A Beginners Thoughts on Mountain Biking

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook you may have noticed my fairly recent love affair with mountain biking. If you are new to mountain biking or are interested in trying it out this post is for you. By no means am I an expert but I will share what I’ve learned over the past year. Last summer, I bought a mountain bike so that I could ride around the neighborhood with my kids. I never expected to love riding as much as I do. Truth be told, I have always been scared of bikes. The thought of getting on something that I could easily fall off of seemed like a terrible idea. The good news is that I no longer feel this way. In fact, I feel the opposite!

img_0999I have fallen in love with mountain biking. By no means am I a good rider but I have come a long way from where I was when I started. I can now ride on a narrow path in between cactus without fear of falling into it. I have learned that your bike goes where your eyes are. If your eyes are on the cactus, your bike will soon be in the cactus. I have also started riding through smaller dips/washes/ditches and am feeling much more comfortable standing up and riding down hills. Overall, I feel 100% more confident than when I started, but I still have a ways to go. One ride at a time I am going to become the mountain biker I want to be.

img_0855When I started riding, one thing I quickly realized is that there are different levels of beginner. I started as a super beginner, like didn’t really even know how to ride a bike beginner. I rode occasionally as a kid but it’s been 20 years since I’ve been on a bike. When I went to the bike shop to purchase my bike the salesman sent me on a test ride and told me to be sure to shift through the gears. I had no idea how to even do that or what he was talking about when he was explaining the small and large rings and about not crossing the chain over. I nervously got on the bike and rode really slow because I was afraid I would break the bike if I shifted wrong. I am thrilled to say that I now know how to shift and what the heck he was talking about! It’s about small victories, my friends. 🙂

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Similarly to hiking, mouthing biking gets you off the beaten path and out in nature. I’ve come across so many beautiful landscapes on my bike, like in the pictures above and below. The desert is even more beautiful when no one else is around. 🙂

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These are my top four lessons learned. If I could go back and start over this is what I would do differently. Except for #1. I did that right the first time. While these tips are good for everyone, if you are in the super beginner category like me I would highly recommend all of the following. These tips will significantly shorten the learning curve.

  1. Go to your local bike shop and get fitted for a bike. We started on basic mountain bikes that were not much more expensive than the bikes being sold at the big boxed stores. Also, I am 100% positive I would have purchased the wrong size bike had I not gone to a bike shop for guidance. Wrong sized equipment can lead to injury later on down the road.
  2. Take a few lessons. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t take lessons sooner. I spent a solid four months riding (incorrectly and causing injury) before I found a local mountain biking coach and took a couple one-on-one lessons. Best. Decision. Ever. My city offers beginning mountain biking classes a couple times a year, as do the local mountain biking groups. I thought about taking one of these classes but the dates never matched up with my schedule. Also, being such a newb I preferred one-on-one. Do whatever makes you most comfortable, but if you’re in the super newb category like me be sure to take a few lessons. Learning proper form makes a huge difference. I was always afraid of falling off my bike. Once I learned where my body needs to be based upon the obstacle my riding improved dramatically. If you shift your weight to the proper place your chances of falling off decrease significantly.
  3. Take a bike maintenance class. I actually only just took this class a couple weeks ago. Again, I wish I had taken it sooner. I learned so much and am signed up for a second class later this month that will delve into more advanced topics. Our local REI offers bike maintenance classes regularly. If yours does not or you do not have an REI, reach out to your local mountain biking club and see if they know of anyone offering a class. I now know how to change a tire! I haven’t actually changed one yet but I am fairly confident I could do it. I should probably practice this. 😉
  4. Get a bike fit. I heard this quite often but wasn’t sure what exactly this meant or if it would be helpful. Truth be told…I have only had a partial fit. I need to call and schedule a full bike fit. I was recently at an event where they were doing bike fits and I found the short time I spent with the guy really helpful. He suggested that I schedule a full bike fit because I need a little extra help. Prior to my partial bike fit, I had been experiencing a lot of pain in my wrist. I have not had any trouble since he gave me suggestions for better form. At a minimum, I would suggest a bike fit or lessons as a start for anyone in the super beginner category.

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Here are a couple other helpful tips:

  • Look for local mountain biking groups to ride with. They usually offer rides for all skill levels and some even offer skill building classes. Bell Helmets has started a women’s only mountain biking program in a handful of cities called Bell Joy Ride. I am fortunate to have one in my city and it’s always a great time. They ride once a month at different trails around town. Riding with others is a great way to improve your skills.
  • Beginner trails are not always trails for beginners. As I mentioned before, there are different levels of beginner. When I first started riding, the beginner trails were too hard for me. Don’t be discouraged if you are in the same boat I was. Work on building your skills and soon enough you’ll be able to ride the trails. Also, there is no shame in walking. Don’t be afraid to hop off your bike and walk. I don’t mind walking but I typically get really frustrated when I do more walking than riding. Actually, now that I think about it, the beginner trails were hard for me because I didn’t really know how to ride my bike. It wasn’t until I took a few lessons and learned proper form and the mechanics of my bike that I really understood how to ride the trails. Maybe the lesson should be that if the beginner trails are too hard for you, that you need a few lessons. Yes, that’s the lesson here. 🙂
  • MTB Project is a great app/website for finding local MTB trails.
  • FYI…cycling is addicting, as is buying cycling accessories and bike parts. You might want to start a savings jar now.

We purchased mountain bikes for our kids and one of our favorite family activities is to go riding. Our town has a 100 mile paved path that goes around the outside edge of town. We love riding different sections together or hitting the mountain bike park down the street from our house. There are a handful of easy trails that the kids can ride. The kids are not morning riders so they have not ridden much over the summer. For some reason they do not enjoy getting up at 5:30am to ride. 😉 We are looking forward to the cooler weather so we can all get out again.

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Have you tried mountain biking? What did you think? If you are new to riding or interested in getting started and have any questions let me know.