Mountain bikes are tough, fun to ride bikes, made to tackle everything from light trails to rough mountainous terrain. Many riders love mountain bikes so much they even use them as dedicated commuters, with a few modifications of course. But, in order to enjoy mountain bikes to the fullest, it’s important to understand what makes them different from other types of bikes, such as road bikes. That’s why we created this mountain biking for beginners guide.
Let’s compare the following mountain bike characteristics to those of road bikes.
Let’s get rolling:
- Fatter tires with rugged tread for stability and durability on off-road terrain.
- A more upright riding position for better visibility.
- Suspension system that absorbs shock from rugged terrain.
Mountain bikes are specifically made to be ridden in the mountains. But that doesn’t mean that mountain bikes can’t be used for light trail or urban riding.
Whenever you get bored with riding the trails and technical single tracks, hop on your mountain bike for a comfortable, city adventure.
Mountain biking for beginners
In this mountain biking for beginners guide we’re going to tell you the basics of getting started. The different types of mountain bike terrain. The many styles of mountain biking. And what gear to choose.
Types of Mountain Bike Terrain
At first, you want to start with riding trails that are smooth and flat. Then, as you gain experience, you’ll want to tackle harder courses with obstacles.
Mountain biking trails are ranked by skill level (beginner, intermediate, expert and double expert).
Single track is the most common trail type. Single tracks have a width that varies from just a little wider than your shoulders.
Up to being wide enough for two bikes to pass. Many single track trails only allow one-way travel with winding turns that lead to the best landscapes.
Doubletrack trails are double the width (or more) of a typical single track. Wide enough to allow two bikes to ride side-by-side.
Double track trails follow abandoned logging roads, fire roads or power-line roads, where the tires of vehicles created two single tracks. Doubletrack trails are also gentler grade than single track with less-technical features.
Mountain bike terrain parks are everywhere. There’s jump-and-pump tracks located under urban overpasses. And lift-serviced trails at ski resorts.
Commons features include elevated bridges, halfpipes, jumps of various sizes, berms, banked corners and hair raising downhill switchbacks.
Mountain Biking Styles
Many bike manufacturers create mountain bikes based on the style of riding you prefer:
Trail: The most common mountain biking style that isn’t grounded in any specific type of racing. Trail riding is the best kind of riding for meeting up with friends at the local trailhead and riding a mixture of climbs and descents.
Bikes in this category places equal emphasis on fun, efficiency and sensible overall weight.
Cross-country: Encourages riding fast, with an emphasis on climbing prowess. Distances vary from just a few miles to 25-plus. And bikes are all about being light weight and efficient.
Cross-country bikes are great for competitive racers that ride local trails.
All-mountain/enduro: All-mountain/enduro riding is trail riding on steroids. They contain big leg-burning climbs. Long white-knuckle descents. And more technical features—both man-made and natural.
Bikes for all-mountain/enduro riding are designed for steep descents, while also being light and nimble enough to allow pedaling uphill.
The term enduro comes from the racing world where competition has timed downhill stages and untimed uphill stages.
The winner is whoever has the fastest combined time on the downhills. Enduro riding has become very popular, and is considered the same as all-mountain regardless of whether you’re racing or not.
Downhill/park: Is done at lift-serviced bike parks (often during a ski resort’s warmer months). You ride big, tough bikes and wear full-face helmets and body armor.
The bikes have more durable components and fewer gears. And the suspension has more travel (the amount of movement in the suspension).
This helps you conquer jumps, berms, rock gardens and wooden ladders. Also, you’re on a perpetual descent the entire time, so you don’t have to pedal much. You just have to be careful of the the fast-approaching terrain.
Fat-tire biking: Has giant tires that can roll through just about anything. Fat-tire bikes have tires that are at least 3.7 in. wide (and may be as wide as 5 in. or more).
Fat tire bikes offer excellent traction through snow and sand, but aren’t limited to these conditions. Proving that they are excellent for all-season trail riding. Fat-tire bikes are a great choice for beginner mountain bikers due to being very forgiving on rough terrain.
Types of Mountain Bikes
Mountain biking for beginners first requires you to decide where you’ll be riding. Only then can you figure out what type of mountain bike to ride.
The two most important features to determine are, suspension type and wheel diameter. These two features will dictate what type of terrain your bike is capable of riding.
You have a large variety of options to choose from when it comes to types of suspension and wheel diameter (denoted by such terms as 26, 27.5 (650b), and 29ers).
Rigid: The least most common type of mountain bike, doesn’t feature any suspension.
They are easy to maintain and less expensive. But most riders prefer bikes with suspension for greater comfort.
Most riders prefer fat-tire bikes that are rigid. Riders also appreciate the wide tires with low pressures, as they absorb bumps in the trail.
Hardtail: Have a suspension fork in the front that absorbs impacts, with a rear end with no suspension—ergo a hardtail. Hardtails are less expensive than full-suspension bikes, and have fewer moving parts (less maintenance).
Hardtails allow you to lock out the front fork for better efficiency when needed.
Cross-country riders gravitate toward hardtails because they provide direct transfer of power between the pedal stroke and the rear tire.
Hardtails are also great for all-mountain trails. The lower cost and easier maintenance makes them exceptional for everything except serious lift-serviced downhill trails.
Full suspension: There’s many variations of full-suspension bikes available. But they all have a front fork and rear shock to absorb the impacts of the trail.
This drastically reduces the impact on the rider, increases traction, and provides a more forgiving and enjoyable ride.
A full-suspension bike eliminates trail bumps and chatter. But “bobs” a bit, causing you lose energy transfer when climbing uphill.
As a result, full-suspension bikes have lock-out rear suspensions that offer better power transfer and efficient climbing.
Downhill riding bikes boast a lot of travel—the amount of movement in the suspension—compared to bikes designed for cross-country and all-mountain riding. As much as eight inches of travel front and rear is common.
26 in.: All mountain bikes used to be equipped with 26 in. wheels. It’s still a popular wheel size for its responsiveness and maneuverability, but now most come with “26 in., 27.5 in. or 29 in.”
27.5 in. (650b): A middle ground between standard 26 in. wheels and 29ers, these bikes offer the “best of both worlds” solution. The roll over terrain easier than the 26s, but more maneuverable than 29ers.
As with 29ers, this wheel size can be found on both full-suspension and hardtail rigs.
29ers: 29 in. wheels are heavier and slower to accelerate. But once you get moving you conquer terrain easier than on a bike with standard 26 in. wheels.
They offer excellent grip and have a higher “attack angle”—meaning the wheel rolls over trail obstacles easier. These bikes have become extremely popular for the cross-country crowd. 29ers can be found in both hardtail and full-suspension rigs.
24 in.: Kids’ mountain bikes have 24 in. wheels to accommodate shorter legs. They are also less-expensive than adult bikes with simpler components.
These bikes suit kids ages 10 to 13, but depends more on the size of the child than the age. Younger/smaller children should get started biking with 20 in. wheels.
Mountain Biking for beginners clothing types
Bike-specific clothing provides a more comfortable ride, no matter what style of mountain biking you prefer. The style of mountain biking you choose will determine the type of clothing you need.
Shorts: Mountain biking shorts options range from form-fitting styles (often worn by cross-country racers). To baggy styles with a more casual look with more coverage and durability. These have an inner lining with a padded chamois that reduces saddle fatigue and some of the trail impact.
Jersey: Similar to shorts, jerseys range from form-fitting to loose and more casual-looking. You want to choose something that wicks sweat and dries quickly.
You also want something that’s easy to wash and dry.
If you plan to carry a backpack, you don’t need a lot of pockets.
Gloves: A good pair of gloves reduces hand and wrist fatigue; get a pair with padding at the palm. Full-fingered gloves keep your hands warm.
Bicycle gloves also provide grip between your fingers and the grip on the brakes and gear shifters. Both fingerless and full-fingered gloves add protection in the event of a crash.
Choosing mountain bike gear and accessories
Mountain Bike Helmets
Mountain bike helmets offer more coverage and protection than road bike helmets. Get one with plenty of venting and protection at the lower back of the head. For downhill riding, choose a full-face helmet.
All mountain bike helmets available on the market must pass rigorous safety tests.
Some helmets feature the new MIPS technology. MIPS is a low-friction layer that slides independent of the outer shell that limits the rotational forces to the brain when the helmet gets hit at an angle.
Hydration packs offer exceptional convenience for mountain biking. Go with a pack that has sufficient storage space for an extra clothing layer, repair essentials and snacks, and a clip to secure your hydration sleeve to the shoulder or sternum strap of the pack.
Mountain biking for beginners repair kit essentials
Save yourself a lot of hassle—and walking—by packing a few in-the-field mechanical items: a spare tube, a hand pump or CO2 inflator, and a small multitool with several Allen wrenches and a chain tool.
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