1. Get a Bike and Helmet
I would suggest starting with the least amount of equipment possible. When it all comes down to it, all that matters are you, the bike, the trail, and, of course, a helmet. Simplicity matters and I have found that when I have the least amount of equipment when starting out I find more naturally as I gain more experience and interact with other riders. If you have some great equipment already, that’s great! But if you are just starting, a bike and a helmet is all you really need.
Buy a New Bike
Especially if you are just starting mountain biking, keeping your bike purchase simple is the best way to go. Walmart bikes are not the best. If buying a bike at Walmart is the easiest for you, that is great, but it is not the best option as they are cheaply made and break easily. Here are a couple examples of why Walmart bikes are bad; they are assembled by workers who do not know how to properly assemble a bike, and they are made of cheap parts. Walmart bikes can be fixed up, but you would be better served going to a bike shop or buying used.
Some great bike brands out there that can meet your needs. Going to your local bike shop is your best bet to find you a great bike that will last you a long time. The additional service at a local bike shop is often well worth any difference in price tag. They know the areas you’ll be riding and can help you pick the best style of bike for you. They can even point you to new areas and groups to ride or connect with. They build and service bikes all the time so you know you won’t be getting something with the fork on backwards and you know they’ll take care of you in the future. The value of a good local bike shop cannot be understated.
Buy a Used Bike
If you are looking for a higher quality bike but can’t quite afford the big bill for a new top brand bike, buying used could be a great option for you. Great places to start your search are on Facebook marketplace, classifieds, or websites like Pinkbike and MTBR. Your local bike shop may also have a selection of used bikes tuned up and ready to go. In that case, this is a great way to go. It gives you a lot of the benefits of buying from a local bike shop at a much lower price.
Fix the Bike You Have
If you already love the bike you have or maybe can’t afford a new bike, that’s great! It may need a quick tune up before you hit the trails though. A great place to learn how to fix up your bike are Youtube tutorials that can help you as you fix your bike. Park Tools is the leading name in bike tools and has a great Youtube Channel where they instruct on how to properly repair and maintain your bike.
Buy a Helmet
If you’re one of the many who never wore a helmet growing up, you may also think helmets are only for the “snowflakes” of today. Think what you want but mountain biking is not the same as jumping a makeshift ramp in your street. People get concussions, brain damage, and even die. Whether it’s a rock, tree, or even just hitting the ground at speed, there are plenty of things that will wreck you hard. Properly wearing a good helmet while mountain biking will save your life and brain time and time again.
There are several quality brands to consider when buying a helmet such as Kali, Specialized, Bontrager, Leatt, Giro, or Bell. In your search for a quality bike helmet, you will come across MIPS helmets. MIPS stands for Multi-Directional Impact Protection System. MIPS helmets provide added protection from head injuries, specifically concussions, with a layer that protects the bikers head much like the skull protects the brain with a rotating layer inside the helmet that cushions impact from any angle.
You may be tempted to grab a bike helmet from a thrift store. There are plenty of used helmets available but if a helmet has taken a significant impact, it loses its effectiveness and may not protect you in a crash. Unless you’re really good at inspecting helmets, you may just want to buy something you can be sure of. It is your head, afterall.
2. Ride Your Bike
Just ride your bike anywhere you can. You’ll want to get comfortable with it before you start hitting big features or bombing downhill trails. You can ride on sidewalks, roads, and bike paths to build strength, balance, comfort, and endurance. MTB trails will be tougher than your sidewalk so you’ll want to mix it up a little. Drop off the sidewalk and try to make both wheels hit the street at the same time. Ride through grass and up hills for some added resistance. Practice riding as slow as you can while maintaining your balance. Ride as fast as you can while maintaining control. You can even try riding through somebody’s gravel or actual rock garden for a bit more of a technical challenge. The point is, just ride. The more you get used to weird stuff because then the trail will be much easier.
3. Find New Places to Ride
There are some great resources for finding mountain bike trails near you. FreeArenas.com has a lot of information to find great trails or trail systems, The Trailforks app has a great collection of trail maps with offline mapping making it like a mountain bike navigation system even when you’re offgrid. Strava’s segment explorer can be a great way to find where people are riding around you, especially if you’re okay with some road miles. You may be surprised about what trails are available to ride in your area. You may even find trails right out your backdoor.
Buy a New Bike
Now you’re ready to head up to the hills and ride some real mountain bike trails. Riding your first trail can seem like a daunting task. If at all possible, go with somebody that knows the trail and understands your skill level. If you don’t know anybody like that, there are a ton of mountain bike groups out there for you to connect up with and mountain bikers are the best for helping new riders get started off right. You may be able to find a local MTB facebook group. If not, your local bike shop will definitely know of some group that would be great to connect up with. There’s even a decent chance they’ll have a group ride that you can join. Ask your new friend or group what you should bring. At a minimum, you should have some water and a spare tube but some snacks and a first aid kit are highly recommended.
4. Improve Your Skills
5. Get Stronger
Whether you’re riding road, trail, or a stationary, biking is one of the best ways to stay in shape and to continue to get stronger. It brings its own incentives naturally as you get to ride along beautiful trails and see the results of your work quickly. There are many benefits to mountain biking, but seeing yourself get into your optimal shape is near the top. You don’t have to bike up in the mountains to stay in “mountain biking shape”, riding on the road near your home or local trails in your area are great options as well. If you live in an area where the weather doesn’t always cooperate, stationary bikes can offer a great workout to keep you in shape all year round.
6. Buy New Gear
As you continue to hit the trails, you will undoubtedly see riders that have some accessories you would like to have such as padded shorts, biking shoes, hydration packs, etc. The gear you will more likely add to your essentials fairly quickly are sunglasses, gloves, pads, and a GPS enabled watch. The more experience you gain, the easier it will be to find the gear you truly need. From dropper posts to tubeless wheels to carbon bars to wireless shifters, there’s no shortage of new gear that will keep you drooling and improving your riding setup. Don’t let any of that scare you though. Take it easy and you’ll be rattling off all your gear and specs before you know it.
Just enjoy the experience of mountain biking. Ride your bike, find new places to ride, improve your skills, get stronger, buy new gear, and repeat. That is a recipe for a very happy life.