I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I was a fortunate beginning mountain biker. I had a great teacher: he was patient and willing to explain everything to me. Everything.
But maybe you don’t have someone right beside you to tell you some of these things… so I’ll be there for you. Here are 10 not-so-obvious tips that you, as a beginning biker, need to know:
1. You do not wear underwear under your spandex shorts.
I thought I was the only person who had ever done this. It turns out that several other people that I know tried the same thing. Nope. No undies. Just the shorts. Trust me: you’ll be much more comfortable this way. The shorts are designed to fit right against you. And speaking of shorts fitting right against you…
2. There’s this stuff called Chamois butter… and it’s awesome.
Get some. You can find it at any bike shop and probably even at your local pharmacy (although Vaseline will work too). Use this before long rides, or even short rides if you’re just starting out. Just use it around your nether-regions to prevent chafing. You will be very glad that you discovered this stuff.
3. Don’t try to get on the seat before you pedal, or try to rest with your butt on the seat.
This (above) is uncomfortable and looks like you don’t know what you’re doing. Plus, you’ll discover it’s very difficult to start pedaling like this, or stop and rest like this for long.
I have pictures of me from my first ride standing like this. Soon though, the BF explained to me a better way to stand and get started pedaling.
This is much more comfortable. To get to this position when you’re coming to a stop: have your pedals at the 12 and 6 o’clock positions. Slow down and put the foot at 6 on the ground. Step forward and down with the 12 foot once your other foot is secure. This way, you’ll step down in front of your seat.
When you get ready to start again, adjust your pedals so that one is at about 10 o’clock. Put your foot on the pedal and leave the other on the ground. Gently push off with the ground foot at the same time you push forward with the pedal foot and up onto your seat . You’ll get a little momentum and balance yourself this way. Then you can easily get your other foot on the pedal and start moving.
4. Keep your fingers on your handlebars–not your brake levers.
If you keep your fingers out like this (and I know it’s easy to do because we all get nervous and want to be able to slow down immediately), you’ll go over a tiny tiny drop and flinch. When you do, you’ll end up grabbing your front brake and fly right over your handlebars.
You don’t want that.
Keep your hands lightly on your handlebars. I can get my finger out and over my brake lever in a split second. I still feel secure, and I know I’m not going to endo from accidentally grabbing my front brake.
5. Nobody else is thinking about the fact that you’re: going slow, walking, or examining a drop.
I know it seems like everyone is. All those strangers riding that drop as you carefully walk around it? They don’t care that you’re walking it. Probably they all walked things at some point in their bike lives. We all have. I still do. There’s no shame in it.
One day you’ll get tired of walking it and you’ll have enough confidence to ride it. No one expects that to be right away.
On the same note, this is your ride. Go at your own pace.
I can remember going out on a ride very early in my bike life with some guy friends from work. I wasn’t fast, I didn’t ride lots of technical features, and I was sure I’d slow them all down. In the end, it didn’t matter. I was riding for me. I rode at my own pace and caught up to them at certain rest stops. We all had a great time, and I learned that I didn’t have to try to keep up. I could ride and rest when I wanted. You can too.
6. Watch other people.
The easiest way to learn how to ride up or down a feature is to watch other people do it. You can follow a friend who is a better rider down a drop, follow them up a drop, or just watch them a few times. You can ask them to show you their line, or to ride it again so you can follow (at a safe distance). Many times this has been the way I learned to ride features, including this most recent one:
I got my friend to show me exactly where she went down the drop. Once she did and I was sure of the path I wanted to take, I rode it. For years, though, I applied tip #5 and walked it, without shame!
7. If you ever decide to get clipless pedals, know that the clips can be adjusted so that it’s easier or harder to get your feet out of the pedals.
If you think it’s too hard to get your feet out, have someone adjust them for you. If you think your feet are popping out too easily (like every time you go over a drop) tighten the clips a little to hold your feet in more securely.
8. Sunglasses aren’t just a fashion statement.
In the past 4 days of biking, I’ve experienced rocks, wind, and the need to duck around tree limbs. Sunglasses double as eye protection when you’re out on the trails. In fact, biking is what forced me to finally get prescription sunglasses. I had to have something to wear when I rode! They don’t just protect you from the sun, but also from scratched corneas.
9. Shift before the hill.
Look ahead and see the hill coming. Shift into an appropriate gear for the hill and start pedaling up. If you can still pedal comfortably, it’s ok to shift; if you are struggling to keep the pedals turning, don’t try to shift into an easier gear. If you do, you might break your chain.
10. Gravity is your friend.
Going fast can be scary. I know. I’ve been there; I still don’t like to go fast, but I’ve gotten much better at it over the years. Sometimes, though, a little speed is necessary. If you’re out at 18 Road on Kessel Run, you’ll want some speed to get up to the top of some of those berms with enough momentum left over to get you down the other side. If you’re rolling down a drop, sometimes going too slow can cause you to get stuck on a rock you might otherwise just roll right over. Keep up a little speed. No one is saying you have to break a Strava record, but you shouldn’t be outpaced by a turtle, either.
Mountain biking is a great sport. It gets you outdoors, forces you to focus your mind on something other than work or politics, and gets you in great shape. These are just a few tips to help your biking experience be even more awesome.
Your turn: What’s the one bike rule/tip you wish you’d known sooner?