Every mountain biker remembers their first time: You’re on a bicycle, which makes sense. But you’re riding over rocks, across streams, and over all types of different terrain, which (at least at first) feels like it makes no sense at all. It’s fun and exciting, yet nerve-wracking and terrifying all at the same time. It gets easier—and more fun!—with time. But there are a few mountain bike tips every one of us wishes someone had shared when we were just starting out. Here are nine beginner mountain biking tips you should know when you’re first getting ready to shred.

Contents

Stay Loose

Your bike’s job is to roll over technical terrain. Your job is to let your bike do its job. That means keeping your body loose, so it can move beneath you. Hover your butt off the saddle when riding over obstacles like roots and rocks. The more technical the terrain, the more room your bike needs to move. When ripping down a descent, think: “pushup arms” and “cowboy legs,” and flare out your elbows and knees so your body lets the bike to flow rather than fighting it.

Maintain Momentum

It’s going to feel counterintuitive, but holding speed—and even speeding up—when the terrain gets challenging makes clearing tough sections of trail easier because your bike has the one thing it needs most to keep moving forward: momentum. Momentum is your best friend out there, maintain it whenever you can.

Shift Your Weight

You’re going to hit some extreme terrain, including steep inclines and declines. When climbing a tough pitch, shift your weight forward and lean forward to keep your center of gravity over the rear wheel to maintain traction.

Related Story When the trail tilts downward, go in the opposite direction, shifting your weight behind the saddle and over the rear wheel (dropper posts are a godsend for this) to avoid going over the bars.

Go Easy on the Brakes

You will be tempted at some point to grab both brakes and pull ‘em to the bars with all you’ve got. Resist this temptation! Mountain bike brakes are powerful enough that you need just one (maybe two) finger(s) to modulate your speed. Adjust your speed before the tricky stuff, like rock gardens and corners, and then maintain your speed through them. If you do find yourself going into a turn too hot, stay off the front (left) brake. Stopping your front tire will send your front tire into a slide, which is likely to send you over the bars and onto the ground. Hit the rear (right) instead; you might skid, but you’re more likely to stay upright.

Use All the Gears

Mountain bike trail profiles tend to look like Jaws opening wide for his next snack. In other words, they cover undulating terrain that shoots up and down often. Anticipate changes in terrain by shifting before you need to. It’ll help you keep your momentum, which as you already know, is your best friend.

Whit RichardsonGetty Images

Set Your Suspension

Most mountain bikes today have at least a front suspension fork, and most have a shock absorber in the rear as well. These are magical inventions that make big bumps nearly disappear as you roll over them. But they only work if you have them set to their active positions. You can take a little time learning the finer nuances of setting your sag (how much travel you use just sitting on the bike) and rebound. But take a moment to know how to lock out and/or open up your suspension, so you don’t accidentally roll out onto a crazy technical trail with a fully rigid bike (it happens!). You can learn more about how to set up your suspension here.

Look Where You Want to Go

Staring directly at that rock you don’t want to hit will nearly ensure that you’re going to smack right into it. It’s called “target fixation;” your bike goes where your eyes are directing it to go. Instead, look past obstacles to where you actually want to go. Keep your chin level to the ground, eyes forward, and try to look as far down the trail as possible, using your peripheral vision to avoid and negotiate obstacles immediately in front of you. Upgrading to a trail-specific helmet will protect your head if an obstacle does trip you up.

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Brush Up on Basic Repairs

Because of the rugged nature of the terrain, mechanicals tend to happen more off road than they do on the pavement. Tubeless tire technology has helped minimize—but not eliminate—flats. So brush up on some basic repairs to be sure you can get out of the woods when something breaks. At a minimum, you should know how to fix a flat. Other good skills to have include repairing a broken chain and replacing a bent or cracked derailleur hanger. Your local shop (or a good friend) can show you how.

Carry More Than a Credit Card

There aren’t many convenience stores in the forest or desert. Mountain bike rides will often take considerably longer than you anticipate, as you often run into rugged terrain, have a mechanical, or just get lost. Always pack more food and water than you think you need. Similarly, it’s sometimes impossible for someone to come pick you up if something goes wrong. You may not have cell service even if they could. Always carry the tools you need: a spare tube (or two), pump, and multi-tool. You’ll be more relaxed and have more fun with the peace of mind knowing you have everything you need.

Getting dialed on a mountain bike requires a combination of fitness and bike-handling skills. Unlike road riding, where most of a ride is spent in the aerobic zone, mountain biking requires frequent bursts into the red. “Most mountain-bike trails are on varied terrain,” says Marc Gullickson, USA Cycling’s performance director for mountain biking. “You have steep climbs or technical features that require you to put power into the pedals.” It’s also a discipline where strong technical skills can save a ton of energy. The strongest rider is not necessarily the fittest but the one who combines a solid endurance base with the technical skills that translate to more efficient riding.

We asked Gullickson and Shaums March, skills coach for the USA Cycling and Olympic mountain-bike teams, to share some tips for beginners that will make you a strong, fast rider.

Build a Base

Before working on speed or intensity, it’s important to develop a basic level of fitness and endurance. “It builds the body up and allows you to handle higher-intensity workouts,” says Gullickson. If you’re coming off the couch, aim to spend four to six weeks in base-building mode—frequent, consistent, low-intensity effort—before adding speed and intensity. Ride three or four times a week for one to two hours at a time. The key here is restraint: “If you feel good, get longer rides in, but don’t go so hard that you can’t repeat the effort in a couple of days,” he says. Make sure you’re fueling your rides with high-quality food: fresh veggies and fruits, whole grains, and minimally processed foods. “It’s also important to hydrate with an electrolyte drink during the ride,” Gullickson says. “If the ride is longer than an hour, bring a gel, Bloks, or energy bar to supplement the hydration.”

Add Intervals

After about four weeks of base building (followed by one dialed-back recovery week), incorporate intervals on one or two rides a week. During the first two weeks, intervals might look like this: ride for 30 minutes to warm up, then add five-second intervals of intense effort followed by 10 or 20 seconds of rest. Do five reps followed by a longer break. In later weeks, work up to Tabata intervals: 20 seconds of all-out effort followed by ten seconds of rest. Shoot for eight reps. In lieu of timed intervals, you can borrow the runner’s concept of fartleks, using power lines, trees, or other landmarks as visual goals for short, intense efforts. After two or three weeks, swap one short-interval workout for longer lactate-threshold intervals: five-to-ten-minute efforts at a pace that you can hold for up to 20 minutes. “Not so hard that you can’t maintain the pace,” Gullickson says.

Burn Through Turns

(Photo: Jan Kasl/Red Bull Content Pool)

No matter what level of rider you are, cornering is a skill you can never stop improving. “It’s the number-one place where riders kill their speed,” says March. “You can use less energy by holding your momentum through the turns.” Set up early, in a wide, crouched stance on equally weighted pedals, opening the knees so the bike can lean beneath you. Important: make sure to lean the bike, not your body. “When you lean the bike, you’re able to get those side knobs on your tires to grab traction and hold the edge,” March says. “It’s like carving on skis.” Braking in the turn can cause skidding, so try to brake before the turn, easing off the brakes as you carve. Make sure you’re looking through to the exit, turning your body. “Imagine your belly button is a laser, and point it toward the exit,” he says.

Float Over Rocks and Roots

Many obstacles in the trail—roots, rocks, and bumps—are small enough to ride over with good form and a little momentum. Standing on equally weighted pedals, with elbows out and a nice bend in your knees and ankles, approach the obstacle at jogging speed. Keep your eyes focused as far down the trail as possible (don’t look down), using your peripheral vision to hold your line. Avoid leaning on the handlebars, which weights your front wheel and could cause it to snag. “Heavy feet, light hands,” is a good mantra, March says. Think of your arms and legs as shock absorbers as you ride over the obstacle.

Master the Basic Front-Wheel Lift

(Photo: Lukas Pilz/Red Bull Content Pool)

For midsize obstacles (like a log, or anything hub height or lower) on level or downhill slopes, use the basic front-wheel lift. “It’s a three-part move,” March says. “Load. Explode. Lift.” Approach the obstacle in a “ready” position: standing on equally weighted pedals, looking ahead, elbows and knees actively bent.

Step 1: Load

Compress your front shock by loading the handlebars with your upper body, aggressively bending your elbows.

Step 2: Explode

As the shock rebounds, straighten your arms explosively. (It should feel kind of like a clapping push-up.)

Step 3: Lift

As your front wheel leaves the ground, bend your arms and lift the handlebars, raising the wheel even higher. The timing of this move is essential and depends on the speed at which you’re approaching the obstacle. Once the front wheel is over, the rear wheel—unweighted—will follow. This a perfect move to practice on curbs in the parking lot while you’re waiting around for that riding buddy who’s always running late.

Crush Uphill Obstacles

Getting over uphill obstacles can be exhausting unless you use an energy-saving technique: the pedaling front-wheel lift. Use it when you’re seated and climbing and need to get over an uphill rock or root. “Start with your dominant foot at the top of the pedal stroke—one o’clock—and give the pedal a hard punch to six o’clock,” March says. At the same time, lean back with your shoulders, straightening your arms, and feel your front wheel rise. “You’re not pulling up on your hands so much,” March says. “The power from the pedals is what’s bringing the bike up.” As soon as your front wheel clears the obstacle and lands, stand on the pedals in a crouched position, with bent arms. Give the handlebars a forceful shove, lunging the rear wheel over the obstacle. This method works best in an easy-to-moderate gear.

Rest Hard

Recovery is just as important as training—it’s when your body rebuilds itself. This starts the second you get off the bike: “Make sure to take in a recovery drink mix or healthy snack within 20 minutes of completing the ride, to jump-start recovery,” Gullickson says. “A lot of our riders use protein mix with almond milk, but any mix of protein and carbohydrate is fine.” Incorporate easy, unstructured rides between longer rides and shorter, higher-intensity rides. “It flushes blood through fatigued muscles and can speed up recovery,” Gullickson says. “Psychologically, it’s nice to get on your bike and know you’re not going out to suffer.” He recommends one or two days completely off the bike per week. “Maybe one of those days is a cross-training day, just to mix it up.”

Filed To: ArmsRecoveryMountain BikingBikingLegs Lead Photo: Paris Gore/Red Bull Content Pool

Beginner Downhill Mountain Bike Trails in Morzine

Beginner Mountain bike trails in Morzine

If you have never been mountain biking in the alps before and you are coming to Morzine during the summer, you may want to have a look at our blog to see what to expect. However here is a list of the best beginner downhill mountain bike trails in Morzine.

I strapped on the GoPro and had a little blast down each of them. The videos might not be as entertaining as Claudio Calouri’s Red Bull rampage course preview video, but they serve a purpose. The videos will show you what each are like and hopefully calm any nerves for novices. If you are an experienced mountain biker, this blog is not for you unless you are bringing a nervous friend or partner to Morzine.

1. Pistes des Ecruils – Chavannes Lift

The Pistes des Ecruils is a good green run for beginners in Les Gets. This is accessible from the top of the Chavannes chairlift. It is a good one to start on because the gradient is quite shallow and there isn’t anything scary on it.

This run has been slightly altered for summer 2017, making it longer and a bit more flowy. It has shallow berms (banked turns) and some small bumps to jump over if it takes your fancy. There is a small rooty section about half way down (see 2:40 in video) of the way down. When you get to this, point the bike straight down and stay off the breaks!

There are a couple of drainage ditches towards the bottom of the run that you should be aware of. These are natural ditches that go across the trails and are quite common on fire roads around here. They are made by flowing rain water and are about the same size as your front wheel. You can easily roll through them if you slow down, but it is good to do a wheel lift or a manual over them.

The run will bring you out to a fire road. Turning right will take you all the way back to Les Gets, but turning left will take you to the Nauchettes chairlift, taking you back up to the top for another run.

On this run run you will notice a blue run on the left just as you enter the trees (see 0:23 in the video). This is the coaching track. It is designed to give you a taste of what to find on other downhill trails around the mountain, so it is well worth doing next.

2. Alpages – Zore Lift

Alpages is a nice long green run on the Super Morzine side of the valley. Get on the Zore chairlift and pedal along the fire road towards Avoriaz. After about 5 to 10 minutes you will reach a wooden frame on your right, indicating the start of the run.

The surface is dirt and grass, with a shallow gradient. This trail is as easy as it gets, so it is ideal to start on. There are a couple of spots that you need to look out for tough. Alpages crosses over another green run called Solyant, so just be aware of riders coming from your right (0:56 in the video). The other bit to look out for is a blind bend on a small rise over at marker 20 (1:52 in the video). If you miss this you will just pop out on to the field (there is sometimes a handy electric fence to catch you!).

3. Panoramic

Panoramic is one of our favourite downhill trails. It is fast, flowy and long. With a hard packed dirt and gravel surface and a gentle gradient, panoramic is seriously fun. It is one of those trails that you can session over and over again and notice your improvements each time. It is a great confidence builder and can make you feel like a hero.

To get to Panoramic, you need to head for Linderets and take the Chaux Fleurie chair lift. Start peddling towards the aerials on the ridge to your left following the green signs to Panoramic.

Once you feel confident on this run, head for the blue run called Serpentine. It is a great add-on to Panoramic and takes you to the bottom of Chatel Bike Park. This is a bit more challenging, with nice big berms and a few table tops in the woods. Just take it easy on your first go to learn it, so nothing catches you out.

4. Seraussaix

There is a nice green mountain bike trail linking Avoriaz to the Serussaix chairlift. This trail is popular with beginners and kids and used by the various mountain bike schools. Its gradient is very shallow, and its smooth dirt surface winds its way through the forest next to the Proclou nursery ski slope.

It is a very long and easy run, with small berms and bumps. There are a couple of long and wide board walks allowing bikers to get across marsh land (see 2:23 in video). To get to it, head up the Linderets chairlift and follow the “Retuour Morzine” and “Seraussaix” signs. Alternatively, the best option for beginners and families, would be to take the Zore chairlift and ride the Soylent green run. This takes you to the farm on the tarmac road, where you can take the free shuttle bus to Avoriaz with your bikes.

By Tom Fortune

Mountain Biking in France

the MOUNTAIN BIKING

Similar to the grades in skiing, mountain bike trails in France use colour codes to tell you what to expect. Most trail centers have trails to suit all levels: green – novice, blue – beginner, red – intermediate, black – advanced. You’ll get the most out of your mountain biking trip if you choose trails that are tailored to your ability.

There are plenty of fireroads and gentle trails for novice mountain bikers, but there’s also fast, rocky downhill runs with jumps and berms for experts. If trails aren’t graded, generally you can gauge the difficulty of the trail by the distance and altitude climbed, so it’s down to you the rider to make the call as to the suitability of a trail depending on your ability, i.e. don’t strike out on a 50 km loop over the Vercors plateau if it’s been 6 months since your last big ride!

Mountain biking is well established in France, the FFC (Fédération Française de Cyclisme) together with local clubs have worked hard over the years to develop both the trail network and the signposting. The FFC is focused on improving and expanding the network of trails and as a result anywhere where there are hills, there are good cross-country mountain bike trails.

The thing to bear in mind about XC mountain biking in France especially in the French Alps and the Pyrenees is that the riding is on another level. There’s no way you can get a measure on French mountains without visiting them. The sheer scale of the climbs you’re expected to peddle up is astonishing. But the rewards of your hard work are equally mindblowing. Miles of fast flowing natural singletrack and epic descents over thousands of metres of vertical drop. Once you get a taste

Ski resorts have adapted their lift systems and trail networks to accommodate bikes in the summer months, and trail builders are constructing some really nice flowy trails aimed purely at putting a smile on your face. Freeride mountain biking is exploding in popularity with bike parks rivaling those across the Atlantic popping up in some of the bigger resorts.

Meanwhile, as more kilometers of trails are built, so the number of tougher, higher altitude XC rides increases. Having said that, mountain biking is much more of a mainstream sport in France than it is in the UK and mellow mountain biking for pure enjoyment is all the rage, with the sport’s popularity boosted by high profile events like the Roc d’Azur, the Trans-Provence and the Megavalanche.

Saint-Luc, Switzerland

High in the giddy, vertical world of the Anniviers valley, Saint-Luc offers quintessential Swiss singletrack set against seriously stunning backdrops. A small but hardcore park adds some adrenaline to the mix. The small resort of Saint-Luc isn’t an obvious choice in this area: it’s nearby Zermatt, which has the most famous backdrops and singletracks in the business, while Crans-Montana in the Sierre valley below has the established park scene. However, the riding at Saint-Luc is every bit as good, both in the park and out in the wilds. The funicular uplift is open much earlier than its neighbours, and the sunny slopes mean dry and dusty trails by early spring, so you can get your big-mountain singletrack fix before the main biking season really kicks off.

Recommended route Balcony trail

Click to see a larger version of the map

From the top of the funicular follow the signs to the Hôtel Weisshorn. It’s not a particularly exciting climb up the firetrack, but the views up towards the Weisshorn and Bishorn are staggering. Once you reach the hotel, climb up to your left and on to the balcony trail heading towards Zinal. Big-mountain singletracks don’t get any more epic than this, with the rocky terrain and huge glaciers beyond feeling more like the Himalayas. Continue along this line until you see a small track on your right zigzagging through the meadows and on to a firetrack. After a couple of corners take a right turn, following signs for Saint-Luc. This lovely rolling singletrack is so thick with deep red pine needles that it’s like riding along a big soft ginger beard. When you reach the small chalets take a left and drop down through the forest to La Combaz before cruising back along the road into Saint-Luc.

Lift dates
The funicular at Saint-Luc is open from the end of May (€10 lift up plus €4 for mountain bike) and the area also features a bike park, while the other resorts in the valley usually open from July onwards.

Where to stay
The Hôtel Beausite has clean, comfortable rooms, helpful staff and great views over the valley for around €170 a night. Another good (and more affordable) option is the Camping d’Anniviers in the town of Vissoie lower down the valley, where you can get a pitch for your tent for around €10. From here you can take a bus or drive up to Saint-Luc, which takes around 15 minutes.

Eating and drinking
A popular venue is the Fougère bar and pizzeria not far from the funicular. The food is simple and tasty, plus it’s also a clean, friendly but basic B&B. Doubles from €96, hotelrestaurantlafougere.com.

Samoëns and the Grand Massif, France

Just a short drive from Les Gets, yet still very much off the UK biking radar, Samoëns and the Grand Massif boast one of the biggest networks of lift-accessed singletrack in the Alps. If you like the idea of huge descents through stunning Alpine backcountry, but would prefer to get there via ski lifts rather than days of slogging through the wilderness, then you won’t find a better place in the Alps than here.

Recommended route Flaine to Samoëns

Click to see a larger version of the map

Straight out of the Flaine gondola you’ll be greeted by a spectacular view of Mont Blanc. Go left towards Samoëns and stick to the right of the grassy peak in front of you. This is proper wilderness and the sort of place that would normally have taken many hours of pushing to access. The fun sheep tracks winding through the shale outcrops slowly turn into a main trail, which eventually brings you to the forest above Samoëns and a singletrack with switchbacks and natural wall rides all the way into the town.

Lift dates
Visiting in July and August generally guarantees open lifts. A week pass for the Grand Massif system is €40. ete.grand-massif.com.

Where to stay
The hotels are not prepared for biking guests; a better bet is to go for a self-catering apartment. Alps Accommodation offers chalets and apartments with garage space and washing facilities.

Eating and drinking
Le 8M des Monts on the Place de l’Église serves top-notch food, but if you’re looking for a big feed then go to Le Savoie on the Place du Gros Tilleul, which offers generous portions of hearty food, such as burgers and crepes, along with clean, simple salads. Handily, it’s also open daily from 8.30am-2am. A beer in the main square is recommended after a tough day’s shredding, but if you can’t make it that far then Mimi’s Crepes next to the lift (Samoëns 1600) is ideally situated. And the chaps at Covey’s Irish Pub – less than 150 metres from the village centre – will make you feel welcome.

Crans-Montana, Switzerland

There’s a lot of money kicking around these resorts and it shows in the two downhill tracks above the village, which are among the finest man-made runs you’ll encounter. The huge height gains and breathtaking scenery make this a quality venue for epic gravity-assisted adventure.

Recommended route Plaine Morte to Violettes

Click to see a larger version of the map

Take a series of lifts out of Montana up to the Plaine Morte, where you’ll be greeted by staggering views over the glacier below. Take a left and climb briefly to the peak before dropping down the ridgeline and drifting through the shale towards the col (lowest point on a mountain ridge) ahead of you. As the trail levels out, head to the left into a second valley following signs for Lac de Huiton. The mellow gradient through this valley means you can really rip and carve through the hardpack and shale singletrack, while smooth rock slabs work as hand-made kickers. Keep heading left around the spine following signs for Crans-Montana and Violettes. Push up to the Col de Pochet and then glide back down to the Violettes along glorious singletrack through the meadows.

Lift dates
The Plaine Morte cable car that gives you access to the big enduro lines mentioned above is open during July and August, but Cry d’Er and the park open from June to mid-October. Full details of opening times and prices (from €24 for an adult half-day pass) are at crans-montana.ch. There is the option of dropping into the valley and catching the funicular back up from Sierre, but bear in mind this costs around €10 a trip. It runs (almost) year round: cie-smc.ch

Where to stay
Camping Moubra, a tranquil spot among the pines, is one of the best and most affordable options. It offers tent pitches from around €8 a night.

Eating and drinking
For instant refreshment on the trails check out Bar 360, a popular spot next to the north shore zone at the bottom of the park. In town, Pizzeria Molino is always busy due to the large and delicious pizzas that flow from the kitchen. Late-night “chill bars” are the speciality here and you can chill in style at Leo’s Bar in Crans’ centre.

Le Tour, Chamonix, France

Probably the best riding in the Chamonix valley … and maybe even the world.Le Tour and the adjoining Vallorcine valley have legendary trails. Add in breathtaking scenery wherever you look and you’ve got backcountry blasting at its finest. Le Tour is at the Swiss end of the valley and has the gentlest terrain in the area (by Chamonix standards at least). All the good stuff requires a small push or pedal to access, but it’s all easy enough to find if you’re armed with a map. What the map won’t tell you is just how perfect the trails are. Every ridgeline is topped with a ribbon of gorse-lined singletrack winding off towards the vivid blue glaciers and immense peaks.

Recommended route Les Frettes Ridge

Click to see a larger version of the map

From the Col de Balme drop down a magnificent hardpack run to the Col des Posettes. From here, traverse around the left of the Aiguillette des Posettes until you reach a crossroads. Either drop to the left for a brilliant flowing trail across the face or head up to the ridgeline, which is very technical and almost trials-like in sections. Both trails finish in the wood above the Col des Montets, which has seemingly endless switchbacks back into Le Tour. Be aware, though, that biking in this area is restricted in July and August.

Lift dates
Lifts run from June until the end of September. For information on times and the variety of pass prices visit chamonix.net.

Where to stay
Stay in Chamonix to take advantage of the great nightlife there. Chamonix.com lists a wide range of accommodation options, including camping, self-catering apartment and hotels. The picturesque village of Argentière should be considered if Chamonix is booked out.

Eating and drinking
Finding an affordable option in Tour is not easy, though during the day the best place to visit is the refuge at the Col de Balme, just after the Col des Posettes. It has beautiful views over the Glacier du Tour. In the evening head to Chamonix and gorge yourself. There’s a huge variety on offer: try somewhere such as La Petite Kitchen, where the evening menu has dishes including chipotle spiced rack of pork ribs, and spinach and cheese strudel with ratatouille, both €18.

Zermatt, Switzerland

One of the most iconic peaks in the business, the Matterhorn stands guard over some breathtaking singletrack that never seems to end. Those views cost money though, making Zermatt a relatively expensive venue. However, there’s no denying that this a very special place to ride, with magical trails that take you on a full-throttle Alpine adventure through the dazzling glacial peaks to the wooded valleys below.

Recommended route the Rothorn to Täsch

Click to see a larger version of the map

If you only ride one descent in Zermatt, make it this swoopy singletrack charge from the Rothorn to Täsch, more than 1,500 metres below on the valley floor. Ride straight out of the back of the lift to pick up a track cutting across the huge scree slope of the Oberrothorn. After this, it’s fair to say you’ll never want to ride a park trail again. Picking up another singletrack coming from the Sunnegga, it’s possible to traverse across the mountain following signs for Täschalp, before plunging into the forest and keeping an eye out for the cheeky lines that cut across the firetrack and deliver you to Täsch.

Lift dates
Zermatt has a long summer season, with most lifts running from May until mid-October. Because of the high altitude you may find a lot of snow on the trails before mid-June. Lift passes are split between the Gornergrat train or the Sunnegga and Schwarzsee areas. This does allow the picking and choosing of which runs to do, but even then the prices are hefty. A day’s pass on the Gornergrat is about €80 – so a week’s riding could get expensive.

Where to stay
Zermatt is car-free so you will have to leave the car at nearby Täsch. Here you’ll find many camping spots, as well as restaurants and hotels that have sprung up to cater for those looking to ease the financial strain of visiting Zermatt. One of the best is Camping Täsch, next to the river and close to the train station for Zermatt, where you can get a tent pitch for €6.70 a night. For more hotels with bike-friendly facilities, such as washing areas and secure storage, the zermatt.ch site has a long list of offerings. It’s also worth mulling over a bike-friendly chalet: OTP is one the most popular local operators.

Eating and drinking
Zermatt has one of the best – and largest – selections of nightlife in summer. You pay for it, of course, but there are some reasonable options, such as the tasty burgers for around €14 at Brown Cow Pub. Popular drinking spots include GramPi’s pub, the Papperla Pub and Elsie’s Bar.

Alpe d’Huez, France

Made famous by the Megavalanche, Alpe d’Huez has gained something of a celebrity status in the biking community. Huge descents over glaciers, moorland, rocky singletracks and forest trails provide a variety of terrain in what many claim is the home of modern enduro riding. Alpe d’Huez is high on a plateau above Bourg d’Oisans, not far from Les Deux Alpes on the other side of the valley. It’s a very different riding experience to the bike park of Deux Alpes though, with the emphasis on physically challenging natural lines rather than big berms and freeride features.

Recommended route The Mega

Click to see a larger version of the map

Arguably one of the most famous descents on earth, the Megavalanche drops from the highest lift on the hill, the Pic Blanc, down to Allemont in the Bourg valley. It covers everything from snow to rocky traverses, sandy berms and pine forest switchbacks, with a few wee climbs just to finish you off. With over 2,500 metres of altitude drop, you can expect to be frozen solid at the top and lying in a pool of sweat at the bottom – layers are the way forward here. If you’ve seen the videos of the race and its mass starts, it can be an eerily quiet experience when riding this run by yourself, but that only adds to the adventure.

Lift dates
Normally the first weekend in July to the last in August but always check bike-oisans.com for the latest information.

Where to stay
There are a number of campsites in the valley beneath Oz, such as Le Colporteur (camping-colporteur.com), while alpedhuez.com lists accommodation options to suit a range of budgets.

Eating and drinking
Check out “O” Bar (where you can get tapas for around €5 and beers for around €4). It’s slightly out of the way, at the bottom end of town, but has a really nice atmosphere.

Sauze D’Oulx, Italy

Although not a huge riding area, the bike park at Sauze d’Oulx near the French-Italian border is one of the best in the central Alps. Clever use of the mellow terrain gives all the trails here a flowing and natural feel that all abilities will find addictive. All the trails follow the same basic recipe of fun rather than being extreme, and while big, rolling tabletops and north shore hits have been built into some of the runs, they have a grin factor rather than a terror aspect to them.

Recommended route Super Sauze

Click to see a larger version of the map

From the top of the Rocce Nera lift, follow the signs for the No 12 or Super Sauze trail. You may find yourself climbing up if the lift isn’t running, but it’s worth it. A glorious blast along open and undulating terrain launches you into the woods along a sort of freeride singletrack with wooden hits in all the right places.

Lift dates
From the end of June to early September, with round trip tickets from €8, sauzefreeride.net

Where to stay
Hotel Gran Baita is popular among mountain bikers as it makes a great base to explore the area’s rides and because of its friendly atmosphere and good, hearty Italian food (doubles from €75 B&B).

Eating and drinking
L’Assietta is a centrally placed hangout and serves great pizzas for around €18, although if fine dining is more your taste then try Del Falco restaurant where the roast loin of pork with wild mushrooms will help restore some calories after a ride.

Les Arcs, France

The bike park at Les Arcs may not be the best the Alps has to offer, but the large network of unmarked singletrack lurking in the woods is really impressive. It’s rooty, rocky and great fun for experienced riders; you’ll either need to hire a guide or spend a week creeping around the woods looking for a trailhead.

Recommended route La Varda

Click to see a larger version of the map Photograph: PR

One of the classic big-mountain routes, this stunning trail off the Lac des Moutons offers everything from fast-rolling hardpack to technical and exposed sections. If you make it past the loopy hounds of hell that guard the sheep up top, you can enjoy a huge singletrack descent dropping 1,200 metres, all the way down to the village of Beaupraz. Go down into Peisey and take the Lonzagne lift back.

Lift dates
The lifts, (en.peisey-vallandry.com), open during July and August.

Where to stay
Stay in Bourg-Saint-Maurice at the foot of the mountain, which has a vibrant old town and plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from. The Chill Chalet and the Loft (beds around €25 a night) are each good options. Also check out the Bourg-Saint-Maurice campsite where you can hire a pitch for around €15 a night. Bike Village and Trail Addiction provide accommodation, guiding and airport transfer packages.

Eating and drinking
If Savoyard cuisine isn’t your thing go to Globetrotter in Bourg (34 Rue Jean Moulin, +33 9 67 01 38 09), which has tasty international cuisine, with an emphasis on south-east Asian food. You can get three courses for around €20pp. If you can’t resist the local cheese fest then Le Refuge Altitude 810 (55 Grande Rue, +33 4 79 07 52 54) near the centre of town will oblige in blocking your arteries – for around €25pp you can fill up on classics such as fondue and raclette, or try one of the delicious platters. Bazoom and the Tonneau bar (2 Avenue du Stade) near the funicular have a good post-ride atmosphere.

Verbier, Switzerland

On the sunny slopes of the Valais, Verbier boasts a jaw-dropping array of world-class singletracks that remain in great condition despite the increasing number of trail riders who flock here every summer. The park is top quality, too, so there’s plenty of variety to keep things interesting.

Recommended route La Chaux to Morgnes

Click to see a larger version of the map

From the top of the Ruinettes lift go east and climb along the double track, following signs to La Chaux. As you turn around the spine you’ll spot a rocky track below the ridgeline in front of you. This leads you to the start of a sublime trail that follows the spine all the way to the valley floor. Unlike many of the natural lines here, the tight switchbacks are often set deep in natural gullies, which mean you can properly rail them and keep on the gas. Big grins are guaranteed by the time you finally reach Le Morgnes, where you can either climb up to Sarreyer and get a bit more trail time, or just roll down the road back to Le Châble and let those warped discs cool down a little.

Lift dates
As with all Swiss resorts, Verbier has a long season compared with its French and Italian neighbours, with lifts running from June through to late October, verbierbikepark.ch

Where to stay
For local holiday packages see Bike Verbier and MTB Verbier; both offer week-long packages including accommodation, guiding, meals, transport, lift passes and laundry for around €1,100pp. If you’re just visiting for a day or two with your own transport then consider stopping at the lift at Le Châble. There’s a huge parking area here and it means you avoid the drive up to Verbier.

Eating and drinking
Close to the Ruinettes lift, the Pub Mont Fort is one of the original Verbier bars and is still hugely popular, with a good range of beers, cocktails and live music or DJs in the evenings. Tasty burgers and international dishes make it a decent spot for food too. A more chilled venue is the Farinet bar on the main street, where you can slump in sofas next to the fire and take it easy.

Tignes and Val d‘Isere (Espace Killy), France

Among the rocky peaks and glaciers of the Tarentaise valley, this giant bike park has a huge number of trails for all abilities. Forget any notions of forest singletrack and exploring forgotten valleys – this no-nonsense park is all about big berms, big bikes and big views. The Superenduro and DH world cup in Val d’Isère has cemented the area as a serious biking destination, and as if this weren’t enough, it’s totally free to use throughout the season. With most of the riding above 2,000 metres, a big mountain experience with stunning views is guaranteed, as are fast-draining, all-weather trails.

Recommended route Ice Tignes

Click to see a larger version of the map

Big thrills are to be had along this knife-edge ridgeline, which is the closest thing you’ll get to a natural trail in Tignes. From Tovière you’ll see the path heading up the ridge in front of you. With 360-degree views over the glaciers and with massive drops on either side, this singletrack picks its way around the rocky outcrops. It takes some confidence to ride the really exposed sections, but it flows very well if you can keep your head. High Alpine giddiness guaranteed.

Lift dates
From the last weekend in June to the end of August, tignes.net

Where to stay
The Dragon Lodge has simple, straightforward accommodation starting at €35 B&B. Startline MTB, a mountain bike guide to Tignes and Val d’Isere, can also help with bike hire, bike parks and accommodation

Eating and drinking
Both towns really wind down after the winter and most of the action is in Tignes-le-Lac. Good options are the Loop Bar for a burger (around €10) and a beer, while Le Coin des Amis in Val d‘Isere has an eclectic menu, including paninis, lasagna, sushi and tapas. Expect to pay €8-€15 for a meal.

Alps Mountain Biking by Steve Mallett is published by Vertebrate Publishing (priced £19.95). To order a copy for £15.96 including UK p&p visit bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Steve is the co-founder of Bike Alp, a mountain biking holiday company based in Briancon (bike-alp.com).

Mountain Biking is a sport that can be as expensive or as cheap as you want it to be. You can spend thousands on a new top of the line bike or find yourself a great deal for a second hand one off Gumtree. You can spend huge amounts of money driving to the best trails around the country or you can simply use the bike to explore your local area for free. Whatever your budget, mountain biking is an accessible sport but there are a few essentials to purchase before getting started.

Helmet –

After the bike a helmet is probably going to be the next most expensive item. And it’s worth it. Helmets have saved me and many others from brain injuries, head trauma and death. When buying a helmet choose one that’s compliant with the Australian Standard (AS/NZS 2063) and disregard all others no matter how pretty or cool they might look.

A good bike shop will only stock approved helmets allowing you to then choose colour and style. The helmet should fit snugly, and it shouldn’t move when you tilt or shake your head. Look for helmets with extra vents as these will increase air circulation to your head and keep you cooler.

Personally, I replace my helmets after every significant fall (which thankfully isn’t that often) as once helmets have protected once they are usually less effective at preventing injury again.

Clothes –

Padded shorts will keep you more comfortable on long rides and are more important than any other item of clothing you will wear. There are lots of different styles out there, from body-hugging Lycra to the typical mountain biking “shy shorts” but remember, a bit of padding can go a long way. Padded shorts feel odd when you first try on a pair but once you’ve sat in the saddle for any length of time they suddenly become your new best friend.

T-shirts are fine to wear mountain biking and help keep the cost of investing in a new sport down however some people decide to purchase a riding specific top. These tops usually fit better when bent over the handlebars (they are longer at the back preventing skin exposure when you’re hunched) and help draw moisture away from your body.

A waterproof jacket in case the weather changes may also come in handy. Look for one that has some reflective tape on it to increase your visibility in low light.

If you have clipless pedals, you’ll need shoes that fit into your pedals’ cleats. They should be comfortable, durable and have a hard sole to help you pedal more efficiently. Wear thick cycling socks to prevent blisters.

Knee and elbow pads will help protect you against injury if you fall but are not usually necessary for your average weekend rider.

Gloves –

A pair of good quality gloves can greatly reduce the blisters that friction can cause and offer your palms some padding. They also help prevent injury from scraped palms if you crash and stop scratches from tight squeezes through overgrown bush. There are a lot of choices when it comes to gloves. Long-finger, short-finger, padded, no pad…the list goes on so be sure to find a pair that works for you.

Eyewear –

Next to the helmet, eyewear—sunglasses or clear lens glasses—are the most important piece of safety gear when riding a bicycle. You will encounter tree branches, dust, bugs and bright light while out on the trail and getting slapped in the face by a tree branch or having a bug fly into your eye will naturally make you shut your eyes causing you to crash. I personally use my normal sunglasses when riding however some riders like to change lenses depending on conditions. Tinted for bright light situations. Yellow or amber for low light situations. And sometimes clear. The choice is yours.

Water –

Water is a must-have so you don’t get dehydrated. Make sure you take a drink every 20 minutes or so, even if you aren’t thirsty. If you don’t want to continually pick up a bottle while you ride or stop to drink, get a backpack-mounted system. These allow you to carry more water and have the added bonus of giving you somewhere to store your snacks, phone, first aid and repair kit.

Repair Kit –

Simple bicycle repair is a skill that all riders must learn when not on an organised riding tour. You don’t need to carry an entire shop in your gear pack or seat pack, but carrying the following items will give you peace of mind and not leave you walking back home: spare tube, patch kit, small pump, tire levers and a multi-tool that includes a chain tool.

If you don’t know how to fix a flat tire, learn from someone (or watch Youtube) and then practice.

If I’m riding alone for long periods (such as when I rode the Munda Biddi end to end) I’ll always include duct tape and cable ties in my repair kit. While neither of these things will fix a bike it does allow you to think creatively and hopefully get back to safety before dark.

Mountain biking is a sport that beginners can become proficient at quickly, and it’s a sport that provides on going enjoyment and opportunities to improve for years to come – if you have the right gear.

The Beginner’s Guide to Mountain Biking: Gear, Accessories & Essential Items to Pack

Then, in my teenage years, I suddenly decided that I wanted to try mountain biking. So, I “hijacked” my dad’s old bike, an avid cyclist himself. As time went by, my dreams and ambitions kept on growing. I still remember when I bought my first mountain bike and how I slept with it by the side of my bed for weeks. I soon discovered that there are some accessories and essential items that you just can’t have a safe trip without.

Have you been road cycling or commuting to work on your bike for quite some time? Are you ready to take things to the next level? If you wish to tackle mountain biking, being able to ride a bike is simply not enough; you must be prepared for long and demanding trails that can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a few days to complete, not to mention that you may ride in remote places with little or no reception.

If you’re a beginner about to start a new and exciting journey, then you’ve come to the right place! Read our guide to learn about the essential pieces of mountain biking equipment that will ensure the best experience out there on the trails.

But first, let’s start with your bike

Nowadays, there is an overwhelming choice of bikes on the market, and if you’re out there buying your first mountain bike, you might find yourself in a difficult position. In the end, it all comes down to your needs – what type of terrain you plan to paddle on and how often – and, of course, your budget.

To start with, you need to decide on the type of suspension: rigid, hardtail, or full suspension.

Rigid bikes

Photo credit: cyclotourist via Flickr

Rigid bikes are cheaper and imply easy maintenance. On the downside, they can become quite uncomfortable on rough terrain because they do not have any suspensions to absorb the shock. Fat bikes usually come without suspensions, but their oversized tires absorb most of the shock.

Riders prefer models with suspensions for more comfort, and the majority of mountain bikes you see on the market today are either hardtail or full suspension.

Hardtail bikes

Hardtail bikes come with a suspension fork that absorbs the impact on the front wheel. There’s no suspension on the back, hence the name. This is the most popular type of mountain bike, as hardtail bikes are less expensive than full suspension and are easier to maintain.

Hardtail bikes are the go-to option for cross-country riding because the rigid back means a better transfer of power between the pedal stroke and the rear tire. They are a great option for all-mountain trails too. In fact, they can handle just about anything except hardcore, lift-serviced downhill trails. Plus, most have the option of locking the fork for a rigid bike.

Full suspension bikes

Photo credit: Simon Hunt via Flickr

Just as the name suggests, full suspension bikes come with both a fork and a rear shock to absorb the impact, soakings up trail bumps and offering a comfortable ride. On the downside, you “lose” a bit of transfer from the pedal stroke to the rear wheel when going uphill. Luckily, there is a solution for this, as most full-suspension bikes come with the option of locking the rear suspension for a more efficient power transfer and, therefore, an easier climb.

Wheel size

When it comes to wheel size, the 26-inch remains the most popular one. Until recently, all mountain bikes were equipped with this wheel size. Nowadays, you also have the 27.5in and the 29in options, which are bigger, have more momentum and can handle rough terrain more easily. They are also heavier. And let’s not forget kids’ mountain bikes with their 24in wheels if you’re planning to go on a family cycling trip.

Depending on the size of your wheel, you will need to bring fitting spare tubes.

Helmet

Photo credit: Nevada Tourism Media Relations via Flickr

The helmet is not an option. In fact, some countries require wearing one by law. Wearing a helmet when cycling is just as important as wearing your seatbelt when driving.

As with anything on the market nowadays, you will find cheap versions and pricier ones. But you cannot put a price tag on your own safety, and the pricier models usually mean high impact resistance and high energy absorption values.

Depending on your intentions out there on the trail, you should grab a suitable helmet. Road bike helmets do not offer the same protection as a mountain bike helmet. The latter provides better ventilation even at low speed, a better protection of the lower back of your head, and a tight fit for rough terrain.

Different brands usually have different fits, which is why I recommend that you always try the helmet on before buying.

Bike lights

Photo credit: rei.com

I remember years ago when I used to say, “I don’t intend to ride after dark, so I don’t need lights!” But you never know what kind of surprises the day may have in store for you and what issues you may encounter on the trail. It might get pitch dark before you end your trip. The bottom line is that you should get a set of bike lights, even if you never get to use them.

To make sure you are visible to vehicles and pedestrians, you must equip your bike with front and rear lights. There are two types of lighting systems available: high-output lights and safety lights. For mountain biking, it’s recommended that you use a high-output lighting system for your front lights, as they are much brighter and allow you to see better.

Alternatively, you can pack a reliable headlamp with sufficient lumens (opt for at least 350 lumens), long battery life, and long-distance beam.

Gloves

Mountain biking is rough on the hands – without protection, you are prone to getting blisters, calluses, scratches, and even some nasty wounds if you fall off the bike. Gloves offer grip and protection, reduce fatigue and increase comfort on the trail. Unlike other mountain biking accessories, you don’t need anything fancy or pricey.

You can choose between fingerless and full-fingered gloves, both of which offer protection in the event of a crash. Make sure the gloves have padding for the palms and that they are breathable.

Hydration system

Photo credit: Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious via Flickr

Dehydration will ruin your performance and compromise your trip. Even a few hours of riding in the sun will deplete your body of electrolytes, so make sure you stay hydrated!

Most road bikers prefer the old and humble water bottle, as hydration packs are often too bulky and sweaty for such rides. But when it comes to mountain biking, hydration packs offer plenty of advantages; you can keep your hands free and focus on the task at hand. You can carry between 2 to 3 liters of water, and most come with sufficient storage space to fit a jacket, a toolkit, some snacks, and even an extra layer of clothes.

Toolkit

Photo credit: icebike.com

Flat tires and broken chains are never pleasant, but they do happen. The longer, steeper, and bumpier the trail is, the more chances that these will occur. Therefore, you need to be prepared to fix a punctured tire or a broken chain quickly and not keep the rest of the team waiting for too long. Carry a tool kit with you at all times, no matter how short your ride will be. Let’s hope you’ll never have to use it.

Here’s what your toolkit should include:

  • Mini pump – lightweight and versatile, mini bike pumps can easily fit into your hydration pack.
  • Spare inner tubes – pack at least two.
  • Patch kits – if you’ve used your last tube, these are life-savers.
  • Tire levers
  • Chain tool
  • Master link – in case you encounter problems with your chain on the trail, master links can be used to replace bent or broken links; you can remove the bad link with the chain tool or multi-tool and connect one end of the chain to the other in a matter of minutes.
  • Dedicated multi-tool – opt for a compact multi-tool that contains a wide range of Allen keys, which you need to adjust or fix the components of your bike; some multi-tools also come with a built-in chain tool.
  • A small pack of chain lube – if you embark on a long trail and you know that there will be plenty of stream crossings, then packing a small pocket-size chain lube is always a good idea.

What else to pack

The clothes you wear and pack on the trail can make or break your mountain biking trip. Wearing regular pants when cycling will hinder your movement and can lead to muscle fatigue and cramps. Instead, opt for padded shorts or tights. Wear insulation layers, also known as fleece jackets, which are typically made from merino wool, silk, and synthetic fabrics. These will keep your body temperature constant,while evacuating all the sweat.

When you’re out in the mountains, the weather can change without warning from one hour to the next. You can never trust the forecast. Therefore, you need to pack extra layers of clothes and always bring a rain jacket with you. Opt for a lightweight, packable shell that takes up minimal space. It can work as a wind jacket too.

Here are a few other essential items to pack:

  • First aid kit – trail riding does come with its fair share of risks, so make sure you pack a small first aid kit that includes, but is not limited to: bandages, band-aids, analgesics, antiseptic cream, anti-inflammatory pills, tweezers.
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Sunglasses
  • Energy bars

The list of essential items to carry on the trail depends from one rider to the other. In addition to what I’ve mentioned above, there may be others that you will find useful, depending on your experience and the lessons learned on each trail.

Are you ready to take the road less traveled? Embark on a mountain biking trip in Europe and explore the old continent’s natural landmarks at a slow pace.

Beginner’s Guide to Gears on Your Mountain Bike

“Eat before you’re hungry; drink before you’re thirsty.”

These are two suggestions most bikers have heard, and if they’ve ridden very much they value them for their simplicity and truth. Wait too long to replenish your body and you’ll be dragging till the carbs and liquids kick in.

But a third similarly simple and truthful mantra shift before you have to should also be recalled by the two-wheeled world. Like the first two rules above, it’s true whether one is racing, touring, training, or just joyriding, and valid no matter if your riding surface is pavement or dirt. It’s also good for the body and will do wonders in keeping your bike in shape.

Understand the Mechanism

Take a long and close look at your drive train from the chain rings (the big chain sprockets at the pedals) to the freewheel (the cluster of sprockets at the rear wheel), and at the chain connecting them.

Wipe off any dried mud and old grease that might be obscuring your view of the metal surfaces and think about what goes on down here while you’re racing along the trail and jamming thumb levers back and forth.

It’s far easier to teach a kid how to balance a two-wheeler than it is to teach someone (even yourself) how to shift gears properly, and knowing what’s going on below the handlebars when one is working the gear levers is crucial to understanding when and how to shift.

When and How to Shift

We already have part of the answer to “when”: “Before you have to.” But if you think “have to” means the moment when you can no longer continue pedaling in your current gear (because it’s either too hard a gear to take a hill or so easy a gear that you’re just spinning the pedals on a descent), your drivetrain is looking at a short and unhappy existence.

Instead, learn to anticipate how hard or easy a gear you’ll need for the terrain and the trail surface. Both are important considerations, since riding hard-pack up a slight rise can be easier than pedaling sand across the flat. Forcing your derailleurs to shift under load (when you’re cranking hard) is tough on the components and muscles alike. Always choose the gear you’ll need when still in your descent or pedaling easily on flat ground.

Soft Pedaling

If you’ve failed to anticipate or misjudged the correct gear, try the soft pedal approach. Powerhouse one stroke (that is, pedal very hard on one down stroke) so that the momentum gained will allow soft-pedaling on the next. Shift immediately after the powered stroke, because the soft-pedaling during the next few seconds will ease tension on the chain and allow the derailleur to move more easily.

Other considerations:

  • Keep both front and rear derailleurs adjusted. Visit your local bike shop during one of its slow times, and beg a 10-minute hands-on (your hands) lesson. (Remember that time is money with any business, so offer to pay for the adjustment.) If this is not possible, buy a book on bike mechanics; make sure it covers your particular derailleur.
  • Listen to your bike. Learn the sound your gears make when all is working well, and tune your ears to notice chain chatter and other metal-on-metal noises when things aren’t perfectly aligned. Succeed at this and you’ll avoid the wearing out of freewheel cassette cogs, derailleur cages, and even chain rings.
  • Keep your derailleurs clean and lubed.
  • Keep your chain clean and lubed.
  • Don’t cross-chain. That is, avoid those gear combinations that put your chain at a severe angle smallest (inside) front chain ring/smallest (outside) back freewheel cog, and largest (outside) front chain ring/largest (inside) back freewheel cog.

See more mountain bike tips or find mountain bike rides near you.

My Personal MTB Essentials:

Vans. Maybe the only thing on this list you already own. Use BMX platform pedals and any style of vans will have great traction. I recommend the lace free styles, so nothing gets caught in the chain ring.

Pearl Izumi ¾ length shorts. Ok So these are down hill shorts, but I love them because they cover your knees. They have amazing stretch and don’t inhibit pedaling. Wear them over a liner or your favorite bibs.

Sombrio Silhouette Riding Shirt If you’re going to ride a MTB, you might as well get some plaid! This shirt is the best way to do it! It feels great on the bike, it moves and has great stretch and vents. Plus, it covers your elbows.

Pearl Izumi X-Project 2.0 When I was finally ready to clip in, these shoes were perfect. Rigid soles, but plenty of traction for slippery roots and rocks. Boa reel makes it easy to dial in the fit. They are supportive and feel super light.

Sombrio Lily Gloves You’re going to want some great gloves and you will want to wear them every time you ride. Most break and shifting systems are not dialed in to small hands, gloves with excellent grip and breathability are a must. These gloves are my absolute favorite.

Dakine Hydration Pack I love this bag. It carries lots of water, but is still light enough you can race with it. Pack it up with extra laters and snacks for long rides. It even has a fleece lined pocket for your glasses.

Cannondale 27.5 Trigger over – mountain Finding a bike in New York City is no easy task. In the end I decided on the Trigger, an awesome all-mountain bike. I’ve ridden trails, raced cross country, and bombed down lift access trails. For anyone with limited space, or who’s wanting to explore different styles of MTB, the Trigger has got you covered. And yes, I bought it at an end of season sale.

Oakley Prism Trail Jawbreaker In the dappled light of the woods you need an awesome lens. These trail specific lens provide a perfect amount of shade, and protect your eyes from brambles and branches. Plus, they provide additional cover if you need to have a mini meltdown.

G-Form Pads Undoubtedly the best pads for climbing, they are soft and ultra flexible but are stuff upon impact. Pads gave me some piece of mind that was crucial in my first few rides, and I love that I have them on hand for down hill. Women should go a size up from the measurements they have online.

The Beginner’s Guide to Mountain Biking

Photo: Mark Scardilli

To anyone who has been riding a bike since they were a toddler, mountain biking doesn’t sound *too* intimidating. After all, how hard can it be to translate road skills to the trail?

Well, as I quickly learned the first time I went barreling down a single-track trail, mountain biking requires more skill-and more of a learning curve-than one might think. (More on that here: How Learning to Mountain Bike Pushed Me to Make a Major Life Change)

But after the first ride, I also realized mountain biking is super fun-and not nearly as intense as it seems. “Mountain biking doesn’t have to be scary,” says Shaun Raskin, a guide at White Pine Touring in Park City, UT, and founder of Inspired Summit Retreats. “People see it as super hard-core and they hear about people getting hurt, but it’s all about how we approach it.”

Plus, more and more ladies are hitting the trails. “It’s definitely a women-friendly sport, and I’d say a majority of people I see on the trails these days are women,” says Halle Enedy, a mountain bike guide at REI in Portland, OR.

And if you’re worried about breaking a wrist or scraping your legs, know it’s not a requirement. “We can choose to be kind to ourselves and learn the skills that give us a nice easy progression into the sport that can allow us to have fun-and stay safe,” Raskin explains.

But there are a few non-negotiables for heading out. Here’s what you need to have, know, and do to ensure a positive first mountain biking experience.

Image zoom Photo: Mark Scardilli

The Gear

  • Set yourself up for success with a pair of chamois, or padded bike shorts, Raskin says. (She’s 100 percent right-I discovered these one day too late. But the pair I invested in after the first day saved my butt-literally-over my next two days of riding.)
  • Wear sunglasses and a good helmet, ideally with a visor to prevent glare from the sun.
  • Bike gloves are also a must-have, Raskin says. Go for either full- or half-fingered gloves to prevent your hands from fatiguing.
  • Bring a good hydration pack or water bottle to stay hydrated on your hot, sweaty ride.
  • Forgo the clip-ins for now and start with just regular sneakers, Raskin advises.
  • You want to ride a cross-country bike to start. “As the name implies, you’ll be going across hilly terrain, up and down hills,” Raskin explains. “Cross-country bikes are more lightweight, so it’s easier to go uphill but the descent is fun and playful as well.” Don’t start looking to buy yet-you want to test out a few options before you drop a couple Gs on a frame, Raskin says. Instead, head to your local bike shop where they’ll fit you with a rental mountain bike suited to your skill level and size.
  • A class or lesson is another smart investment. “The biggest mistake beginners can make is not taking a lesson,” says Jacob Levy, a downhill coach at Trestle Bike Park in Winter Park, CO. Many bike shops offer guided lessons, as do most local REI stores. Your guide will ensure your bike properly fits you so you have the most efficient stance. They’ll explain the technology, such as how the gears and brakes work, Levy explains. Plus, if you have instructors who can make it approachable, it’ll be much more fun, Raskin says.

The ABCs of Mountain Biking

“A” stands for “active stance.” This is the position you’ll be in as you descend on the bike. In active stance, your pedals stay level; you’re standing up on long, slightly bent legs; and you’re bending at the waist so your chest is over the handlebars of the bike. “Think about striking a power pose,” Levy suggests-you want to feel confident and strong so you can tackle the obstacles you’ll encounter on the trail.

“B” stands for braking, a crucial component of mountain biking. “You want to have a light grip with just one finger on each brake, without pressing too hard on either one,” Jacob explains. “Use them both together, but be gentle.” In other words, you don’t want to lock the wheels up when you stop, which could mean you fly over the handlebars. Instead, you just want to come to a slow, graceful stop.

“C” stands for cornering. This skill comes up when you encounter switchbacks on the trail. Cornering involves three components: line choice, entering, and exiting, Levy explains. To choose the proper line choice, imagine rolling a bowling ball down the trail. “If you send it fast and straight, it’s going to hop right over the edge, right?” Levy says. “Instead, think about sending it slowly down the trail, on the upper side of the turn, allowing it to slowly cross to the lower side and make the turn-that’s what you want to do on the bike.” Try to go into a turn slowly (like a jogging speed), starting on the high side of the turn, then crossing into the lower part as you exit the turn and regain speed.

Image zoom Photo: Mark Scardilli

Other Beginner Mountain Biking Tips

  • The uphill climbs take a lot of cardio, while the downhill sections take a lot of skill.
  • You don’t steer with your handlebars as much as by shifting your weight around, Levy points out. As you’re going around a turn, lean into the turn to help your bike round the corner, keeping your eyes further down the trail where you want to go. Think about looking through-not at-the turn. In fact, looking ahead one most important tips to keep in mind on the trail. “Keep your eyes 10 to 20 feet ahead of you at all times,” Enedy suggests. This will help you get over obstacles, like roots or rocks, on the trail rather than getting stuck on them.
  • Your body position is going to change when you’re ascending a mountain vs. when you’re descending a mountain. When you’re going uphill, you want your momentum to move forward, keeping your chest to the bars, Enedy says. When you’re descending, you’ll shift your hips back over the back tire, Enedy says. Think: elbows out, butt back in that active stance. This backward shift counteracts the downhill momentum so it’s less likely you’ll go over the handlebars. (Remember, we’re all about not getting hurt here!)
  • Start slow. This may be the most important thing for beginners to remember. “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast,” is one of Raskin’s favorite expressions. If you can keep an even cadence on the trail, you’ll eventually start to gain speed-smoothly and safely.
  • By Locke Hughes @LockeVictoria

RIDES

Mountain Biking 101: The Need to Know Basics

If you’re starting out in the mountain bike world – welcome! You’ll want to understand the basics of mountain biking and apply these tips to your daily rides.

trail Etiquette

Before hitting the trails, it’s important to understand proper trail etiquette. Mountain biking is a addictive sport that requires trail infrastructure, community support and the help of volunteers to build those trails. Before saddling up, find out if you’re biking on a multi-use trail system and recognize that there may be other trail users other than mountain bikers. A few rules to follow:

Be Friendly

Say “hi” to fellow riders, hikers, trail runners, horseback riders and so on.

“Leave no Trace”

For mountain bikers, “take only photographs, leave only tire marks” should apply to the leave no trace principle. Don’t leave garbage on the trail, don’t carve your name in trees or don’t create your own short cuts. Use the existing switchbacks and walk your bike if the trail conditions seem to be sensitive.

Yield

Be aware that mountain bikers usually need to yield to other trail users – pull over to the side of the trail and let runners and horseback riders pass – you’ll be happy you did, as spooking a horse might not end well. It’s also proper etiquette for downhill riders to yield to uphill riders. The reason? Well, riding uphill is challenging and once you’ve found your flow going up, you don’t want to stop.

Respect

Respect trail closures and trail signs – simply put, if a trail is closed, don’t ride it. The local mountain bike club probably closed it for a reason. Sensitive habitat, erosion, trail re-routing or a change in land ownership are just a few of the reasons the trail may be closed.

Wildlife

Remember, you’re in their environment. Be prepared to come across wildlife on your rides and respect their space. Try not to spook animals. Make noise constantly , especially around blind corners, it’s also a perfect time to test out your singing skills!

Read The Trail

It’s important to read the trail when you’re mountain biking. What does this mean? Well, you should always know what’s ahead and prepare for roots, rocks, drops, jumps, and obstacles that are 15-20 feet ahead. Look where you want to go – not where you think you will fall! Think about ‘scanning’ the trail – and constantly scan the area from your front tire to 20 feet ahead.

Body Position

The proper body position while riding can make or break your ride. After reading the trail, adjusting your weight is an important skill to ensure you don’t keel over the handle bars and you can tackle obstacles confidently. When riding, focus on the following body positions…

Neutral Position:

When you’re riding non-technical sections of trail, you can find comfort and stability in the neutral position.

  • slight bend in the elbows and knees

  • look ahead on the trail about 15-20 feet

  • index fingers ready on the brakes

  • level pedals with even weight

  • you can be seated

Ready Position:

When the trail becomes steeper, rockier and more obstacles appear – it’s time to get READY! Ready position will help prepare to conquer those obstacles and is a more active position.

  • deep bend in the elbows and knees

  • shift your hips back and lift your butt off the seat

  • look ahead on the trail about 15-20 feet

  • index fingers ready on the brakes

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Seat Position

Adjusting your seat to different heights throughout your ride will help when ascending and descending.

Climbing:

  • Adjust your seat to a higher position

  • When your leg is fully extended, you should have a slight bend in your knee

  • This will increase your efficiency

Descending:

  • get the most out of your downhill ride by lowering your seat 2-3 inches

  • shift your weight backwards to lower your centre of gravity

  • cover the brakes with your index fingers to ensure you can brake if needed

Braking

You should always be prepared to brake by having your index fingers ‘covering’ your front and rear brakes. Braking should be controlled and “light” – never try to slam on the brakes in hopes of recovering from a fall… as it could make things worse. It might sound counter-intuitive, but braking can actually help you bike faster. Use your brakes to control turns, and your momentum to speed you up. It’s about finding balance between braking, using your momentum and reading the trail.

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Preparing to Fall

It’s inevitable – you will fall. And when you do, hopefully you will stand up tall after and shake it off. Then, hopefully you will proudly show off your bruises and scars. If you’re not falling off your mountain bike, you’re not challenging yourself – and in the long run that’s part of becoming a better rider. Be prepared to fall with the proper gear. Suit up with elbow pads, knees pads, a good helmet and gloves — you’ll be happy you did!

Table of Contents

My new Cannondale mountain bike

Matt Mosteller, aka Powder Matt takes to the mountain biking trails with a vengeance come the summer. These are Matt’s top mountain biking tips.

The right bike matters, both for fitting your interest but more importantly the actual fit of your bike is key. (I recently got a new Cannondale from Sporting Life and the tech spent a full hour with me to make sure seat, pedals and handle bars fit my body properly.)

Getting properly fitted for my new Cannondale bike at Sporting Life

Pick the right trails for your first mountain biking experience. Check trail reviews to make sure that they match your skill level.

Calgary’s Nosehill Park is a great place for first time mountain bikers (Fish Creek Provincial Park is also very good)

Don’t worry if a section of the trail is too difficult. Just get off the bike and walk around it. (I call this hikey bikey and I do a lot of it!)

Match your fitness level to the amount of riding time you have. Mountain biking for the first time is going to take a lot out of you. You’ll need to focus on a winding trail, manage terrain change and possibly do some uphill climbing. For the first time out make it brief; 30 to 45 minutes is good.

Sign up for one of the University of Calgary’s group mountain biking lessons. It’s a good way to pick up pointers and develop confidence.

The Secret to Mountain Biking is Pretty Simple says Julie Furtado – the slower you go the more likely you’ll crash

Troy V. Lee of From Ride the Wild: Exploring Northern BC by Bike was generous with mountain biking tips too.

Be sure that your mountain bike fits. A saddle that is too high will cause chafing and imbalance, whereas one that is too low will cause muscle fatigue and knee pain.

Check your height by sitting on the saddle, place your foot on the peddle and rotate until it is parallel with the ground. If your leg is not straight then increase the height. If your hips rock back and forth as you peddle, lower it.

Do a pre-trip inspection of the tire pressure, brakes, wheels and headset. Use the recommended maximum pressure for road riding and packed non-technical trails.

Use lower pressure for mud and snow. Brakes should stop on a dime, be responsive and snap back after release. Wheels should spin freely without any wobbles and be sure that there is no side-to-side play. Your headset should be firmly secured. If you’re concerned about any of these issues get a tune up done a local bike shop.

Know your brakes

It’s one thing to have functional brakes but it’s another to use them effectively. Remember that when riding downhill, 70‰ of your braking power is in your front brakes. Use both to maximize your slowing and stopping power. A gentle squeeze of the levers will prevent you from sailing over the handlebars.

Know your helmet

Beginners often have loose fitting helmets that wobble from side-to-side. I even once saw a guy wearing a helmet backwards! Helmets that don’t fit properly provide little protection.

Be sure that they fit snugly to your head and that the chinstrap binds under your chin (not your throat—gag…gag). Beware of helmets that don’t meet state or provincial safety standards. Look for a CSA or equivalent sticker on the inside of your helmet.

Know your fitness level

Mountain bikes can be heavy and riding trails is like interval training. Flat fast sections, quick descents and tough climbs can lead to fatigue and crashes.

Ride achievable distances and carry at least two water bottles (1.5 to 2 litres). On hot days, mix electrolytes in your water—to avoid cramping—and remember to consume at least 30-60 grams of carbs an hour to reduce fatigue.

Know your trails

Go to your local bike shop for a map and trail advice. Maps of sanctioned trails provide key information about access, distances and difficulty. Trails are typically ranked as beginner, intermediate and advanced/expert or sometimes green, blue and black.

Match the trails to your skill and fitness levels. Be sure to ask where the up and down trails are located. There is nothing worse than pushing your bike up a downhill trail.

I would also suggest checking out the International Mountain Biking Association for information on the closest trail centre to you.

Know what you’re getting yourself into on the trails

Recently I spent some time mountain biking along a section of the Trans-Canada Trail in Edmonton with Jim Grant (EMBA board member and Mud, Sweat & Beers group leader) as my guide.

He always recommends you keep your heels down and weight into the pedals with the dominant foot forward. Let your hands float.

I’m having fun mountain biking beside the Edmonton River on a stretch of the Trans-Canada Trail

More mountain biking tips from me

Get into a lower gear. Then put more power into your pedaling and increase the frequency. Remain seated but lean into the handlebars while moving towards the edge of your saddle. You want the tires to have traction so the front tire doesn’t pop up, as it can on a steep slope.

Practice riding downhill

I spent time with a mountain biking instructor at a New Hampshire bike park recently. I mentioned that I always got nervous on big downhills.

His word of advice that did wonders for me – look ahead, lead with your eyes and your bike will follow. It’s so true and those few words made a world of difference to me. Also get into a higher gear and if it’s really steep move your butt behind the saddle. Bend your elbows to absorb shock and keep your body loose.

Move your butt behind the saddle for steep downhills

Biking on rough surfaces, even just dirt paths and roads is a lot of fun. And that’s what the sport is all about. Do what makes you happy and you’ll keep on biking.

Biking the Iron Horse Trail in eastern Alberta; that’s a mixture of mud and cow poo on my legs! Photo credit: Sheila Thompson

If you get super serious about mountain biking Sporting Life offers a full fit that takes about three hours for $325. The basic fit that I had comes with every bike.

Further reading on biking

  • The Whitefish Bike Retreat: A Mountain Biker’s Paradise
  • Biking Le Petit Train du Nord through the Laurentians
  • Bike Myra Canyon on the Amazing Kettle Valley Railway

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Mountain biking is a great sport for beginners – primarily because other mountain bikers are happy to share their passion with anyone they can! Tell a mountain biker that you would like to get into the sport and they will most likely find a bike and helmet for you within the day. Whether you are looking to go biking for the very first time or you are an advanced rider, you will need to make certain preparations before you hit the trail.

Here are some tips to help you tackle the trail:

1. Get In shape

Don’t get discouraged if you’re huffing and puffing on your first ride. We have all been there. Mountain biking is a challenge and it requires strength and endurance. Focus on shorter rides to begin and slowly increase your time out on the trail to build stamina and strength. Take time to practice and improve your skills off the trail as well. Hiking, swimming, running and working out regularly will make those steep climbs easier once you’re back on the bike. Focus on your overall fitness, be patient and and keep spinning!

2. pick a trail

Pick a trail that’s right for your skill level. There is nothing worse than having to walk your bike, more than you ride it! Talk to your local bike shop for recommendations and tell them your skill level. As a first time mountain biker, try to pick a trail with good signage and find a friend to bike with – it may result in an adventurous story, but it’s never a great feeling getting lost on a trail!

Like this post? to join Nate’s Singletrack Mailing List, packed full of tips, inspiration and good times for passionate mountain bikers and adventurers.

3. map is a must

Carry a map! Singletracks.com and Trailforks.com are a great resource for first time mountain bikers. Download the apps to your phone and then hit the trails.

4. gear up

Don’t get discouraged if your first ride results in a few bumps and bruises, the best mountain bikers usually come off the trail a little banged up. Be smart and invest in the proper gear to protect yourself. Padded shorts, knee and elbow pads, gloves and weather appropriate clothes will keep you happy out on the trail. Throw some granola bars and a water bottle in a small pack, there is nothing scarier than meeting a hungry mountain bikers out on the trail!

5. Be prepared

Carry extra supplies. An extra tube, multi-tool, allen keys and a small first aid kit can go a long way in the woods. If you’re biking alone, remember to tell a friend or family member where you’re going and what time you expect to be home.

6. enjoy the ride

Lastly, enjoy the ride! Learning to mountain bike is challenging and rewarding. Flowing through beautiful singletrack in a green forest is good for the soul. Take it all in and don’t forget to breathe.

About the Author: Amber Clark is a blogger who loves traveling to far off places whenever her pocket and time allow. She loves to visit places that are full of adventure, natural beauty and history. Amber finds inspiration along the west coast of the United States, California through San Francisco Private Tours.

Guide to mountain biking

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