Mountain Biking Basics

Whether you’re sending it down some steep single track, cruising through the countryside, or slowly meandering through the forest, biking is a great way to get outside and get a good workout. With this sport’s increasing popularity, it has become commonplace to see cars on the highway with a rack full of bikes. But what about mountain biking draws in so many people?

First, a little background on bicycles in general. They were first invented in the early 1800s and over the course of the next century were changed and refined to something very similar to the two-wheeled contraptions we use today. These bikes, however, were primarily designed for road use and didn’t have the suspension or gears that we see on mountain bikes today. In the late 1800s, the military initiated a campaign to test the capabilities of the bicycle on rough terrain. They concluded that it would work! Recreational mountain biking didn’t become popular until the 1970s, many years later. Essentially all bike advancements have been in the past 50 years! With that in mind, let’s look at some of the basics of this sport, most of which have been developed in the recent past.

One of the fundamental principles of mountain biking is knowing how to control your bike. This initially comes from pedaling to move forward which helps you maintain balance and momentum. The second thing to do is learn how and when to brake. General practice is to only have two fingers on the brake lever. This allows you to put enough pressure on the brakes to slow down, but not too much so that you come to a sudden stop and are catapulted over the handlebars. Pedaling and braking are the two concepts that allow you to control your speed. It is up to each person to determine how fast they should go according to what they feel comfortable with. If at any point you feel like you are going out of control, slow down! It is better for your brakes to stop you than a rock or tree.
For many, the appeal of mountain biking comes from more technical, singletrack trails. Singletrack essentially means that there is room on the trail for only a single bike, so it is important that you are able to stay in control. Oftentimes these trails have downhill portions which can be lots of fun! When going downhill there are a few important things to note. First, your seat should be lower than it is when traversing flat terrain or going uphill. Second, standing up on your pedals will give you more control (that’s one of the reasons why you lower your seat). When going downhill, lean back slightly to equalize your center of balance. This will reduce your likelihood of being thrown forward off your bike and down the hill. (From personal experience, this is NOT a good time) As a side note, when biking uphill it helps to lean forward slightly for similar reasons.

Possibly the best thing about mountain biking is that you can go virtually anywhere and find some sort of trail to ride! is a great resource to use when looking for bike trails. For beginners, look for a trail that has a moderate topography with a fairly clean trail. By clean I mean few roots, rocks, and other hazards that could cause trouble if you aren’t careful. As you become more comfortable on your bike, these “hazards” actually become sought after “features” along with berms (sloped turns), switchbacks, and jumps.

Biking is one of the sports where the cost is almost entirely upfront. Once you have a bike and helmet you are ready to roll! Additional costs come from maintenance and any upgrades you want which I’ll talk about in a future article. For a new, entry-level mountain bike you should plan on spending at least $500. If you buy used you can get away with cheaper bikes, though remember that you get what you pay for! Another thing to remember is that if you’re not sure that you’re ready to commit and buy a bike, many places will rent bikes. This allows you to try it out before investing in a bike of your own. It is also a good idea to go to your local bike shop for help getting the right size and fit when you are ready to buy.

So what are you waiting for? Go grab a bike and get rolling!