New to Mountain Biking? Three Things you should Know

Thursday, January 30, 2014

I am so glad that you are reading this! I hope that my article helps you in some way, whether it's picking out the right equipment or learning a new approach to a skill. I absolutely LOVE mountain biking and as a girl who is fairly new to the scene I know how easy it is to get confused since there is a TON of options to choose from.


You can learn more about me and my story by checking out my blog at www.mudchix.com.


Let's start with a few basics for those of you who have a limited background with bikes.


1. Finding the right bike


When I started riding the first and most confusing thing for me was understanding sizing. Even though buying a bike at a local shop can be a bit more expensive it is WAY more beneficial and you get a better bang for your buck. If you ever have ANY questions the employees at a bike shop are there to help you any time. If you order a bike off the internet or buy one off of craigslist you have no one to ask for guidance. Most bike shops will give you a discount on maintenance for the bike and sometimes even have a trade in program when you decide to get a new bike. Bike shops are also a good place to make new biking friends and go on skill level appropriate rides.


Sizing tends to be in inches or centimeters, like 15 inches or 50 centimeters, but these mean nothing to you as a newbie because there was no way to know what that number was referencing. Regardless of that number referencing size, the two main things that you want to be concerned with are the top tube length and the stand over height. The top tube length is how long the top tube on the frame actually is from where the seat post is to where the frame ends just before the handle bars. The stand over is how high the bike stands in the middle of that top tube, a good way to think of it is your inseam. If you have a 30 inch inseam then you want a stand over height a bit smaller than that so you can stand over the bike easily. Now I am no expert and that is where your bike shop comes in because they will help you determine the right size for you. I know as a small girl it is difficult for me to find a bike that fits my torso and gives me the stand over I need so I decided give up my stand over so I could find a top tube length that fit me which was more important to me.


If you wing it and just buy a bike, it is not going to be good and you might as well not bother mountain biking. If the bike is too small you will most likely end up with pain in your shoulders, neck and back. If the bike is too large you cannot safely weight the bike and when you ride down a hill you will feel out of control and probably fall off. Either way it won't be fun and you aren't going to want to ride your bike again.


I experienced both ends of that spectrum and have scars to prove it.


2. Clipless? What is that and do I need it?


So the term clip-less is confusing itself because you would think it means riding without being clipped in but it's the total opposite. Clip-less pedals involve special shoes that have cleats on the bottom which clip into special pedals and keep your feet in one place while riding with minimal movement. To remove your feet from the pedals, there is a special way to twist your foot and the cleat releases from the pedal. I DO NOT recommend these for beginners or anyone new to mountain biking even if you have ridden clipped in on a road bike. There is a learning curve and mountain biking is scary enough without having to be strapped into your bike while doing it. Riding this way in the beginning does nothing but damage your confidence.


I ride both types of pedals but for new trails, more difficult trails, or even for a good work out I ride flat pedals. It is totally a mental thing, but knowing that I can put a foot down whenever I want gives me the confidence to try new things that I know I have the skills to do safely. Even experienced riders should switch between the two types; it makes you a stronger rider in my opinion. You don't have the ability to pull up on your pedals, which is unsafe because it puts you out of balance on your bike, and forces you to use the correct muscles to climb hills and clear rocks and logs.
When you ride flat pedal DO NOT ride any crappy pedals with sneakers because that is going to suck just as much. Your feet will slide around and you need the right equipment for the job. Make sure that the pedals have pins in them and make sure you get shin guards (you will thank me when you wail a pedal into your shin). Also get a pair of Teva or Five ten shoes which have special grippy rubber on the bottom. If you ask anyone with these shoes and pedals they grip just like clip-less pedals.


I use Canfield crampon pedals, Six Six one shin guards, and Five ten Karver shoes. The pedals and shoes can be pricey so feel free to check out DMR pedals, Azonic pedals and so on. If you want any other guidance PLEASE contact me and I WILL help you!


Last but not least


3. Clothing


You may think that biking clothing looks stupid and you don't need it, especially if you are a recreational rider, but it makes riding 100% more enjoyable. The jerseys are fairly standard and are made of great wicking material to help draw sweat off of you better than cotton shirts. Make sure you get one that fits you. If it is too big you risk getting it caught on your seat when you try and get back on your bike and you end up falling over (this comes from experience).


Now onto the shorts, they are spandex and yes you will feel silly wearing them but you will get over that quickly. They have padding in them called a chamois (pronounced shammy) and you DON'T wear underwear with these. You can try to ride with undies but it's going to dig into your butt ladies and you will get over the fear of going without underwear very quickly. You also do not want these to be too large since they will get caught on your seat and you will fall over again while trying to get unstuck. There are shorts and bib shorts. Bib shorts have material that act like suspenders and go over your shoulders. I prefer these because I hate the feeling of a waist band digging into my stomach and they remind me of PJs. The only drawback as a lady is that they are a huge pain in the butt to take off when you have to pee but I am ok with that sacrifice.


Gloves are standard and come with and without gel in the palm area and that is personal preference. I suggest riding with gloves because they help with your grip when you are sweating bullets.


Glasses are just as important as clothing, since in order to ride you have to be able to see and that's tough to do when a lone branch or bug finds your eye and you are blind. Get clear lenses or a very mild tint since being in the woods involves shady areas and if your glasses are too dark you won't be able to see the trail.
When you are learning please don't ride alone!! In fact, it's not a great idea to ever ride alone. If you fall and badly injure yourself you are in the middle of the woods and it is tough for medical personnel to get to you. 1 mile into the woods = 1 hour it takes for them to get to you. I don't mean you should ride with another beginner. Go on group rides with more experienced riders. You can learn while your ride and those people will have the tools to fix you or your bike in case either of you break.


ALWAYS wear a helmet; looking uncool is way less traumatizing than brain damage.


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If you have any questions or ever need any guidance or help, feel free to head to my blog and send me an email! I hope you begin to love biking as much as I do! It is an amazing outlet and keeps you in touch with yourself and nature (not to mention mountain bikers are automatically more awesome than the general public). 

--By Sheryl Senczakiewicz.  Visit her website, www.mudchix.com.