My buddies had been after me to go mountain biking with them for months. One of them even had an extra mountain bike that I could borrow.
I always had an excuse. Deep inside, I think I was just intimidated. They were all expert mountain bikers, and all I could envision was doing a spectacular face plant into a tree as I tried keeping up with them.
Of course, we finally went. I think I wrecked three times on that first trip. Nothing serious, but mountain biking is more challenging than the road riding I normally do.
But I had fun and I went again. And then again. And again. And, with each trip, I got faster and became more confident.
With time, I even purchased a mountain bike, and now we ride all the time. There is nothing better than spending a Saturday on the track.
Here are a few tips I wish my buddies had given me before I went out the first time.
1. Bring Water
Hopefully, I don’t need to tell you this, but bring 20 oz of water for every 40 minutes of riding that you plan to do. Whether you are using a camelback or just stuffing water bottles in your shorts, you have to stay hydrated.
2. Wear a Helmet
Do you need graphic photos? I didn’t think so. Put the helmet on.
3. Invest In Shorts
You might not even have a mountain bike, yet, but if you are going to spend more than 30 minutes on the bike, you need to invest in a pair of cycling shorts.
Now, I realize that “cycling shorts” is the hot new phrase for tight, short, spandex shorts, so let me clarify.
In this sport, we use padded shorts. Yes, they are made of spandex, but they have one differentiator: a thick foam padding that is used to add comfort.
These shorts increase your comfort in two ways: first of all, they help protect your skin from chafing on itself. Secondly, the padding provides incredible support, especially for the “untrained” butt.
Keep in mind that you do not wear underwear under these shorts. You want these shorts to be tight against your bottom so you can get the full benefit.
4. Go At Your Own Pace
I was concerned about keeping up with my friends. You don’t have to worry about that. You can wait as long as you need to before dropping down a hill. You can ride the brakes all the way down if you need to. You can take the “chicken trail” instead of taking the jump.
Safety is important. There isn’t any pride that is worth a broken collarbone. The big deal is to keep chasing as hard and as fast, as you are comfortable with. And no faster.
That might mean walking up some hills. That is ok.
It might even mean walking down hills.
People do get hurt when riding off the road. And so you need to respect your internal compass and not push further than your brain is ready for.
One of the fun aspects of Mountain biking is developing your skill-set. If you have a problem area, then take some time repeating that section of the course.
Sure, you might not want to do it today, but make a mental note to revisit this section. Some people do that by riding a loop that passes the same area. Others just ride that section over and over before moving on.
This might be something that you want to come back and do by yourself (or warn your friends of time that you are going to spend some time on it).
I think you’ll find that this sport celebrates skill development. And your friends will be excited to help you develop through those areas where you are challenged. We all enjoy being the best rider we can be and we enjoy celebrating each other as we reach new levels of skills.
So make a plan for revising the stubborn parts of the course and enjoy watching yourself progress.
6. Eyes On The Trail
Trees blend in with other trees and tend to jump out at you when you least expect it.
The trick, here, is to stay alert. Keep your head up and maintain a conscious awareness of both the trees and the ground problems that are in your path.
This is especially important if you hope to stop and take a selfie. Please, for the love of all things decent, GET OFF THE TRAIL. There is no excuse for being in another rider’s way when you try to capture the fun you are having.
Perhaps I come down a little hard on this, but, more than once, I’ve come flying down a trail just to find some noobs blocking the trail, performing their best duck faces. Hell, I’ll hold the camera for you, just don’t block the trail!
7. Get Clipless
The thought of having shoes that are clipped into the pedals is terrifying.
However, there are a lot of advantages to this setup. Whether you are dropping off a cliff, bouncing over roots, or dodging trees, your feet need to stay attached to your pedals, both for safety and for producing power.
This is especially noticeable when climbing hills. Hills are hard enough, even without your feet slipping off the pedals. Having a system that keeps your feet on the pedals means that you can climb in any conditions.
You can also pull up on these clipless pedals, which means that you can use an entirely different muscle group to move forward. This gives you a better workout. It also gives you more power.
The fear people have is that they will wreck in their pedals and find themselves in a worse situation than if they had their feet free.
I’ve been in a few accidents, and I find that it keeps your legs closer to the body and the bicycle so that you are better protected during the fall. Additionally, you can loosen the clips so that your feet are barely clipped in. When you get them that loose, you have all of the control without being trapped. Getting out of a pair of loose pedals is very easy. It is just a quick twist of the ankles and you don’t even have to think about it to get free.
If you don’t believe me, stop by your local bike shop and ask them to set you up with a pair of pedals that are adjusted all the way down. You might be surprised at how loose they are.
8. Essential Skills
I’m going to throw one more in here on skill development
There are times when you need to have your wheel up to keep from doing a header. There are times when you need to press on one side of the handlebars to keep from sliding out on a corner.
What I want you to do is to spend 7 minutes watching this video. Granted, you can spend your entire life learning how to ride and how to be at the top of your game.
Entire magazines are devoted to mastering these skillsets.
But this video will give you an idea of what the basics are that you need to master to have the best experience possible.
Off road riding is one of the most challenging and rewarding sports you will ever enjoy. Mastering these simple mountain biking will give you an excellent, first time experience.
(Author Dave Henly is a blogger at davescheapbikes.com)