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The 7 steps to starting mountain biking (Beginners Guide)

After seeing the amount of fun that mountain bikers have on trails and the incredible comradeship between old, young, new, or veteran mountain bikers you made the best decision of your life:

So you decided to start mountain biking, congratulations are in order then!

Congratulation, you won’t regret it! But starting mountain biking is not an easy task, there are many types of bikes, equipment and you need to learn a lot of things to be able to enjoin yourself on the trails and not end up frustrated.

In the beginning, it can be intimidating, believe me I know. Because of this, I wrote this article, to help you to start your journey into mountain biking the easy way. All the information in this article I have learned in my first 2 years of mountain biking, so I hope this will be helpful to you.

Mountain bikers

1. Buy Your First Mountain Bike

If you want to go mountain biking you need a bike, right?

So you may be wondering what is a good mountain bike for a beginner, and there is no easy answer here but I will tell you my experience from when I started out, I think you can learn a lot from this.

When I started my journey into mountain biking I bought a 500$ hardtail and I went on my first ride in the nearest forest I could find. In my first year, I learned that my first bike wasn’t the best choice but not the worst one either.

My first bike, the good stuff about it:

  • Hydraulic brakes: good reliable Shimano brakes, got me out of many nasty situations
  • 29′ Weeks: exactly what I wanted, good speed with less effort
  • Aluminum frame: a durable frame that can take a bitting, in the beginning, I crashed a lot
  • Wide handlebars: good for maneuverability
  • Flat pedals: good for beginners

My first bike, the bad stuff about it:

  • Wrong size: with experience, I learned that the salesperson that recommended the size was wrong
  • Hydraulic brakes: I did not know what was the to-do proper maintenance needed for them
  • Coil suspension fork: Entry-level suspension, I got more travel but not good quality
  • No rear suspension: because of my sedentary job my back was hurting and I felt this after every ride, on my full-suspension mountain bike I feel no back pain after long rides

As you can see those bad things were a lot more impactful than the good things so don’t break your budget, you still have a lot to learn before spending all your money on a mountain bike.

Believe me, nobody can tell you what mountain bike is the best one for you, the only way you can know this is by riding a mountain bike for at least 6 to 12 months, for this reason, I always recommend to new beginners to get a hardtail under 1000$.

After one year you can sell it and you now can buy a mountain bike well suited for your needs and the terrain on which you will be riding it without losing tremendous amounts of money, don’t listen to people who will sell you bikes, they need your money but you need a good bike without breaking your bank account.

In the beginning, you don’t know how to maintain your bike, you don’t know exactly the type of terrain on which you will be riding it and you don’t know the type of mountain bike you need (cross country, enduro, trail, etc.). In your first year, you will learn which mountain biking discipline you enjoy the most, maybe you are into downhill mountain biking, you need to try it to know.

As you can see there are a lot of things that can go wrong when you buy your first mountain bike, I have written a complete guide for buying your first mountain bike, it is complete with all the things you need to know like choosing the right size and suspensions, a list with the best MTB brands, I encourage you to read it, you will find a lot of value there –> buying your first mountain bike budget complete guide.

2. Buy the Necessary Tools and Equipment

Mountain bike gear

Now that you have your bike the next step is to gear up!

Ok, let’s see what equipment you need when you’re just starting mountain biking:

  • MTB Helmet: This is mandatory for all MTB parks, you don’t need a full-face helmet when starting, get a proper MTB helmet not a road one, they offer more protection
  • MTB Glasses: When you pick up some speed it is a good idea to have your eyes protected and having glasses that prevent the sun from blinding you when you ride is a big plus, don’t cheap out, MTB glasses are worth it
  • MTB Gloves: They help to maintain gray handlebars when your hands are sweaty so it is highly recommended that you buy a pair of MTB gloves, they aren’t that expensive
  • MTB Shoes: They offer you the best grip on the pedals (the most common MTB injuries occur when your foot slips from the pedal) and they have stiff soles that improve your power transmission, they are a good investment

Now that we have the requirements out of the way let’s see what equipment is recommended but not mandatory:

  • MTB Body Armor: Having some torso protection is a good thing but they are a bit uncomfortable
  • KNEE/SHIN/ELBOW pads: They are highly recommended for beginners
  • MTB Shorts: They are not mandatory but still having sorts specially design for the task at hand is always a good idea, some of them have a detachable shammy or are padded (reduce friction and wick moisture)
  • MTB Jerseys: They are designed for good ventilation and they let sweet evaporate so you get dry fast

Keep in mind that the above equipment is for the warm season, if you want to ride in the cold season you need the following:

  • Winter MTB Shoes or Overshoes: Winter MTB shoes are designed to hold your feet dry and worm on the roughest of weather conditions but if you are on a tighter budget a good pair of overshoes over normal MTB shoes will do the job just fine
  • Thermal Socks: Designed to keep body heat from dissipating, you can find them water-resistant as well
  • Thermal Tights: A good first layer for your feet, required in cold weather
  • Winter MTB Pants: A good pair of MTB pants are waterproof and windproof, mandatory on bad weather
  • Winter MTB Gloves: Thick gloves designed to use on a bike (pull brake levers, shift gears, etc.)
  • MTB Mask: Design to be credible but not directly take in the cold air
  • MTB Headpiece: Designed to be worn under helmets
  • Thermal blouse: Designed to keep body heat from dissipating, this is the first layer
  • T-shirt or thin blouse: This is the second layer for your torso, in colder weather you need this layer to keep you warm
  • MTB Jaket: This is your third layer for your torso, design to be waterproof and windproof

Now you know all the basic equipment that you need in cold and warm weather but how about the tools you will be needing when you start out.

Here things are a lot simpler, you need a good multitool so you can make the basic bike adjustments, a flat tire repair kit, and an air pump. It is recommended that you have a spare camera with you on your rides, a flat tire is a frustrating thing.

As far as bike accessories go you will need a water bottle and a weather bottle cage to mount it on the bike and you will be good to go.

If you want a list of essential MTB tools, I recommend you read this article!

3. Adjust Your Bike and Start Riding near You

To be able to go on your first MTB ride you must make some minor adjustments to your bike:

  • Handlebars adjustment
  • Saddle height
  • Saddle position
  • Saddle tilt

Handlebars Adjustment

The first thing you need to do before starting to ride is to make the initial bike adjustments. So the first thing is to adjust your handlebars. In the front of your handlebars, you have a small cross sign, you need to align it with the center of your front wheel, and now your handlebars will be straight.

The rest of the handlebar adjustments are made from the factory, this is the only one you need to make when you get your bike.

Saddle Height

The most important adjustment to get right is the saddle height, to do this put your bike next to a bench or chair (something to put your foot on) then get on the bike with one foot on the bench and the other foot on the pedal.

Your heel needs to touch the pedal and now push your leg until it is straight, if you can’t get your leg to be straight then the saddle is too low. You need to be able to have your foot slightly bent if you put your tows on the pedal in the bottom position.

Now your feet will be in the natural position for pedaling and this way you don’t damage your wrists.

Saddle position

You can move your saddle in a more forward or in a more backward position, you reach the correct position if when you stand on the bike you can reach your handlebars and your hands aren’t completely straight.

Your elbows need to have a slight bend to be protected against the shocks absorbed when riding on rough terrain.

Saddle Tilt

Saddle tilt

It is recommended to start with the saddle completely parallel to the ground, use a spirit level for this.

From this position, you can slightly tilt it down to be more comfortable on climbs.

Take Your MTB on Ride near You

Finally, it is time to ride your brand-new shiny bike. To see if it is comfortable and all the adjustments are right go explore your area with your bike.

On my first rides outside my city, I was amazed at how beautiful the area was and I didn’t realize it before. One important thing now is to incorporate riding your bike into your daily routine so that you improve your fitness level.

It is important to find portions with big climbs to increase your foot strength.

4. Find Beginner Trails

Now you are ready to start searching for beginner-friendly trails, the real fun starts now. But first, how do you know if a trail is for beginners? In mountain biking parks it’s easy they are marked with a sign.

Trail SymbolRider Skill LevelTrail Difficulty
white circletotal beginnereasies
green circlebeginnereasy
blue squareintermediatemore difficult
black diamondadvancedvery difficult
double-black diamondextremely difficultexpert
mtbfunplanet.com

If you aren’t riding on mountain biking parks pick trails near you on which you are comfortable riding and start traveling longer distances to ride only when you know that you have considerably increased your skills.

One great way to find trails is by using an application like Trailforks, with this app you can browse your area and find great trails or you can search the best trails on an area in which you intend to travel.

The great thing about online applications is that they are up to date and the trails are marked by difficulty like in the table above.

Now you just need to find trails marked with the white circle and start to ride them. If you can’t find trails with the white circle no problem, got ride the green circle ones because they are also great for beginners.

5. Start Learning the Basic Mountain Biking Skills

Now that you are ready to hit the beginner trails you need to focus on learning the basic skills you need.

Now let’s see what are the basic skills mentioned before:

  • Reading the trail: The most common mistake beginners make is to look too ​close to the bike, this is bad because you don’t see what comes next on the trail (and you won’t have time to prepair the next move). At any ride try to look in front of you, the more of the trail you see the better.
  • Balance: To be able to tackle any obstacle you need to know how to shift your weight on the bike, at first focus on shifting your weight backwards on descents and forward on climbs. This will be a good starting point but be aware that this topic is more complex and you need to do more research on it to fully understand how to prepair for the different situation you will encounter on trails.
  • Pedal stroke efficiency: A lot of new riders pedal the hardest at the beginning of the ride and end up fatigue too quickly. Try to maintain a steady cadence by using the correct speed when climbing descending or to maintain the desired speed.
  • Jumping: This takes more time, watch Youtube videos to understand the principle (this skill is important because sometimes you need to overcome big obstacles on trails)

Pick a skill every time you go on the trails and exercise it the entire ride, it will take time to master it but you will get there.

Don’t focus on more than one skill at a time, it will be too much to process at once and you will see little to no progress, be patient it takes time.

6. Build or Find Your Pack

One of the best parts of mountain biking is the incredible community formed around it.

At first, try to find out which of your friends are mountain bikers and start riding with them. The sport’s big rise in popularity makes it easy to find friends who are mountain bikers and after a couple of rides with them, you have a cool clan to ride with.

If none of your friends are interested, no worries. Search for mountain biking groups on Facebook, you will be amazed by how many they are.

Enter the group and you will find that many people are organizing rides. Ask who is near you and invite them to beginner-friendly rides, you will have a pack in no time.

Riding with friends will push you to improve and it’s more fun.

7. Hit the Gym and Ride as Much as You Can

Mountain biking is a full-body training that demands that you have an all-around well-developed body. So if you want to have a great time on the trails you need to incorporate strength training into your weekly routine.

Keep in mind that if you want an all-around well-developed body, you need to incorporate compound exercises in your training routine. You can work even from home if you want to, start with bodyweight and slowly find a way to add some weight.

The best strength exercises you can do to strengthen your body for mountain biking are:

  • Squats – with or without extra weight
  • Deadlifts – you don’t need to go crazy with the weight here, the purpose is to strengthen your lower back
  • Planks – they help to strengthen your core
  • Pull-ups – the only exercise you need for your back (I know they are hard to do)
  • Push-ups – for a stronger triceps and chest

This training will take care of your strength but to increase your endurance consistency is the key, you need to ride more often and longer, there is no short path here.

Final Words

Now you know all the steps you need to follow to start your mountain biking journey, the only thing you need to do is to implement them.

After you managed to do that, repeat steps 4 to 7 until you find the need to upgrade your mountain bike. At this point you are no longer a beginner, you started your intermediate phase so congratulations are in order!

You may also like this articles:

Is mountain biking easy to learn?

Reasons why mountain bikes are so popular

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I started mountain biking many years ago to improve my overall health state. After my first ride, I fell in love with the sport. Now I spend dozens of hours a week researching and training to compete in local XC and Enduro events.