Whether you’re a roadie transitioning to technical mountain biking or a complete mountain biking beginner, there’s quite a few things to learn. In mountain biking for beginners, I detail everything you need to know to make your first mtb trip one you’ll always treasure.
Well, it’s a long post. But that’s because there’s a whole lot you need to know before you hit those dirt trails.
Of course, reading this resource won’t magically transform you into someone that tears the trails like a pro. But everyone starts somewhere, huh?
But first things first….
Understand Mountain Bike Terrains
As a beginner, it’s a good idea to begin your mountain biking career on relatively flat, smooth trails. But you can’t ride this kind of beginner trail forever, you know.
You need to keep building up your mountain bike riding experience. Soon, hopefully, you’ll start navigating obstacles like a pro.
Actually, riding over or around natural obstacles such as jumps or man-made obstacles such as berms can be tons of fun. Ultimately, conquering obstacles without suffering wipeouts is every mountain biker’s dream.
All that said, three mountain bike-specific trails exist. These mtb trails include singletrack trails, doubletrack trails, and mtb terrain parks. Let’s examine each of these three mountain bike trail types in a bit more detail.
1. Mountain Bike Terrain Park
Mountain bike terrain parks weren’t always common, but they seem to be sprouting pretty much everywhere these days. Terrain parks feature all kinds of mtb technical features including berms, jumps, half pipes, bridges, switchbacks, and banked corners.
By the way, switchbacks are turns on super-steep trails. You definitely can’t climb such demanding trails straight up. The only way to go up over a switchback successfully is to use multiple S-curves.
2. Singletrack MTB Trails
A singletrack is an extremely narrow mountain bike trail. This trail type is too narrow that mountain bikers must ride it single file. However, some singletracks may be wide enough to allow two mountain bike riders to pass. That said, most single tracks aren’t much wider than the average rider’s shoulders.
When you ride over a singletrack trail, you get to enjoy the best terrain the landscape you’re exploring offers. Due to their nature, singletrack trails only allow one-way travel. But even with their limitations, singletrack trails are the most common mtb trails anywhere.
3. Doubletrack MTB Trails
Think of a doubletrack trail as a combination of two singletrack trails. While a singletrack trail mostly allows one mtb rider a time, a doubletrack trail allows two cyclists to ride side-by-side.
For the most part, doubletrack trails happen when vehicles pass through a location, and their tires create two parallel paths. Usually, fire road vehicles and logging trucks create these double tracks.
Doubletracks trails tend to be significantly less steep than single track trails. Another difference between single tracks and double tracks is that single tracks boast way more technical features.
If you and a loved one have decided to start maintain biking together, the doubletrack trail should be a great starting trail. Double tracks are a great beginner mountain bike trail because they’re gentler and have few technical features.
Decide What Mountain Biking Style You Like
Now that you’ve learned what type of mountain biking terrain to expect, it’s time to choose a mountain biking style. The vast bicycling market offers bazillions of different kinds of mountain bikes. And that makes for a long, winding , and confusing mtb shopping journey.
Before buying your first mountain bike, you should decide what mtb riding style you’ll ride. I know of at least 11 mtb riding styles. At this point, I’ll introduce you to all these mountain bike riding styles.
11 Mountain Biking Styles to Know as a Beginner
Let’s jump right in. I have written a pretty detailed description of how each of these mountain biking styles work. If you’d like to read a more comprehensive version of the section below, read: Types of Cycling Sports.
Trail Mountain Biking
As a starting mountain biker, you may want to begin experimenting with trail mountain biking. In trail mtb, there’s usually no pressure to perform. That is, trail mtb isn’t associated with any particular kind of racing.
Choose this mtb riding style if all you want is to experience the trails in a non-competitive environment with friends and family.
You arrive at your local trailhead with a bunch of friends. Then, you get on the saddle of your beginner mountain bike and ride off into endless enjoyment.
In this riding style, you’re not looking at tons of technical features. Trail mountain biking mostly focuses on personal enjoyment. But there’s multiple climbs to conquer as well as descents, and it’s all pure bliss.
You’ll need a bike that can handle all of the challenges trail mtb throws at it. The most suitable type of bike for trail mountain biking is one that offers lots of efficiency. The right option should have a sturdy build, but it should not be too heavy.
For most people, a mountain bike is a mountain bike. But the trail mtb is what most people are talking about when discussing the regular mountain bike.
Trail bikes use 27.5″ or 29″ wheels. And in terms of travel, you’re looking at 120mm-150mm for both back and front suspensions.
As far as trail bike geometry, you can choose a head angle ranging from 66 degrees to 68 degrees. As for the best trail bike tires, they should be relatively chunky (way chunkier than road bike tires) and durable. The most suitable trail mtb tires also offer great traction and roll-efficiency.
Should I kick off my mtb journey with this riding style? Yes, if you think you’d enjoy riding uphill some of the time and downhill the rest of the time. If you’d also love to experience a few jumps and drops along the way, definitely choose trail mtb.
Cross-country (XC) MTB Riding Style
In this riding style, you’re going to be really pinning it over all kinds of terrains. Three aspects matter greatly in Cross-country mountain biking. These aspects include speed, efficiency, and uphill-riding power. But the most important element in this riding style is uphill-riding capabilities coupled with endurance.
You want a Cross Country bike built to offer all these elements without disintegrating the very first day you fling abuse at it.
The geometry of a good bike for XC features geometry that’s not dissimilar to that of a road bike. The tires are fatter than a road bike’s though. And both bike types feature drop handlebars.
Modern XC bikes are increasingly using 29ers. And the rim diameter is the exact same diameter as a road bike’s 700c rim. These bikes are typically super-light weight handtails weighing as low as 15lbs or even lower. And in terms of travel, it’s about 120mm or less. This kind of bike weighs between 15lbs and 35 lbs.
These ultra-light modern XC bicycles also come with longer wheelbases, longer chainstays, and steeper head angles. The standard head angle of a XC bike begins at 69 degrees. And that means a XC bike’s head angle can be pretty steep.
A XC bike sacrifices downhill performance for efficiency while prioritizing pedaling performance and hill-climbing abilities.
How does XC compare to trail mtb?
Unlike trail mtb which focuses on climbs and descents, Cross-country mountain biking prioritizes uphill biking.
What about XC bike tires? The best XC bike tires aim at reducing rolling resistance and overall bike weight. Traction, durability, and ride control also matter, but not as much as do weight and rolling drag reduction.
By the way, XC biking features at the Olympic Games,and it goes by the abbreviation XCO. Crross Country cycling officially became an Olympic sport in 1996.
Downhill Mountain Bike Riding (Not MTB Beginner Friendly)
Downhill riding is probably the most terrifying kind of mtb you can choose. Downhill involves riding over steep terrain at life-threatening speed. And as you fly downhill, there’s big drops and huge jumps to handle as well.
Typically, you don’t bike uphill with a downhill bike. Instead, you use other means to go up such as driving, a chairlift, or even hiking. DH bikes are purposely designed to race downhill rather than travel in other directions.
DB bikes feature heavily and strongly built frames. These heavy and sturdy frames support suspension travel of 170mm-250mm in the rear and 180mm-200mm in the front.
This bike type comes with dual-crown forks. These forks could have you think you’re looking at a motorcycle rather than a bicycle.
As for the head angle, it hovers around 65 degrees or even less for DH bicycles. That means a DH bike’s head angle isn’t as steep as it is for a trail mtb or a XC bike.
Additionally, a DH bicycle features a pretty low bottom-bracket, and it keeps your center of gravity really low. You want to stay very low when pinning down steep terrain while navigating super aggressive turns.
What about tire design of the typical DH bike? The wheels are designed to provide loads of traction and durability. That’s why good DH bike tires feature 2-ply casings (really thick casings).
Fat-tire Mountain Biking (A Great MTB Style for Beginning Cyclists)
A fat-tire mountain bike is a type of mtb that features extremely fat tires. How thick are these tires? The thinnest fat tire offers a width of 3.7″ minimum, and some fat tires can be 5″+ wide. Generally, the thicker the tire, the grippier and better ride control.
A fattie is the sort of mtb you want for rolling through wet sand, snow, mud, dirt, and everything in between. Increasingly, fat-tire bikes are rising in prominence on the all-season trail mountain biking scene.
This bike looks exactly what you thought good mountain bikes should look like as a kid. The tires come heavily studded and offer a level of traction no other mountain bike type can offer.
As a noob mountain biker who’s yet to choose any particular riding style, consider starting your journey with a fattie. Why do I think fat-tire mountain biking is ideal for beginning mountain bikers?
It’s because fatties are extremely forgiving when it comes to cycling over rough terrain.
Riding a fattie feels like rolling over feather-soft mattresses.
Enduro Mountain Biking Style
Enduro mountain biking is the race format of trail mountain biking. Unlike downhill, enduro mtb involves pedaling uphill. However, timing and scoring only happens when you’re bombing downhill runs.
You can even opt to forego pedaling uphill and instead choose to do several laps at a bike park. An enduro bike is designed for that kind of thing as well.
In enduro mtb, everyone gets to earn their ride. That said, everyone gets into this mtb discipline for the downhill thrill it offers. You also choose this riding style because you enjoy tackling technical terrain infused with a bit of airtime.
An enduro bike comes with either 29ers or 27.5” wheels. However, some enduro bikes may have mixed size wheels, usually a 29er in the front and a 27.5″ rear wheel.
Compared to a trail bike, an enduro/all-mountain bike offers greater suspension travel. Suspension travel ranges between 120mm and 150mm for trail biking vs. 140mm-180mm for enduro mtb.
As for bike geometry, the overall bike design and construction of anduro bike supports descents more than it does climbs. Head angles lie in the 65-67 degree range. And that means you need real cycling skills when tackling the steepest climbs.
Aside from a slack head angle, other design features modern enduro mtb’s have include a relatively long wheelbase and reach. And just as it is with downhill mountain bikes, enduro bikes come with a low bottom bracket.
As for tires, they tend to have aggressive knobs. Knobby tires perform exceptionally well in the traction department. And when it comes to navigating sketchy corners, you want to be riding the knobbiest tires ever.
Freeride Mountain Biking (Freeride Racing Isn’t for You, Beginner)
Watch this Red Bull Rampage Freeride Video below. You won’t believe what you see. You’ll think your eyes are playing tricks on you. I thought I was freakin’ dreaming the whole time!
Ever watched the Red Bull Rampage? Chances are what you saw in that event was competitive freeride mountain biking.
Freeride focuses more on skill and technique and less on cycling at high speed. But it’s not like speed doesn’t matter, it does. Speed just isn’t the most critical element of this dangerous descent down the steepest and most technical slopes ever imagined.
In freeride mtb, you’re going downhill all the time. But unlike regular DH, it’s not all about riding fast. Rather, it’s about engaging your creative genius to launch perfect takeoffs and landings with nearly mathematical precision.
You’re going to be landing really huge jumps and riding off high cliffs. And while up in the air, you’ll perform stunning flips and tricks, all without crashing. But wipeouts aren’t rare in freeride, and sometimes the worst happens. I don’t know of any other mtb riding style that requires that level of biking handling skills — and guts.
To win a race in a freeride mountain biking competition, you need to muster lots of concentration. And you must skillfully and quickly invest that focus into style, flow, originality, creativity, and speed. If you earn the highest score in all these and other freeride racing-specific elements, you’ll win the cycling competition.
Recreational Freeride Mountain Biking
Fortunately, there’s recreational freeride mountain biking, the kind a beginner like you can progressively grow into.
Recreational freeride cycling is more relaxed and less dangerous than competitive riding. It’s similar in a couple ways to freeskiing. The main thing in recreational freeriding is explorative biking and locating new exciting lines to ride.
Freeride Moutain Biking is Extreme Insanity!
Look, I’m not a freeride cyclist. And I don’t intend to ever become this kind of mtb rider. Oh my God, even watching freeriders do their extremely crazy rituals makes me sick, literally.
The moves include performing terrifying off-cliff jumps, multiple incredibly-acrobatic flips, and extremely precise landings. It’s crazy.
Bike Type Ideal for Freeride Cycling
A freeride bicycle is a small, lightweight, super-strong bike whose design allows for easy manipulation and airborne performance of tricks.
And because you’ll be doing gnarly jumps all the time, you need a bike whose suspension travel hovers around 200mm.
Slopestyle Mountain Biking (Focuses on Technical Ability and Style)
Slopestyle mtb is like freeride mtb in that it’s technical riding prowess rather than how fast you can ride that matters most.
You’re riding downhill over a specially designed course. And this unique course features massive drops, berms, jumps, ramps, and more slopestyle elements.
Judges in a slopestyle mtb event series score you based on how much technical ability and style you put into your descent.
To win the competition, you need to showcase multiple original tricks executed with finesse. Plus, you need to demonstrate your ability to bring together all these elements into a state of liberating flow.
Not surprisingly, a slopestyle mtb has similar design and construction as a freeride bike. It is small, lightweight, and super easy to manever while airborne.
Additionally, the ideal slopestyle bike comes with high suspension travel. How much travel? Enough suspension travel to absorb the impacts and shocks from huge jumps.
Since a slopestyle bike features a similar design to a freeride bicycle, travel suspension of 200mm+ should be OK.
Four-cross (4X) Mountain Biking (Downhill Riding on BMX-like Tracks)
In this style, contestants flex their cycling muscles over short, intense tracks similar in design to BMX racing tracks. You have four riders pitted against each other in a head-to-head cycling battle where crossing the finish line first makes you the winner.
To navigate 4X tracks, you need to have lots of stamina reinforced with deep reserves of explosive riding power. Additionally, your tactical awareness needs to be at a good place.
That’s because you need to know where the rider behind you is at all times without needing to turn to look backward. There’s no time to look over your shoulder, you know. Besides, you’re going downhill crazy fast. And that does make things a whole lot trickier.
The tracks are about 40-50 seconds long. These tracks have cambered (bermed) corners as well as landings and takeoffs. And the surface of the tracks is mountain bike-ish with all sorts of rocks and obstacles.
The typical 4X bike is typically a hardtail mtb and features front suspension forks. Just like in pump tracking, 4X has you riding standing the entire time.
Dual Slalom MTB Riding Style
Dual slalom mtb cycling is a sub-category of 4X. There’s one key difference between dual slalom and four-cross. The difference is that dual slalom has two riders competing head-to-head on parallel tracks with a similar design.
Also, unlike in 4X racing, the riders in dual slalom race two times instead of once. In the second lap, the riders swap tracks, and the rider with the fastest time from the two runs wins the contest.
The losing cyclist gets eliminated. And the winner moves on to the next dual slalom race until the final winner shows up.
What kind of bike is best for dual slalom racing? You need the same kind of bike you would need for 4X mountain biking.
Pump Track Mountain Biking
Pump tracking is a mtb riding style that has you compelling your bike ride furiously fast without pedaling. To build up decent speed on your bike, you need to have exceptionally good pump track skills.
When practicing this mtb riding style, you ride around a looping track that features bermed corners, rollers, and whoops. Since pedaling isn’t required at all, you must master how to pump your bike around the loopy track.
Here’s how to pump track. First off, get on your bike and start building up momentum. You do that as you go down a section of the loop. The momentum you gained going down then takes you up so you can multiply it and ride even faster.
Pump tracking is a fun and exciting mtb discipline. That said, you need to be super strong and fit for this riding style. You also need tons of mental focus and bike handling abilities to do pump track mountain biking.
Competitive pump tracking has riders timed for a single lap of the track. The winner is the cyclist that posts the fastest time.
However, in some contests, two cyclists run head-to-head on two similar tracks. These riders keep doing short, energy-packed races around the undulating course. And the cyclist with the fastest time gets to become the reigning pump track king.
If you’re considering this mtb style, be ready to invest in a small, strong, efficient bike. The ideal bike harmonizes the speeding abilities of a BMX bike with the technical riding capabilities of a hardtail mountain bike.
The result is a small, strong, efficient bike with a low saddle and an extremely short seat tube. The bike also features strong suspension forks in the front. With a short seat tube and a low saddle, riding in a near-standing position comes naturally.
Speed and Style Mountain Biking (Combines Slopestyle and Dual Slalom)
As the name suggests, speed and style mountain biking focuses on two aspects— speed and style. Winning this type of cycle sport requires merging the racing capabilities of dual slalom and the trick-performance competence of slopestyle.
In competitive speed and style, you’re trying to outrace your competitors while also out-tricking them. Anyone who watches a speed and style race sees lots of high-speed jumps, spins, whips, and other adrenalin-triggering cycling tricks.
As in dual slalom, two cyclists compete against each other. The losing cyclist gets eliminated while the winning rider proceeds to the next round. The final winner is called once the judges calculate the combined score from each rider’s tricks and their overall execution speed.
The bike that’s best suited for speed and style moutain biking features a really compact design. And since this cycling style involves big landings, the ideal bicycle must have great suspension.
Basically, most good dual slalom or slopestyle bikes should be good enough for speed and style.
Decide What Mountain Bike Type You Need
At this point, you know 11 mtb riding styles and three main types of mtb terrain. Now, you need to learn the three main categories of mountain bikes that the cycling market offers.
Mountain bikes are normally classified by the type of suspension they have and wheel size. Some mountain bikes are hardtails, others are rigid, and others are full-suspension bikes.
In terms of wheel size, some mountain bikes are 29ers, others 27.5-inch (650B), others 26-inch, and the rest 24-inch bikes.
Let’s now look at each kind of bike to ease you into a buying decision that you won’t regret down the trail (pun intended).
Hard-tail Mountain Bike
What’s a hardtail mountain bike? A hardtail is a bike that offers impact-absorption suspension in the front and no suspension in the back.
Since hardtails don’t provide full suspension, they tend to be cheaper than their full-suspension counterparts. What’s more, hard-tail mountain bikes need less maintenance than do full-suspension options. That’s because they have fewer moving parts compared to full-suspension bikes.
But it gets even better — hardtails can easily convert into a fully rigid mountain bike if and when needed. Being able to lock out the front fork for periods of time makes that possible.
Hardtails enable direct transfer of pedal stroke power to the rear tire. That’s why most Cross-country riders tend to favor hardtails over other bike categories.
A hardtail is also a pretty decent bet for all-mountain trail biking. Also, a hardtail is good for every other riding format outside of lift-serviced downhill trail riding.
Full-suspension Mountain Bike
A full-suspension bike is a mountain bike that provides both front-fork suspension as well as rear impact absorption.
Since a full-suspension bike absorbs much of the impacts, less impact reaches you, the rider. Dual suspension also translates into increased traction and noticeably more forgiving rides.
With a bike like this, you won’t experience much trail chatter or trail bumps as you shred.
But while full-suspension is great, it has one little downside. When pedaling uphill on a full-suspension bike, it tends to lose a portion of the energy transfer to the wheels.
Fortunately, mtb manufacturers have found an effective way to solve this problem. The vast majority of full-suspension bikes these days offer rear suspension lockout.
When the rear suspension lockout feature kicks in, you get better pedal stroke power transfer to the tires. And better power transfer basically means more efficiency when tackling climbs.
The amount of travel you get with a full-suspension bike depends on what kind of riding the bike is designed for. For example, all-mountain riding bikes and cross-country mtb’s need less suspension travel than do downhill mtb’s.
When it comes to downhill mountain bikes, suspension travel of 200mm or higher is pretty common.
Rigid Suspension Mountain Bike
What’s a rigid-suspension mountain bike? A rigid-suspension mtb is a kind of bicycle without any kind of rear suspension or front suspension. Most mountain bikes today are full-suspension or hardtails rather than rigid bikes.
Because rigids have fewer bells and whistles built into their overall design, they’re usually cheaper than full-suspension and hard-tail bikes. Also, since rigid bikes have fewer moving parts than full-suspension and hard-tail bikes, they cost significantly less.
The reason rigid mtb’s aren’t the most common category of bikes is that they don’t offer much comfort. As a beginner, you may opt to choose a more affordable starter mountain bike. And a rigid bike would be a great choice for your budget.
But since rigids tend to be a little uncomfortable, consider going with a fat-tire bike. I did mention elsewhere in this beginner mountain biking guide that fatties are a great choice for beginners. Fatties are a good option for when you want to get into trail biking but don’t have much money and still want a comfortable rig.
Fatbikes compensate for their lack of suspension by having extremely wide, low-pressure tires that absorb bumps, chatter, and impacts quite well.
Decide What Wheel Size You Want
There are four main mtb wheel sizes to choose from namely 24″wheels, 26″wheels, 27.5″wheels, and 29ers. Then there are 20-inch wheels for kids younger or smaller than 10 years.
26″ MTB Wheels (Standard MTB Wheels)
A couple years back, all mountain bikes came with 26″ wheels. But why 26″? It’s because 26-inch mtb wheels are highly response and maneuverable. That’s why the popularity of these wheels hasn’t waned, yet.
But while 26″ wheels are fairly popular in bike shops and lots of other places today, they’re no longer the only choice.
When you walk into a bike shop these days and ask to see the wheels they have, they’ll ask whether you want 26″, 27.5″, or 29ers.
24 inch Mountain Bike Wheels
24-inch wheels are usually fit for kids’ mountain bikes. Naturally, kids have shorter legs than adults, at least, that’s the case for the most part. That’s why this wheel size suits kids’ bikes best.
These kinds of bikes are usually cheaper versions of pricey adult mountain bikes, and they come with simpler components.
Bikes with 24-inch wheels target children in the 10-13 years age range. But we all know some kids are taller than their age while others are smaller than their age.
What about kids younger than 10 years that wish to enjoy mountain biking? The cycling market offers 20-inch mtb wheels for kids smaller or younger than 10 years.
27.5-inch Wheels (650b wheels)
27.5″ wheels are a nice option that sits between 29ers and 26-inch wheels. These wheels represent a good balance between rolling ability and maneuverability.
Because these wheels are smaller than 29ers, they are easier to maneuver. And since the wheels are bigger than 26″ wheels, they roll easier on different kinds of terrains.
Some 27.5″ wheeled bikes are hardtails while others are full-suspension options. These wheels are also called 650b mtb wheels.
29-inch Mountain Bike Wheels (29ers)
29ers are the tallest mtb wheels that can be had. These wheels are bigger and heavier than all the others I’ve described here.
Now, 29ers face greater difficulty than smaller wheels when it comes to acceleration. However, once you gather momentum on this wheel size, you’ll roll easier than you’d with either 27.5″ or 26″ wheels.
One thing that 29ers offer in abundance is grip or traction. What’s more, these wheels give you a higher attack angle. A higher attack angle is a fancy way of saying that 29ers are great at helping you navigate trail obstacles easier and more smoothly.
As is the case with 27.5″ wheels, 29-inch mtb wheels are fairly common in full-suspension bikes and hardtails.
Larger bike wheels may accelerate slower than slower wheels, but they’re quicker. That’s why lots of cross-country mountain bikers gravitate toward 29ers and away from mid sized and smaller wheels.
Obtain and Wear Proper Mountain Biking Protective Gear
Well, many professional mountain bikers wear a helmet, strap on good cycling shoes, and mount their bikes. But most of these pros seem to always forget to wear protective pads.
I’ve seen quite a few freeride MTBers maneuvering high up in the sky on their super-nimble bikes. And they’re without knee pads and elbow pads. I think that’s dangerous, but then these are the best of the best MTBers in the cycling universe.
The gearing-up behavior of such expert MTBers may make it seem like you don’t need anything else aside from a helmet. But nothing could be further from the truth. Wrists are some of the most at-risk body parts (more on this in a moment).
Get a Certified Mountain Bike Helmet
Given the nature and danger-potential of mountain biking, you need a brain bucket that covers more of your head. Fortunately, mtb helmets provide more head coverage than do road cycling helmets. Make sure to choose a lid that offers adequate protection at the lower back of your head.
Also, always use a certified helmet. A certified lid is one that’s been subjected to and passed a series of helmet safety tests and standards. Triple 8 helmets are some of the best recreational mtb riding helmets out there.
Wear a Full-face Lid for Downhill (Rent it If You Can’t Buy It)
If you’re planning on becoming a downhill cyclist, consider investing in a decent full-face helmet. The Triple 8 Downhill Full-face Racer is one of the best downhill MTB helmets out there.
As a beginner MTBer, you may want to rent a full-face helmet at the bike park instead of buying. The best full-face mtb lids can be discouragingly pricey and sometimes overpriced.
Consider Using a MIPS Cycling Helmet
You may want to use a MIPS MTB helmet instead. MIPS is a helmet safety technology designed to absorb angular impacts. Any one of those baby heads on the trails is something you could hit at a bad angle and get tons of rotational forces.
The MIPS technology is a protective layer inside a helmet that slides a certain way when subjected to rotational energies. MIPS is thought to offer an extra layer of noggin protection. While no definitive studies supporting these claims exists, yet, many anecdotal stories suggest MIPS is more than a fancy technology.
Your helmet should provide a snug fit. Also, your mtb lid should stay on your dome the entire time, especially in a wipeout. Learn how to measure your head for a helmet here.
Strap on Quality Wristguards and Elbow Pads
You’re more likely to break your wrists than sustain a concussion after a crash. Credible mountain biking-related research showed that of 511 cycling injuries analyzed, fully 42 percent affected hands and wrists.
So, as a beginner MTBer, you definitely should obtain a decent pair of wristguards and elbow pads.
Put on Knee Pads, Too
Knees are also pretty vulnerable when doing climbs or just hobby mtb riding. But knee pads become particularly important when it comes to tackling gnarly descents.
Also, when shredding the sketchiest turns at break-knee speed, your knees need all the protection they can get. And that’s where the best knee pads for mountain biking come in.
Put On MTB Goggles for Clear Vision and Eye Protection
Get good goggles for your beginner mtb rides or commutes. Good goggles help protect your eyes from dust and dirt while keeping your vision clear and reducing fogging. Read honest mtb goggles reviews and pick a decent option for your adventures.
Dress the Part for Mountain Biking
When it comes to cycling, the only time you wear your normal clothes is when pedaling a city bike. The rest of the time, you’ll want to be in proper MTBing attire.
Mountain Biking Shorts
There are two main types of mtb shorts. The first type is the kind usually worn by cross-country riders. This type comes in form-fitting styles.
Since you’re not a pro cross-country MTBer, yet, you’ll probably want choose bike shorts with a more relaxed or baggy look.
The riding short I recommend for you typically has a casual look, lasts longer, and provides more coverage.
I recommend this type because this mtb short comes with a well-padded inner liner. It’s called a chamois, and it reduces trail impacts and saddle sore or saddle fatigue dramatically.
Mountain Bike Riding Jersey
Just like mtb shorts, mtb jerseys are usually available in two styles. The first style closely hugs the body while the other one has a baggier, more casual look.
Choose a mountain biking-specific jersey. Why? Because a mtb-specific jersey has been designed and sewn in a way that works perfectly for the general riding position. That means a proper mtb jersey won’t rub against your body, causing sores.
Whether a mtb jersey fits snugly or is a bit loose, it should have great sweat and moisture wicking capabilities. Also, the jersey should be made out of materials that dry quickly after washing.
You can choose light T-shirt-like jerseys for summer riding, a heavier zipped jersey for cool, or a super thick merino base for the coldest days.
When the weather gets cooler, wear a thick merino base layer under a thin jersey. And if the jersey you’re eyeing has pockets, grab it.
Not enough money for a proper jersey? You can wear an old cotton T-shirt. Cotton soaks up sweat quite well.
Mountain Biking Gloves
As a beginner MTBer, you’ll likely bonk and experience hand and wrist fatigue sooner than riders that ride more often. To prevent wrist and hand fatigue or lessen it, wear high-quality gloves with decent padding over the palm.
You can choose finger-less or full-fingered gloves. These two types of gloves provide a certain amount of protection, but I’d suggest you choose full-fingered gloves.
I recommend full-fingered gloves because these options offer greater protection/coverage and tend to be warmer. What’s more, full-fingered mtb gloves give you lots of much-needed texture between fingers. Aside from that, these gloves are grippy enough and squeezing brake levers or using gear shifters should be easy.
MTB Shoes and Pedals
Regardless of the kind of mtb shoes you select, make sure they have a tough and protective exterior. You also need mtb shoes with enough grip for when you need to hike.
One more thing — the best mountain bike shoes offer decent protection from mud and moisture/rain water.
Different MTB shoe-pedal pairings work really well while others may not work that well. The right combination for you is a function of your mtb riding style and how much comfort you crave.
Two kinds of pedals exist on the market : clipless pedals and flat platform pedals.
Flat Platform Pedals (Best Option for Beginning MTBers)
If you’re a beginner or someone whose MTBing skills still need work, it’s best to choose flat platform mtb pedals.
I recommend flat platform pedals because they allow you to mount and dismount real quick. And you won’t be unclipping from the pedals, an activity that requires certain learned skills.
When choosing cycling shoes for any kind of downhill MTBing, pick up options with tacky outsoles. Tacky soles easily plug into your pedal pegs. But if you ever need to get off your bike in an emergency, you can…quickly and effortlessly.
The beauty of flat pedals is you can wear pretty much any kind of cycling shoe you like. You won’t worry about cycling shoe/pedal design compatibility.
Clipless MTB Pedals (for Experienced MTBers)
Unless you’ve been mtbing for quite some time and have your riding skills at a great place, stick with flat pedals.
With clipless pedals, despite what the name suggests, you actually have to clip your mountain biking shoes into these pedals.
Modern clipless pedals, however, allow you to unclip real quick and bail or dismount. All you have to do is apply a little twisting motion, and that’ll instantly release your feet.
Riding clipless can seem overly challenging to a beginner. But it’s not too hard with modern improved clipless pedals.
Once you learn to use clipless mtb pedals, it can really help smooth out your pedal stroke.
Note: you’ll have to buy cycling shoes that work well with the clipless pedals you choose. I clipless pedal/mtb shoe compatibility deserves an entire article. I won’t discuss that in this beginner mountain biking guide.
A mtb hydration backpack helps you stay sufficiently hydrated throughout your ride on the mountain trails. It’s a backpack-like hydration system with a bladder (water reservoir) that lets you transport water.
And the best part? You don’t need to stop or ride slower to take a swig when you bonk bad. Instead, grab the drink tube that links to the bladder and quench your thirst hands-free.
An ideal hydration backpack for mtbing offers enough room for the bladder, snacks, repair essentials, and some gear. For a trip that takes longer than a day, though, get a hydration backpack that’ll accommodate an extra layer of bike clothing.
Mountain Bike Repair Kit Essentials
The reason it’s called a mtb adventure is that anything can happen anytime along the way. Your chain may break, or a chain link may get damaged.
Or you might get a flat tire. Or the braking system may fail and need a tweak or two. Or you may damage your spokes. You want to be ready for any number of little surprises that may show up deep in the woods.
Essential Bike Tools
Repair shops may not always be available. That’s why it makes perfect sense to build self-sufficiency into your adventurous trip. Whether your ride will be a single-day or a multi-day mtb ride, you want to have an adequate supply of bicycle tools.
A multitool is an absolute must for each ride, whether it’s a short, recreational ride or a much longer ride. You should also pack a chain tool, spoke wrench, needle-nose pliers, Allen wrenches, duct tape, and zip ties.
Also, throw in Phillips screwdrivers in multiple standard sizes. You’ll need some or all of these tools to supplement your multitool.
You also want to carry a CO2 inflator or a hand pump for airing up your tires whenever necessary.
MTB Chain Lubricant and Some Cleaning Rags
Carry a good chain lubricant to keep your bike’s moving parts in great working condition. Nothing squeals as loudly and annoyingly as a dry mtb chain. Also, not keeping your chain lubed can cause problematic shifting. And if your chain stays neglected for too long (no self-respecting MTBer allows that), it might break midride.
Before squiring a drop on the chain and pedaling backward to unevenly spread the lube, clean the chain. That’s where a cleaning rag comes into play.
Long-distance MTB Touring Spare Parts
When it comes to organizing a long-distance mountain bike trip, you need to pack the following bike supplies:
Spare MTB Tires
When mountain biking in remote locations, having spare tires is extremely important. Why? It’s because while you can find a replacement, it won’t always be easy when cycling in the back of beyond.
Speaking of spare tires, it’s best to go with folding bike tires. That’s because folding bike tires are much easier to store and haul on long tours than non-folding options.
Spare MTB Spokes
Before you go out to your local bike shop to buy spare spokes, learn how to replace damaged spokes correctly. If the damaged spokes are on the rear wheel, you’ll have to take off the cassette or freewheel. And that does require some basic hand tool skills.
Regardless which wheel it is, you have to remove the wheel, the tire, then the tube, and rim tape. Finally, you must remove the end on the damaged spoke’s nipple plus the end at the hub flange.
Make sure to choose spare spokes that’ll fit your bike’s wheels. To avoid making spoke sizing mistakes, size your spare spokes at your fave bike shop.
Spare MTB Nuts and Bolts
There’s nothing like careful cycling. No matter how lightly or frequently you ride your mountain bike, some nuts and bolts will loosen up over time. Nuts and sometimes bolts are also known to come off and fall to the ground during rides. So, visit a bike shop for advice about what nuts and bolts you should pack for the trip. You may also research online and order what you need from Amazon or wherever.
Replacement Chain and Chain Links
Do you know the most common trail side mechanical issue when mountain biking? It’s a flat tire. And the second most common mechanical problem is a broken chain.
MTB chains get damaged, and they sometimes break. When out mountain biking, your bike’s chain takes all kinds of impacts. Impacts such as hard rock strikes are bad enough to cause your chain to break.
While you can repair a broken chain caused by a rock strike, it’s not always easy. That’s because this kind of impact tends to damage multiple chain links.
Wear and tear is another common cause of broken chains. Fortunately, chain breaks due to wear tend to affect just one chain link. And it’s pretty easy to fix a single broken chain link than several of them.
To fix a broken chain link, you need a new chain link and a proper chain tool. Alternatively, you can use Master Link Pliers. Chain links are super light and you should definitely pack one or two for your long ride.
Sometimes you’re forced to replace the entire chain. If you’re planning a multiday bike trip, you may want to throw in a spare mtb chain.
Spare Shift/Derailleur Cables or Brake Cables
First off, what’s the difference between derailleur cables (shift cables) and brake cables? One of the most important distinctions between a derailleur cable and a brake cable is that brake cables offer greater strength.
Another difference is that brake cables are thicker than derailleur or shift cables. The diameter of brake cables is either 1.5mm or 1.6mm vs. 1.1mm or 1.2mm for shift cables with the exception of galvanized cables. Galvanized derailleur cables have a thicker diameter than the typical derailleur cable, measuring 1.3mm.
Additionally, brake cables use different housing than derailleur cables. Brake cables have thicker, bulkier, more elastic housing because they’re designed to transmit significantly higher forces. The housing being bulkier prevents brake cables from snapping during rides.
So, can you use derailleur cables as brake cables? You can, but it doesn’t mean you should. Actually, it’s a bad idea to use derailleur cables as though they were brake cables. In fact, using derailleur cables for your braking system can be dangerous.
Why? It’s because derailleur cables lack the thickness and elasticity of brake cables. And that immensely increases the odds they might fail when you need them most. Conclusion: use brake cables for your brakes and shift cables for shifting.
Other Essentials to Have On Your Mountain Bike Rides
Carry some money just in case you want to enjoy a drink or buy extra snacks along the way.
A cell phone is another critical item to carry. You might crash and need to call your folks or friends to bring a car and get you home.
You may also want to use a sort of track-your-ride-app. Or a map. Also, you could use your smartphone for easy viewing when mtbing. Watch a video or two on how to mount your smartphone on the handlebars for that.
Other essentials to bring to your mtb trip include your ID and insurance card.
How Will you Carry Your Essentials
For a short recreational mountain ride, a small saddle pack should suffice. Use a saddle pack for carrying your multi-tool, a spare tube, and a patch kit.
But for longer commutes or rides, you need a good mtb backpack for holding your repair kit essentials, clothes, food, and more.
You may also use a handlebar pack for carrying your camera, snacks, and sunscreen. But this may not be a good idea for a beginner. Attaching a pack on the handlebar can interfere with brake operation. Plus, too much weight on the handlebar can make it difficult to balance.
Alternatively, use a frame bag. This bag attaches to your MTB’s top tube and packs food, tools, and bike essentials such as spares. If you’re prepping for multiday mtb touring or bikepacking, find a frame bag that’ll accommodate your hydration reservoirs as well.
But if planning a single-day mtb adventure, consider using a rack trunk. Use this storage to carry lunch, bike tools, and extra clothing if necessary. If riding through wet weather, get a rack trunk with integrated raincovers.
Another option could be a pannier. A pannier offers lots of room and protection from bad weather. This storage system attaches to the rear rack through an easy-to-use system consisting of clips, hooks, and bungee cords. Use this storage option when you need lots of space.
How to Start Mountain Biking Guide for Beginners: Final Thoughts
First, decide you really want to enter the crazy but exciting world of mountain biking. Next, understand various mtb terrains.
Then, identify a mtb riding style that for some reason resonates with you. Your preferred riding style should determine what bike type you buy.
Lastly, gather and organize various essential tools and supplies for your trip, whether short or long. Think of everything you’ll need to make your trip a memorable one. Happy mountain biking!