What is mountain biking?
Wikipedia defines mountain biking as “the sport of riding bicycles off-road, often over rough terrain, using specially designed mountain bikes”. These days the sport has been further broken down into various categories such as cross country, trail and enduro, but essentially the gist of it remains the same; riding your bike over something that isn’t a man-made road. For those of you that mucked around on bikes as kids, this is the opportunity to recapture that WOOHOO feeling!
What do I need to take part?
First things first – a bike. There are lots to choose from and you can check out our Buying Guide here for the basics. The first choice is between a hardtail (with front suspension only) or a full suspension bike (with both front and rear suspension). The addition of rear suspension helps the rear wheel track the ground more efficiently, which equals more control and makes it more comfortable to ride.
There is also some essential safety kit that we recommend you have to start riding with, namely a helmet, gloves, glasses (to protect your eyes from grit etc), padded shorts (for comfort) and a rucksack or hydration pack. See the MTB essentials for beginners guide for what to pack!
Where can I ride a mountain bike?
This varies according to where you live – for example in Scotland you have the ‘Right to Roam’ (with some exclusions), but in England you are restricted to bridleways, BOAT’s and designated cycle paths / tracks. Check where you can ride in your area!
This is what many people think of with mountain biking – riding along a bridleway, OS map in hand, and taking off into the countryside. There are some great natural trails around and they vary in technicality and complexity (bridleways in the Peak District for example are very different to ones in the South Downs!). If you are riding natural trails we would always advise either riding as a group or letting someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back, plus carrying spares, a mobile phone and a map.
In the 90’s trail centres hit the mountain biking scene – they are man-made trails, designed purely for fun on a bike. They are graded like ski runs, in the following way;
- Green = easy. Suitable for novice cyclists and families on easy to ride surfaces.
- Blue = moderate. Suitable for cyclists with some experience on mostly stoned surfaces.
- Red = difficult. Suitable for regular cyclists with off-road experience.
- Black = severe. Suitable for expert mountain bikers who want technical challenges.
Trail centre tips
Trail centres are there for everyone’s use and are great fun, but they can get busy.
There are a few golden rules that you should keep in mind;
- Ride within your limits – it’s great to try new things but you should definitely be in control of the bike, not the other way around!
- Don’t stop on the trail – if you need to stop, pull your bike off the trail
- If you hear someone behind you, don’t panic. You are under no obligation to pull over but you may prefer to, in which case shout ‘pulling over on the left / right’ and do so where it’s safe
- If you ride up behind someone else, don’t get too close and leave a gap
- If you see something that you are not happy to ride, shout ‘stopping!’ and stop before it. Have a look at it and either walk your bike over the feature, or give yourself a bit of room and give it a try!
- Stick to the trail – cutting corners or riding off the trail will damage it
Finally, mountain bikers are a friendly bunch and usually look after each other, so, if you see someone having problems on the trail, stop and help. It might be you that needs a spare inner tube a bit further on down the trail!
Who to ride with?
You may be getting into mountain biking as a family or with friends anyway, but there are also many ways to join up with like-minded people! There are various clubs around the world so it worth a hunt on the internet to find local ones. Also look at on-line mountain biking forums for information on clubs and rides, plus bike shops.
Once you've got the MTB bug, there's no going back!
If you have well and truly got the mountain biking bug and you want to improve your skills, then it’s worth contacting a coach who can teach you new techniques and stop any bad habits developing.
Alternatively you might want to explore, in which case there are many great companies that offer mountain biking holidays all around the world that cater to all different levels of experience. Local guides who are experts on the area are also a great way to find those magical hard-to-find trails!
Or you may want to pit your skills and speed against others, in which case many cross country races have a ‘fun’ category where you can ride one lap to see what it’s all about!
Whatever you do - enjoy!