The mountain biking hobby took off a few decades ago, and new specialized bicycles ridden by passionate athletes have propelled it into a sport. As newly converted mountain bikers discover pristine and challenging trails, the sport has opened up new territory. Today, there are professional mountain bikers who blaze mountain bike trails all over the world. While you may be just getting started, the global possibilities are endless. Mountain bike trails can be carved out of a large backyard, desert area, any open space—but the prime trails are spectacular, exotic, and heart-pounding. Some are in places you wouldn’t expect.
Mountain Biking 101: What You Need to Get Started
Get the gear you need, but keep your bike lightweight. Some is essential, so don’t skimp on quality on these items.
Shorts or Pants
Get specialized spandex-style, stretch shorts. Regular shorts allow for ventilation, but the rider risks the shorts catching on the seat, and they don’t offer as much protection as spandex-style. The same is true for pants, which should cling but allow for movement, and should taper at the foot. Anything that flaps in the breeze is a hazard on a bike, but particularly on a mountain bike.
Hydration packs contain a bladder that can hold 100 ounces of water or more. Hydration packs, the most common brand being the Camelbak, are necessary because you cannot access a water bottle from the bike’s frame while mountain biking. On a road bike, a plastic water bottle stored on the down frame makes sense but it’s not workable on a mountain bike.
Falls often involve the hands, so even if you don’t like gloves or they seem unnecessary, consider the consequences of a hand injury. It is one body part that, if injured, can significantly interfere with your ability to do daily activities. Gloves are essential and you’ll become accustomed to them quickly.
Pump and Inner Tubes
A small pump and two extra inner tubes are essential, as well as the know-how needed to change out the tubes. Flat tires are fairly common, especially in terrain where thorns or industrial hazards (glass, nails) are common. Consider the terrain and bring as many tubes as you can, especially if riding in a remote area where carrying your bike home is impractical.
This is absolutely necessary whenever riding. A head injury is more commonly fatal than any other injury. Helmets in the modern era are very lightweight and do not obstruct sight or hearing. Helmet use is mandatory for all riders, at all skill levels, in all situations. Mountain biking is a dangerous sport when in extreme terrain or if you are relatively inexperienced. Don’t take chances with your head and buy a proven brand.
A multi-tool is necessary because a simple mechanical problem, like a loose seat post or a loose bolt, can make the bike difficult or impossible to ride. Multi-tools fit into most hydration packs. If you want to save on weight, consider sharing one tool with a riding friend or buying the lightest and most compact tool you can find. Don’t forget this important piece of gear, especially if you ride in remote places.
Expert riders sometimes take trips alone, especially if they are in an elite class where frequent training is necessary. Most of us aren’t expert riders, however, and the chance of a debilitating fall is real. If you are alone and injured, you are vulnerable to being stranded, the elements and changing weather, and the effects of your injury. Like other dangerous sports, such as climbing and boating, you are better off using the buddy system. If you can’t find a riding companion, tell someone where are you going and when you plan to return.
On trails, it’s better to be easy to spot. This is especially relevant if you ride through any kind of traffic or inhabited area to get where you are going. Reflectors can include strips attached to clothing, reflective stripes on the helmet, and other simple items. Wear a bright jacket since being seen on the trail helps other riders avoid collisions and is helpful in remote settings where hunting may take place.
Map or GPS
Like hikers, mountain bikers can get lost. Having a way to orient yourself is recommended if you are on a trail you’ve never ridden, are alone, or are going a long distance. Depending on how much gear you can carry, you should consider a small map (lightweight) if a GPS unit is too heavy. Many smart watches and phones have built-in GPS.
Lightweight, waterproof cameras can be a nice addition since mountain bike trails often reach into near-pristine wilderness. Some riders bring cell phones for safety and use the phone’s built-in camera, but small and rugged cameras are an option if you plan to explore trails on foot or are reaching a mountain summit or other prime destination.
Some riders might include clear glasses or sunglasses as essential, but it depends on the terrain and weather. If you are in glaring sunshine with little shade, lightweight sunglasses are a good idea. If in muddy conditions, specialized mountain bike or sport glasses can keep the mud off your eyes, which is a hazard. Most riders don’t encounter mud extreme enough for eye protection, but anytime rain is in the forecast, eyewear is a good idea.
Tips on Buying Your First Mountain Bike
If you have decided mountain bike trails look like a blast and you want to learn, there are many bikes that aren’t over-the-top expensive but still get the job done. Reputable companies abound, but there are certain steps you should follow in finding a bike. First, considering buying used from Craigslist or eBay, as it is not uncommon for individuals to buy a fancy bike they never ride. Research the brand online once you’ve found a bike that sounds like it has what you need.
Do Your Research
We live in a world where information is literally at our fingertips through the internet. If you are interested in the top brands of mountain bikes, research them by checking out websites and comparison reviews online. This will also help educate you about the features that a mountain bike offers, as they differ considerably from road bikes. Once you’ve decided which brands you like, make a list of features that appeal to you.
List Your Must Haves
Decide before you buy what is necessary for you. The basics are: high quality and durability, a relatively light frame, a proven manufacturer, and the ability to replace parts. If cost is an issue, consider listing several brands you’ll consider then search on the used market. Bicycles are much like automobiles and depreciate in price right after wheeling out of the bike shop. Shop locally through bike shops and pawn shops or online through auction houses and sales-by-owner. Some common wish lists include a decent pump with the bike, specific pedals, and light but study frame materials.
Consider Weight and Height
The two most important features of a mountain bike—once you’ve determined it’s a quality product from a reputable company—are the fit and the weight. Fit matters because if you ride a bike that is too big the ride will be a struggle. In addition, a bike that is larger than needed means carrying extra weight. The general rule is it’s better to be a little too small than too big. Weight is a huge factor in mountain bikes, and it’s worth paying more for lighter materials because when you hit the mountain bike trails you will be carrying the bike at least some of the time. Every mountain biker—even experts—hauls bikes over obstacles.
Are you interested in mountain biking and mountain bike trails? If so, shop for a bike now. Give yourself at least two months to find the right one. You may get lucky and find a lightweight bike that fits you, for a reasonable price, secondhand. Or you may need two months to save the money for the bike of your dreams. It’s a big purchase, so don’t rush it. Make sure you understand the features and always take a test ride before purchasing.
Profesional Tips, Tricks, & Techniques
Mountain bike trails are like sidewalks, and have their own rules and etiquette. Standard convention is to bike on the right unless you are in a country where traffic lanes differ (like Great Britain). Like hikers, trail riders respect the rule of “up and down.” If you are bicycling down and another biker is coming up, the down rider yields. Why? It takes more effort to get the momentum back when riding uphill. Use common sense and yield whenever you are in a narrow patch. Mountain bike trails can present serious and sudden drop-offs, so consider the consequences of not looking out for your fellow bikers.
Mountain biking is more of a workout than road cycling, typically because riders spend more time standing. The body position on a mountain bike usually involves both sitting and standing on the pedals in relative quick succession. Keep your elbows relaxed, and always have an index finger near the brake. Road cyclists can be much more relaxed with braking, but not mountain bikes. Even when standing, know how to use the brake. Mountain bikers refer to the two positions as “neutral” for sitting, and “ready” for standing.
When seated, you are usually coasting or riding along a level trail. In this state you can maintain a neutral stance with a slight bend in your elbows and knees. You’ll constantly be scanning the environment whether neutral or ready, but typically when seated you can take a more relaxed approach. Remember, on mountain bike trails the conditions can change quickly, so be ready to shift to the more active “ready” position at a moment’s notice.
You should practice braking in ideal conditions (smooth trail, moderate slopes, no traffic, good weather) because braking correctly can mean the difference between a quick recovery and a painful fall. Get to know the response of your brakes through practice, and challenge yourself with steeper trails gradually. Brakes on mountain bikes are often highly responsive, and over-braking can be as disastrous as not braking at all. By using the braking mechanism to control your turns and descents, you are actively engaging the brakes far more than you would in standard cycling on roads or flat stretches.
Know Your Trail
Keep scanning your environment as you would in traffic. Your eyes should look about 15 to 20 feet ahead and remain focused on where you are going. Keep the focus on the positive—your goal—not the negative, or what you want to avoid. If you glance at a rut thinking, “I don’t want to end up there,” you probably will. Visualize where you want to be and notice hazards unique to the trail you are on.
Get Comfortable with Falls
If you tackle mountain bike trails, eventually you will fall. The best way to prepare for a fall is to wear the proper gear, especially if you are an older rider who will recover more slowly from injuries. No matter what the terrain, always wear a helmet and gloves. If terrain is rough, steep, or covered with hazards (like cactus), wear extra protective clothing like knee and elbow pads. A specialized jacket is recommended if the weather isn’t too hot, because it offers extra protection to the arms and most come with rigid, built-in elbow and shoulder pads.
Top 10 Mountain Bike Trails in the World
Do you have a few trails under your belt? If you are ready to stretch yourself, why not take a biking-centered vacation and visit different terrain or an exotic foreign destination? If you can’t afford to travel far, there may be mountain bike trails relatively nearby that offer more challenge. But if you want to save up and travel the world in pursuit of your new hobby, here are ten world class trail picks.
British Columbia, the most western province in Canada, is tree-filled and offers amazing remote rides. The area is rain-soaked, so prepare for wet conditions, but the summers are often full of sunny days. Vancouver’s north shore boasts heavily wooded trails and plenty of isolation. This is a great destination for enjoying solitude but having nearby options for dining, lodging, and enjoying the city.
Graubunden is a region of this beautiful country that is known for mountain biking, so you must get up early to have a clear track. The trails are narrow, wind up and down the Alps region, have incredible views of pastures and snow-peaked mountains, and are incredibly popular. This area, known primarily for the scenery of the towering Alps, is a must for mountain bikers.
California is the territory where mountain bikers have spent plenty of time and covered literally thousands of trails, so the best of the best here is something special. One gem close to the lights of San Francisco: the Santa Cruz bike path system of trails. Accessible and very ridable even for beginners, this trail system winds through redwood forests and is unpopulated with other bikers.
The Moab area in eastern Utah is a classic. Trails here are unique because they start and end on the iconic red rocks of the southwest, and the views of the red rock canyon country are breathtaking. This vast western landscape will never go out of style and plenty of trails offer guided tours. Take water and your camera; this landscape is world class and unforgettable.
This state is mountain biking central, mainly because the Rocky Mountains offer so many options and biking on ski trails is a common summer pastime. In Crested Butte, through high elevation across meadows and streams, this wooded area is magical and serene. They hold races here, so the paths are easy to finish but offer plenty of challenges in their twists and turns.
The destination of choice for French and British mountain bikers is the French Alps. Cyclists find great trails in Morzine, which is a stone’s throw away from Geneva. The trails offer plenty of miles, have amazing views of huge mountain valleys, and are ideal for a summer European getaway. Marked trails offer a lot of options, but locally ridden trails are plentiful, too.
If you like Utah and riding over rocks, check out Achnashellach in Scotland, the “wild west” of the British Isles. The scenery is pristine and few people get to this region. Scotland is a nature lover’s dream come true and a fantastic landscape for cycling. The views go on forever and at the right time of year, the climate provides the ideal temperatures for mountain biking. The trails in the Torridon mountains are often technical, but the combination of challenge and scenery can’t be beat.
In this country known for its stunning scenery, the mountain of Mefjellet stands apart, offering terrific single-track riding in open meadows. The ride here is 1100 meters up and the same distance down its wonderful, long descent. The terrain includes rock slabs, open views, and wooded areas for great variety and plenty of challenge.
The area of volcanic mountains known as Cotopaxi has epic rides. If you are seeking long slopes in an open wilderness, this region is unique among landscapes. Long descents on petrified lava-filled slopes are a challenge, and the views of the massive Andes mountain ranges in the distance are awe-inspiring. This is truly unexplored territory for most mountain bikers.
This country offers mountain biking in many of its regions, because of its low density population and temperate climate. Outdoors activities are part of daily life in this country of extreme landscapes. On the Old Ghost Road, there are 85 kilometers of riding through temperate rainforest conditions and great views. Plenty of climbing and long descents mark this trail experience in one of the most beautiful countries on earth.
These top ten destinations for mountain bike trails should inspire beginners and experts alike. They are within reach if you have the time and desire to master the challenge of trail riding. With the right gear and a passion for this sport, endless beautiful trails await riders across the globe.