So you may have seen a few videos on YouTube or read our previous post explaining what mountain biking is which has sparked further interest. Spending your weekends amongst forests with fellow mountain bikers, riding along trails built specifically for your enjoyment is, of course, a lot of fun…..but when trying to find out more about the sport you will come across a potential minefield of niches and sub niches to suit several different types of mountain biking.
What is right for one person may not suit all, and with each niche comes a different set of mountain bike skills needed to take part.
A downhill rider may not like to spend their ride traveling for miles and miles down a forest road and likewise, a cross country rider may not enjoy the severity of a downhill track.
Prior to spending over £1,000 on all the gear, I have written this blog to guide you through the basics.
For now, we are going to ignore the niches and sub-niches such as Downhill, Enduro, Cross Country, Freeride and Dirt Jumping, we will even ignore the variety of bikes, bike brands, wheel sizes, suspension travel and kit available for you. What we will concentrate on is getting you out on the bike, in a safe controlled environment where you know you won’t feel intimidated or pushed into doing anything you don’t feel comfortable doing but get to enjoy the benefits of cycling.
In this blog we will be providing you the basics of:-
- Trail centres
- Types of trail
- How to ride a mtb trail for the first time
- Trail etiquette
- Equipment hire
- What to wear for your first mountain bike ride.
To get your first taste of mountain biking, ideally, your first point of call is through a Mountain Bike Trail Centre or Mountain bike park. Within the UK, Trail Centres are usually built by the forestry commission and are designed for people of all ages and abilities to use and enjoy.
Within these Trail Centre networks, they usually provide an on-site café for some delicious post-ride food, visitor facilities and a bike shop on hand where you can rent the equipment/buy parts.
If you are in England/Wales and would like to find mountain bike trails look here;
Or here if you are in Scotland click here;
Understanding the Trails
The Trail Head
The trailhead or the point where the trail begins is clearly marked with a map to show the different mountain bike routes available to ride. These are colour coded in order of difficulty. Read on to find out more about the colour codes…
Most forests have a skills area with a variety of technical features to enable riders to get used to the different obstacles they will find. These areas are small so you can session (ride over repeatedly) a particular obstacle to get used to riding over it, (great for improving your mtb skills).
Green Graded Trail
These are easy trails suitable for beginners and novices, can be ridden on hybrid bikes through to basic mountain bikes with little skill required.
The surface is flat and wide but can include some short sections of single track (narrower).
With shallow climbs and descents, they are suitable for most healthy people.
Blue Graded Trail
These are intermediate trails suitable for people with basic off-road skills, can be ridden on a hybrid bike through to a basic mountain bike for riders who can cope with uneven riding surfaces and small obstacles.
The surface is similar to green trails but also includes single track trails with some small features (roots and rocks).
With moderate climbs and descents, they are suitable for most healthy people with a good standard of fitness.
Red Graded Trail
These trails are classed as difficult and suitable for mountain bikers with good off-road skills. Quality mountain bikes are required for riders who have the necessary techniques to cope with technical trail features.
The surfaces are variable and the terrain is steeper and tougher with berms, drop-offs, boardwalks, large rocks and water crossings.
With steeper tougher and off camber sections they are suitable for riders with a higher level of fitness and stamina.
Black Graded Trails
These are trails for expert mountain bikers with a good quality bike, required skill level is advanced off-road skills and technical ability. Quality mountain bikes are required for riders who have the necessary skills to cope with unavoidable obstacles and varying terrain.
This level of trail is suitable for riders who are very active and used to a prolonged effort.
How do I ride a trail for the first time?
The first time riding on a trail should be done slowly, stopping and taking note of obstacles and trying to figure out the best way to enter and exit them. It’s a good idea to watch some other riders go over the obstacles to observe how they do it. Once you have practiced and you are comfortable with how the trail flows and the obstacles, then you can begin to slowly increase your speed. This procedure should be done every time you ride a new mtb trail.
As a beginner, there are a few pieces of trail etiquette for you to be aware of:-
- If you can feel a faster rider on your tail, only allow them to pass as and when you feel safe to pull to the side. Don’t be intimidated by mountain bikers coming up behind you shouting "rider".
- If you are looking at a trail feature or have an issue that requires you to stop, leave the trail clear for other riders.
- Trails are one way, if you need to go back up for any reason, walk…taking extreme care to not block the route for any oncoming riders
- If you come across a slower rider, give them time and space to pull over when they feel safe to do so.
- Take your rubbish home with you.
Equipment & Cycle Hire
At a bare minimum, you will need a bike and a helmet. The prices vary depending upon the quality of the bike you rent and where you are in the country, however, you should be looking at between £35 and £100. When renting the bike have a quick spin on it, change the gears and make sure they change smoothly and crisply. Trying to enjoy your ride with a chain jumping to a different gear interrupts every pedal stroke would become tiresome, so please don’t rush to rent. We would advise you to pre-book your equipment, this will make sure you aren’t driving somewhere only to be disappointed upon arrival.
What to wear Mountain Biking
The standard dress for a mountain biker consists of baggy shorts (often padded), a cycling Jersey, a jacket, gloves, knee pads, and a helmet.
For now, the clothing you should wear will be something you exercise in that fits you well and is easy to move in. For shoes, trainers should suffice.
The most important part of this whole process is to enjoy yourself. So make sure your smile is big. Say ‘hi’ to fellow riders, most are really friendly and will think nothing of taking some time out of their ride for a chat. After all, you are out in the same environment enjoying the same sport.
In our next post, we give 5 great UK trail centres suitable for beginners and whilst there are plenty throughout the UK, these are our favourites.