road riding, there’s not just fitness but a lot of skill involved too. You will always find ways to push your limits and, no matter what ride you’re on, new challenges to tackle.

When it comes to riding off-road, there are many different bikes that you can choose from that will give you different abilities depending on where you’re riding off-road.

Here are some of the most popular:

Two mountain bikers high five on a trail.

How To Pick The Right Off-Road Bike

Mountain Bikes

Mountain bikes are the most popular type of off-road bikes.

They allow you to venture far from the beaten track, exploring the wilderness and leaving civilization behind.

Though there are many different styles of mountain bikes, most can be separated into two categories: full suspension (front and rear suspension) and hardtail (front suspension only).

Gravel Bikes

Gravel bikes are designed for multi-terrain riding and are the choice of many bikepackers and people who want to go on adventures.

They may look similar to road bikes, but with more relaxed geometry and oversized tires, they are perfect for a trail. 

Cyclocross Bikes

Cyclocross bikes are designed for off-road racing. They are made for short muddy racing and a choice of many road biking professionals when it comes to staying fit in the off-season. They are similar to gravel bikes but more aggressive. 

Gravel and cyclocross bikes are very similar, but you can find the differences here in our Cyclocross Vs Gravel Bike article.

Fat Bikes

Fat bikes have huge tires that go as wide as 4”.

They are ideal for very loose terrain and perfect for a comfortable ride. They are rarely seen on trails and are much more suited to unique terrains like snow and sand.

A cyclist wearing black rides a gravel bike on a loose path through an orchard.

Which Type of Off Road Bike Should You Choose?

It can be very challenging when it comes to picking the right ride for your off road biking. There are many different types of off-road bikes, each designed for different levels of off-road riding.

Here are the bikes we recommend for different types of biking off road:

Light Off-Road Riding

We recommend a gravel bike, cyclocross bike, hardtail mountain bike, or light full suspension bike for light off road biking.

Technical Off-Road Riding

For technical off-road riding, consider a full-suspension mountain bike with lots of travel. A downhill mountain bike or enduro bike would be ideal, giving you more ability.

Bear in mind that downhill mountain bikes aren’t very versatile due to their weight.

Loose Terrain And Cruising

You will benefit from a fat bike if you want to ride on loose terrains like sand or just fancy a comfortable cruise on a light trail when biking off road.

A Bit Of Everything

If you are unsure of which direction you want to go in when it comes to riding off-road, the best all-rounder bike you can go for to start with is probably a hardtail mountain bike, or a gravel bike if you think you’d like to do some road riding too.

A mountain biker wearing blue helmet rides a technical trail.

Complete Kit List For Off Road Biking

Cycling generally requires more equipment than most sports, and there are a few extra components when it comes to off-road riding.

For the best experience, here’s what we recommend:

Safety Equipment

Safety is the most important thing when it comes to riding off-road, and if you are going to invest in being a cyclist, having the proper safety equipment is very important.

Here’s the safety equipment we highly recommend having with you as a beginner:

  • Helmet
  • Knee Pads
  • Elbow Pads
  • High Visibility Clothing
  • Protective Eyewear
  • First Aid Kit


Although you can ride a bike in pretty much any clothing, you will get the best experience from wearing proper cycling gear.

From my years or mountain biking, the single most important piece of clothing I’d recommend to someone just getting started is a decent pair of cycling shorts – if you’ve ever suffered from saddle sores then you’ll know what I mean!

Here’s an overview of the mountain biking clothing that’s worth having:

  • Bib Shorts or MTB Shorts
  • Cycling Jersey
  • Gloves
  • Cycling-Appropriate Shoes
  • Rain Jacket

Want to know more? Check out What To Wear Mountain Biking: Ultimate Head To Toe Guide here!


Next, we have accessories that will improve the experience and give you the tools to work on your bike while you are out riding.

Here’s what we recommend you take out with you whenever you go riding:

  • Cyclist’s Multi-Tool
  • Portable Bike Pump
  • Bike Lights
  • Spare Inner Tube 
  • Tubeless Repair Kit (if riding tubeless tires)
  • Water Bottles
  • Food
  • Navigation
  • Phone and Cash (for emergencies)
A cyclist makes some adjustments to their rear derailleur.

Getting Your Bike Ready To Ride

When you first start riding and getting the off-road cycling bug, there are a few things we highly recommend doing. 

Get Your Bike Set Up Right

The ideal start is to have a bike fit, but many cyclists leave that until they are more experienced. It’s definitely not a necessity when you’re starting out.

The most important step to start with is getting the saddle height correct, which is important for comfort, performance, and injury prevention.

Check The Bike

Before every ride, be sure to check your bike.

Ensure the brakes work, the wheels are true, the gears shift properly, and you have the correct pressure in your tires. Also, check your spares and tools kit so if you have any problems, you can fix them on the trail. 

If you check the bike and find you have a flat tire, check out How To Change A Bike Inner Tube on the BikeTips YouTube Channel.

Plan Your Rides

Planning your rides will make the experience so much better.

When you make a plan, you know exactly where you will be exploring, you know how much food and water you will need to take, and it gives you a good idea of what to expect, giving you more confidence. 

Two mountain bikers ride through an Alpine valley.

6 Essential Tips For Beginner Off-Road Riders

As an experienced off-road cyclist who was self-taught for many years, here are the tips I wish someone had told me when I first started riding:

#1. Start With The Basics 

It’s really tempting to want to run before you can walk.

When it comes to riding off-road, perfecting the basics is the key. Start with braking, cornering, body position, and getting used to using the gears properly.

#2. Then, Be Confident

Being new to off-road riding can be scary, and some descents can look impossible to go down.

Once you’ve learned the basic techniques and practiced them on easy slopes, having the confidence to step up goes a long way to improving quickly.

#3. Ride With Others

For me personally, the best improvement I made as an off-road rider was when I took to the trails with someone who was more experienced than me.

Following them down a trail, watching them move, and realizing I could do the same helped build my ability and confidence.

A downhill mountain biker pops a wheelie on a rocky trail.

#4. Choose The Correct Trail

Going on trails that are too easy for you will be boring, and trails that are too hard for you will be overwhelming or even dangerous.

It’s worth doing your research on the bike park trails before you hit them and pick the ones that suit your ability. 

#5. Practice Makes Perfect

The more time you spend on the bike, the better rider you will be.

The term practice makes perfect couldn’t be any closer to the truth. After many miles, I can honestly say the saddle time was the most important factor for building off-road riding skills. 

#6. Learn Bike Maintenance Skills

Look after your bike, and it will look after you!

Learning some basic bike maintenance skills is vital to growing as a cyclist. It will help you with basic fixes such as punctures, and if you keep learning, you could even build your own bike one day, which is an incredibly rewarding experience. 

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Robbie has traveled the globe as an endurance athlete and bikepacker, breaking world records and competing in international ultra-cycling events such as the BikingMan series and the Transcontinental Race. He's also worked as an ambassador for some of the industry's leading names, including Shimano and Ritchey. If Robbie's not on a bike, he's either fixing them or out walking with his dog!

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