A few weeks ago we featured a story on Lindsey Richter, founder of Ladies AllRide and active presence in the mountain biking community. After racing professionally and discovering the hugely positive impact it had on not just her fitness but her mental well-being, she shifted her focus to getting more women involved in the sport and now spends nearly every pedalable minute of her days advocating for people riding bikes.
She's highly touted as a coach for her relatability, endless positive energy, and ability to teach by both telling and showing. Testimonials on Ladies AllRide routinely say that a camp singlehandedly improved their riding more than anything else, even after years of riding and lessons. Seems like a good one to learn from...
We figured, if you can learn from the best from the get-go, what better way to get started?
If you've been considering picking up mountain biking, here's your nudge and Lindsey's top five tips for beginner riders. From picking out a bike, what gear you actually need-need, and how to get pedaling without too much "Oh crap what have I gotten myself into?!"
At the end of the day, we'd suggest trying it just because riding bikes is freaking fun.
Mountain biking can be an intimidating sport to get involved with, but it truly is a life-changing activity. For me, I lost my fitness and self-esteem in college after being a celebrated high school athlete and didn’t know how to get it back. Step aerobics wasn’t inspiring me so I started racing mountain bikes as a way to force me to get fit during the week with the goal of not sucking too badly at the races on the weekends. Turns out the sport gave me so much more than fitness. It helped me understand how to face and conquer fears, how to be kind and patient with myself while learning something new, how to believe in my abilities and how to change negative, fear-based thoughts to positive in order to keep the wheels rolling forward. It also introduced me to a whole community of awesome people who welcomed me into the sport with open arms. I want more people to see what mountain biking can do for their lives, hence my mission to inspire people using the sport as a catalyst for growth and change.
1.) The bike. Mountain biking is not “just riding a bike.” I mean, riding a bike on a paved road or smooth trail is not that difficult, but add in some rocks, roots, steep hills and exposure and it requires a bit more skills than just pedaling. Also, a cheap bike can inhibit your experience but it’s understandable that the price of new mountain bikes can be scary. If you don’t have a bike, begin by visiting a few different bike shops near you to demo a bunch of different bikes to see what feels good. We recommend a new entry level or decent used full-suspension bike so you get the feel for mountain biking on a comfortable bike. Hard-tails (bikes with no rear suspension) are less expensive and fine, but they can be a bit uncomfortable if you decide to ride more technical terrain (trails with rocks, roots and obstacles) in the future. Make sure the suspension is tuned for your weight before heading out and maybe learn how to change a flat tire just in case, then carry the necessary tools to help you.
2.) Proper gear. There is a bit of gear needed to mountain bike, so think about buying or borrowing some basic gear to get you started. It can also be a little intimidating to acquire the proper gear but many times the gear you get will last a long time. A decent helmet is a must because protecting your noggin is important. The right shoes to go with the pedals on the bike make a huge difference. If you don’t know how to ride clipped in, start with flat pedals and good, stiff rubber soled shoes. A hydration pack is nice for easy access to water and tools, but a water bottle in a cage will do. Gloves are pretty important for a solid grip and protection from branches brushing against your fingers. And of course, knee, shin and elbow pads aren’t a bad idea because they’ll protect you if you fall and will give you more confidence to try new things.
3.) Take a lesson! When people decide to learn skiing and snowboarding it’s pretty typical to take a lesson. That’s not always the case with mountain biking. I think people believe that since they already know how to pedal a bike, they will pick up mountain biking quickly. Well, trial and error on a mountain bike can be dangerous so we recommend taking a lesson or a few lessons to make sure you’re developing good habits and have a deeper understanding of how to approach mountain biking as safely as possible. We know a few organizations who can help... (Ladies AllRide + Grit Clinics)
4.) Skills pointers. To ensure that your first clinic feels less intimidating, here are a few pointers to get you started. Practice a few basic skills in a safe place like grass before you head out on the trails. First, the bike doesn’t have a brain or eyes, so always look ahead where you want to go, NOT at the things you don’t want to hit. Your bike goes where your eyes go. Pedal around and play with the gears and brakes so you understand how they work. Only use one finger, your pointer finger, on each brake and gently see how they respond when used one at a time and then together. Stand on your pedals while coasting and move your body up and down, forward and back above the saddle. Drop your heels a little for support, especially when practicing braking. Learn to move around above the bike and also move the bike beneath you. It also helps to bounce around and stomp your feet on the pedals to get comfortable with the suspension. All of this will help you understand that the light bike needs to be controlled by you, the strong capable human. You are the pilot not the passenger.
5.) Have fun! Riding bikes is fun and can bring a lot of joy into your life. Not to mention there is an entire community of mountain bikers in most areas that have great trails, so you are bound to make new friends while enjoying the outdoors in a whole new way.
Adventure photographer Ben Herndon shows off "the mythical Palouse," a surreal PNW gem with opportunities for thrills, solitude, and/or a fancy cocktail in your spandex.
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