Before you hop on your mountain bike, do these quick but important checks.
Another simple check to do regularly: Lift your front wheel a foot or so off the ground, loosely grip the handlebars and drop it. If anything sounds or feels odd, it may indicate a loose headset. Don't ride such a bike.
Last but not least, wear a bike helmet every time you ride. Bring adequate water via a water bottle or hydration pack and carry energy snacks for longer rides. Desirable, but optional, gear includes sunglasses, biking gloves, bike shorts and shirt. So-called “clipless” bike shoes, which let you attach yourself directly to the pedals for increased cycling efficiency, are nice but not recommended for beginning riders.
Since most mountain biking involves at least some up and downs, it’s good to know how to shift your gears properly. Proper shifting habits not only save wear and tear on your bike (especially your chain, front cassette and rear cogs), they enable you to power yourself more efficiently up and down hills.
Shift often: Beginning riders should practice frequent gear shifting. This builds muscle memory so you can intuitively shift up or down as needed without having to think about whether you’re shifting to an easier or more difficult gear.
Perhaps the biggest key to successful mountain biking is your body position.
The challenge: Trail surfaces will likely include some combination of rocks, roots, ruts, sand or mud. Routes may feature blind turns, hairpin turns and dicey stream crossings. Above you and to the sides of you there may be low-hanging tree branches and other vegetation that pokes at you.
This variable terrain and its potential obstacles are all part of the fun for experienced riders but can be unnerving to beginners. The telltale signs of fear include arms locked tightly, elbows extended outward, chest up high away from the handlebars and a stiff posture.
Our tip: Just relax and remember the “down and back” rule.
No one likes to fall off their bike, but if you are mountain biking it’ll probably happen at some point. If you like to push your limits, it may happen a lot.
Most damage is limited to personal pride. Pick yourself up, dust off and check your own mechanical integrity. Then check your bike. The seat or handlebars may have twisted and the chain may have come off.
As you ride the trails, you’re bound to get into a tight spot eventually. If you get in a rut on the trail, don't "fight the bike." Just do your best to ride it out. Impossible? There’s no shame in stopping and walking it out. Walking is absolutely an accepted part of mountain biking. Many trails feature mandatory hike-a-bike sections which are too difficult to ride through, up or down.
By Steve Tischler
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Last updated: 07/29/2013
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