So there we were… at the top of the 1,500’+ climb in South Lake Tahoe. My friend was cursing me out and frustrated at the situation. His heart pumped at a furious pace while his legs tried locking up on him. Mental defeat had taken over. The mountain had won. It wasn’t until he dropped into the downhill that the negativity disappeared and shouts of joy rang out. As he picked up speed, the only thing I saw was a cloud of dust like from a cartoon. Arriving at the bottom, I looked over to him. Plastered on his face was a huge grin. “Well?”, I said. He laughed back. “OK, that was worth it.”
As we reflected on our mountain biking adventure, we realized that I could’ve made things smoother for him. Here’s 7 tips we learned from our journey to make getting into mountain biking easier for your first time. And if you want to learn how to get started, what are the essentials to bring on a ride, and even places to visit, check out our guide: The Down & Dirty On Mountain Biking.
We Were Beginners Too
For many, the idea of two wheels isn’t scary… for me it was a totally different story. I’ve always stood sideways be it skateboarding or snowboarding. But Jaime, the other half of Local Freshies®, wanted to try it and so with fear and horror… I got into Mountain Biking In Lake Tahoe. And I will admit it was worth it. I can’t stress this enough for beginner mountain bikers – start at your local bike shop. They carry the gear and bikes that work best in your region. Will ensure that you get on the right frame size and get it dialed in for you. They can help answer questions, and most of all, they’ll know the best bike trails you should start out on.
Focus On Essentials
Mountain biking is an expensive hobby. When you start mountain biking, instead of focusing on finding your first mountain bike, borrow or better yet rent one. You’ll get an idea of what you like or don’t like about a bike. The good news is that once you get into the activity, you can slowly upgrade the parts like a car or a truck. You don’t need a pair of specific mountain bike shoes but pick a pair of shoes that are “zero-balanced.” Something like a Vans skate shoe will work perfectly versus a Nike Air Max with its big heel cushion which will put you too far forward. Remember, you’re going to be outside. That means dust, dirt, and debris so be sure you’re ok dirtying up the shoes you pick.
Rent Or Borrow A Lighter Bike
When it comes to beginners, the first and most important thing when you rent or borrow a bike is to pay attention to weight. Out of the spectrum of all the types of mountain bikes that exist, that means looking for a cross-country variety. You can still get a full suspension mountain bike but focus on the lightest variation that they have. No matter how much you worry about the downhill, each ounce of weight on the bike will make the climb that much harder. Unless you’re a gym rat or in super-shape, a beefier bike will make that uphill painful. This means skip the downhill steed with big travel. Instead, go for a cross-country bike or at the most an enduro bicycle. The one exception to the rule is that if you do lift-accessed biking, pick the beefiest downhill bike possible.
Helmet and Gloves
This isn’t city biking. The mountain doesn’t care if you’re a tough guy or gal. Trails are surrounded by debris like sticks, granite stones, and stumps. Out of anything you buy, don’t chince on safety equipment. Pick up a helmet like the Giro Fixture helmet. It has a visor to block out the sun and something called MIPS protection. This stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System. It’s the gold standard in helmets and something you should ALWAYS look for when buying one. A pair of gloves is also not an optional item. Look for mesh on the back of them to keep cool and full leather palms for business to make sure you don’t skin your digits. DO NOT buy cut-off gloves. We’ve heard horror stories of people losing finger nails. For more on required gear when you go out for a ride, check out our article: 15 Must Have Mountain Bike Accessories When You Head Out.
Keep The Pressure Low
You would think that a higher tire pressure would be a good thing especially for climbing. On off-road terrain that’s sandy or rocky, it’s the polar opposite. At the same time, you don’t want to go too low either where you may hit your rim on an obstacle. A good place to begin is try running it around 31 psi in the rear wheel and 28 in the front. To learn the 5 W’s of tire pressure (who, what, where, when and why) — Never Fold Under Pressure For Mountain Bike Tires Finding The Right PSI
Indicate When The Long Climb Begins
For people who grew up in the Great Plains or out East, you can use physical exertion to push through the small climbs. But in the mountains, that’s just not possible. The ascent is continuous. Unrelenting. To help with this, make sure you:
- Slow Down Your Breath
- Get in the right gear
- Mentally prepare
- Take it Slow
Explain the Climb in Grade and Distance
A lot of singletrack trails are documented on websites like Trail Forks or MTB Project. Use those tools to get an idea on how long the climb is, the average grade, and maximum grade of the slope. Having this type of information when you’re doing the climb will help make it easier.
Get Ready To Be Humbled
No matter how good you are at sports or athleticism, climbing a mountain on a bike will humble you. My friend said it best. “I’ve never had to say no to ANY challenge in my life, but out here, the mountain will ALWAYS win.” The only way you will make the climb is by taking it at your own pace. DON’T try to keep up with the people around you. You just won’t be able to and that’s fine.
Keep Fueled Up
Cycling uphill requires a lot of energy. It’s not unusual to burn 1,000 or more calories per hour in some cases. To help alleviate an energy drop during your climb, eating a carbohydrate-rich snack pre- and during the ride is a good idea. Something like a PB&J or a bowl of oatmeal 30 minutes before your ride will make it that much easier. And of course, don’t forget to bring A LOT of water. If you want to learn more about how to fuel up for a ride & why it’s important, check out our article: Want To Up Your Game? Then You Might Want To Consider Food As Fuel.
The Descent is Worth It
All that hard work is worth the downhill reward. From perfectly groomed banked turns to epic views, there’s nothing like gripping the handlebars and letting gravity do all the work. Be the cheerleader and make sure to reiterate that everyone’s doing awesome because they are! Climbing on a bike is 90% mental and 10% physical. Once you get to the top, be sure to take a break so you mentally remove any negativity from the climb.