Adele is one of the most experienced and capable female mountain bikers we know. She's also brilliant at making it accessible and fun if you're not as seasoned and gnarly as she is! Here are her thoughts on how to get into mountain biking...
It’s the ideal time of year to start mountain biking: the weather is good, the trails are relatively dry and there are long evenings ahead to get some long rides in.
If you’re tempted to dip your toe into the dirtier side of cycling, then here are 11 top tips to get you rolling in the right direction!
1. What you think you need vs what you actually need
There’s really no need to rock up looking like a race-day Rachel Atherton. As a newbie, the only cycling specific gear you need is a helmet, gloves (essential protection for your hands!) and padded shorts, plus a mountain bike (your own, hired or borrowed!). Mountain bikes come in all shapes, sizes and specifications but the main priority is that the brakes, gears and suspension are in full working order, the seat is the right height, and the tyres are pumped to the correct psi (which is written on the tyre!). You’ll also need to carry water, a snack if you’re riding for more than a couple of hours, and a spare inner tube, tyre levers and pump. Then off you go!
2. Ride with someone who knows the ropes
Mountain biking is a little more technical than other types of cycling, so it really helps to ride with someone who knows what they are doing and can advise you on ride skills and appropriate trails. Your local bike shop may organise beginner rides, or approach your local trail centre to see if they know of any suitable groups. A skills sessions with a mountain bike coach is another option that benefits riders at every level. Alternatively ride with an experienced friend, ask lots of questions and don’t feel embarrassed about holding them up: we all have to start somewhere and you’ll soon speed up!
3. Stay in your comfort zone
Trail centre routes are colour coded according to difficulty and it's wise to start well within your comfort zone so that you don’t scare yourself and end up doing the long walk back to the car park. After all, those more demanding routes will still be there another day!
If you’re riding natural trails don’t be afraid to look for an easier route if you’re unsure of what is ahead – and it’s safer to do this before you start a technical section, rather than getting half way down and having to scramble the rest of the way!
4. It’s okay to stop every so often
Unlike in road cycling, it is perfectly acceptable to stop during the ride. This is particularly true at the top of very steep climbs or the end of a descent so that everyone can catch up, get their breath back or simply have chat about how much fun you’re having/series 2 of Poldark/your hair. Many riders also stop before technical sections in order to discuss how best to ride them. Stopping to answer your phone every ten minutes, however, tends to be frowned upon.
5. Get ready for a workout
There’s way more to mountain biking than just sitting still and pedaling. Moving around the bike helps meet the demands of the trail: for instance weighting the bike on a descent so you don’t go over the handlebars, preventing the front wheel from lifting during a steep climb by moving your weight and dropping your wrists, shifting through the corners for speed and accuracy, and lifting slightly as you ride through mud. You use your legs, arms, shoulder and core, and need power to tackle short, sharp ascents. Of course, your first ride will be a bit more sedate, but if you’re not out of breath every so often then you’re not really trying (nor getting the most fun out of your day!).
6. Get in the habit of looking ahead
Don’t get distracted by roots or rocks directly in front of you: instead, look several metres ahead to give yourself time to judge your speed and position as you move along the trail. The result will be a smoother, faster and more enjoyable ride. Practice this from the off as it’s a fundamental skill that sets the best riders apart from the rest.
7. A brief word about etiquette
It’s polite to move out of the way if a faster rider approaches from behind. However there is no need to throw yourself into the nearest bush – just acknowledge them and then pull over to the side when it is safe to do so.
8. Be kind to yourself (and your bike)
Everyone is a beginner at some point, and if a climb is too steep or the descent too technical (or just terrifying) it is okay to walk, even if you’re subsequently overtaken by a 10 year old. Crying on the trail is also not unheard of because mountain biking, like any technical sport, can be very frustrating. Just don’t pick the bike up and throw it: that’s going too far.
9. Expect the unexpected lie down
Falling off is part and parcel of mountain biking but chances are you’ll have a soft, but muddy, landing which wont cause too much damage. However if you’re crashing every time you go out (or just too frequently for your own liking), it might be worth booking a skills session to build your capability and confidence.
10. Embrace learning
‘What do I do when I come to a rock?’ I asked this question on my first ride (ten years ago!), ahead of an extremely stony track. ‘Depends upon the rock’ called the ride leader, over his shoulder, before bouncing off into the distance like Tigger on a push bike. While this response wasn’t immediately helpful it does illustrate that when it comes to mountain biking, there will always be a proverbial rock you haven’t encountered before. In short, you’re always learning and challenging yourself, and that’s why it is such fun.
11. And talking of fun…
Mountain biking is all about having a good time - and feeling relaxed and happy will, in turn, make you a better rider. So don’t forget to look at the view, have a laugh, punch the air when you nail a technical section, take some selfies of you and the great outdoors, and savour your post-ride beer with your mountain biking mates. And then put your next ride in the diary so you can look forward to it.
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