Beginners’ Guide To Mountain Biking

Would you like to spend more time outside? Do you enjoy cycling but feel that a regular bike wouldn’t be able to handle rocky terrain? Would you like to see amazing views and go on adventures? Why not invest in a mountain bike so you can hit the trail and go mountain biking!

Mountain biking is one of the most exhilarating sports in the world. I will be completely honest. 5 years ago, you couldn’t pay me to rush down a mountain on a bike at high speeds. Now, I absolutely love it, and if you are reading this article it might be right for you. In this article we cover everything from different types of bikes to the features which you should be looking for when looking to buy a mountain bike.

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Things your mountain bike must have

Mountain bikes are designed for the rigours of rough terrain. They are built to absorb shock and to give the rider as much comfort and functionality as can be possible whilst hurtling down a mountain at great speed. Given the inherent dangers involved with mountain biking the specialised features are absolutely vital to ensuring the safe passage of the rider from top to bottom. There are lots of features on mountain bikes that makes them ideal for a great ride through rugged terrain. Read on to find out more!

Wide rims and Tyres

Wide, or fat, tires are the most noticeable difference between a mountain bike and a road bike. The wide tires are designed that way to act as shock absorbers when you are biking on rough and rocky terrain. Furthermore, the wide surface area of a fat tyre will provide improved grip and traction on troublesome terrain.

The advantage of wide tyres is that you can ride in all terrains and weather conditions. Moreover, this type of bike tends to have fewer moving parts and a more rigid frame which makes it more durable and lower maintenance then road bikes.

Knobby Tyres

They may look strange but textured or ‘knobby’ surfaces on tyres help with grip and work well across all terrain, including water, dirt, gravel or uneven surfaces in less-maintained remote cycle paths. Non-specialist tyres are likely to puncture or slip, so it’s a good idea to make sure you’ve got the right ones. You can buy tyres separately and use them on a non-specialist bike, but you will then lose out on all the other features which combine to give you the best ride.

Suspension fork

No, you can’t eat dinner with this. A suspension fork goes over the top of your front wheel and absorbs the shock. The type of material used to do this varies between models of bike, but you should look out for something long lasting or easily replaceable.

Powerful brakes

Nobody should be cycling anywhere without well maintained brakes. It’s really worth taking a moment before you leave to check your brakes and tyres, because things can go so wrong when they fail. Mountain bikes can have two different types of brakes: disk brakes and ‘V’ brakes. ‘V’ brakes are more common and clamp over the top part of both wheels (under the suspension fork) and when the rider squeezes the brakes the ‘V’ tightens, presses the wheel and it stops. These brake pads will need to be monitored and changed frequently.

 

Disk brakes sit in the middle of the wheel. When applied, they work much faster which can result in a loss of momentum that throws the cyclist’s balance off, so they take a little practice. However, because they can completely stop so fast, they are extremely effective and are preferred by most cyclists.

Straight handlebars

Getting the handlebars right on your bike is crucial. With the right pair you’ll be much more stable and able to manoeuvre your bike better. They’re popular, especially with cross country cyclists, and have lots of room for lights, phone holders, brake levers, and any other gadgets.

 

Straight handlebars are good for mountains because it’s much easier to lean forwards. This improves leverage and the tyre grip on the road, as they’re pressed down into place more firmly. They’re also light, so if you’re cycling up a steep slope or lifting your bike onto a roof rack to drive home, you’ll have less weight to heave around. Straight handlebars can even prevent pressure on your spine by distributing your weight more evenly between the handlebars and the saddle, which is great for anyone with back problems.

Lower gear ratios

Almost all bikes now have a number of gears for you to adjust. They’ll often have one gear on each hand, which can be adjusted together to make the rider get maximum purchase with each pedal. Lower gears mean lower resistance, so cycling uphill will require a lower gear. Mountain bikes usually have more low gears for exactly this reason.

What should you avoid when getting into mountain biking?

Buying a mountain bike without riding it first

There are some bikes which you can buy online, and others which should always be tried first. A mountain bike is definitely one to try before you buy. Take a full few hours to pick out a bike. First, you should do some online research and see if there are any reviews. Other customers are just there to give you good advice, so read their comments and refine what you’re looking for. Then go to the bike shop and speak with a sales assistant. They have been trained to be as helpful as possible, and they love bikes, so they’ll have lots of useful advice. They should be able to point you towards models that are best for you. Be aware that some may be working on commission and remember to stick to your budget.

 

Then, see if they’ll let you ride it. You don’t need to go far- although if you can, it’s better. Consider how comfortable it’ll be for long rides and adjust the saddle and handlebars until they feel right. Some shops also have ‘test days’ where prospective customers are allowed to take out demonstration bikes.

Forgetting your mountain biking accessories

There’s lots of opportunities to invest in various gadgets for bikes. Some are absolutely necessary- we’ll discuss that later- and some are just fun or interesting things that enhance your experience. It’s a good idea to set aside some money for additional things, and it’s nice to bling out your new bike! Conversely, there’s nothing more frustrating than getting ready to take your bike out for a spin and then realising that you don’t have a helmet, puncture repair kit or any idea of where to cycle. You can check out some amazing accessories here, but it’s definitely a good idea to think through your ride and figure out what will be needed ahead of time.

Not knowing how to maintain your mountain bike

Bike maintenance is essential. You don’t want to be stuck on a trail with a flat tyre and no idea how to fix it, miles away from any help. There’s lots of places you can learn to do basic bike maintenance and it’ll pay off in spades. It’s still worth having it checked every few months, depending on usage, to make sure there aren’t any issues you’ve overlooked.

What else will you need before you start mountain biking?

A helmet

Yes, it’s the most obvious one (and the one we’d all like to skip on a hot day) but it’s absolutely essential. Missing out on a good helmet and having an accident can literally be fatal. Consider getting a new helmet every time you take your bike for a check-up, and getting it properly fitted. If you want to find out more about how a mountain biking helmet works, click here

A jacket

The type of jacket you go for really depends on the climate where you live, but luckily, they come in lots of shapes, sizes, thicknesses and colours. Alright, the last one isn’t as important, but can still be fun. Ideally, you’ll have something with moisture wicking technology under your arms to keep you dry and cool, and it’ll pack down when you don’t need it. Some can even fold up into their own pockets!

Knee support

Some cyclists find they get knee pain from the repeated pedalling motion. If you’re concerned, speaking to a physiotherapist will help and they should be able to recommend exercises and let you know how to recover and avoid serious damage. Cyclists will often use knee supports to prevent this from happening. There are a range of different ones for different types of cycling and different legs. Take some time to do the research and see what would be best for you.

We hope this helps, and you enjoy your time out on your bike! Cycling is an amazing way to get fit, feel fab and go adventuring, and we know that you’ll be able to find a bike that’s perfect for you!

Types of mountain bike

There are two general types of mountain bike. The hardtail and the full suspension bike. Within these broad categories there are several sub-categories which you must be aware of before making your choice.

A hardtail bike is a lightweight, easy-to-use mountain bike which is designed to be tough and long-lasting. You have front suspension on a hardtail mountain bike and a rigid rear wheel which is attached to the frame.

A full suspension bike has front and rear suspension which is much smoother when the going gets tough. The main advantage of full suspension is that the bike is less ‘skittish’ on rough terrain which allows you to go faster with more confidence.

Whether you are after a hardtail mountain bike or a full suspension mountain bike, both will be useful for different techniques and trails which you plan on hitting. You need to be aware that there are other types of mountain bike which fall into these two broad categories. We explain these in detail below.  

Trail Mountain Bike

You will see that a trail bike looks more rugged and is built for rougher terrain. There is anywhere from 120-140ml of travel in the front suspension. The wheels are the same size as the cross-country model which will allow you to move quickly downhill, but the tyre width is a bit beefier to offer more shock absorbent support. This bike is a good option for people who hasn’t made their mind up on what type of bike they would like to ride – it is a really good all-rounder.

Cross-country bikes

A cross-country bike only has suspension at the front of the frame. This is because they are built for speed and to be lightweight is key. You will also notice that the travel (the maximum distance a front or rear suspension can compress) is around 100 millilitres(ml) whilst the wheels are on the larger side in terms of circumference but are skinnier than what you usually associate with a mountain bike. Remember, a cross-country mountain bike is all about speed.  

All-Mountain Bikes

These bikes are built to take more of a battering and should be extremely durable in rough terrains. You will notice that the wheels get smaller in terms of circumference which will give you more control. The handlebars are wider and the stem being shorter. The head tube angle on your fork is getting slacker which is good for going downhill whilst the all-important travel increases to 140-160ml.

Another feature of all-mountain bikes is that you get suspension in the rear. This bike is designed to eat up the mountain and to get you from top to bottom in a quick and efficient manner. 

Downhill Bikes

On this bike the general rule is that bigger is better. You will notice 250ml of travel comes as standard with these bikes, which is in addition to a coil spring on the back end of the bike to enable you to take those big hits. The head tube angle becomes really slack at the front of the bike. Another feature you find with these bikes is that you get massive disc brakes which increase breaking power for those sharp turns and steep declines.

You get tiny wheels and super-wide handlebars which give you breath-taking turning power and control of the bike; even at high speeds. This is by-far the toughest and heaviest mountain bike we have discussed so far. If you are investing in a downhill bike you will be dropping like a stone down the mountain.

Mountain Biking

Fat Bikes

As the name suggests, these bikes have fat tyres – but that is about all. A fat bike is a large wheeled version of all of the other bikes we have reviewed. They come in all sorts of styles with different features. Some people see these bikes as the future, whilst others think they are a bit of a gimmick. As a purist, I don’t think you’d see me on one of these anytime soon but each to their own I suppose.

Why do we have all of these different types of mountain bikes?

I think about it like a round of golf. You have a lot of different clubs which you use in different situations. It is the same with mountain bikes. The best mountain bike for you is the one which suits the activity you will be undertaking. There is no point buying a downhill mountain bike if all you want is something to commute to work on (unless commuting to work involves taking a downhill ride down a mountain face – in which case, carry on!).

What is the best mountain bike for beginners?

Hardtail mountain bikes are a great place for beginners to start from, as well as being the choice of many seasoned riders. I currently have two hardtail bikes in the garage (one for me, and one for guests). They are designed to be lightweight and tough. The iron out bumps with their front suspension whilst giving new bikers the control and responsiveness they need to be confident on their first few outings.

Another great thing about hardtails, especially for beginners, is that they are the simplest and most affordable mountain bike on the market. If you are looking for the best mountain bike and are a beginner, I could not recommend a hardtail mountain bike more.

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