How do I take up mountain biking?
Mountain biking is a fabulous pastime. It’s challenging and fun, exhilarating, awe inspiring and gets you fit! There are two basic components for mountain biking. Fitness and skill. Some riders are super fit others are super skilled. If you have these two attributes then mountain biking is for you. Most of us have the these capabilities to varying degrees and they can compensate one another. They can both be developed in order to master the sport. The important thing is to have fun!
Mountain biking is often promoted as an exciting, exhilarating form of cycling that is fast and full of descents. However, for the most part it is also full of climbs, slippery ground, mud and obstacles. To a large part the descents are more difficult than the climbs. If the rider is not ready for the whole package, they very quickly become disheartened. The other thing that beginners sometimes under estimate is the distances travelled and the length of time that riders might stay out. A normal spin might last over 3 hours. So if you are someone who can’t last 20 minutes in a spinning class, then a 3 hour cycle might be too much. Try to team up with other people who have the same level of fitness and build on your ability from there.
Mountain biking is an advanced form of cycling just as BMX-ing is. Essentially the rider needs to have a very good sense of balance on the bike. A good level of fitness and quick reactions. In the UK there are specific training centers that can teach a variety of skills that are used on the trails. The type of terrain you choose to cycle on will dictate how skilled you need to be. The important thing to remember is that you should not attempt to do something if you are not skilled enough, you don’t want to hurt yourself! There are specific techniques that can be learned that will help the rider to traverse the course. The best place to start is probably with your local club.
The first thing to get right is the bike. There are a few things that you should be aware of when buying a mountain bike. Firstly, you get what you pay for. That is the bottom line. If your budget is limited then avoid buying a full suspension bike. Buy a good hard-tail instead. If you must have full suspension and you are on a tight budget then consider buying one second hand. A lot of mountain bikers sell on their bikes when they are about 2 years old. Remember too that parts do wear out so they will need replacing at some stage and when they do, you can upgrade to better ones. Firstly you need to match the bike to the type of riding you will be doing. When you go to the bike shop and the assistant asks you what you want to use it for there is little point in saying ‘mountain biking’ because within mountain biking there are a number of different styles or disciplines of mountain biking and there is a bike to suit each type. The two most common types are: Cross country – Cycling off road for longer distances on medium to severe terrain such as forest paths, gravel, some rocky ground. You will need a stiff frame with steep frame angles eg. 70º head tube – 72º seat tube with front suspension and with or without rear suspension. The steeper head tube angles give more responsive steering for technical riding, but can lead to less control at speed. The stiffer the frame the more efficient it is at transferring your energy to the back wheel. The advantage of a full suspension cross country bike over a hard tail is for the most part grip and comfort. The suspension naturally absorbs a great deal of impact and smoothes out the ride. It also helps to keep the back wheel in contact with the ground and so can give better grip when it is setup right. The disadvantage of a full suspension bike is that it absorbs some of the effort that you put into pedaling, especially when out of the saddle. Most good suspension coils can be locked to make them more like a hard tail when climbing for example. The cheeper full suspension models however, tend to just bounce along and are really more of a hindrance than a help. Down-hill – Fast descents with very rough terrain, jumps and drops. You need a downhill bike which have long extended suspension forks, very shallow frame angles, eg. 66º head tube – 73º seat tube. This allows them to be more controllable when traveling at speed down a hill. It does however make them useless for hill climbing. A downhill bike throws the weight of the rider right back over the back wheel. So you will know by looking at one in the shop if it looks like a downhill bike. They look swept back. They also have extended suspension forks to absorb extra shock. Cost – You can expect to pay in excess of €1,000 minimum for your bike. This may seem like a lot but there are a lot of mountain bikes out there for upwards of €4,000. I have even seen one for €17,000. Remember, you get what you pay for.Safety Standards – Your bike should conform to the EN-14764 Standard. The full standards document can be downloaded from here.
Cycling clubs are probably the best starting point for beginner cyclists and mountain bikers. Generally as part of the membership you are covered by insurance whilst cycling. You also get to meet and talk to more experienced bike riders who can offer advice regarding cycling. Being with other beginner cyclists can also be helpful as you can team up and help each other improve. You can find a list of clubs in Ireland by going to the ‘Clubs’ page on our website.
I have been out with a few beginners recently and one thing that has struck them was the spectacular views and the joy of just being out doors. I remember an acupuncturist that I was attending, jokingly, she said to me to, ‘find my awe!’ I asked her what she meant and she explained to me that part of the chinese culture encourages people to find something during the day that is awe inspiring. It could be anything. A flower, a view or whatever. For me the mountains never fail to inspire me with awe and when I am in the hills I always feel the better for it. I think most mountain bikers feel the same way.