Mountain Biking is a great way to get outside, get exercise, and connect with nature. The most common myth is the requirement of “mountains”. Trails vary from mellow dirt roads, winding single-track, to lift accessed mountain bike parks, so there are trails for everyone.
Mountain biking is a popular sport and trails are often shared with hikers and horseback riders. Always yield right of way to hikers, horses and uphill bike traffic. Remember to slow down when passing anyone, and announce your presence. If need be, get off the trail completely.
Types of Mountain Bikes
All bikes have their own advantages and disadvantages. Here are some of the differences.
26”, 27.5”, and 29” are going to be your most common tire sizes. 26” is what we all grew up using but several years ago 29” was added to the mix. 29” tires are a little heavier but they give you the option of rolling over rocks and logs that normally require a bunny hop or a manual. 27.5” tires are new to the scene and offer a middle ground that most people prefer these days.
Rigid: Most mountain bikes have some form of suspension, but rigid is the exception. Today, rigid bikes are often fitted with Fat Bike tires. These wider tires run at a lower pressure allowing them to absorb bumps in the trail.
Hardtail: These bikes have a front suspension fork and are typically less expensive than full suspension bikes. Hardtail suspension allows for more direct power transfer from the pedal stroke to the rear tire allowing you to get more out of your effort.
Full Suspension: This type of bike will provide a smoother ride and a much more forgiving and enjoyable experience. The downside is price and the loss of some energy transfer when pedaling uphill. However, most full suspension bikes allow you to lockout either suspension with the flip of a switch, making it more efficient for climbing.
Mountain Biking Styles & Terrain
Cross-Country: This style emphasizes climbing and distance. Bikes for these trails focus on being lightweight and efficient. Some people still use hardtail 26” bikes, but the trend is moving towards full suspension 27.5” bikes.
All-Mountain: For all-around mountain biking with climbs followed by white knuckled descents, full suspension is the ticket.
Downhill/Park: This type of riding can be found at ski resorts during the summer months or by using multiple vehicles for shuttling. Downhill riding can be intense and technical, often incorporating jumps, berms and other man made terrain features.
Fat Biking: Grab a fat bike and you can roll through just about anything from snow to sand. These rides are great for all seasons.
Single Track: This is by far the most common trail type, offering winding, narrow trails not much wider than your handlebars.
Doubletrack: Twice as wide as single track, and you’re more likely to find hikers and horses on these trails, as well as fewer technical features.
MTB Terrain Parks: These are becoming more and more popular throughout the U.S. Custom built trails with elevated bridges, jumps, berms, banked corners and other technical features challenge even the most experienced riders.
Neutral position: When you’re riding on non-technical sections of trail where you’re comfortable you’ll want to be relaxed with a slight bend in your elbows and knees. Always be looking ahead 15-20 feet so you can prepare yourself for what’s coming next. Always keep your finger(s) on the breaks, if using disc breaks you should only need one, rim breaks often require more.
Ready Position: You’re in a neutral position and you notice some rough terrain so it’s time to move to your ready position. Bend your knees and elbows more to help adjust to the bikes movement. Lean forward a bit lifting your butt off the seat and moving it back so that you’re centered over the frame of your bike. Keep your eyes looking forward on where you want to go, not where you don’t.
Picking a line
The biggest mistake beginning mountain bikers make is when they reach a technical part of the trail, they will focus on the bad. If they have trouble with rocks or logs, sand or ruts, they will focus on that and be that much more likely to have problems. Pick your line, focus on where you want to go and not what you want to avoid. If you focus on the bad your mind will subconsciously force you to drift towards it, by focusing on the good and the path you want to be on you will stick to that path and have no problems. Know that a full suspension bike is made for rock, roots and drops. A little bit of speed is your friend. Pick a line that doesn’t require any quick and sharp turns – let the bike roll over the terrain.
Braking seems simple, right? You press the levers and you stop, the harder you press the faster you stop, right? That is general idea of how breaking works, but to effectively break through technical terrain it can be a bit more complicated.
Braking should always be consistent and controlled, firm and constant pressure to the correct break. Your front break will slow you down the fastest but pressing on it too hard will cause you to fly over your handlebars. Too much pressure on your back break can cause you to lose traction and skid. Finding a balance between the two is key.
While braking you want to make sure you are in the ready position, this will help you stay in control and prevent you from moving too far forward on the bike. When approaching a turn or a technical feature make sure you break prior to rather than in the middle of. Often beginners will slow down before every tricky section of trail but you’ll learn as you get more experienced a bit of momentum can help you through these sections.
When climbing you want your seat extended further allowing for your leg to extend 80-90% of its potential leg extension. This allows you to get the most efficient and powerful pedal stroke to make climbing easier.
When descending you will want to drop your seat several inches, this allows you a lower center of gravity and better control. Experiment with both until you find what’s comfortable for you.
Nobody enjoys this aspect of mountain biking, but it’s the one you’ll want to prepare for as it can happen from time to time. When falling, do not reach out to brace your fall, this is what normally results in a broken wrist, arm, or collarbone. Instead, try to keep your arms riding the bike to the ground.
Most falls damage only your pride. Pick yourself up, make sure nothing is broken on you or the bike and get back to conquering that trail.
- Water & Snacks
- Repair kit
Repair kit – This will save you a lot of hiking by packing a few necessary items. Spare tube, Hand pump, Multi-tool, allen wrenches, and a chain tool. Make sure all of these are compatible with your bike. Also, a little bit of duck tape and some zip ties can get you a long way.