The women's mountain bike scene has been booming in recent years, with gutsy lasses donning the trails with the wind in their hair and mud on their faces. So, fancy jumping on the trail bandwagon?
If you've have your first rush with the dirt and are looking to get nestled firmly into the forest line and mountain sides, then we bring you the definitive guide for becoming an adrenaline fuelled Queen of the Mountain.
Everyone has to start somewhere, and mountain biking is no different from any other hobby or passion, but be warned... the dirt is a highly addictive drug.
So let's get you started, and rolling the trails in no time.
Buying your first MTB
Where better to get started than with buying a mountain bike? You'll spend hours trawling through online shops, drooling over the shiny paintwork and colour coordinating decals, but you need to know what you're looking for, and ensure you get a bike that's fit for purpose.
When buying your first two wheeled mountain companion, you need to consider these important things:
- Hardtails Vs. Full Suspension? Do you need a hardtail bike for fire road and leisurely trails, or are you looking for something more aggressive for shredding those gnarly steep tracks? It's best to consider what style of riding you want to do, so you invest in the right steed for you.
- What's your budget? You'll quickly learn that you can spend endless amounts on bikes and kit, but for your first bike you may not want to splash out on that full carbon £6k bike from the get go. There's some great deals on entry level bikes to get you started, and as you progress with skill and confidence, you can begin to really push the boat out with something more future-proof.
- Pink it n' Shrink it: Contrary to popular belief, don't feel that you need to pre-set those search filters to women's-specific mountain bikes. In reality, many women ride men's and unisex bikes because we all come in different shapes and sizes and so do bikes.
- Try-before-you-buy: With your short-list of potential bike candidates, have a scout around online for local dealers where you could book yourself a test ride. Bikeparks, trail centres and demo events are great ways to make sure you get the right size and shape for you.
- Second hand bargains: Not all second hand bikes are rust buckets and made of steel, there are some great finds online if you know what you're looking for, and you do your homework. There are plenty of forums and social media pages filled with riders selling their beloved bikes.
Bike Set up
You've got your bike and you're itching to go out, but it's important to take some time to study your bike and ensure it's set-up correctly. There's a number of checks to carry out, bolts to tighten and adjustments to make before you're safe and ready to get shredding.
- Bum comfort: All new bikes will come with a standard saddle which is something to get you started with. While all saddles take a few miles to bed in, you may soon find yourself looking for something else. Before you start measuring up your bum bones, ensure you're saddle is set up correctly. Having the correct saddle height and fore/aft position can drastically improve your ride, and your undercarriage will thank you.
- Flats Vs. Clipping in: Many new mountain bikers will automatically begin with flat pedals for the simple reason that it's easier and cheaper. There are advantages for both set-ups, but ultimately it's down to the rider preference. Clipping-in may seem daunting, but it provides greater pedal efficiency and ensures your foot sits in the correct position thereafter. More info for setting up your cleats can be found here.
- Cockpit: Your body has 3 contact points with the bike: Feet, bum and hands. With the saddle and pedals taken care of, it's important to focus on the cockpit of the bike. The positioning of your brake levers and gear shifters should be carefully adjusted so you don't over or under extend your hand. Poor cockpit set up can lead to numbness, pain and tingly sensations in the hands and wrists.
- Tyre Pressure: Is it too soft, too hard, can you tell? Setting the right tyre pressure can make your ride smooth and comfortable, so spend time studying the model of your tyres, and get that pressure spot on.
- Suspension set-up: The suspension is your shock absorbing system which eats up uneven terrain so you don't feel the jolts and impact in your body. Equipped with a tape measure and shock pump, it's easy to set up and get going.
Maintaining your bike
Like with anything precious, you need to take care of it. Getting your shiny new bike dirty for the first time can be a little cringe-worthy, no one wants to mess up their new things. However, having the right cleaning kit and some elbow grease will have her sparkling like new in no time.
It isn't just the dirt, but having the right tools to fix bike injuries will help keep her going for longer.
- Cleaning Products: You need to be careful what products you use on your bike as overly harsh chemical can cause paint and component damage. For more information about cleaning your bike properly, check out this video.
- Essential tools: The bare minimum you'll need for bike adjustments and basic work is a multi-tool which is great for stowing in your pack as you ride. However, it's a good idea to get a set of tools for the house as well.
- Bonus essentials: There's a couple of extra things that your toolbox needs for those emergency hacks and clean-up situations. Cable ties are great for keeping things tidy in the cockpit, on the frame and keeping your inner-tubes rolled tight. The wonders of duct tape will become clear, as will WD40 and blue roll.
- Change an inner tube: Given that punctures are the most common mishaps to occur on the bike, it's important to know how to deal with them when out on the trails. The best thing to do is practice at home until you can do it with your eyes closed.
- Check your pressures: Tyres and suspension settings need to be checked every so often to ensure it's all up to code. How often is down to how often you ride or if there are any changes to you or your riding style.
What to Wear
The great thing about mountain biking is how casual the style is. You can get away with so much freedom in your clothing that you don't have to invest as much as you may think. However, there are some essential pieces you can't ride without and some things you won't want to ride without:
- Helmet: Arguably the most important piece of your attire is the helmet. Many trail centres won't let you ride without one, and while we don't fancy the idea of helmet hair, you'll be glad you have one on when attempting those new tricks and stunts. Fortunately, there are some great helmets for women out there with ample protection and bursting with style. What kind of helmet you get will depend on your riding preference as you can get trail helmets which have roughly a 3/4 coverage, or a full face helmet for heavier riding and more protection.
- Sports Bra: You need to strap them bad boys down when you're hurtling your way down those trails. A soft and comfortable sports bra will improve your ride experience whilst keeping it all in place up top.
- Base layers: These aren't just for winter, but sports base layers are great for aiding with breathability on the bike. Wicking lightweight fabrics help keep you cool and warm at the same time. Great for riding in all year around.
- Jerseys: Fortunately the growing popularity in women's mountain biking has seen a massive growth in some pretty rad clothing designs. Jerseys are your top layer, your identification amongst the forest back-drop. In mountain biking, bold dynamic designs are a go, but you can still retain your femininity with body considerate cuts.
- Padded shorts: These may be a strange garment to get your head around - or your legs in, but they are a cyclists best friend. They may feel like a bulging nappy, but your bum will be grateful when you've been on the saddle for a couple hours. Oh, and these padded shorts are to be worn knicker-less and with lube... sounds strange, but it's not.
- Shorts: Mountain bike shorts tend to have a baggy knee-length fit, that's the casual style kicking in. Materials can vary from thin trail shorts to hard-wearing downhill shorts, but many of them have the option of a matching jersey and we do love a good coordinating set.
- Gloves: As we mentioned before, your hands are one of the main contact points between you and your bike. With the gripping of bars, pulling of levers, you need to protect your hands from blistering, cold and abrasion so a good pair of gloves are in order. Most mountain bike gloves have gel padding, or a toughened pads to help with hand and wrist fatigue as well.
- Cycling Socks: Keep your feet cool, dry and comfortable with some cycling specific socks. You can get yourself some brilliant waterproof socks to combat the British elements, and you can get some jazzy merino wool super performance ones. Whatever you do, full cotton socks will make your feet sweat which no one wants.
- Shoes: Clipping in, or riding flat, you'll need some mountain worthy shoes to protect your feet and keep you on the pedals. Mountain bike shoes usually have a tackier sole which is ideal for deforming to the pedal, and they tend to have a harder rubber construct to keep your foot position strong and able to withstand annoying pedal strikes.
- Padding: How much padding you choose to wear it entirely up to you, but the general rule is that if you're starting out you'll want elbow and knee pads, in addition to your helmet.
Bike: Check. Kit: Check. You're ready to ride.
Mountain bike trails are graded similar to that of a ski-resort with a colour system:
Green: Family friendly trails with rough or loose terrain, and gradual inclines and descents. Wider trails widths and limited to no features or obstacles. These are great for beginner riders looking to stretch their pedal strokes and learn fundamentals.
Blue: Intermediate. Blue trails will usually be a little more flowy where you start to see the beginnings of more technical sections such as rock gardens, tighter corners and slightly steeper climbs.
Red: Advanced riders take on the red trails which often include features and obstacles: drop-offs, jumps and steep shoots with tight technical trail segments to navigate through. Long single track climbs can be steep as well as technical and even cover great distances.
Black/Pro: Expert riders and those with guts of steel charge their way around the most advanced lines with un-rollable features. Everything needs to be executed with confidence and technique.
It's important to be honest with yourself and ride to your ability to reduce the risk of accident and injury - to you and your bike. Many trail centres and bikeparks offer women's mountain bike coaching which takes you through the fundamentals of riding. Everything from shifting efficiently, knowing your bike, pedalling and essential skills to get you feeling more confident on the stead and tearing up those trails in no time.
On The Trails
Mountain biking is amazing fun, and a great way to make friends, but one cardinal rule to abide by is: respect the trails. There are some guidelines we believe riders should follow to ensure everyone has a safe and fun day on the trails.
The weather can be a cruel mistress, so it's important to carry waterproofs and check the forecast before you set off. Some mountains and further afield places have their own micro-climate which can turn quick. A cloudy day can quickly turn into a white-out, so be prepared and stay aware.
So now you have the bike, the kit and you've learnt the basics, it's time to venture off to explore new trails. We can't cover absolutely everything in on guide, and one of the fun things about mountain biking is trial and error, and you will make errors.
At the end of the day, mountain biking like all cycling disciplines is for you and for fun. Cycling can take you on amazing adventures, introduce you to new friends and get you fit in the process. So enjoy it!
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