So there we were… at the top of the 1500’+ 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. “OK, that was worth it.”, he laughed back.
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.
Rent Or Borrow A Lighter Bike
When it comes to beginners, the first and most important thing is to rent or borrow a bike that’s a bit lighter. 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 and 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. 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 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.
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.
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.