The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Mountain Biking

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Mountain Biking

Mountain biking is, by definition, the ability to let loose by the manpower of two wheels, a will and a way in the mountains.

If you’ve ever watched those Red Bull or [Insert name of any other energy drink sports sponsor here] YouTube videos of the classic GoPro point-of-view cycle down insane terrain thinking it looks fun, you’re in the right place.

That’s because when mountain biking with the right beginner mountain biking trails as well as the right mountain biking tips and tools, you’ll be flying into the horizon.

So, the team here at The Hobby Kraze wanted to share with you absolutely everything you needed to get started with biking through the mountains using this ultimate beginner’s guide to mountain biking where we’ll be answering all of these questions:

  1. What is Mountain Biking and What is Trail Biking? 
  2. Where and When Did the First Mountain Biking Hobby Begin?
  3. What Are the Benefits Behind Trail Biking a Mountain?
  4. Is There a Glossary of Jargon Things to Know Before Mountain Biking?
  5. How Can a New Mountain Bike Be Chosen for Trial Biking?
  6. What is Trail Etiquette When Mountain Biking in the UK?
  7. What Are the Trail Biking Tools Needed Before Getting the Flow?
  8. How Can Beginner Mountain Bike Trails Be Identified?
  9. What are Top Things to Know Before Mountain Biking?
  10. Where are the Best Beginner Mountain Bike Trails in the World?

Before we get started, it’s worth noting that skilled riding – despite what many will say – doesn’t just come with self-taught practice. Nor will knowing the safest riding techniques that can help to bypass unnecessary injuries, brakes or lost fun. 

With that, it’s incredibly important you take this ultimate beginner’s guide to mountain biking with you when you head to a trainer. Even if you know how to cycle on the roads or ride a mountain bike, there is a specific set of skills that can help you manoeuvre speed, cornering, downhilling, braking, riding close to others, orienteering and avoiding wildlife. 

Just a couple of sessions will help you with key mountain biking tips to keep you on the safest (and most fun) path through the mountainous trails.

What is Mountain Biking and What is Trail Biking?

What is Mountain Biking and What is Trail Biking

Mountain biking is trail biking; it is also MTB (in case you see that name flying around the trails of this article). And it is simply the practice of cycling through the woodlands, hilltops, mountains and peaks for adventure in the most adrenaline-filled ways.

There are actually five types of mountain biking to choose from. This is because they each describe the types of trails and journeys you could pedal through in your beginner mountain bike trails.

Trail Biking

Trail biking is one of the best types of mountain biking for beginners simply because it involves following a specific trail. In fact, it’s the most recreational form of riding other than heading out for bicycle touring, road trips or anything else that could be a relaxing bike ride. The idea is to follow the flow in the ups and downs of a track in an enjoyable way with friends. 

Cross-Country

The GoPro videos we mentioned earlier often involve a bout of riders taking their mountain bikes on cross-country trips through the mountains, woodlands, single-track circuits or even paved roads. With this, it’s actually the most popular type of mountain biking and not quite as extreme as the others to follow. It can require endurance and skill as the routes often include man-made obstacles, so it’s a trip to head for after trying out trail biking, first.

Downhill Riding

Third on the list is quite self-explanatory; it involves hiking (or taking a lift) to the tip of a mountain or hill before descending down at top speeds with obstacles and a heavy frame bike to increase the speed. One of our top mountain biking tips is to use a ski resort during the Summer months; you’ll have pre-designated tracks, lodges on the way down, a gondola for the ride up and a café waiting at the bottom of the hill, too.

All-Mountain

All-mountain involves – you guessed it – all of the mountain when riding as well as a combination of both cross country and downhill riding skills. This is because it involves an all-and-any terrain style of riding, meaning you have to be well-versed in all types as well as having some pretty hefty trail biking gear to get you through it.

Enduro

Finally, if there are any things to know before mountain biking, it’s that it is a very competitive sport beyond simple trail biking. There are competitions to do the hardest, longest, fastest and most-obstacle ridden routes out there. The Enduro type of mountain biking caters to just that; it’s a Europe-born competition involving all-mountain bike riding but with a race thrown-in.

Where and When Did the First Mountain Biking Hobby Begin?

The first ever bikes that were made were ridden over dirt paths and trails that were the roads of the day; in fact, ever since biking or cycling has existed, so has the concept of off-road mountain biking. 

However, the difference for any people back just half a century ago was that mountain biking purely consisted of jacking-up, rigging and customising the general street bikes at that time. 

One of the most famous of these later became known as the ‘Woodie Bike’. It was made in 1953 by a man named John Finely Scott and featured a Schwinn World frame, flat handlebars, balloon tyres and derailleur gears.

But it wasn’t until 1977 when a man named Joe Breeze was called by his mountain biking friend frustrated with bikes being ruined after just one or two runs. Joe took the challenge of using a 1941 Schwinn bike to build a tougher and lighter bike with suspension capable of taking-on Mount Tamalpais in California.

This ‘Breezer Number 1’ bike is now on display in the Marin Museum of Bicycling and, in the 40 years since the birth of modern mountain biking, so much has developed.

  • Bike manufacturer ‘Specialized’ started to produce mountain-made bikes in the late 70s.
  • The first ever UCI Bike World Championships were held in Colorado in 1990.
  • The 1990s also saw innovation in bike tyre rims growing to 2 inches for greater contact with the ground, obstacle manoeuvrability and control. 
  • Red Bull built the Red Bull Rampage in the early 2000s, inviting mountain bikers to compete in tough terrain races.

What Are the Benefits Behind Trail Biking a Mountain?

What Are the Benefits Behind Trail Biking a Mountain

The beginner’s guide to mountain biking might not need to sell itself, however, there are so many benefits to bringing an adrenaline-filled and freeing sporting activity to your weekends and holidays.

For one, it is a sport rather than an indoor activity, meaning you’re automatically seeing the benefits that fresh air in your lungs can bring as well as a controlled and elevated heart rate. 

But one of the biggest benefits has to be the fun and inclusivity of it all. As this is the beginner’s guide to mountain biking, we’re here to say that absolutely anyone can begin a trail biking hobby. And, even if you want to try it out the once before committing to shelling-out for your own bike and mountain biking gear, you can borrow a mate’s. 

While a bike is somewhat bought tailored to you, there’s no harm in borrowing or renting before buying. Much unlike other sports, such as skiing where the boots are pretty moulded to each foot.

Here is a list of all the other benefits you could see just by getting in the saddle, pushing down on a pedal and heading into the mountainous wilderness for an adventure:

  • It’s good for the environment
  • There is only an initial investment
  • You can mountain bike with friends, family or alone
  • There are no restrictions on direction
  • You can go for a day or days
  • You breathe in fresh air
  • It helps to relieve stress
  • Exercise can improve your sleep
  • You can combat fears and challenges
  • It provides cardio, muscular and psychological exercise
  • You’ll build your coordination
  • There’s no need to spend a fortune on gear
  • You can borrow a bike for the initial escape
  • It helps to meet like-minded people on the same trails
  • You get to venture into secret places on the mountain top
  • There is a range of mountain biking types to fit your personality
  • It releases the happy hormones
  • You have opportunity to upgrade your gear at your pace
  • Less stress on joints than other forms of exercise
  • Mountain biking can be combined with other hobbies 
  • Your heart health will improve for longer living
  • There are increased chances of fighting illnesses
  • You can lose weight with consistent mountain biking
  • People will experience a happier mood in you
  • You can simply lose yourself in the beauty of nature

Is There a Glossary of Jargon Things to Know Before Mountain Biking?

Is There a Glossary of Jargon Things to Know Before Mountain Biking

It wouldn’t be a contained community of riders and hobbyists if they didn’t find a way to bring a whole new dictionary section to the table. 

Luckily, there aren’t that many and they’re pretty easy to pick up when you’re in the right context. Especially since many of these terms can be country-specific, mountain biking jargon differs just between the UK and the US. 

So, here are the top 21 words and phrases you should add to your mountain biking glossary of slang:

Bail

Much like in reality, a bail is leaping out of the situation. More specifically, it involves jumping off the bike in an attempt to avoid a crash resulting in serious injury. Try to bail onto a pile of leaves, but anywhere is good.

Berm

A berm is a very common man-made part to most trails and cross country runs. It is a banked corner allowing you to take it far faster than a normal flat corner where you’d have to break first. They are most common in race trails.

Clean

Clean refers to how a trail is completed. So, when someone says, “that was a clean run”, it means that a trail, path, route, circuit or section was done without crashing, stopping or taking a foot off a pedal.

Dab

Nope, this isn’t raising your arms to the side and nodding your head. In the mountain biker world, it is just taking a foot off a pedal to help gain balance, reduce speed and avoid a crash.

Dialled

Dialled is commonly an adjective referring to your bike and your set-up. Many people will use it as a compliment to say that your bike is perfectly ‘dialled’ or ‘dialled-in’ for this trail.

Downside

Not a negative – in fact most see it as a positive – but it is a downwards slope allowing you to gain more speed for the next part of a trail. Often in a man-made course, it’s directly after a jump.

Edit

While not actually referring to anything to do with your bike, you or your ride, it simply means the edit of pictures and videos that showcase the talents of a rider. So instead of a showreel, they’ll have an edit.

Flow

This is when you drift away, get into the zone and feel trail nirvana. Most often felt on softer and smoother beginner mountain bike trails, it’s when obstacles and corners just zipper together for an easy ride.

Gnarly

While this may sound like a sheer Americanism, it’s actually used quite a lot over here in the UK. And, in the same way, it is used to describe a particularly difficult feature or obstacle in a trail.

Kicker

A kicker is what many of the pros with a high rush for adrenaline seek out on new and dangerous cross-country trails. It’s a steep ramp giving lots of airtime for flips, tricks and spins.

Loam

Our mountain biking tips suggest looking out for Loam; it is loose and dry dirt that will fly around. While it may sound like a slip hazard, it actually provides the tyre with grip to get around a corner and the ability to generate roost.

Loose

To ride loose refers to riding intermediate or beginner mountain bike trails just on the edge of control, specifically for obstacles, man-made path variations and tight corners. As a beginner, you’ll ride loose often.

Pump

The act of pumping is a way to gain speed on your bike without needing to pedal faster or change gears. As you naturally stand in the saddle, pumping involves pushing your weight on the back wheel on a downside for more speed. 

Rail

Quite the opposite of riding loose, railing on a ride simply means that you’ve got complete control and whatever you did, you did it very smoothly. It’s often talked about with flow.

Roost

Roost is something that can happen when you ride (often with a drift) over loam. Basically, it refers to the loose dirt that gets kicked into the air from the back wheel when trail biking.

Shred

As this is the ultimate beginner’s guide to mountain biking, we don’t expect you to be shredding a trail any time soon. It means to ride with aggression. If you’re new, just take it slowly and calmly while you get the handlebars of it.

Snake Bite

When your bike (or, more specifically, your bike tyre) gets a snake bite, it means your bike tyre has been punctured in a way leaving two small parallel holes similar to snake teeth. It is often done after hitting a square edge.

Step Down/Step Up

A step-up and a step-down refer to the ground positioning after a bike jump. A step-down is when the landing is below the take-off. Similarly, a step-up is when the landing is above the take-off.

Stoppie

A stoppie is a front-wheel wheelie that also stops the bike in motion. With this, it’s also known as a nose wheelie. It is done by only activating the front wheel brake while leaning forward to allow the back wheel to rise.

Tabletop

There are a few different names for the types of jump in mountain biking. When the jump has flat ground in between the take-off and the landing, it is called a tabletop. Alternatively, no ground in between is called a gap.

Whip

A whip is an in-air movement or trick. It involves staying sat in the saddle of the bike and pushing the wheels over to one side, so you travel diagonally through the air.

How Can a New Mountain Bike Be Chosen for Trial Biking?

How Can a New Mountain Bike Be Chosen for Trial Biking

When you’re buying a new mountain bike, you can expect to be paying around £750 but it can range anywhere from just £200 all the way to £2000 depending on where you want to look, what specifications you’re looking for and the brand name on the side. This will also largely depend on whether you’re determined to buy new or if you want to go preloved and maybe customize it to be dialled to your ideal route.

When it comes to buying the mountain bike, there are some things to know before mountain biking off into the distance and hoping for the best. For example, it helps to know all the parts on the chassis and what you’re looking for as a rider. 

There are three types of mountain bike you could be getting your paws on before heading out trail biking:

A Hardtail

A hardtail bike is also known as a front-suspension or front-shock bike as there is only terrain cushioning on the front wheel to ease reverberation through the handlebars and up the arms. With this, the bike is lighter, more versatile and has a much more fixed rear-end that makes it the perfect choice for you reading this ultimate beginner’s guide to mountain biking.

A Full-Suspension

Unlike the hardtail, the full suspension has – well – full suspension. Meaning there is soft padding on both the front and rear wheels. They are also known in the mountain biking community as dual suspension and they are best at handling the very tricky terrain seen in all-mountain trails or cross-country trails. This is because both wheels have full-flexibility, and your handling needs to be on-point.

An Electric

Now, we aren’t going to call you a cheater, but this is definitely cheating. These types of mountain bikes can be very heavy as they’ll feature a small motor within the drivetrain of the chassis. They help to support you tackle speed for longer periods of time by giving you an extra power boost. For obvious reasons, they aren’t allowed in any Enduro competitions, but they make for the perfect recreational trail biking bike.

When you know what kind of bike you’re after, you can begin to think about personalisation of other bike features such as the fork size, tyre thickness, chassis length, handlebar location, dropper post installation and so on. 

Alternatively, you could save on some of the big bucks and head out on your beginner mountain bike trails with a rental. Companies such as Tracs, MTB&B Mountain Bike Adventures, British Bike Hire, Grizedale Mountain Bikes and so on, all stock fantastic mountain bikes with different specs to help sit in the saddle for a dialled route in flow.

What Are the Trail Biking Tools Needed Before Getting the Flow?

What Are the Trail Biking Tools Needed Before Getting the Flow

Mountain biking, luckily, isn’t one of those touring activities that requires you to pack the kitchen sink and some. Of course, if you finish this ultimate beginner’s guide to mountain biking with the intention of going all-out on a holiday for the week (maybe even in a different country), then you’ll need to pack a few extras. 

To find out exactly what you’d need to pack for a mountain biking day trip with friends, keep reading. However, if you want to have the long list of items needed for a long get-away on the bike, then head over to our other article, “The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Bicycle Touring”.

If you’re still here, let’s get going with the items and things to know before mountain biking in terms of kit:

  • Boot Rack
  • Bug Spray
  • Chaffing Cream
  • Cycling Pants
  • Duct Tape
  • Energy Bar
  • Flat-Sole Trainers
  • Gear Brush
  • Goop (Lubricant)
  • GoPro
  • GPS Device
  • Headlamp
  • Hydration Pack
  • Inner Tyre Tube
  • Lightweight Raincoat
  • Moisture-Wicking T-Shirt
  • Mountain Bike Gloves
  • Mountain Bike Helmet (with Visor)
  • Mud Guards
  • Multi-Tool
  • Padded Shorts
  • Patch Kit
  • Phone
  • Pocket Pump
  • Portable Speaker
  • Power Bank
  • Sports Sunglasses
  • Sun Cream
  • Zip-Ties

How Can Beginner Mountain Bike Trails Be Identified?

How Can Beginner Mountain Bike Trails Be Identified

Always being the team to bring safe and fun ways to enjoy your newest hobby with this beginner’s guide to mountain biking, we don’t want you heading out to your nearest mountain biking trail only to find yourself on a hard trail biking route featuring obstacles, tight turns, jumps and more. 

Luckily, there is a way to know which types of mountain biking trails are best suited to you. Many of the pre-established trails will have names and grades given at nearby bike shops, souvenir stores and rental locations. There’s also the wonderful internet which will let you know, too.

An avid biking team member here at The Hobby Kraze suggests heading to the World Wide Web to find out where your grade trails are, and which grade a particular route is. This is because they can actually vary throughout the year depending on the current and past weather conditions. 

In the meantime, here are the different grades you’ll come across when trail biking (yes, they’re much like the skiing grades to make it more of a universal understanding):

Green Tracks

These are the easiest routes. In terms of the trail types, they’ll typically be on the wider tow paths, bridal paths, slow roads and low forest tracks. As well as this, they’ll feature smooth ground, low-risk obstacles and shallow dips. This makes them perfect for beginners in the mountain biking community as well as family trips out with a sprinkle of adrenaline and nature-filled flow.

Blue Tracks

Next up in the difficulty chain is the blue track. This route best suits beginners who have had a few green tracks under their belt and are looking for the next level. It takes the distance up to an average of 15km, it throws in some loose surfaces and tree roots, and increases the gradient of the climb to get some more calories out of you. Otherwise, the trail types and locations are pretty much the same as green tracks.

Red Tracks

When you’ve become more experienced in the saddle, you can cycle off-track and use the narrower bridal paths, the forest and bypasses for steeper trails, harder obstacles, looser ground and distances up to 50km. With red tracks, the things you should know before mountain biking include the fact that there are unavoidable obstacles such as boardwalks, cambers, rocks, drops, water crossings and berms.

Black Tracks

Finally, on the list of trail biking types is the black route. If you know skiing, you know this is the track you look at, laugh and simply walk away. It is for expert mountain bikers with years of two-wheel riding under the belt and a world of confidence. It’s got the boulders, unavoidable obstacles, trafficked areas, steep drops, hard inclines, century distances, rocky descents and even man-made obstacles that make you question every decision leading up to this point.

Orange Tracks

While we said ‘finally’ with the last trail biking type, the orange track is a notable mention. It technically isn’t a mountain biking track because it isn’t a general track. Instead, it’s a bike park in the mountains often featuring muddy ground, tall forest trees and the classic boardwalk. They aren’t for beginners, so you’ll probably only want to see orange when you’re already comfortable with blues and reds. This is because they are designed to test your mountain biking obstacle-tackling skills!

Now you know the trail types, it’s best to know the common etiquette throughout the UK and how to behave for the best experience on your beginner mountain bike trails.

First thing you’ll want to do is make yourself known by ringing your bell to alert dog owners and horse riders to help prevent a spook and accident. Then, just like with driving, you’ll want to abide by the ‘right-to-right’ conundrum meaning you’re always on the left-hand-side of the path.

Finally, always be nice to other bikers around you. For example, stopping to help other riders or keeping distance for safety!

And there you have the ultimate beginner’s guide to mountain biking. With the dips, the flicks and the tricks, there’s not much room for boredom. So, get your bike out, our helmet on and wander off into the trails of the UK.

P.S. If you’re looking for some of the best trails out there, have a think about our top three: Rhyd Ddu in Snowdon, Torridon in Scotland and Kinlochleven Ciaran Path in Scotland!

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