18 Must-Know Mountain Biking Tips To Ride Like A Boss

Are you a beginner mountain biker looking to improve your skills and have more fun on the trails?

Mountain biking can be an intimidating and challenging sport, but with the right tips and techniques, you can quickly progress and enjoy the ride.

In this article, I’ll share 18 essential mountain biking tips for beginners based on my 10 years of experience.

From proper bike fit to body positioning, braking technique, and trail etiquette, these tips cover everything you need to know to start mountain biking like a pro.

Let’s get started!

1. Start With The Basics

Before you start mountain biking, make sure you have the right gear, including a helmet, gloves, and appropriate shoes.

As a beginner mountain biker or even a seasoned professional, you need to be mindful of the various adjustments required to get your bike ready for the trail.

Understand Suspension System

If you’re new to the game, it’s important to understand the three main suspension settings:

  • Sag
  • Rebound
  • Compression

Sag determines how much travel your bike uses when you’re sitting on it. This setting ensures that your spring has the right amount of preload, giving you peak performance and control.

By keeping your tires grounded and maximizing grip, you’ll be able to take on any terrain with confidence.

Rebound helps slow down the rate at which your suspension extends, which is key for maintaining stability on bumpy trails. It also reduces the chance of getting thrown off your bike, so you can focus on enjoying the ride.

Compression controls the rate at which your suspension compresses. This is especially important for preventing bottoming out and keeping you safe on those steep descents.

mountain bikers jumping on the trail

Adjust Your Seat Height

When you’re adjusting your seat height, keep an eye on your hips. If they’re wobbling side to side while you pedal, it could lead to lower back pain. Trust me, nobody wants that!

Now, here’s something you might not have known – the height of your seat can actually impact how well you climb or descend.

Having the seat positioned too high affects weight distribution and makes it difficult to control the bike.

The solution is easy: lower the seat or invest in a dropper seat post to allow for easier weight transfer and better use of the rear tire for stopping power.

Set Your Tire Pressure

Want to know the ideal tire pressure for your ride? Look no further than the sidewall of your bike’s tires.

While the general range is around 28psi in the rear and 25psi in the front, it’s important to remember that these numbers may need to be adjusted based on your own weight, the type of terrain you’ll be tackling, and your individual riding style.

Sure, you may be tempted to pump those tires to their maximum recommended pressure for a firmer feel, but beware! This decision could result in less grip and control as your tires won’t be able to mold to the terrain as well.

On the flip side, going with the minimum recommended pressure can give you better traction and grip, but it may also leave your tires more susceptible to damage from punctures or rough terrain.

2. Don’t Use Too Much Front Brake

Using too much front brake can lead to crashes and loss of grip as well as to a reduced lifespan of your brake pads.

Instead, learn to modulate the brakes by adjusting the pressure based on the situation and the available grip.

When you’re approaching a turn or corner, gradually apply the brakes and evenly distribute the pressure between the front and rear brakes.

Another mistake most beginners often make is going too slow and applying excessive front brakes when descending steep hills, leading to a loss of grip and a feeling of going over the handlebars.

The solution is to ease off the brakes, maintain a steady speed, and commit to rolling down the section to find more grip and stability.

mountain biker controlling speed and modulating front brake pressure

3. Use Riding Shoes With Thick & Grippy Soles

You don’t want your feet to bounce off the pedals due to insufficient grip.

Therefore, opt for riding shoes with thick and grippy soles as they provide excellent foot support and prevent your feet from slipping off the pedals.

These shoes are designed to enhance pedal engagement and keep your feet secure, even during jumps or when tackling rough sections.

With their rubbery soles, you’ll have superior traction, allowing you to maintain control and stability while riding.

For even better pedal engagement, adjust your foot position by dropping your heel, especially during jumps and rough sections.

4. Ride Within Smooth Lines

Avoiding squared-off corners or going too far inside helps maintain traction during cornering.

Trailing the brakes lightly and releasing the front brake for grip on the front tire can be beneficial.

5. Double Down On Momentum

To maintain momentum, it’s critical to avoid sudden braking on turns or challenging terrain. Instead, approach these areas with calculated speed and a ready position.

Keep your body loose and relaxed, maintaining a slight bend at your elbows and knees. This position helps you to quickly adjust to changes in the terrain.

mountain biker doubling down on momentum

When you encounter a rock garden or technical section, avoid the urge to hit the brakes. Instead, maintain a steady speed and use your body to absorb the impact of rocks and bumps.

Keeping your knees springy and wide is crucial for maintaining body-bike separation. This separation allows you to flow through the trail with more confidence.

6. Do Not Stiffen Up On The Trail

Avoid stiffening up as it often leads to a loss of concentration and control, making it difficult to navigate obstacles or make quick decisions.

To maintain a smooth and controlled ride, it is important to stay relaxed and supple on the bike.

This means keeping your body loose and flexible, allowing your limbs to absorb any bumps or impacts.

By maintaining an attack body position, with bent arms and legs, you can effectively maneuver through challenging terrain while minimizing the strain on your body.

keep your eyes focused ahead on the trail to anticipate any upcoming obstacles or changes in terrain.

Believe in your abilities and stay relaxed and you can conquer any trail with confidence.

7. Brake Before The Obstacle

Braking before you reach the obstacle or rough terrain gives you time to slow down and prepare for what’s ahead, rather than suddenly slamming on the brakes and losing control.

The technique for effective braking is to primarily use your rear brake. This is because your rear wheel provides most of your bike’s stability and traction (immediately check and fix if your rear wheel wobbles).

When you engage the rear brake, your weight shifts forward, which helps keep your front wheel on the ground and maintain control.

mountain biker braking before obstacles

However, there may be times when you need to use your front brake, such as when you need to come to a sudden stop or slow down rapidly.

In these cases, apply the front brake gently and gradually, rather than squeezing the lever too hard and locking up your front wheel, as I mentioned earlier.

Pressing too hard on the front brake will make you lose traction and control, which can lead to a nasty fall.

8. Master Cornering

Cornering is all about keeping your center of gravity in check while navigating those sharp turns at high speeds.

But before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s talk about the difference between regular corners and berms.

Regular corners require you to lean your bike and body into the turn while maintaining your center of gravity. This helps you maintain control and traction.

Berms are banked corners that allow you to maintain speed without losing control. To tackle these, you’ll need to lean your bike into the berm while keeping your weight on the outside pedal.

Now, if you want to corner like a boss, there are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • As you approach the turn, stand up with your knees and elbows slightly bent for extra stability.
  • Control your speed by braking before you reach the turn to prevent skidding or sliding. And when you hit the turn, lean your bike into it instead of your body to maximize traction and maintain control.
  • Don’t forget to keep your outside foot down too. This will help you keep your balance and your pedal level.

9. Anticipate Climb To Maintain Momentum

One of the beginner’s mistakes is they tend to lose momentum on climbs due to poor gear selection and inconsistent pedaling cadence.

One effective way to maintain momentum on climbs is by anticipating the terrain and shifting gears early.

By predicting the upcoming incline or change in gradient, you can proactively shift into a lower gear before the climb begins.

This allows you to maintain a consistent cadence and power output, preventing any sudden drops in momentum.

Avoid applying excessive power during gear shifts.

Smooth and controlled gear changes will help you maintain a steady rhythm and avoid any unnecessary loss of momentum.

I get it. It is tempting to push hard on the pedals to maintain speed on climbs, but this can lead to burnout.

Instead, focus on maintaining a steady cadence and using your energy efficiently.

10. Start Small

Statistically speaking, mountain biking is more dangerous than skiing. If you’re just starting out, choosing the right trails is essential to make the most of your riding experience and avoid unnecessary risks.

Here are some tips to help you choose the right beginner mountain biking trails:

Consider Your Skill Level

If you’re new to mountain biking or have limited experience, start with easy trails that match your current skill level. As you gain confidence and bike handling skills, you can gradually move on to more challenging trails.

mountain biker riding on difficult terrain

Research Trail Difficulty

There’s no shortage of awesome trails out there, no matter your experience level. And don’t just take my word for it – check out some of the cool websites and apps available to you, like Mountain Bike Project, TrailForks, and Singletracks.

They’ve got all the deets you need, from detailed maps to info on difficulty, mileage, and elevation gain and loss.

Pay Attention to Technical Sections

When researching trails, be sure to look out for technical sections that can sap your energy. Roots, rocks, and other obstacles can be exhausting for beginner riders.

Look for trails with minimal technical features or choose to ride around them if necessary.

Start Small and Progress Slowly

Don’t rush into technical trails too soon. Beginner mountain bikers should start with easy trails and build on their skills and knowledge slowly.

Introduce your trail riding with baby steps and focus on the basic techniques of braking, shifting, and body position. Once you’re comfortable with the basics, you can move on to more challenging terrain.

11. Get A Mentor and Take a Lesson

Riding with people who are more experienced and skilled than you is one of the best ways to improve your mountain biking abilities.

Not only can you learn from their techniques, but riding with better cyclists can push you to your limits, making you stronger and more confident on the bike.

Consider taking a mountain biking lesson from a qualified instructor. This will help you learn the basics and improve your technique.

Your girlfriend / boyfriend may not be the perfect coach

If you’re serious about improving your mountain biking skills, I recommend finding someone objective who can provide helpful feedback without the emotional baggage.

Look for an experienced coach who understands your learning style and can create a personalized training program to help you reach your goals faster.

When learning from your significant other, the emotional side of it can become overwhelming.

The power dynamic between you can lead to tension and frustration, hindering your progress.

Moreover, men and women often have different learning styles, causing miscommunication and misunderstandings.

12. Master Track Stand

A track stand is where a rider balances on their bike without moving forward or backward.

To achieve a track stand, it’s important to keep your body weight centered over the bike. This typically involves standing up straight and keeping your arms slightly bent to absorb any movements by the bike.

Small adjustments to the handlebars and pedals can be used to maintain balance. Keeping the pedals level allows for smoother and more comfortable movements.

The best way to practice a track stand is by dedicating a few minutes before each ride. Find a level surface and practice holding the track stand position.

You could also practice on slight inclines to add a new challenge to the exercise. If you’re having trouble, you could also use a wall or other steady vertical surface to help you maintain your balance.

13. Stay In Control

One of the keys to becoming a confident and skilled mountain biker is learning how to actively control your bike’s suspension.

This means using your body weight and movements to adjust the load on your bike’s shock absorbers and fork, allowing you to better handle technical terrain and obstacles.

To get started with active riding, try heading to a pump track or other flowy trail. Here, you can practice pumping into your suspension to maintain your momentum and flow through turns and dips.

mountain biker taking control of his bike

As you approach a bump or dip in the trail, push down on your bike’s suspension to compress it, then explode back up to lift your front wheel over the obstacle.

Pumping can help you maintain speed and avoid losing time by having to brake or pedal hard. You can also use a similar technique to hop over larger obstacles, like logs or rocks.

By compressing your suspension as you approach the obstacle, then explosively unloading it, you can lift both wheels off the ground and sail over the obstacle with ease.

14. Carry Your Bike

There are situations where you may need to hike the bike. For example, in a downhill section that’s too difficult and steep for you to ride through, hiking the bike will help you maintain control and prevent any accidents.

Similarly, if you come across a steep incline that’s impossible to pedal up, walking the bike will allow you to conserve energy and still keep moving forward.

Keep a good grip on the bike and maintain a stable stance. Your upper body should be relaxed and your elbows should be slightly bent.

cyclist carrying a mountain bike in the forest

15. Respect The Environment

So here’s basic etiquette.

Always give uphill riders the right of way. Uphill riders have a harder time starting again after coming to a stop, so it’s important to keep moving, if possible, to avoid making it difficult for them.

Slow down when approaching others and communicate your presence to let them know you’re coming.

A simple greeting or bell ring can go a long way in avoiding collisions and keeping everyone safe.

It’s vital to ride only on designated mountain bike trails. Riding off-trail can damage vegetation and can even be dangerous as you might accidentally injure yourself or others.

Stay on the designated routes and be sure to follow any signage or rules posted by park authorities.

Always look ahead to see what’s coming up and adjust your speed and riding style to match the terrain. If you see hikers or other bikers on the trail ahead, slow down and let them pass safely.

16. Get Your Hands Dirty On Bike Repairs

Basic bike maintenance skills are essential for any cyclist, as they can help you avoid being stranded on the side of the road or having to rely on others for assistance.

By learning how to fix inner tubes, you can quickly repair a flat tire and get back on the road in no time.

Adjusting gear cables ensures smooth shifting, preventing any issues while riding. Repairing chains is also crucial, as a broken chain can leave you unable to pedal.

These skills will make you confidently tackle minor bike issues and continue enjoying your rides, knowing that you are self-reliant.

It’s vital to have the necessary tools and spares with you when you’re on a mountain biking trail.

I highly recommend carrying a spare tube, multi-tool, and mini-pump to enable you to deal with typical mechanical issues you may encounter.

You also want to protect your expensive bike frame from scratches and chips when conquering the trail. I recommend wrapping the frame with a protection kit from RideWrap.

17. Practice and Be Consistent

To be consistent, set a regular schedule for riding and stick to it.

Whether it’s a specific time of day or a set number of days per week, sticking to a schedule will help you build your experience on the bike and become more comfortable with the terrain and your bike handling skills.

Practice consistently on the same trails to improve your familiarity and build muscle memory.

Tracking your progress through a training log is an excellent way to stay consistent. Record your rides, distances, and times, as well as specific riding challenges that you encountered.

Using an Apple Watch to track your progress and syncing the data to the Strava app is a good way to start. You can also use a bike computer or Garmin watch. However, beware of the inaccuracy of Strava’s data as it’s only an estimate.

mountain biker practicing before racing event

18. Always Carry Enough Food and Some Cash

You don’t want to be stranded out on the trails with no food, water, or tools. However, packing enough supplies for the ride isn’t always enough.

That’s why it’s important to carry enough food and water on longer rides to avoid fatigue and dehydration as well as some cash with you.

While it’s always best to plan ahead and carry all the necessary supplies, unexpected situations can arise.

When you need to stop at a convenience store or gas station for a snack or refill, they may not accept credit cards.

Having cash on hand can save you the hassle of having to search for another payment option or potentially going without the essential supplies you need to continue your ride.

In the event of a more serious mechanical failure or injury (like tearing your ACL), you may need to take a taxi or Uber back to your starting point.

Most transportation options require cash payment, and not having access to cash can leave you stranded.

Carrying some cash with you allows you to have the means to quickly arrange and pay for transportation, getting you back to your starting point or safety.

Final Thoughts

Mountain biking is an incredible sport that requires skill, determination, and the willingness to learn. If you’re a newbie, consider hitting a bike park or skate park for training as they provide a safer environment..

These 18 tips will help you take your riding to the next level, but remember that practice makes perfect.

Don’t be afraid to push yourself, but also know your limits and ride within them.

Ready to hit the trails? Check out this list of equipment you need for mountain biking.

Frequently Asked Questions

To get better at mountain biking, it’s important to practice regularly, improve your technique and fitness, and seek advice or guidance from experienced riders.

Focus on developing your balance, control, and speed, and don’t be afraid to challenge yourself on more difficult terrain.

With time and effort, you can become a skilled and confident mountain biker.

Mountain biking uphill is difficult due to a combination of factors, including the increased resistance from gravity, the need for more energy to pedal, and the technical challenges of navigating steep terrain.

Riders must also have strong leg muscles and cardiovascular endurance to maintain the necessary speed and power.

When mountain biking, it is important to wear appropriate safety gear such as a helmet, gloves, and knee and elbow pads.

Always ride within your abilities and be aware of your surroundings, including potential hazards and other riders.

Make sure to maintain your bike and equipment to ensure they are in good working condition before hitting the trails.

Mountain biking can be dangerous, but with proper training, equipment, and caution, the risk can be minimized. It is important to always wear a helmet and protective gear and to be aware of your surroundings and trail conditions.

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