If you are someone who has ever asked me or wondered how I got into mountain biking, then you probably have either heard from me, or simply inferred, that I may have a little bit of an addictive personality. I have finally accepted that I am the type of person that “goes in deep” when I find something I like. When it comes to riding my mountain bike, it is a pattern I do not intend to break.
The reason why I have successfully stuck to riding a mountain bike for 5 years now, almost on a daily basis, is that I came across people that gave me all kinds of advice when I first started riding ( almost as in the first hour I spent on a bike). The second and most important reason is that I listened to it all. Whether it was good or bad advice, well that’s a different story. If anyone said my seat was too low, I raised it. If someone said my handlebars were too wide, I cut them. If someone said my tire PSI was too high, I lowered it. If someone said I should ride a particular trail, I did. There was no single piece of information I was given, that I didn’t go home and do more internet research about, to then soon realize ‘they were probably right’.
I have put together a small list of things I was told to do or not, when I first started riding that still hold much importance and relevance to me, even though it was many years ago. I hope this helps anyone out there trying to determine where to begin.
- Introduce Yourself: Find a local bike shop and make yourself known. Take a few minutes to do small talk with the mechanics at the shop, because chances are you’ll be seeing these guys quite a lot.
- Get Involved: Ask about Trail Maintenance schedules at the local trails. This is the best way to see what you’re getting into before even bringing your bike into the trails. You will get a chance to meet your local community of riders who can answer any questions you may have, as well as walk certain parts of the trails so you see up and close the obstacles you’ll encounter.
- Be Social: Facebook is a great tool for finding information regarding trail conditions or closures. Here you can also find Clubs associated with the trails you intend to ride, and learn about group rides for beginners, skills coaching lessons, or any activities that can put you in contact with people who share the same interest as you.
- Gear: There are three things that come in contact with your bike while you ride and must never be compromised, regardless of the duration of your ride.
(A) Your butt: if your butt is on fire, you will not want to ride ever, ever, ever again. No one will want to hear about your saddle soreness or pity you for that bike-ass. Invest in a comfortable pair of riding shorts, with a padded chamois to protect your precious body parts. This will be one of the first and most important investments anyone should make when getting into this sport.
(B) Your hands: If you’re riding in Florida, you know to be prepared to sweat like never before while doing anything outside. The last thing you want to do is your sweat to cause your hands to slip off the handlebars, and have a bad crash. Wearing MTB gloves can definitely help you prevent an accident. I personally prefer wearing Full Finger Gloves, and never go out on a ride without them.
(C) Your feet: Your Nike Air Max won’t cut it. Point blank. Find yourself adequate MTB riding shoes with enough grip to avoid shifting your feet on your pedals, which can easily turn into having the worst gash on your shins you’ve ever had.
- Be Responsible: I know you’re worried about looking like you ride a short bus, but truth is you’ll definitely, postitively, 100% stand out if you don’t wear a helmet. The worst and most irresponsible thing anyone can do, is to ride a bicycle inside the trails without a helmet. It is dangerous, and you put your life at risk if you choose to do so. In addition, it is illegal and you are considered to be trespassing if you choose to ride without one in most MTB trails. Strap it on!
6. Ride Within Your Limits: All Trails are marked for a reason. They are designed for beginners and experts alike, and most of them are marked accordingly to make sure everyone can enjoy a fun and safe ride. Make sure you ride within your limits to obtain experience and skills which will lead you to more advanced trails for a bigger challenge. Truth is, sometimes the “Easy” trails are the hardest ones to ride because they require more skill to “flow” at higher speed. You will notice that all Expert riders will ride even the easiest trails. But only Expert Riders should ride the “Advanced Trails”. Trust me, there’s stuff in there that can kill you, and I don’t say this lightly.
7. Pay Attention: The best piece of advice I can give you is to listen to those riders around you. Chances are the local riders will be far more informed about the things you need to enjoy your local trails, than any online forum you can come across. You’ll often find these people having a post-ride beer at the trailhead, or having a coffee while hanging out at the local bike shop.
8. Have Fun: You have entered a world of excitement! Be prepared to create lifetime memories, and discover significant friendships along the way. Mountain Biking isn’t just a hobby, but rather a way of life. A great life, that is.
I’m almost sure I was just a very lucky gal to have discovered a community of great riders in South Florida who were always eager to help a newbie out. I’d venture to say, however, that mountain bikers anywhere in the world are a special kind of breed, and almost everyone appears to have that addictive trait I was able to relate to. That’s how I found everything I was told to be so helpful, because these people will learn every bit of information there is to know regarding their bikes, gear, rides, shops, etc. and they’re willing to tell it all. All you have to do is listen. I can guarantee you that if you do what I’ve mentioned above, you will be the one helping someone get into the sport in the near future.