Mountain biking evokes images of fit people tackling rugged terrain, while enjoying the beautiful outdoors.  It is true — mountain biking is a great way to get your workouts surrounded by nature.  Contrary to its name, mountain biking is done in every area imaginable, and even some areas that are totally flat and quite urban.

If you’ve decided that you want to give mountain biking a go, you might wonder how to actually get started. Taking your bike on single track trails or on roads through the wilderness offers a unique sense of freedom and the opportunity to admire wonderful scenery while getting that great adrenaline rush. But, as with any other outdoor activity, there are certain things to keep in mind and steps to follow in order to do it right to enjoy an adventure that won’t end up being dangerous. We’ve put together some essential tips and tricks any mountain bike newbie should be aware of.

Invest in a reliable bike

The most important step of actually starting to mountain bike is, of course, finding a bike. If you are just dabbling in the sport, you may want to borrow or rent a bike first, just to be sure you enjoy it as much as you think you will.  (We think you will.)

When it comes to mountain bike buying, the good news is that you don’t need to spend a fortune on an expensive bike.  Your first routes will be beginner-friendly, thus rather smooth. Once you’ve gained a bit of experience, you’ll know when and how to upgrade to a more advanced (and costly) bike suitable for the advanced routes. But for starters, all you need is an affordable and trustworthy bike. Craigslist is a great place where you’ll find used mountain bikes for pocket-friendly prices, as as long as you can find one that fits well and is not damaged from prior use or improper maintenance.

Never settle for a bike that is too large or too small for you. That is a cardinal sin! A properly-fitting bike is essential.

Keep in mind that the bike you choose has to fit your height. Therefore, one of the key features to pay attention to is the frame. Opt for a 13″ – 14″ frame size (x-small) if you’re height is between 4’10” – 5’2″, a 15″ – 16″ frame size (small) if you are between  5’2″ – 5’6″, a 17″ – 18″ frame size (medium) if you are between 5’6″ – 5′ 10″, a 19″ – 20″ frame size (large) if your height is between 5’10” – 6’1″, a 21″ – 22″ frame size (x-large) if you are between 6’1″ – 6’4″, and a 23″ – 24″ frame size (xx-large) if you are 6’4″ too  6’6″ in height.

In terms of materials, mountain bikes frames are made of steel, aluminum or carbon fiber. Go for a lightweight bike that will allow you sink into the awesomeness of the outdoors and make sure you pick a strong, maneuverable vehicle that will provide you a safe, reliable and smooth ride. However, realize that you have to pay more for that lightweight bike. The rule of thumb is to get the lightest and most responsive bike that meets your budget, but don’t let yourself spend more than you should just to shave a pound off here or there.  A really good aluminum bike might actually be superior to an entry-level carbon bike. It is cheaper to shed a couple pounds from your gut than to invest in a higher-end bike!

Mountain bike protective equipment

Gear is always important for cycling, and in mountain biking your odds of a spill are higher than they would be on the road.  In fact, we will go ahead and guarantee that you are going to wipe out more than once.

Start with a helmet and wear it all the time. We can’t stress this enough: a good protective helmet is, together with your mountain bike, a key thing to purchase. As a beginner, you will deal with a number of minor accidents, such as crashing or falling off your bike. Sometimes, these can go from minor to serious; therefore, a helmet can make a real difference between you being safe and injured. Choose a high-quality mountain biking helmet that fits your head size and is easy to adjust.

Other protective products to get are a pair of good cycling gloves (that will protect your hands from scratches) and mountain biking glasses (that will protect your eyes from strong light and trail dirt). Even on cloudy and gloomy days, you want to wear glasses. You never know when a rock, branch, or bug might flight right toward your poor eye!

Gift yourself a bike carrier for your car

You have a bike, and you have the safety gear. Now it is time to go somewhere!

If you’ve decided that you want to explore places outside of your local area, consider investing in a mountain bike carrier for your car. Of course, if you drive a large SUV, Minivan, or truck, you can easily carry a bike inside. But a small SUV or car is best outfitted with a good bike carrier or rack. This way, you can take your beloved bike safely with you wherever you want to ride.

There are a few types of carriers, but from least to most expensive, the common ones are:

  1. A trunk or hatch carrier that straps on the back of your car. These are easy-to-use but usually the least stable. You will only want to carry one bike.
  2. A hitch carrier than attaches to the hitch receiver of your vehicle (if it has one). These are the best way to carry a bike, if you cannot fit it in your vehicle.
  3. A rooftop carrier that sits on top of your roof. These can be great, but it is less convenient to put your bikes on them.

There are other articles that go into great detail on good bike racks and carriers (like this), so we will spare you.

Find easy, local trails

As a newbie, riding on difficult trails is very risky; due to the lack of knowledge and experience, you can get injured in a number of ways. So it’s best to start with smooth, local routes and always keep your fingers on the brakes. If there are no beginner-friendly trails in your area, trail centers are a wonderful option. Their routes are graded, so you’ll know exactly what to choose and what to expect.

Remember: there’s no shame in getting off your bike and walking whenever the trail becomes to challenging for you. Don’t risk any kind of injuries just to test a route that’s obviously a bit too difficult for rookies. Start easy, stick to the smooth trails and if you feel tired, take a break.

Also, and I speak from experience on this, the downhill can be more dangerous than anything. If you see a decline that you are uncomfortable with, or one that has a sharp turn at the bottom — right when you will be booking along at 30 mph — take it easy.  Don’t push it too hard. A broken collarbone is not worth it!

Get familiar with biking first aid basics

We’ve said it before, we’re saying it again: as a newbie, you are going to be prone to get injured than a seasoned cyclist. When this happens, you must be prepared and knowledgeable. Even if we’re talking about a simple scratch, applying some basic first aid rules will keep your injury from turning into something really serious. Research and familiarize yourself with the steps to follow in case of an accident. You can even attend special classes, both online and offline. Oh, and always carry a first aid kit with you.  Even if you don’t get into an accident, you might come across someone who has.

Find a riding group

Like-minded individuals, whether beginners or advanced, will not only help you get useful advice, but they can also become your mountain biking partners. Did you know that are lots of riding groups out there? And most probably, a few of them are right in your area. Do a quick search online and join the mountain biking community in your area. Share your thoughts, ask for opinions, and join the riding events they organize. It’s always more fun and safe to explore trails with other mountain biking aficionados.

There is also a big added benefit of being in a cycling club:  Discounts. Many local bike shops are clamoring for the business of avid cyclists, and they know that by providing discounts to bike clubs, they will get a steady flow of traffic. Our experience is that these discounts can be considerable!

All of these essential steps are easy to follow and will help you improve your outdoor riding skills in no time. That’s it! Good luck with your mountain biking adventure!

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