12 Mountain Biking Tips For Beginners: How To Get Started

Here are our top mountain biking tips for beginners!

The subject of mountain biking is a broad one, 6herefore it can be tricky for beginner mountain bikers to make the most out of their time on the bike.

If you get some of the elements wrong, you may have a negative experience that puts you off riding.

However, you can take out much of the trial and error that comes with a new sport with some guidance. 

In this post, we will give you some invaluable tips for getting started as a mountain biker; you will learn:

  • What kind of mountain bike you need,
  • What to wear on your rides,
  • About mountain bike protection,
  • How quickly you can progress as a rider,
  • About mountain bike maintenance,
  • What you need to carry with you on your rides.

By taking these mountain biking tips for beginners on board, you will be able to enjoy your mountain biking more – they will also keep you safe and save you money in the long term.

mountain biking tips for beginners

1. What Kind Of Mountain Bike Do I Need?

At this early stage, you won’t need to spend too much money, nor will you need anything too fancy.

A decent hardtail trail bike will suit most people. These mountain bikes don’t have rear suspension (hence the name hardtail), but they do have suspension forks. 

Hardtail trail bikes hit the sweet spot for value for money and capability.

The suspension fork on a hardtail reduces the vibrations and soaks up some of the bumps in the trail.

This makes your ride more comfortable and allows you to ride longer before your hands, arms, and upper body become fatigued.

However, if you have more of an idea of the type of riding you want to do, you can buy a bike that is more suited to you.

For example, suppose you’re going to ride long distances. In that case, you could go for a lightweight cross-country bike or one with more aggressive geometry if you want to ride trail centers.

Ultimately, you need to buy a bike that suits your budget and your local terrain. A cheap bike is better than no bike at all. But, you need to remember that you get what you pay for.

More expensive bikes have better components and are more capable on technical terrain than their less expensive counterparts.

mountain biking tips for beginners

2. What Do I Wear?

Clothing specifically designed for a sport helps you perform to the best of your ability while keeping you comfortable.

Sports clothing manufacturers make their clothes to allow optimum movement. They also make them out of technical fabrics to keep you comfortable. Mountain bike clothing is no different.

Don’t Wear Cotton T-Shirts

Wearing an old t-shirt and shorts is a bad idea.

These will make you hot and sweaty when you ride, then you will get very cold when you stop. But, you can prevent this by wearing proper mountain bike clothing.

Proper mountain bike jerseys, shorts, and jackets wick away moisture and allow unrestricted movement while you ride. 

Mountain bike jerseys come in various styles and fits.

For example, a downhill jersey is large and baggy, so you can fit body armor under it. Whereas an enduro jersey is more fitted so it doesn’t flap around when riding at high speeds.

mountain biking tips for beginners

Mountain Bike Shorts And Padding

Mountain bike shorts are made from tough materials to make them durable while giving you protection.

Some mountain bike shorts have padding to make sitting on the saddle more comfortable. If yours don’t, it would be best to buy padded inner shorts, especially for long rides.

Footwear

Some new mountain bikers wear hiking boots or footwear with thick soles.

The problem with this is that you are slightly insulated from the feedback you get through the pedals. You can buy mountain bike shoes with lots of grip, feeling, and shock absorption. 

However, as a novice mountain biker, you would be OK with a pair of skate shoes or something with flat soles. These will give you enough grip on the pedals without compromising the pedal feel.

Mountain Bike Jacket

You also need to dress for the weather conditions. When you are miles from home and shivering in the wind and rain, you will really wish you had bought a jacket.

A good mountain bike jacket will be breathable and waterproof, making you as comfortable as possible. A lightweight jacket that you can stuff in the bottom of your backpack is ideal.

These jackets don’t take up much room, and you can pull them out when the weather gets soggy.

12 Mountain Biking Tips For Beginners: How To Get Started 1

3. Do I Need Protection?

Wear A Helmet

A mountain bike helmet is essential for riding.

You can buy cheap helmets, but these won’t perform well in a crash.

More expensive mountain bike helmets give you more coverage and protection, making your rides safer.

If you ride technical terrain, you may want to buy a full-face mountain bike helmet. But for cross-country and general trail riding, a good open-face helmet will be fine.

Knee And Elbow Protection

You may want to wear knee and elbow pads for your mountain bike rides.

These come in handy during a crash and give you additional confidence when riding challenging trails. There are many different types of elbow and knee pads.

Some are made from hard plastic and give you lots of coverage for maximum protection. Alternatively, lightweight pads are more comfortable but don’t protect you as much in a fall.

12 Mountain Biking Tips For Beginners: How To Get Started 2

4. How Quickly Can I Progress?

How quickly you progress as a mountain biker depends on several things. For example, fitness, confidence, and how often you ride will determine how your skills develop. 

If you are a total beginner, you need to be aware that progressing to a high level takes time. You won’t be hitting big jumps or riding big alpine descents on your first day. 

Be patient with your progress, but try to ride out of your comfort zone regularly. Pushing your limits is the only way you will become a good mountain biker. 

Pushing your limits is scary and can result in falls and crashes. Therefore, you need to protect yourself appropriately.

After a crash, make sure you get back on your bike and try again.

5. Do I Need To Maintain My Mountain Bike?

Maintaining your mountain bike is essential.

You can learn to do many maintenance tasks yourself, which will save you money.

However, if you are short of time or have more technical problems, take your bike to a bike shop.

A good bike mechanic will be able to do the job for you quickly, giving you more riding time.

When To Check Your Bike

You should always check over your bike before or after each ride.

Checking bolts, brake pads, etc., will highlight any dangerous issues that occur.

A good time to check over your mountain bike is when you wash it.

It is an excellent opportunity to inspect and lubricate your bike and check all its bolts are tight. For this, all you need is a small collection of bike tools.

Don’t Ignore Noises From Your Bike

While riding, your mountain bike may develop a squeak or clicking noise, especially if it is brand new. It is essential that you investigate the noise and not ignore it.

It may be a sign of a problem. The last thing you want is a wheel to fall off or a minor problem turning into a serious one.

12 Mountain Biking Tips For Beginners: How To Get Started 3

6. What Should I Carry With Me?

You will often see mountain bikers with backpacks or hip packs while riding. These riders are prepared for every eventuality, which is very wise. They will carry things that will keep them and their bikes going.

Multitool

There are many moving parts on a mountain bike, so something is bound to go wrong at some point.

Therefore, it is always a good idea to carry a multitool with you.

Multitools are like swiss army knives and have all sorts of handy features that allow you to make trailside fixes.

Mech Hanger

If you want to be truly prepared, you may want to carry a spare mech hanger with you.

The mech hanger is a small piece of metal that attaches your derailleur to your bike. It is a sacrificial component designed to break when impacted, protecting your expensive derailleur.

Mech hangers are often specific to the model of your bike; therefore, the chance of a local bike shop having one in stock could be slim.

So it is a good idea to buy one online in advance and keep it in your mountain bike backpack.

12 Mountain Biking Tips For Beginners: How To Get Started 4

Spare Inner Tube

Being able to fix your bike is essential for your fun and safety.

You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere because you couldn’t get it running again. This also goes for punctures, as you cannot ride with a flat tire.

You should carry a spare inner tube or two, tire levers, and a mini pump. These will allow you to carry on riding wherever you are.

Food And Drink

It is important to look after your bike during a ride, but it is also essential to look after yourself. You need to carry food and water with you while mountain biking.

Always carry more than you think you will need, so you are prepared for any unforeseen circumstances.

12 Mountain Biking Tips For Beginners: How To Get Started 5

7. Where To Ride

The good thing about mountain bikes is that you can ride them anywhere. You don’t need to head into epic landscapes and mountainous terrain to enjoy your mountain bike.

Mountain bikers can have fun riding on any unpaved surface, whether in a forest, on a riverbank, or in a mountain bike trail center. Getting out in the fresh air and exercising is great for your body and mind.

You may be lucky enough to live near a mountain bike trail center.

These have maintained trails graded according to their difficulty. Most trail centers use a similar color-coding system as ski resorts. For example:

  • Green – Very easy for beginners
  • Blue – Easy and suitable for people with competent mountain bike skills
  • Red – Difficult, ideal for intermediate to advanced riders
  • Black – Challenging and should only be ridden by experienced mountain bikers

The gradings could indicate how technical or how long the trails are. If you ride a downhill trail graded as black, it may not be long, but it will have jumps, rocks, roots, and other features to contend with.

On the other hand, a black cross-country trail could just be very long. With this in mind, ask around or do some homework, so you don’t get out of your depth.

Trail centers often have skills areas and coaches. These are perfect for progressing your riding, no matter how experienced you are.

mountain biking tips for beginners

8. Get The Perfect Riding Position 

One of the most important parts of riding a mountain bike is your body position.

When you ride in the correct position, you will find riding technical terrain much easier and less intimidating.

There are two main riding positions you should know, “neutral” and “ready.”

Neutral Position

The neutral position is how you hold your body when you are riding tame trails.

It allows you to be comfortable and efficient while riding. Still, it also means you can quickly get into the ready position when necessary.

To be in the neutral position, you need to stand on your pedals with them level and your weight evenly distributed on them.

Your knees and elbows should have a slight bend in them, with your index fingers resting on the brake levers.

You always ride where your eyes are looking, so make sure you look well ahead of you. Also, don’t look at trees; keep your eyes on the gaps between them!

Ready Position

When the trail gets more technical, you want to be in the ready position.

This ensures that your body can cope with rocks, roots, and steepness, but it also switches your brain on, so you can react.

The ready position involves standing on level pedals but with a deeper bend in your knees and elbows.

Your weight should be further back, with your rear end slightly over the rear wheel. Your back should also be flat and almost parallel to the ground.

As with the neutral position, you need to cover your brakes, ready for when you need them. And always keep your eyes on the trail ahead of you.

mountain biking tips for beginners

9. Line Choice

As we have just mentioned, you should always look at where you want to go and not where you don’t want to go.

Beginners often look at the hazards they want to avoid, which causes them to get into trouble.

You need to choose a line and stick to it, which will help you ride challenging sections of the trail. There are several ways of tackling these tricky sections, but how you execute them depends on your speed and skill level.

For example, if you approach a log on the trail, you may need to dismount and step over it. But a more experienced mountain biker may be able to bunny hop over it, maintaining their flow.

On the trails, you need to look out for loose rocks, deep mud, deep puddles, tree roots, people, and animals. By keeping your gaze well ahead of you, you can spot these hazards and have plenty of time to react accordingly.

mountain biking tips for beginners

10. How – And When – To Change Gear

Most mountain bike trails consist of lots of up and downhill sections.

Therefore, you need to change gear properly to help you get up the hills efficiently.

But when you shift gear properly, you also prevent premature wear and tear on your bike’s drivetrain.

Here are some tips for changing gear on your mountain bike:

The first tip is to change gear often as a beginner. You will soon learn when to change up and down the gears by practicing. Eventually, it will become part of your muscle memory, making your shifting more intuitive.

The next thing you need to think about is planning your gear changes. When you approach a steep climb, it is best to get into the required gear before you start to ascend. Being in the correct gear early allows you to maintain your pedaling cadence and get the most power from your efforts.

If you wait until you are on the climb before you change down a gear, your shifting will be awkward and difficult. In addition to this, you put unnecessary strain on your drivetrain that can cause your chain to come off.

When changing gear, it is best to reduce how much effort you put into the pedals. By reducing your effort by about 20%, your gear change will be much smoother.

The final gear-changing tip is that you should make sure you don’t cross your chain. Cross-chaining is when you change gear in a way that stretches your chain.

This can happen on bikes with two or three chainrings at the front, as the chain can sit on the small gear at the front and a larger one at the back.

Cross-chaining stretches your chain and damages your gears over time. It can also cause your chain to come off at awkward moments.

mountain biking tips for beginners

11. The Fundamentals Of Braking

You can get much more out of your rides if you refine your braking technique. Good braking practices allow you to ride faster and stay safer on the trails.

The majority of your stopping power comes from your front brake, so you need to brake with consistency and control. Grabbing the front brake will stop the front wheel, causing you to fly over the handlebars.

Therefore, the proper technique is to apply both brakes evenly and lightly. Braking in this way prevents your bike from skidding, whereas sudden squeezes on the levers will lock up your wheels. 

To stop yourself safely when braking, move your hips back over the rear wheel, drop your heels, and maintain the bend in your knees and elbows. You can easily get into this position from the neutral or ready positions, and it helps you stay in control.

If you ride a mountain bike equipped with disc brakes, you should only use one finger to brake.

Hydraulic brakes are powerful enough for one-finger braking, and it means you have three fingers to grip the handlebars.

However, if your bike has mechanical disc brakes or rim brakes, you may need to use two fingers for braking. The reason for this is that these brakes need more force to slow the wheels down.

mountain biking tips for beginners

12. Mountain Bike Trail Etiquette

The thing with mountain biking is that often you need to share the trails with other riders, hikers, and horse riders.

Therefore, we all need to ride responsibly, so riding is safe and enjoyable.

We can be safe and have fun by using common sense, but there are some guidelines to follow.

If you follow these guidelines, you can be sure that you are doing your bit to be respectful of other trail users and the environment.

Don’t Ride Closed Trails

If a trail is closed, it is closed for a good reason. Reasons for trail closures include:

  • Trail maintenance,
  • Logging,
  • The trail could be blocked,
  • The trail could be washed away,
  • There may be hunting in the area,
  • There may be protected wildlife in the area.

Take Everything Away With You

It is easy to drop trash when you are mountain biking, but you need to ensure that you don’t do this. Make sure you take away your sandwich bags, energy gel packs, and anything else you may bring with you.

One of the biggest irritations is mountain bikers who leave old inner tubes and brake pads by the side of the trail.

There is no need for this, as you can simply put them in your backpack and take them away with you.

mountain biking tips for beginners

Stay In Control

When you are riding and having the time of your life, it is easy to get carried away. You need to push yourself to progress, but there is a time and a place for everything. 

If you are riding the trails at weekends, there is a good chance you will come across other riders and hikers. When riding in these busy sections, keep your speed in check to avoid accidents.

Also, if you see a sign telling you to slow down, do as it says. You don’t want to ride around a corner to find a tree across the trail or a massive hole.

Know Who Has The Right Of Way

Trail rules vary depending on where you are. The reason for this is the amount of traffic and topography differs from place to place. However, there are some general rules you should know.

As you approach other trail users, you need to let them know you are coming. Do this in a friendly way, and give them plenty of warning, so you don’t startle them. You really don’t want them to jump in front of you.

There may be trail users you cannot see. Therefore, when you come up to a corner or brow of a hill, make sure you are not going so fast you cannot avoid unexpected people.

As a mountain biker, you will be moving much faster than hikers or horse riders. Therefore, you need to yield to them. If they are on a bike-only trail, politely inform them that they need to get off the trail quickly for their own safety.

A common rule for all trails is that the uphill rider has the right of way.

Therefore, if someone is riding up towards you, you need to take action. This is becoming more common with electric bikes, so it pays to be vigilant.

The golden rule that encapsulates all of the above is to ensure that every pass is cordial and safe.

Be Aware Of Animals

If you accidentally scare an animal on the trail, it can make you vulnerable. You may hit it or something else while trying to avoid it. With this in mind, it is a good idea to stay alert for animals while you ride.

When you see an animal that could be a hazard, slow down and give it plenty of space. This goes for both domestic and wild animals, as they can be just as dangerous as each other.

mountain biking tips for beginners

Final Thoughts

With these mountain bike tips for beginners, lots of the guesswork has been taken out for you. This means you have a good head start with your mountain bike career.

They will help you stay safe and keep riding, so you can enjoy this wonderful sport to the max.

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson grew up cycling round the coast of his hometown in Scotland. After competing in several Sprint and Olympic distance Triathlons, he turned his focus to ultrarunning. Now when he's not running, you can find him on his gravel bike on the trails near his home!

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