MTB Beginners: Start Here!

beginners-guide-to-mountain-biking

Thinking about taking up mountain biking? Well stop thinking and just do it – you won’t be sorry.

Now, there is plenty to learn when you first start, so we have prepared a list of essential gear, maintenance and riding tips to ease you into the wonderful world of mountain biking. This is by no means a fully comprehensive list, just the essentials, so if there are any further questions feel free to drop us an email, DM or message and we will gladly point you in the right direction.


1. KEEP IT FUN

a beginners guide to mountain biking as published on bike network in south africa
Rule #1: keep it fun!

Mountain biking is a healthy, social and fun sport. Expect to spend hours playing in the forests, breathing fresh air, smiling, laughing and improving your health.

You might scare yourself from time to time and you might have the occasional fall, but that’s all part of the thrill. It is important to keep things fun by riding within your skill level and not overextending yourself physically by taking on too much too soon. Click here for 3 top skills tips for trail riding.

The important thing is to never lose sight of why you started riding and to keep each ride as fun as possible.


2. GETTING THE RIGHT BIKE

a beginners guide to mountain biking as published on bike network in south africa
Click here for our Bike Reviews.

Mountain bikes and their intended application vary widely. It is vital that you choose the right tool for the job. A word of advice, if your bike shop sales guy hasn’t asked you where and what kind of riding you intend doing, then find a new shop.

Also, its extremely important to get the right size bike and we recommend using the manufacturer’s website and chatting to your bike shop to do so.


3. START WITH FLAT PEDALS

a beginners guide to mountain biking as published on bike network in south africa
When you progress to a clipped-in pedal, look for a pedal with an integrated cage (platform) around the clip, like this option from Shimano.

Whilst some riders progress to a clipped-in pedal/shoe system pretty quickly, we recommend starting off with what is called a flat or platform pedal system that has no retention mechanism. It is the smart starting point for all riders to build from.

Once you are ready for a clipped-in pedal, look for a pedal that has an extended platform around the clip which can provide stability if you do happen to unclip on the trail.

These pedals have a tension adjust screw and we recommend you set them on the looser side, to begin with, which will make it easy to unclip.


4. WEAR THE RIGHT GEAR

a beginners guide to mountain biking as published on bike network in south africa
Trail gear is a relaxed (and comfier) fit that we highly recommend.

A helmet, gloves, shorts, and good shoes are all absolute essentials.

When choosing your helmet, we recommend you look at the extended coverage options and remember that getting the right size with a good fit is absolutely crucial.

Look for a full-finger glove without too many layers on the palm and if you are in between sizes go for the smaller option – there is less chance of it bunching up and irritating you.

Go with a trail short that has a lycra and chamois insert. Never wear underwear (of any kind) with your lycra and chamois – it’s a recipe for problems.

If you are moving to a clipped-in pedal setup we recommend starting with a versatile shoe that offers comfort and grip whether you are walking, riding clipped-in or riding unclipped.


5. GET COMFORTABLE ON THE BIKE

a beginners guide to mountain biking as published on bike network in south africa
Don’t put yourself through hell, chat to your bike shop about any discomfort you may be experiencing. It CAN be fixed.

It is normal to experience mild levels of discomfort when you start riding but it shouldn’t take long before your body adjusts to things. If you are experiencing significant discomfort on the bike with the seat, shoes or grips, then seek help. There are many good bike fit specialists across SA.

When investing in items to improve your comfort on the bike look for brands that offer a money back, no questions asked guarantee. Alternatively, look for a shop that is happy to offer you a demo item to try before you buy.


6. HONE YOUR SKILLS BEFORE PROGRESSING TO TECHNICAL TRAILS

There are skilled instructors around the country who provide one-on-one or group sessions to help you advance.

Build your confidence on easy trails first. Avoid technical single-track until you are familiar with the bike and feel ready.

Remember, it is your ride and nobody is thinking about how fast you are going or that you are walking a section. Always ride and progress at your own pace.


7. LEARN TO USE ALL OF THE GEARS

a beginners guide to mountain biking as published on bike network in south africa
Shifting gears regularly is one of the keys to mountain biking with flow.

Looking ahead allows you to anticipate and shift into the right gear for any upcoming obstacle or section of trail. For an upcoming climb, you want to shift into an appropriate gear sooner rather than later – this reduces the chances of low cadence stalling and improves your flow.


8. LEARN TO FIX A FLAT

a beginners guide to mountain biking as published on bike network in south africa
A basic tool kit like this one from Bontrager is essential.

Most mountain bikes are sold with a tubeless-ready wheel system. You will have better traction on the trails and fewer flats with tubeless. There are however a few basics you need to know about riding tubeless: you should check your tyre pressures before every ride and you must learn to fix a flat by using a tubeless repair kit.

A basic toolkit that includes a multi-tool, tyre levers, tube, tubeless repair kit and pump, is essential.


9. LEARN TO DO A BOLT CHECK

a beginners guide to mountain biking as published on bike network in south africa
Regular ‘bolt checks’ are a must for all bikes.

All new bikes go through a settling-in phase where things come loose. For this reason, it is a very good idea to do a basic ‘bolt check’ on all the bolts, screws and pivots after every ride for the first ten hours of ride time.

You want to gently nip things up and be careful not to over-tighten the bolts. If something is repeatedly coming loose, you can try a little Loctite or ask your bike shop to have a look.

Once your bike has settled in you can decrease the frequency of the bolt checks to about every four hours of riding.


10. WASHING YOUR BIKE

a beginners guide to mountain biking as published on bike network in south africa
Extend your drivetrain life and keep your bike rolling smoothly by applying a little bit of lube after washing.

You don’t have to wash your bike after every ride. If it is dusty, a simple wipe-down will suffice.

If it is muddy or has excess sweat on it a proper wash (with a bucket and bike cleaner) is in order. You can use a hose but don’t use a high-pressure washer or spray water directly onto the suspension stanchions, headset, BB and chain.

After washing and drying your bike, remember to add a little bit of the appropriate lube to the chain and stanchions.

Lastly, remember that mountain biking is a family sport that can be enjoyed no matter your age or fitness level. You shouldn’t feel any pressure to fit into any rider stereotype or to become a racing snake. Just get outside, be healthy and do what you enjoy. Feel free to message us for any advice or questions on getting started. Enjoy the ride!


| IMAGES: Gary Perkin, Dom Barnardt, Ryan Franklin |

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