As a beginner mountain biker Emma had her fair share of spills. Here’s how you can learn how to ride a mountain bike with a little less carnage.
First of all, ‘without breaking yourself’ is not guaranteed. When you sign up for the thrill of going fast downhill there’s a ‘conditions of entry’ fine print that goes something like, ‘Danger, proceed with caution’. But who reads the fine print anyway…right?
There are a few things that’ll act as a good guide to get started without axing yourself in the process. It’s better to be on the bike gradually progressing than landing at the local ER every second session. So, for your body’s sake, take note.
Read more: What to Pack in Your First Aid Kit
1. Have Enough Suspension
As someone who started on a hardtail (a bike with no rear suspension) and paid the price in janky back pain, if you’re investing in mountain biking, before you buy the fancy bike pants, buy a bike that will give you a little more cushion for the pushin’, i.e. one with dual suspension. Particularly if you want to ride in Sydney.
Only got a hardtail? That’s ok! Just be ready to bend ze knees and expect a firm landing.
A trail bike with between 130mm and 150mm travel will get you down most trails, whilst not completely compromising on weight and bounce on the up track. (Yes, uphill is also a thing, it ain’t all just about gravity!)
Setting the bike up for your build and weight, and knowing which style of riding you’re more interested in pursuing will also help you when picking the perfect new rig. Do a bit of research into the types of riding (and bikes) and talk to your local bike shop.
Also don’t scrimp on pedals and shoes, those things glue your feet to the bike. Get rid of the plastic reflectors, please!
2. Trust Said Suspension
Your bike is there to do the hard yards, so set your rebound and suspension up properly and let it carry you. After a few runs, you’ll realise how many times it saves you from flying over the handlebars. Trust it, learn to use it.
If I had a dollar for every time I said my trail bike was not capable of something, I would have at least a hundy by now. Sure, it bottoms out now and again with that lovely clunking reminder that what you just did was not particularly graceful, but that’s all part of the learning curve. Usually, if you hold on and keep it straight, those little bouncy boys will keep you rolling.
3. Leave Your Ego at the Door
Mountain biking is a subtle combination of confidence, a little ‘fuck it, let’s see how this goes’, and knowing when is when. There are days where you’re probably fully capable of sending a new feature or doing one you’ve even done before, but if the headspace isn’t there, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
There will be plenty of times when you’re learning when you‘ll be the slowest (sometimes by a long shot) but knowing your limits and not breaking yourself means more gradual progression and more days on the bike. No one wants a 3-6month recovery because you got a little too cocky trying to keep up with your mates.
A general rule of thumb you might like to use: one roll up on the bike to see the top of the feature, a second roll up to gauge the speed you’ll need, and if you don’t commit on the third try, come back next week.
4. Speed (Can Be) Your Friend
You know how I was talking about confidence? Well, going fast and letting loose can sometimes be a hell of a lot safer.
One of the biggest mistakes made by beginner mountain bikers is pulling the brakes. The reaction when you’re scared or not 100% in the right headspace is ‘I would like to stop, now!’.
If you’ve seen a Friday fails video – this usually ends up with people ejecting themselves hard from their bike. Learn to feather the brakes early, learn that your front brakes should NOT be used liberally (or at all when turning), or you’ll be jumping on a one-way train to OTBs (over the handlebar crash).
5. Ladies – Get Around It
I would like to take an intermission to just say. Ladies get out there!
Mountain biking is without-a-doubt a very male dominated sport. It’s also one of the most supportive communities to learn from. You can expect to make long term friendships after bumping into people on the trail. You can expect tow-ins on new features from random strangers who are just excited to see you progress. You can expect invites to group rides with people who are twice as fast and twice as patient as you are, just to see you get out and into it. So take advantage of it.
Read more: Why Do We Need Women Only Adventure Events?
6. Train Your Skills
The bike park is your friend. It can be very intimidating at first but practicing cornering on berms, pulling up on jumps and pumping your bike on repeat for a few hours is pretty key for honing skills. Bike parks are popping up like rabbits all over Australia at the moment and are now built with progression and beginners in mind. This is also a great place to meet other people progressing at your level and get tips from other riders.
7. Go Have Fun Jimmy
As your mum said when she was dropping you off at soccer practice, the person winning is the one having the most fun.
Mountain biking is incredibly supportive, has a community that helps you learn safely, and you know what? It’s just a hell of a good time.
Go get on your bicycle! You won’t regret it, even if you do end up with a few stints at the ER.