Beginners Guide To Mountain Biking

Thinking about 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

Mountain bikers relaxing at the Crank Chaos event in Lesotho
Riders relaxing at the Crank Chaos social event in Lesotho.

Mountain biking is a healthy, social and fun sport. Expect to spend hours playing in the forests, breathing in 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. The important thing is to never lose sight of why you started riding and to keep each ride as fun as possible.


2. BUY THE RIGHT BIKE

Mountain bikes at the Crank Chaos mountain bike event in Lesotho
There are many brands and bike types to choose from in South Africa.

Mountain bikes and their intended application vary widely. It is vital that you chose the right tool for the job. Before you buy a bike, if your chosen bike shop hasn’t asked you where you will likely be riding and what kind of riding you intend doing, then find a new shop. It is very important to get the right size bike and we recommend using the manufacturers website and chatting to your bike shop to do so. Another option worth looking into is the secondhand market – checkout BikeMarket for some high value offerings on new, used, demo and seasonal clearance sales.


3. START WITH FLAT PEDALS

When you do move to a clipped in pedal, look for something which has 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 which 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 which 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

Bontrager multisport cycling shoes
To get started, look for a shoe that is comfortable to walk and ride in, like this Multisport option from Bontrager.

A helmet, gloves, shorts and good shoes are all absolute essentials. When choosing your helmet, we recommend you look at the extended coverage options available at your local bike shop 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 slim fitting baggie 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. When you are ready to progress to a clipped-in pedal setup we recommend starting with a more versatile shoe that offers comfort and grip whether you are walking, riding clipped-in or riding unclipped.


5. GET COMFORTABLE ON THE BIKE

Bike fit specialist at the Gear Change Bike Shop in Cape Town
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, ie: the contact points, then seek help. We suggest popping into your local bike shop that offers a bike fit or specialist to help you sought out those niggles. 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

Jonkershoek, Stellenbosch - 4 December - Lance Morris TRP Brake review for Bike Network photoshoot with Myles Kelsey. Photo by Gary Perkin
Be patient with your progression and always ride within your skill level. There are skills instructors around the country who provide one-on-one or group sessions to help you advance.

Always ride within your skills level and stay in control of the bike and it is important to build your confidence on easy trails first. Don’t venture into any technical single-track until you are familiar with the bike and feel ready for it. Everyone will be on a different learning curve and there is nothing wrong with riding basic jeep tracks for a while until your skills improve. 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

Myles Kelsey mountain biking on the Titan Cypher 120mm cross country mountain bike in Cape Town South africa.
Shifting gears regularly maintains a comfortable cadence and 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 the road. For an upcoming climb you want to shift into an appropriate gear sooner rather than later which will prevent you from experiencing a low cadence stall and the resulting dismount.


8. LEARN TO FIX A FLAT

Bontrager flat repair kit for cyclists
Get yourself a basic tool kit like this one from Bontrager and spend some time learning how to do basic maintenance.

Most mountain bikes are sold with a tubeless ready wheel system and we highly recommend running your bike as tubeless. You will have better traction on the trail and less flats. There are however a few basics you need to know about riding tubeless: you will need to check your air pressure before every ride and you must learn to fix a flat by using a tubeless repair kit and by installing a tube into the system. There are a million videos on YouTube for this, but you could also ask your local bike shop to give you the quick rundown. You will need a basic toolkit which includes a multi tool, tyre levers, tube, tubeless repair kit and pump.


9. LEARN TO DO A BOLT CHECK

Bolt check
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 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 things. If something is repeatedly coming lose you can try a little Loctite or ask you 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

Applying lubrication to a mountain bike chain
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 but the general rules are to give it a wipe down if it is dusty but a proper wash (with a bucket and bike cleaner) if it is muddy or has excess sweat on it. 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, Crank Chaos, The Gear Change |

| PRODUCTS FEATURED: Shimano PedalBontrager ShoesBontrager Flat PackFinish Line Chain Lube |



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