Singletrack for beginners

It’s often tough to find just the right trail for first time mountain bikers. Obstacles like roots and stream crossings that might seem commonplace to experienced riders make beginners cringe and wish they had never ventured off road. I’ve personally given some bad recommendations based on what I assumed would be an easy first trail – only to find out later that my friends struggled. Paved greenway paths seem to be a safe recommendation for now but how do you introduce people to a good first off-road experience?

USA Today recently published a list of some family-friendly trails as recommended by Mountain Bike magazine executive editor Michael Frank. Frank’s criteria for an easy trail are simple: the trail should be 1) off road 2) relatively flat and 3) scenic. The list is short and the trails are scattered from Seattle to Key Largo so it’s not all that helpful if you don’t live or vacation in one of the 6 spots mentioned – but a good start nonetheless.

We do have some features on singletracks to help new mountain bikers find safe places to ride, though you’ll need to take all recommendations with a grain of salt. “Easy” is certainly a relative term and it’s important to understand that an easy trail for Tinker Juarez would probably rate a “difficult” for most people. Aside from the overall Beginner Mountain Bike Trails list, you can also filter your state trails to just those recommended for new riders (here are the beginner trails in North Carolina).

Published guidebooks also attempt to rate the difficulty of a trail but suffer from the same relativity issues mentioned above. It’s especially important to understand the difference between technical difficulty and aerobic difficulty when perusing the latest mountain bike guidebook. A “technical” trail is one that requires good balance and confident bike handling – things like rocks and roots can make a trail more “technical.” Aerobic difficulty refers to the amount of climbing and/or length of the trail and you should take into account your own physical conditioning when considering an aerobically difficult trail. Beginners should generally look for trails that are both technically and aerobically easy.

Mountain biking is a great sport but like anything else, it takes practice. Even if your first venture off road is less than spectacular, keep at it – you won’t be a beginner for long!

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