While in general sense riding a bike is not overly complicated, once you move beyond the confines of the local bike path and hit some real mountain bike trails, and then go looking for more in depth knowledge, it can quickly become a daunting task to sort through all of the information and misinformation regarding trail 411, riding styles, bike tech, etc.
So where should you go for honest, useful information that’s pertinent to YOU and your riding needs?
The obvious first line of cycling info is the local bike shop. The guys and gals at the local shop most likely ride the same trails that you do, and they will have a good handle on what does and doesn’t work in your area. This can be especially helpful when traveling outside your local area to a riding destination you are not familiar with. On the flip side, shops exist for their owners and employees to make a living, and as such they need to sell and service bikes and equipment. In the overwhelming majority of cases you will get solid, objective info from local shop staff, but occasionally there could be instances where advice is fiscally motivated. This situation is rare, but it does happen. If it happens to you, don’t be a jerk, just politely thank them for their time and look for another shop.
Local shops are one of the best and most accessible resources for trail 411, equipment choices for local conditions, and volunteer opportunities. Just make sure you keep an open mind, make sure you’re not being shilled, and also don’t use shops only for info. They need to make a living too so make sure to bring them some business!
The proliferation of high speed broadband and mobile data access has led to an explosion of information literally at our fingertips. The mountain biking world is no exception, and you can easily search for any bike related topic and instantly get thousands of answers. The thing is… everyone’s an expert online, and it can be very difficult to sort fact from fiction.
Facebook, Reddit, user forums, etc. are almost guaranteed to be subjective at best, but that doesn’t mean that these outlets have no value for those seeking advice. The trick to gleaning valuable info from online resources is to go local. For example, a Colorado rider would not want to get tire advice from a Wisconsin rider! Look for Facebook groups that ride the same trails you frequent, or Reddit users who are near you geographically. Also, most national forums will have regional sub forums that can be a good resource. Most importantly, though, just realize that you’re reading mostly opinions and take everything with a grain of salt.
Trade Rags and Guide Books
Before the internet there were these things called books and magazines. While online access has forever changed the way that written media is consumed, the more traditional approach should not be overlooked. Guide books like the Falcon Guide series are usually written by local experts and are a great source of info about lesser-known trail areas and the local mountain biking scene. Instructional books like Zinn & the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance by Lennard Zinn or Mastering Mountain Bike Skills by Brian Lopes and Lee McCormack are timeless technical resources and should be on every mountain biker’s book shelf.
Magazines have struggled to remain relevant in this modern era of data consumption and those that have survived have morphed into a mix of equipment reviews and trail or destination reports. However, the influence of vendor ad revenue can’t be overlooked, and much of the printed info is also available online, usually sooner than when it arrives in your mailbox.
Despite the proliferation of digital information, printed media still has a place in the modern world. Books and magazines are portable, and work just fine in the absence of internet access or electricity. Books and magazines can also be kept as reference material to look back on, whereas online data may or may not be permanently archived, and can be difficult to locate when needed months or even years later.
Online mountain bike publications with experienced authors and editors can be a great source of authoritative information. Unlike sifting through a plethora of opinions on a forum or on Facebook, reading information from a publication has the benefit of editors fact checking and cross examining the information that is published.
But you’re here on Singletracks reading already, so this definitely isn’t news to you!
Pros and Bros
One on one personal interaction is arguably the most valuable source of info one could hope for, but it is also the most subjective.
Pros: I have had the opportunity to ride with several pro riders, and the first thing that is apparent is that they operate at a whole other level from us mere mortals. As such, their equipment choices are dictated by the need for speed and contractual sponsor obligations. Their equipment may not reflect what an average Joe needs for the weekly group ride, or in some cases might even be prototype hardware that is not available yet. Ironically, most pros could throw a leg ever any ol’ borrowed bike and still smoke us out on the trail. The upshot is that equipment discussions with pros, while interesting and in some cases eye opening, don’t really apply to everyday riders’ needs, and trying to keep up with the latest kit used by your favorite pro can bankrupt you in a hurry!
Where pro advice is really helpful is in things like apparel, nutrition, and training. Pro riders didn’t wake up one morning at the top of the sport; they have spent years honing their body, skills, and routines to become included in the ranks of the best cyclists on the planet. The countless hours spent in the saddle and the close attention to what their bodies tell them results in a wealth of information that can benefit anyone wanting to improve their biking performance. They will know what works and what doesn’t for things like grips, saddles, overall bike fit, apparel, training regimens, and diet. Pick a pro’s brain on these topics and you won’t go wrong!
Bros: No one is closer to your riding than the people you ride with on a regular basis. Especially if you’re a beginner, getting involved with a local club or group ride can be an invaluable source of advice and info. On the equipment front, your local club will probably be the source of the most subjective recommendations you will find. On any given ride you’ll see a mix of full team kit-clad XC riders hammering on stiff hardtails, endurbros rocking knee pads and long travel all mountain bikes, bearded, flannel-wearing singlespeeders, and everything in between. For some unhelpful but interesting discussion in your local club, just ask about wheel size, tires, or bike style. You’ll get as many opinions as there are members! Still, once you have defined your preferred riding style, others in the group who ride like you can still be a good source of equipment info.
Where your closest riding buddies can really be helpful is with particularly localized info. How to clean certain obstacles, the “better” direction to ride that loop trail, the days of the week with the least traffic; these are the tips best gleaned from your bros.
There is no lack of information available to mountain bikers, and it can be extremely difficult to differentiate between fact and opinion. For beginners, determining which facts apply to them, or which opinions actually have merit, can lead to frustration or even harm.
My contribution to this plethora of advice would be this:
- Start local by talking to your favorite shop and getting connected with a club or some group rides.
- Augment your personal library with some time-tested and respected print publications.
- Conduct internet research but don’t necessarily take everything at face value.
- If you get a chance to hang out with pro riders, don’t be annoying, but pick their brain. You’ll learn some really interesting stuff.
- Finally, just get out and ride. Experience is the best teacher, and lessons learned on the trail can be the most valuable.
Never stop learningand before you know it, you’ll be the experienced rider with knowledge to impart!