If you are partial to a spot of adrenaline and enjoy getting a bit muddy in the outdoors then there's a strong possibility that mountain biking is the sport for you. With trail centres dotted around the country there is a high chance there is one right near you, so there's really no excuse not to get out there and give it a go.
And when you become a more accomplished rider there are no end of possibilities. From steep downhill trails to heading off with a map and compass into the back of beyond, the world is your oyster.
Before you get started though, here are a few handy tips to get you on your merry way.
[part title="1. Gear"]
There are a few essential bits of kit that you simply won’t survive without. The good news is though, you can test the waters and see if you like the sport with very little financial commitment. All of the major trail centres will offer bike rental which will include the use of a helmet and that all important puncture repair kit should you find yourself a touch deflated.
On that note, make sure you have with you a pump, some tyre levers and the right sized inner tube. Although routes at trail centres usually don't venture too far from the centre itself, it can still be a long walk back if you do get a flat!
If you do have a pair of padded shorts then we would recommend wearing them as they undoubtedly give you a more comfortable ride. Gloves are an essential item, they will provide you with better grip and therefore control of the bike, act as shock absorbers taking some of the pressure off your hands and lower arms and they will protect your hands should you take a fall. You should also throw a waterproof jacket into your bag along with a bottle of water and a small snack to reward yourself mid-ride.
[part title="2. Choosing your route"]
The last thing you want to do on your first ride is scare yourself. You'll have a miserable time and ruin what has the potential to be a love affair with a sport that offers a lot of fun. So choose your route carefully. All trail centres will have a colour grading system to show which trails are suitable for beginners.
Start out with nice gentle trails to give yourself a chance to get acquainted with the bike and the feeling of riding off road. There’s plenty of time for the gnarly trails once you improve a little bit.
[part title="3. The bike "]
Getting used to the bike can be one of the biggest challenges when it comes to mountain biking. Take some time to get used to the bike before you hit the trails. Make sure your saddle is set to comfortable height, get acquainted with your gears and get used to the brakes.
Mountain bikes are equipped with a different breaking system (disc brakes) to commuter or road bikes. They are usually far more sensitive to your touch. You should refrain from pulling the break in one hard swift movement and instead pulse the breaks lightly. While the front breaks will prevent skidding, if pulled too hard you will find yourself face down on the trail having been catapulted over the handlebars in a rather dramatic fashion.
[part title="4. Trust your equipment"]
Those who are used to riding road bikes will know that anything but a smooth surface is the devil. Even a shallow pot hole can result in a flat. But you must remember that road bikes and mountain bikes are very different.
The mountain bike is designed to roll over tree roots and rocks and bounce down step sections. So trust the equipment and instead of attempting to swerve every obstacle (which is impossible on technical sections) trust that your bike will be able to deal with it.
[part title="5. Riding tips"]
There are a couple of things that will help out enormously when you are starting out. While you won’t encounter too many technical ascents on your first couple of rides, you may come across one or two. The trick to nailing these is to keep your cadence (the rate at which you turn your pedals) high and steady. Lean forward on the bike to keep the front wheel solid and to prevent it from hopping on steeper sections.
When it comes to technical descents your riding position is crucial if you want to stay on the bike and avoid face planting. The key is to drop your saddle a little bit before you start to descend. You then want to push your ass in the air like you just don’t care. Well not really, but you do want to push your backside out towards the back of the saddle, hovering just above it. This will give you stability going downhill. Practice this position on gentle descents before heading to the tougher stuff.
As you progress and start to increase your speed a little bit, be sure to look ahead. You need to try and pre-empt the line you want to take, it also gives you the opportunity to spot others that look fun to try!
Looking ahead will also give you the opportunity to ensure you are in the right gear. It is important to try to do your gear changes in advance of a climb or technical descent as changes mid-section can prove tricky and often result in that dreaded crunching sound that we all know is never good.
Though your mountain bike has suspension, you can use your elbows and knees like another layer so you can absorb the lumps and bumps your bike rolls over.
Having bent elbows is also essential to help you avoid flying over the handlebars - straight arms are more likely to catapult you over the top if you stop suddenly, whereas bent arms will absorb the movement. Think 'pro arms' - elbows bent out, like you are doing a push up on the bike.
Then when you really start to improve, you can also use your body to gain more momentum (known as 'pumping' the terrain) and even jump over obstacles!
[part title="6. Ride with the hot shots"]
If you want to progress quickly, it is best to learn from someone who knows what they are doing. Try to convince friends who are accomplished riders to take you out and show you the basics or else find a group ride in your local area.
Riding behind people who are better than you will also give you the opportunity to improve. Watch how they position their bodies when going up or downhill. You can also witness first-hand how they handle rough, rocky sections.
[part title=" 7. Riding Etiquette"]
Fear not trail centres are pretty friendly places, and there is not a lot you need to know when it comes to etiquette. The main thing you do need to know is that you must yield to faster riders coming up behind you.
You will often hear the expression “Rider Up" being used, this simply means that somebody is coming down the trail behind you. All you need to do is find a safe spot to pull in and let them pass.
[part title="8. Be prepared for a fall"]
You will fall off your mountain bike at some stage. But do let this put you off. You will not be speeding down the trails on your first couple of rides so your falls will tend to be of the comic variety and will be far less painful than you expect.
If you do take a fall try not to get nervous when you get back on the bike. The more relaxed you are, the less likely you are to take a spill. A rigid body will result in jerky movements on the bike which never end well. So think happy thoughts and off you go!