Jerry hosts the blog nichefree.com. This is his letter to the mountain biking noob.
Ready to Hit the Trail?
Congratulations on choosing mountain biking from a wide variety of summer sports! It is among the fastest-paced, fun-filled, and rewarding of athletic challenges. You might be so excited about digging those new treads into dirt that reading up on a lot of guidelines doesn’t seem important. You are, however, very wise to spend a little time thinking about equipment you’ll need, safety precautions to take, trail rules and etiquette to follow, and fundamental skills to master.
One of your first tasks will be that of determining what kind of equipment you need. Get a true mountain bike, not a hybrid. Responsible Organized Mountain Pedalers (ROMP) of San Francisco distinguishes the two, stating that the bike you need has “fat, knobby tires.” Without exception, you MUST have a helmet. Rule #1: Get a helmet. Rule #2: Wear it. Every time you ride. You must also be aware of temperature variations, and wear appropriate clothing.
Some optional items ROMP officials recommend are padded biker shorts, a light jacket, sunglasses, mountain biker shoes, a fanny pack, basic hardware such as wrenches, a chain repair tool, a tire iron, tire patches, and a travel first aid kit.
After you’ve gathered up your gear, it’s time for some basic skills practice. Step one is getting the feel for your pedals. Get comfortable with placing your feet onto them, then remove a foot and replace it while you rotate the tires using the opposite foot. Next practice correct positioning. Keep your seat adjusted so your legs are almost fully extended when the pedal is nearest to the ground. Never lock your elbows or knees. When you’re ready to ride, practice shifting gears on small, then on significant inclines. Try standing on your pedals and coasting. Experiment with standing up straight, then leaning back. Negotiate a curb, going up, then down, at different speeds until you’re confident.
It’s almost time to hit the trail! All you need to know about now is the etiquette of riding–a few do’s and don’ts–and you’re on your way to mountain biking expertise. First, use only open trials. If you’re not sure whether a trail is open, just ask. That way, you’ll avoid trespassing private property. Be an attentive rider. Your extra care will prevent accidents and damage to land. Always yield to others. Alert others before passing, and give horseback riders the entire trial area–dismount your bike. Approach animals gently, as they are easily startled. And make sure you tote all that great new gear! When you have everything you need, you make the ride more pleasant, both for you and for others.
Please protect yourself and others–be safe, be knowledgeable, be prepared. And above all, enjoy the ride!
More information for beginners is available from Responsible Organized Mountain Pedalers (ROMP) of San Francisco Bay and The International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA).