6 Tips Every Beginner Mountain Biker Must Know

Your friends are on the dirt getting rad. You want to join them. (You also want to get home in one piece.) Here’s how to get started.

Selene Yeager |

Every mountain biker remembers their first riding over rocks, streams, and  all types of amazing terrain. It’s fun and exciting yet nerve-wracking and terrifying all at the same time. It does gets easier – and more fun! – the more you do it, but as a beginner you probably wish you had a few tips to speed up your learning. Well look no further, here are all the tips you need to fast track the mountain bike fun.

Stay loose

Your bike’s job is to roll over technical terrain. Your job is to let your bike do its job. That means keeping your body loose, so it can move beneath you. Hover your butt off the saddle when riding over obstacles like roots and rocks. The more technical the terrain, the more room your bike needs to move. When ripping down a descent, think “pushup arms” and “cowboy legs,” and flare out your elbows and knees so your body allows the bike to flow rather than fighting it.

Momentum is your BFF

It’s going to feel counter-intuitive, but holding speed—and even speeding up—when the terrain gets challenging makes clearing challenging sections of trail easier because your bike has the one thing it needs most to keep moving forward: momentum. Momentum is your best friend out there, maintain it whenever you can.

Shift your weight

You’re going to hit some extreme terrain, including steep inclines and declines. When climbing a tough pitch, shift your weight forward and lean forward to keep your center of gravity over the rear wheel to maintain traction. When the earth tilts downward, go in the opposite direction, shifting your weight behind the saddle and over the rear wheel (dropper posts are a godsend for this) to avoid going over the bars.

Easy on the brakes

You will be tempted at some point to grab both brakes and pull ‘em to the bars with all you’ve got. Resist this temptation! Mountain bike brakes are powerful enough that you need just one (maybe two) finger(s) to modulate your speed. Adjust your speed before the tricky stuff, like rock gardens and corners, and then maintain your speed through them. If you do find yourself going into a turn too hot, stay off the front brake. Stopping your front tyre will send it into a slide, which is likely to send you to the ground. Hit the rear instead; you might skid, but you’re more likely to stay upright.

Use all the gears, often

Mountain bike profiles look like a great white shark opening wide for its next snack. Anticipate changes in terrain by shifting before you need to. It’ll help you keep your momentum, which as you know, is your best friend.

Set Your Suspension

Most mountain bikes  have at least a front suspension fork, and most have a shock absorber in the rear as well. These are magical inventions that make big bumps nearly disappear as you roll over them. But they only work if you have them set to their active positions. You can take a little time learning the finer nuances of setting your sag (how much travel you use just sitting on the bike) and rebound. But take a moment to know how to lock out and/or open up your suspension, so you don’t accidentally roll out onto a crazy technical trail with a fully rigid bike (it happens!). Look where you want to go. Staring directly at that rock you don’t want to hit will nearly ensure that you’re going to smack right into it. It’s called “target fixation;” your bike goes where your eyes are directing it to go. Look past obstacles to where you want to go. Keep your chin level to the ground, eyes forward, and try to look as far down the trail as possible, using your peripheral vision to avoid and negotiate obstacles immediately in front of you.

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