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My Top Three Tips for New Mountain Bikers

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Being new to a sport like mountain biking can be daunting. There’s a whole load of mountain biker slang and lingo to get your head around, a spectrum of trail grades to understand, and a thousand different parts to your bike to maintain or repair. And all of that is before you’ve even got on your bike and tackled a berm and drop-off or a jump.

I’ve been mountain biking since bullhorn handlebars were cool and the only wheel size that mountain bikes had was 26″; so I’ve learned a thing or two over the years.

In this post, I’ll share my top three tips for new mountain bikers. Things that I wished someone had told me when I first started riding.

My Top Three Tips for New Mountain Bikers

Accept That You Don’t Need a New Bike

The first of my three tips for new mountain bikers: accept that you don’t need a new bike…

If you’re new to mountain biking then I’m going to hazard a guess and presume that you didn’t spend a fortune on your first bike. Maybe it’s even second-hand. Most people do not gamble on spending a lot of money on a new hobby that they’re not yet sure they’ll even stick with.

As soon as you own a mountain bike you start to notice other people’s mountain bikes. Then, when you start hanging around in places where there are lots of mountain bikers – like trail centres – you start to notice that other people have really nice, really shiny, really expensive looking bikes. All of a sudden you get feelings of inadequacy about your own modest bike.

Bike envy is a natural thing and it’s never going to go away; but when you start using it as an excuse, that’s when it becomes a problem.

When I was new to mountain biking there were a few sections of my local trail that I just couldn’t master. There was a fairly small drop-off that filled me with fear. A particularly technical climb over roots and rocks that I just couldn’t get up without getting off and pushing. And there was a downhill section that everyone seemed to flow down with ease apart from me, who bounced along awkwardly and had to pedal way more than anyone else.

I blamed my bike for all of those failings.

I convinced myself that I wouldn’t be scared of that drop-off if I had a full-suspension bike instead of a hardtail, and I told myself that I’d have no problem getting over the rocks and roots if I had a better bike. And as for making hard work of the technical descents? Well, that was obviously the fault of my bike, too.

This led to me missing out those sections of trail for months and months, effectively putting my progression as a mountain biker on hold while I saved up for a better bike. Then one day I decided to hire a full-suspension bike for the day; a bike worth a couple of thousand and well beyond my price range. I jumped on that bike and set out for the trails, convinced that I was now an expert rider and that I’d clear every section without a problem.

How wrong I was!

I still couldn’t master those sections on the best bike I’d ever been on – and so came the realisation that an expensive bike does not make you a good mountain biker.

If you’ve got a bike that is in good working order, is the right size for you, has gears that work and some kind of front suspension: that’s all you need to get started and it’s all you’re going to need for quite a long time.

Fast forward a decade or so and I’m still riding the same £500 hardtail that I bought in 2008, and it’s still going strong. Over the years I’ve discovered that it’s practice and technique that make a good rider, not a bike.

I can now tackle that rooty climb with a combination of effort and good line choice. I flow down that descent with barely a pedal stroke; and that drop-off, well I’m actually still terrified of that but I know that no new bike is going to fix that problem.

Learn to Corner Properly

Go to your local trail centre on a busy weekend and find a fairly sharp, bermed corner on one of the descent sections. Find a comfortable spot somewhere close to the corner but off the track and out of the way, and stand and watch how riders tackle that corner for half an hour.

It won’t take you long to start spotting the key differences between someone who knows how to corner properly and someone who doesn’t.

A rider that doesn’t know how to corner properly will usually approach the berm way too quickly and then either brake sharply just before the turn, or worse still, brake right in the middle of the turn. You’ll notice that the rider will lose almost all of their forward momentum as they exit the corner and they will be having to start pedalling hard to build up their speed again.

On the other hand, the rider that has put some time and effort into mastering their cornering will have a totally different approach. This rider will have read the corner well in advance and will already be travelling at the fasted appropriate speed as they approach. They will enter and exit the turn with consistent speed, carrying the maximum momentum through to the other side. This not only maintains speed but also saves energy, reducing the number of pedal strokes that you have to put in to keep up the pace.

Once you’ve spent some time watching and have a solid idea of what you should and shouldn’t be doing, it’s time to practice. Find a corner and ride it again and again and again until you’re absolutely sure that you’ve nailed it. Then find a corner that turns the opposite way and do the same thing.

Yes, riding the same corners, again and again, might seem like a strange way to spend a few hours on a bike, but learning to read corners, control your speed, pick your line and carry your momentum are skills that you’ll use every single time you get on your bike. Your future self would thank you for putting in the work early.

Master the Art of Pumping

As a new mountain biker, you’d be forgiven for thinking that all of the hard work is done by the legs. And while the majority of it is, your upper body should be doing some work too.

Pumping on a mountain bike is the technique of pulling and pushing on the handlebars to help maintain speed and momentum. When done right, this technique will help you to flow smoothly over rollers and can be a bit of a game-changer.

Many of the trail centres around the UK now have a pump track, and this is the perfect place to practice this technique. Not only will this benefit you on the trails, but the pump tracks are also loads of fun too.

Explained simply, pumping is about making yourself light on the upside of a roller by pulling up on the handlebars and then making yourself heavy again of the downside by pushing the bike down with your arms and legs.

The aim of a good pump track is to get around quickly and smoothly using a few pedal strokes as possible. Once you’ve mastered it you’ll start to find that technique coming to you naturally out on the trails. Add this to your newly gained cornering skills and you’re going to start feeling a massive difference in confidence and competence.

And the best bit? You’ll soon be flying past riders on bikes that cost three times more than yours did.

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