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How to Get Started in Mountain Biking

The first time I got onto a mountain bike, my life changed.

I was 14. I’d been on street bikes before and those cheap discount store specials you can find for less than $100 around Christmas and I thought all bikes performed that way. A real mountain bike was a very different experience.

I took the bike out for a test spin. Around the first curve, there was so much unexpected grip on the tires that I overcompensated and crashed into the ditch. Thankfully no one was there to see my graceful somersault over the handlebars.

Once I learned about the intricacies of my bike, I fell in love with cycling. It’s been a 25-year affair and continues on to this day.

Knowing how to get started in mountain biking is often treated like the moment I took my first great bike out on the road. You can’t just hop on a mountain bike and expect it to perform like every other bike you’ve been on. So here are some tips from my personal experiences that may help you love this activity and sport as much as I do.

#1. Know your style.

Mountain bikes are generally put into three categories.

  • Cross-country.
  • Trail
  • Endurance

If you’re into mountain bike competitions, then a fourth category is added: downhill. Recent fat-tire bikes have also brought about another category worth considering, which is “fat biking.” Fat biking involves huge tires that let you ride easily on sand or snow.

Your activity must dictate the type of mountain bike being purchased. A good trail bike is not a good cross-country bike. An endurance bike won’t perform well going downhill. Be specific about what you hope to accomplish now and then what you might want to do 3 years from now with your bike and choose the best category.

#2. Know your suspension.

Most mountain bikes have what is called a “full suspension.” This means the front and back of the bike will absorb ground impacts as you’re biking down a trail, a street, or wherever.

“Hardtail” suspensions have a fork in the front, but no rear suspension. These are less expensive bikes and are easier to maintain. These usually work the best as a cross-country bike.

“Rigid” suspensions are really no suspension. Your arms and legs have to absorb the impact. It creates an uncomfortable ride, but does give you a little more control. Good for trail and downhill work.

#3. Know your wheels.

Mountain bikes have several types of wheels. Notice I’m not talking about tires here. The best mountain bikes tend to be 29ers. This means the wheels are 29 inches in diameter. It gives the bike more versatility, though it does affect the weight and speed of the bike in the short-term.

Standard mountain bikes have 26-27.5 inch wheels. Smaller wheels give you more maneuverability and speed, but may not take trail impacts well. These wheels are more for street or cross-country riding.

Anything smaller than 26 inches is ultimately a kid’s bike – though you could conceivably do some ramp work with a BMX-style mountain bike in this size.

Always wear a helmet while mountain biking. You’ll also want to find mountain bike shoes and pedals that fit your needs in addition to what has been mentioned above. You may also want new bike shorts, bike gloves, or a mountain-specific jersey as well.

Then just hop on the bike and begin to explore how it feels. You’ll be more prepared for what comes next because you’ve chosen the frame and wheel structure that best meets your needs. That way maybe you won’t find yourself in the ditch on your first ride.

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