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"It's just like riding a bike, right?" We've all heard it, we might even have said it, but this phrase bugs me. Yes, it implies that once a skill is learned it's seldom forgotten and yes, we all (or most of us) grew up riding bikes in some way shape or form but it also implies an obviousness or simplicity to the process which can be detrimental to people starting out a journey into Mountain Biking.

As head Mountain Bike Instructor at Pure Outdoor, I get the privilege of introducing countless people into the world of Mountain Biking and a common trait is that people think that they should already know how to do it and may well get surprised, frustrated or embarrassed when it turns out they don't.

But take this as an example; if you're setting out to learn to ski you're unlikely to just strap a set on and jump off the nearest mountain. No, first of all you'll want to learn some techniques (like maybe how to stop!) and you'll probably get someone to show you the basics in order to progress.

Here's a taste of what's on offer from our friends at The Bike Garage
Then why should Mountain Biking be any different? If anything it's more important to correct all of those bad habits we've picked up pulling skids in car parks with our mates... So in order to help get you started, here's my Top 5 Top Tips for starting out in Mountain Biking:

1. Get a bike that works and fits properly

It sounds obvious (and you wouldn't expect to have a good time skiing if you started out in boots which are 2 sizes too small!) but it's surprising how many people just dust off the 20yr old rust bucket from the back of the shed or borrow their friend's/parent's/kid's bike to have a go on to get started and expect to have a good time. Fair enough, bikes are expensive and you don't necessarily want to shell out your hard earned cash just to see if you like something (and nor do you have to; Mountain Biking can be enjoyed on all manner of bikes) but more often than not, your best bet is to hire a suitable bike to get started.

That way it's the right kind of bike for the trails you'll be riding (don't worry we'll get to that later..), it fits you properly and, most importantly it is well serviced and set up by a professional and has all it's bits in the right place... (and here, it just so happens, you're in luck because Pure Outdoor are now offering FREE BIKE HIRE with all our courses and guided days!! We also have access to a wide range of top end bikes from full-suspension to e-bikes from 'The Bike Garage just next door.)

2. Protect yourself!

When Mountain Bikes first appeared in the early 90's we had to wear helmets that resembled massive polystyrene mushrooms (mine had a neon blue lycra cover!) and for some reason people weren't all that keen… But things are different now and there's no more excuses! No one wants to plan to fall off but, as with learning any new skill, there's always the potential to come unstuck and wearing a helmet can definitely make all the difference as to whether you get up and walk away or not...

Helmets are now comfortable and lightweight and are compulsory on all our courses and guided days (and come as standard with all our hire bikes). However, protecting yourself doesn't just stop there I'd also recommend wearing some form of gloves (and it's not just to keep your fingers warm). Usually the first thing to break a fall are your hands and scuffed palms can definitely make holding handlebars way more difficult. If you're pushing more advanced skills I'd also recommend considering knee pads and other forms of protection. 

3. Pack/dress for the hills

Just because you're on two wheels doesn't make the hills or mountain environment any less of a serious place to be. In fact, an unexpected issue could mean an even longer walk back to safety. So you should pack the same as if you were heading out on foot. This includes waterproof clothing, spare layers, and sufficient food and drink. If you're heading out without a guide I'd also recommend emergency equipment such as first aid kit, emergency shelter and tools and spares specific to your bike (& if you're at all not sure how to use any of these then I'd definitely recommend going with a guide or instructor first!)

4. Plan the right route

Where to go is one of the biggest challenges facing a beginner to Mountain Biking. Not all off-road trails are created equal and one of the beauties of our sport is that there's so much variation in difficulty, challenge and severity of terrain that there is truly something out there to suit everyone. Mountain Biking has developed to include everything from riding gentle gravel trails to seemingly impossible lines off cliff faces and literally everything in between.

The industry has cleverly adapted bike technology into all shapes and sizes to cater for different niches. However, whichever bike you're riding, pick the wrong route and at best you could be in for a long walk or at worse you could quickly get well out of your depth. Not only that but it's easy to go along the right trail but in the wrong direction (i.e. uphill!) or pick the wrong weather conditions or time of year to attempt it. There's alot to consider.

One solution is to head to a 'Trail Centre' which will have purpose-built trails which are graded to cater for varying abilities. For me this is a bit like an indoor climbing wall; great fun and an easy way to get started or develop new skills but definitely not the whole story. In the UK we're lucky enough to have an amazing network of bridleways and byways that can provide an amazing and exciting way of exploring the countryside by bike but it's definitely worth learning what to look for before heading out into the unknown.

5. Relax & set out with an open mind

So, you've got your bike and kit all set and now you're ready to hit the trails; but that's only the first step (or pedal stroke) in the right direction. Now you need to develop the right skills to tackle the terrain. This is the really rewarding bit and (if you've picked the right trails to get started on) you'll very quickly see a real progression in what you're comfortable with riding.

This skill acquisition works differently for everyone and will continue to develop as long as you ride bikes but if you're new to mountain biking, then the chances are that some things are going to feel a bit counter intuitive. "What? Go over that rock?", "Don't sit on the saddle?", "Brake LESS!?"... This is where previous habits and tendencies of riding bikes need to be unpicked somewhat and almost always the best bit of advice is to relax and stay loose.

Believe it or not, your bike is great at rolling over roots and rocks and rough stuff. Your job is just to let it!.. Once you do you'll learn that the whole thing is far less scary than it first appears and the looser you get, the easier, less complicated and more fun the whole thing will become. You'll then be truly on your way into the amazing world of Mountain Biking!

Anyone can get started but here I prefer to quote Einstein in saying that: "Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving..."


This article was written by Pete from Pure Outdoor

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