As far as useful outdoor exercises go, not much can beat mountain biking. That said, this is only true if you’re prepared for the challenge.
See, mountain biking is very different than road riding. These trails tend to be on varied terrain, and you’ll need strong technical skills to overcome them. You’ll also need to set up your bike correctly to avoid wasting energy.
Not sure where to start? We’re here to help! Here are eight simple tips that will make your next mountain biking trip more enjoyable.
1. Set Your Saddle Height
Saddle height is a key element of any mountain bike setup. You can pay for a bike fit to figure this out, but it’s simple enough to estimate on your own.
First, put your foot on the bike’s pedal at the six o’clock position. Ideally, you should be slightly bending your leg at the knee. You shouldn’t feel like you’re doing squats or trying to reach the bottom of the pedal stroke.
For an easier fit, adjust the saddle position as well. Figure out the angle of the saddle and how far forward or backward it goes. It’s best to start with a saddle in a flat position and adjust it bit by bit until it feels perfect.
2. Check the Suspension
On most mountain bikes, the fork and shock work via air pressure. The right amount of air pressure (and sag) will depend on your weight.
To set sag, you’ll need to figure out how much psi is right for your weight. Then, use a shock pump to add the right amount of air into the shock. Some shocks come with a chart sticker; if yours doesn’t, use trial and error.
The other two key suspension settings are compression and rebound. They are less important than the sag, but they do make an impact. Start by using the recommended settings from the suspension manufacturer.
3. Use Enough Tire Pressure
Proper tire pressure makes rides much more enjoyable. Too much pressure will lead to a lack of traction, and too little can cause the tires to fold.
When it comes to biking for beginners, it’s best to set up your tires to be tubeless. In fact, many tires are tubeless out of the box! If not, setting them up won’t take too long, and they’ll improve ride quality for most people.
Keep in mind that tire pressure can vary based on your weight and trail conditions. Experiment with pressure from 20 to 28 psi to find the best fit. Run the rear tire a few psi harder as it’s more prone to damage.
4. Dress for Success
Before hitting the trails, you’ll need to ensure your safety. The best way to do that (besides working on your skills) is to invest in mountain biking gear.
The essential piece of kit to buy is the helmet. Head injuries are common among cyclists, and a blow to the head can have lifelong repercussions. Get a comfortable helmet that’s good at absorbing impact.
Your mountain biking clothes should include full-finger gloves, jerseys, shorts or tight pants, and socks. There’s a lot of cycling related content that can help you with finding the right gear for you.
5. Rely on Momentum
Now that we’ve got the bike setup mostly sorted let’s talk about driving technique. Lesson number one: momentum is your friend.
To beginner mountain bikers, this may seem backward. After all, going faster than you’re comfortable with can be scary! As a result, beginners often overcompensate and rely on their brakes more than they need to.
Here’s some food for thought: most mountain bike crashes occur due to a lack of speed. When a rider loses momentum, they may not be able to maintain balance, resulting in going over the handlebars.
To avoid that, rely on your momentum to get through tricky sections. For example, don’t be afraid to ride over small rocks and bumps. With some speed and proper form, these obstacles present little danger to you.
6. Keep Your Body Loose
Speaking of driving form, a big part of it is keeping your body loose. Doing so makes the bike easier to handle, particularly when going downhill.
Start by lowering your chest to the handlebars. That will drop your center of gravity and help you keep your elbows and shoulders loose. Next, keep your knees wide and springy to allow your body to move more easily.
Your goal here is to allow your hips and knees to move independently of your bike. This is body-bike separation and it can help you with maneuvering. It will also make it easier to hit technical sections with confidence.
7. Practice Cornering
Cornering is one of the hardest mountain biking skills to learn. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, this is something you should practice a lot.
First things first: start breaking before or at the start of a corner. Then, lean into a corner by positioning your hips in the direction you want to go. Shift your weight to your outside foot to find traction in the tires.
A good way to practice cornering is to set up some cones in an open dirt area and corner around them repeatedly. You can also head to the pump track, where you can use the berms for more cornering support.
8. Shift Early and Often
In general, you should never try to power through a climb. Rather than stick to too hard a gear, get used to shifting early and often.
Shifting early is important because you don’t want to shift during the climb. This can crunch your drivetrain and result in breaking the chain. Instead, shift before the climb starts for a cleaner pedal to the top.
Descents work a lot like ascents. To avoid your legs turning to dust before you get to the bottom of the hill, shift into harder gear first. Don’t forget that many shifters allow you to shift up to three gears at a time.
Follow These Mountain Biking Tips
If you keep these tips in mind, you should be ready to tackle any mountain trail. That said, mountain biking is also about putting in the work. The more you ride, the more your skills and fitness will improve.
Looking for more tips on mountain biking and related cycling disciplines? Keep checking out our Auto section!