Intro to Mountain Biking for Beginners
If you’re looking for a fun way to stay active outdoors and get in some great exercise, then mountain biking might be just what you’re looking for right now. And don’t be put off by the name – you don’t have to actually have a mountain nearby. In fact, you can find trails to ride almost anywhere, with no mountain required!
You probably already have experience riding a road bike, but we’ll let you in on some of the key differences so that you know what to expect before you take that first mtb ride.
- Mountain Bikes vs Road Bikes
- Mountain Bike Terrain Types
- Mountain Biking Styles
- Types of Mountain Bikes
- What Should You Wear Mountain Biking?
- Accessories To Consider
Mountain Bikes vs Road Bikes
Since road bikes are the most common bicycle type that riders have experience with, let’s take a moment to check out the key differences between the two types of bikes. The main differences between the two are:
- many mountain bikes have a suspension system, which is designed to absorb shock on rough terrain
- the tires on mountain bikes are noticeably fatter and the tire tread is rugged for those rough trails
- you get to enjoy a more upright position on the saddle when you’re mountain bike
As you can see, these are some significant differences, but we think almost any road cyclist can enjoy mountain biking. If offers quite a bit more of an adrenaline rush, but you can choose simple or more difficult trails to help manage that adrenaline level.
Mountain Bike Terrain Types
You can find terrain that suits your experience levels on the bike, from smooth beginner trails to more challenging expert trails. And you’ll find that mtb trails are always marked by difficulty level, so you don’t need to worry about accidentally ending up on something too challenging.
This is the most common type of trail that you’ll find, with it’s name giving away what type of trail it is. Singletracks are designed for the single-file type of riding, however there is just barely enough room for bike to pass one another. Singletracks are typically one-way trails. You’ll find that this trail type is perfect for taking in the scenery without feeling too rushed.
Also named for exactly what it is, doubletracks are usually around double the size of a single track and wide enough for two bikes to ride side-by-side. These tend to be old roads, like logging roads, that are no longer in use and perfect for a cool mtb trail experience. You’ll notice that doubletracks often have a gentler grade than singletracks.
MTB Terrain Parks
These man-made mountain bike parks can be found pretty much anywhere these days. They always some cool features for riders, like halfpipes, elevated bridges and jumps. Some are more challenging than others, but these can be a lot of fun.
Mountain Biking Styles
When you’re reading to shop for your first mountain bike, you’ll need to know your riding style. This is because the manufacturers have bikes for each type of riding style, and you need one that best meets how you’ll be riding out on the trails. Below we’ll cover the styles to give you a better idea of what might appeal to you.
This of this as sort of the all-around style of riding. It is the most common and works for any types of trails. However, trail bikes are not designed for racing. So, think of this as your style if you like to ride with friends casually or just if you are a hobbyist. As a first-timer entering this sport, you’ll want to stick to entry-level trail bikes for your first mtb.
Think of this style as trail riding, but taken to the extreme. So, if your riding style leaves your knuckles white on descent and your leg muscles burning like never before, then this is your jam right here. Bikes that fit this style are light enough for steep uphill-pedaling and perform well on that same steep incline going back down.
If you want to compete or race, then this is your style right here. Cross-country mountain bikes are designed for speed. And they’re lightweight enough to make climbing a breeze.
As you might imagine, bikes that meet this riding style are characterized by their really fat tires. Fat tire bikes are great when you need good traction, such as on sand or snow. However, you can actually ride fat tire mountain bikes on any terrain, and plenty of people do just that. This can be a great choice for beginner mountain bikers since those fat tires are very forgiving on rough terrain.
During the warmer months, ski resorts often convert their slopes into lift-serviced mountain bike parks. This is not for the faint of heart because your entire ride is downhill and full of rough terrain, jumps, and other features. The bikes here are super durable and you need to wear your protective gear for the descent.
Types of Mountain Bikes
The type of mtb that you’ll need depends on where you’ll be riding it. There are a lot of options for you to consider here, but the most important are wheel size and suspension type. So, let’s dive into those categories so you’ll know what the best options are for you.
- 24-inch: This is the size you typically find on kids mountain bikes. The smaller tires help their shorter legs to reach the ground easily. This size wheel is ideal for kids between the ages of 10 and 13. If you have a younger child you want to take out on the trails, you can find some bikes with even smaller 20-inch tires.
- 26-inch: This size offers a great combination of maneuverability and responsiveness. While this used to be the most common tire size, that is no longer the case.
- 27.5-inch: Considered to offer the best parts of the 26-inch and the 29er sizes, this tire size lets you maneuver better than 29ers and move over terrain better than 26s.
- 29er: Most popular with cross-country riders, 29ers offer better responsiveness than 26s, easily roll over obstacles on the trail, and provide a good grip.
- Hardtail – Due to their lower cost and versatility, hardtail mountain bikes are probably the most common suspension type that you’ll see on the trails. The rear of a hardtail mtb has no suspension, while the front wheels absorbs the impact from the front suspension fork. Typically you can lock the front fork when you want to ride a rigid mtb. This type is good for almost any riding style and terrain, except for the lift-serviced downhill trails.
- Rigid – This type of mtb has zero suspension, which makes them cheap and easy to maintain. But they don’t offer the most comfortable ride out there. Fat tire bikes are usually rigid, and the fat tires help to absorb the shock and make them the most comfortable type of rigid mtb.
- Full suspension – Exactly like it sounds, this type has a front fork and rear shock for complete impact absorption on the front and back of the bike. The benefit of a FS mountain bike is that it is a more comfortable ride and you get better traction. However, when riding uphill that rear suspension can give you some bob that makes it more difficult. Fortunately, most full suspension mtbs offer a locking feature for the rear suspension, when needed.
Hardtail vs Full Suspension Mountain Bikes
Whether you are buying your very first beginner’s mountain bike or replacing your old gear, all mountain bikers face the same challenge – hardtail or full suspension. It seems like you see a lot more full suspension mtbs out there, which can leave some bikers wondering what are hardtail mountain bikes good for anyways?
Well, I can help clear up any questions you might have, like what are hardtail mountain bikes used for? And which is the better option for me? So, let’s dig right into it and let me tell you the key differences between full suspension and hardtail mtbs, as well as which types of riding are best for each type.
If you look at a good hardtail mountain bike, then you will notice that it features a solid frame. Normally, you’ll find a suspension fork in the front of the frame with this type of mtb.
Now, if you also look at a good full suspension mountain bike like the Diamondback Recoil 29, then you will see that the frame on a FS bike has two pieces that are joined by pivots. The two pieces are a rear triangle and front triangle. Note that the FS mtb does also have the front suspension fork. The cool thing about the full suspension mtb is that those two pieces of the bike frame move independently, and a shock absorber controls that rate of movement.
The important thing to know about these two types of mountain bikes is that neither of them is the single best type of mtb. Instead, the best type depends on your style of riding, the type of terrain that you ride on and your basic personal preference.
If you prefer to keep your butt on the seat while climbing, then a FS bike is the better choice for you. Hardtail bikes are better for getting over obstacles on technical terrain, plus they tend to get great traction so there’s no worries about spin-outs.
FS bikes are great for downhill technical trails that have a lot of bumps along the way. Hardtails do okay, but it is a different ride due to the design of the bike. The main difference is that you get tired a lot faster riding downhill on a hardtail.
As you probably already know, FS bikes require considerable more maintenance than hardtails. If you do not want to have to spend more time on maintenance, or money on the upkeep, then a hardtail bike is better choice for you.
While hardtail bike frames have traditional been the more lightweight option, there are now some great lightweight FS bike models available for serious mountain bikers. Overall, you can get a fairly lightweight bike in either style.
If you are on a budget, then you are probably going to end up with a hardtail. Why? Because the basic design has been around for quite a while and that results in the costs being lower than FS bikes. Full Suspension bikes are pretty much always more expensive as they are a newer style and that means higher costs for consumers like you and me.
Each type of mountain bike offers its benefits and neither one is singularly better than the other. If you are shopping based on your budget, then stick with a hardtail and it will be a great choice. However, if you have the money to spare, or just want a smoother ride (if you frequent rougher terrain), then spend the extra for a full suspension bike and you will be happy with it. And if you’re really flush with cash, get one of each and switch up what you ride based on terrain!
What Should You Wear Mountain Biking?
If you’re looking to be as comfortable as possible out on the trails, then you’ll want to dress in some bike-specific clothing. We have some suggestions for your below.
- Gloves – Padded gloves work wonders for reducing hand and wrist fatigue and blisters. You can choose from fingerless or full-fingered bike gloves. In the event of a crash, both types will help protect your hands. The benefit of the full-fingered option is that they keep your fingers warm, which is necessary in colder weather.
- Jersey – Cycling jerseys are designed to be moisture wicking and quick drying, which is just what you need out on the trail. Some jerseys even have pockets, if you need that feature.
- Shorts – Cycling shorts are a better option than traditional shorts because they are designed with the sport in mind. The inner lining is often padded, which helps to reduce saddle fatigue from long rides.
- Sunscreen – If your skin is not covered, then be sure to apply sunscreen on exposed areas before you ride. The last thing you want is an uncomfortable sunburn.
- Bike socks – Instead of wearing athletic socks, put on some bike socks for your rides. They are moisture wicking, which helps prevent blisters and foot fungus. Plus, they keep your feet cooler.
Accessories To Consider
Before hopping on your mountain bike, there are a few accessories that you’ll probably want to ride. While some of these help keep you safe out there, others provide different benefits.
- Mountain bike helmet – Wearing one of these just might save your life if you take a header into a tree coming down a steep trail. Make sure the helmet you buy is specifically for mountain biking because they offer more coverage than road bike helmets.
- Elbow and knee pads – Though not ideal for every rider, if you’re going to be on some rough trails consider protecting yourself with some pads.
- Hydration pack or water bottle – If you’re going to be out on the trail for a while, it’s important to stay hydrated. Many bikes have a spot on the frame for a water bottle, but you can also wear a hydration pack. The benefit of a hydration pack is that you don’t need to stop riding when you’re thirsty.
- Mountain bike shoes – You can get mtb-specific shoes to wear when riding. These offer waterproof or water resistant protection for those times when you’re out in the rain or get your feet wet in a stream or even mud. The shoes should have a good grip in case you end up hiking and decent protection around the toes.
- Pedals – You may be interested in getting either clipless pedals or platform pedals for your bike. Platform pedals are best for beginners since you can put your foot down without needing to unclip. Clipless pedales are ideal for more advanced riders and require matching shoes that can attach to the pedals. You get more control and power with clipless pedals, but they can be a bit dangerous when the terrain is tricky.
Now you should be ready to go out there and conquer your first singletrack. So, what are you waiting for?