If you miss some excitement and adventure in your life, hitting the trails with your mountain bike seems like an excellent way to get the thrills. Mountain biking is not only a way to get fit, but it is also a fantastic place to enjoy nature and the sights. You can have lots of fun if you decide to share your passion with a friend and spend quality time outdoors. But, the switch to a mountain bike (MTB) requires a different type of body fitness. The terrains where trails are located are varied, ranging from steep slopes and climbs that impose the need for technical skills, endurance, and a desire to succeed or more simplistic trails with some challenge but are not insurmountable. Mind you, though, in case you are an absolute beginner, get at least one person with you, preferably an experienced mountain biker.
Before You Hit the Trails
Better safe than sorry, right? That’s more than true if you’re biking on mountain trails, so check the bolts, the chain, and the brakes before you get started. A bottle of water, an energy bar, and waterproof clothing are also a must. Choose a bike trail that corresponds to your skills, and take a spare tube, an inflator, and a multitool.
Equipment and Gear
Regardless of how advanced your skills are, the essential equipment must ensure that you stay protected if you fall (which is very likely to happen, especially if you are a beginner). Mountain bikes have technical features that ensure infallible performance on rough, off-road terrains. What your mountain bike needs to have as a must is a suspension fork, powerful brakes, large knobby tires, durable wheels that ensure maximum grip, and straight handlebars. Since you’ll ride on mountain biking trails with rocks, loose dirt, root, and steep dirt, the gear ratios are usually lower, and some even have rear suspension to smooth out the trails.
Needless to say that wearing a helmet is a basic necessity, in addition to biking gloves and biking suit. You must ensure that your head is well protected in case you hit it on a rock or a log. Biking shoes with thick rubber ensure excellent traction, but if you are first-time mountain bikes, gripped shoes will do the job.
Mind Your Body Position
Your body position is your guide through the mountain biking trails. In other words, it can help you go through the tricky sections of the terrain and determines the type of ride you’ll have. This also includes tackling the tricky parts of the trails and successfully dealing with obstacles. Basically, there are two positions: ready and neutral.
Neutral - This position is suitable for the non-technical sections, and it includes being half-seated with the body leaning forward. While climbing, it resembles the regular-bike position. Positioned like this, you need to ensure that you weight the level pedals evenly, the knees and the elbows are slightly bent, you look where you want to go about 15 to 20ft to get ready to switch to the ‘ready’ body position.
Ready (Attack): Once the trail becomes rocky or steep, you need to change the stance to ready. This position is not only physical but it also mentally prepares you to tackle the technical section. Here, the back section of the body weights toward the back wheel, while you back is positioned parallel to the ground. The elbows and the knees feature a deep, 90-degree bend. Make sure that level pedals are evenly weighted too. In this position, it is essential to look ahead to assess the type of obstacles ahead and where you want to go.
Even though braking seems to be a piece of cake, they are often the reason for a nasty fall, especially when riding on loose or rough terrain. Beginner mountain bikers are at the highest risk since they usually squeeze the levers with the maximum strength, causing skidding.
You need to break consistently with controlled power. Front brakes will mostly do the job, but if you squeeze the front brake too powerfully, then the chances are that you’ll get thrown over the bars. While braking, ensure that your hips are back, you have your knees and elbows bent, and the heels are down.
In the case of disc brakes, you need to position the index fingers on each brake lever while the rest of the fingers grip the handlebar. With rim brakes, which require more force to brake efficiently, two fingers should be positioned on the levers. These ways are the most optimal for having the utmost control while braking.
While braking is usually a natural process, beginners might do it too intensely, too often, and without control. The most common braking occurs when you approach obstacles or a turn or while you’re cornering. Bikers need to take advantage of the momentum, particularly when going over obstacles and getting up.
Setting up Your Seat
What many mountain biking newbies ignore is the position of the seat. Yet, having it correctly adjusted will get your body correctly positioned for the mountain biking trails. The seat is usually differently adjusted compared to road riding, and it often involves different positions for ascending and descending.
When climbing, the seat needs to be set higher so that you achieve optimal efficiency. While pedaling, your knees should have a slight bend, while extending the leg to about 90 percent. This way, you activate the major leg muscles and equally transfer the fatigue effect.
When going down, you need to lower your seat for about 3 inches compared to the climbing position. This way, you can lean the torso toward the front wheel, while at the same time, you’ll be sitting and pulling down with the back of your body to lower the center of gravity and achieve more control.
Properly shifting your gear is more than a necessity, not only for the sake of your bike and the tires but it will help you go through the demanding mountain bike trails much more easily. Your skills in assessing the terrain situation will be crucial, but how you deal with each terrain’s specifics is also an indication that you need to change the gear.
If you are a beginner biker, then it is advisable to experiment with the gear to get the sense of which gear on which technical trail suits you the best. It is a sensory process that builds muscle memory and enables you to act before you even think whether or not to change the gear.
Keep Steady Cycling Cadence
Among the mistakes beginners make is waiting too long to shift the gear. When you see that a steep terrain is approaching, you need to make the shift prior to reaching the incline. This way, you’ll achieve maximum power without losing the necessary speed. Plus, it prevents the chain from popping off, which usually occurs when shifting under a load.
Be aware of the cross-chaining as it can stop you from enjoying the ride while you struggle to fix it up. This situation usually happens when the chain gets stretched across the small or big chain between the front or the back to the small or the big rear cog. It is common when you make multiple shifts without pedaling and can damage or even break the chain.
Master the Front-Wheel Lift
This often equals to mission impossible for inexperienced bikers, but once you successfully acquire the technique, you’ll realize it is a necessity. When you lift the front wheel to skip over logs, bumps, or whatever it might be, it prevents you from skidding or pulling the bike. It is a move that requires to load the bike, explode the energy, and lift the wheel. While doing it so, you need to have the ready position by standing weighted on the pedals with your knees and elbow bent.
Avoid the So-Called Death Grip
Death grip is a phenomenon that occurs among beginner riders and results in sore arms, shoulders, and hands. The death grip puts an extreme amount of pressure on the handles, but the only effect will be tense and stiff upper-body movement and less overall dynamics. Since you’ll need flexibility and quick reacting while riding down the trails, it is recommended that you have enough grip to feel secure, while at the same time you don’t feel any pressure on the shoulders and fingers.
Cornering is a skill that requires lots of practice, and regardless of your level, there’s always room for improvement. Advanced riders say that it is the place that kills their speed, but beginners should not worry about speed at this level. The main thing to do is just use the momentum to glide you through the turn. To start turning, crouch yourself in a balanced position, with open knees to allow the bike to lean beneath you. While leaning the bike, make sure your torso stays in un upward position. You need to start braking before the turn, and while turning, you slowly release the brakes.