The Essentials of Mountain Biking

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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The Essentials of Mountain Biking

Whether you’re already a dedicated roadie or completely new to cycling, mountain biking can be a great way to mix up your training and get in shape. While there’s a lot to know, don’t be intimidated if you’re new to the trail — like all cycling, your primary goal should be to have fun and enjoy riding outdoors.

Use these tips to learn about the different mountain biking disciplines, how to choose the right bike and basic techniques to keep you safe on the trail.

1. KNOW THE MOUNTAIN BIKING DISCIPLINES

Most mountain bike-specific trails will be marked beginner, intermediate, expert and double expert, which makes it easy to match your skill level and bike-handling ability with the terrain. Singletrack and doubletrack refers to the width of the trail. The style of riding you choose within the sport of mountain biking may vary depending on your skill level, fitness and type of bike you own.

Here are a few of the most common disciplines in mountain biking:

TRAIL

The most basic mountain bike category, trail riding is a general term used by casual riders because it isn’t linked with any specific style of racing. More often it refers to weekend meetups at your local trailhead and an hour or two of kicking up dirt with your buddies. Bikes in the trail category are usually versatile and built for the novice-to-intermediate rider.

CROSS-COUNTRY

Emphasizing endurance over technical skill, cross-country mountain biking events usually last anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours. Fast riding and the ability to climb steep gradients are its hallmarks. Bikes in this category are light, efficient and built for speed.

ALL-MOUNTAIN/ENDURO

When trail riding turns competitive, you’ll steer toward this discipline. The all-mountain category originated from the idea of seeing who could ride to the top of a mountain and back down the fastest. Big climbs and steep descents are common in races. In enduro events, only combined downhill sections are timed.

DOWNHILL

Big, sturdy bikes and lots of body armor are distinguishable features of downhill mountain biking. Like skiing, riders usually take a lift service to the top of a mountain and then ride down. Downhill mountain biking is very technical and bikes use the most travel in the front and rear suspension to deal with obstacles at high speeds.

2. CHOOSE THE RIGHT MOUNTAIN BIKE

When buying a mountain bike, you’ll often see manufacturers categorize their bikes according to the discipline you’re interested in. On a more basic level, mountain bikes can be broken into categories based on suspension.

RIGID

For off-road riding on smooth dirt trails, a rigid suspension refers to a mountain bike with no suspension. While this cuts costs and weight, it isn’t ideal if you’re looking to tackle trails with roots and rocky terrain. This may be an option for novice mountain bikers who want a bike suitable for multi-use paths and occasional off-road beginner paths.

HARDTAIL

A mountain bike with suspension on the front forks but no suspension on the rear triangle is referred to as a hardtail. In general, these bikes are used to handle technical terrain and handle better than full-suspension mountain bikes. Hardtails are commonly used for trail, all-mountain and cross-country disciplines.

FULL-SUSPENSION

Front and rear suspension bikes are used to reduce impact on the toughest trails for a more forgiving riding experience. While you’ll lose some speed because of the up and down motion of the shocks, full-suspension bikes improve traction and make heading downhill at higher speeds over rocky terrain easier to handle. Full-suspension bikes are common for enduro and downhill mountain biking focused events.

FAT BIKES

While not technically categorized by suspension, fat bikes are a fairly new category that utilizes wider tires (usually 3-inches or wider) to deal with a variety of terrain instead of relying on suspension. Some fat bikes are rigid while others have front suspension. They are forgiving over rough terrain, making them an ideal choice for beginners and can also be ridden in the snow and sand.


READ MORE > FINDING THE RIGHT BIKE FOR YOU [INFOGRAPHIC]


3. KNOW THE BASICS OF MOUNTAIN BIKING

These tips will help you ride safely, efficiently and enjoy your time on the bike.

WEAR THE RIGHT GEAR

A mountain bike-specific helmet with coverage behind the ears, sunglasses, a hydration pack and basic tools are necessary gear for the trail. Shorts with a chamois insert and a breathable jersey can make your experience more comfortable.

ALWAYS LOOK AHEAD

When you’re riding, it’s important to keep your eyes up the trail for approaching obstacles. This will allow you to choose the safest line of travel and adjust your speed as necessary.

KEEP PEDALS LEVEL

When you’re coasting, keep your pedals level (3 o’clock and 9 o’clock) to keep from clipping stumps, rocks and other obstacles on the ground.

GET LOW

When descending, bend your elbows and knees and keep your hips just above the saddle for extra shock absorption.

ANTICIPATE THE CLIMB

When you see a climb approaching, find the right gear early. Sitting and spinning in an easy gear and climbing at a steady pace will be much more efficient than standing to climb in a larger gear and will keep you from losing traction on your rear wheel.

ANTICIPATE OBSTACLES

If you’re looking ahead, you should see obstacles early. Once you approach the obstacle, keep your eyes up and look for a safe exit as you ride through it. Try not to brake as you ride over the obstacle, and instead brake as much as you need beforehand to control your speed.

SLOW IS THE WAY TO GO

In the beginning, don’t feel like you need to bomb down every descent. There’s no need to prove yourself. Instead, always use a cautious approach as you improve your bike-handling skills and make safety your number 1 priority.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.

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