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Mountain Bike Beginner Guide

mountain bike beginner guide

When bikers talk about the most beautiful thing in the world, it’s about mountain biking. Hardly any other sport offers as much variety, challenge and fun as cycling. However, there are still a few things to be clarified before you can start cycling on your home trails. Which bike is right for you, which equipment do you need and how much money do you actually have to plan for it? We will answer these and some other questions in this guide.

Quick Tips for Mountain Bike Beginners

The mountain bike area is extremely confusing, especially for beginners. There are not only an unbelievable number of different types of mountain bikes, but even more different parts that are often not compatible with each other and therefore cause countless questions. Choosing a bike can therefore become a real ordeal. So that you don’t burden your wallet with a wrong bike, here are some tips for buying a bike.

Find the right MTB

The question of the right bike is roughly comparable to the question of the right shoe. A shoe for the suit does not cut a good figure in a marathon, conversely a running shoe does not match a wedding suit. So it depends entirely on the area of application. If you are more interested in riding demanding tours, you are well served with a hardtail or a fully mountain bike. If you want to be both uphill and downhill, an all-rounder, a so-called trail bike, may suit you. If you want to make it run downhill right from the start, then you should check out enduros or a few downhillers.

Frame height

The appropriate frame height can usually be determined using the stride length. To do this, hold a piece of wood or the like horizontally in the crotch and measure the distance to the floor. Most bike manufacturers then offer size calculators on their homepages, which display the correct size taking into account the stride length, body size and riding position (sporty vs. more comfortable).

Material

Of course, you dream of the noble carbon speedster right from the start. However, beginners should rather use the aluminum wheel. On the one hand, this is somewhat easier to handle (e.g. tightening torque of the screws) and on the other hand, the purchase price is simply lower. In the unlikely event that mountain biking is not fun, you have burned less money this way.

Attachments

Despite the advice not to get the best mountain bike right away, every bike should be properly equipped to be fun. The spring, brakes and chain drive in particular should therefore come from established brands. If you save too much here, you won’t end up with a good riding experience.

New or used

Beating a bargain used is a good idea in itself, but as a beginner you are usually not familiar enough to distinguish a bad from a good used bike. The flaws are often hidden in the details and only come to light costly later. If you don’t know anyone who can advise you, you’d better ride a new bike or a reduced model from the previous year.

Equipment

Apart from the bike, you don’t need a lot for mountain biking, but you should definitely plan for a helmet, protective goggles, padded pants and cycling shoes. Sports clothes made of breathable fabrics and gloves also provide more comfort and ultimately safety. The more focus there is on a  fast downhill ride, the more protectors you should have. Knee and back protectors are particularly common. Very safety-conscious drivers also wear elbow pads.

Accessories

A puncture in the forest is pretty annoying, but it gets really annoying when you don’t have a emergency kit with you. Replacement tubes, pumps, multitools and tire levers therefore belong in every bike backpack. A speedometer or a tracking app (e.g. Strava) is also helpful for training control. And so that you don’t die of thirst, the drinking bottle should of course not be missing.

Training

There is a huge wealth of training plans and driving technique videos on the Internet. Anyone who knows a little bit will find almost everything here. Beginners can be overwhelmed by the sheer selection. 

Repairs & Maintenance

It’s no rocket science. While this definitely applies to bicycles, it is not always easy to repair something yourself. Especially on safety-relevant parts like the brakes should definitely not be messed around. But even beginners can already do a lot themselves. Adjusting the gearshift, changing brake pads, changing tires, installing add-on parts or changing chains are not hard. There are many instructions online so that simple repairs should be possible.

Which is the right mountain bike for beginners?

The selection of mountain bikes is really huge: starting with touring hardtails, XC and fully mountain bikes, enduros, downhill bikes and trail bikes, there is now a suitable bike for every niche. In order to find the right bike for you, you first have to know its area of ​​application well.

In other words, if you just want to take leisurely tours, you are well served with a hardtail. A hardtail offers a suspension fork on the front, which already provides sufficient comfort on forest roads and light trails. If you want to spend more time on hiking trails and trails, you should take a look at the fullys. Even the low suspension bikes help a lot to the downhill. The best compromise between ascent and descent qualities is offered by trail or all-mountain bikes. These usually have around 130-150mm at the front and rear, which makes them easy to pedal uphill while there is enough reserve on the downhill.

The only question is whether you should buy your bike new or used. The idea is tempting: after all, the top carbon bike at a bargain price is available on countless used platforms. But as a beginner you should be careful here. In many components, fore example the spring elements, you can’t really look inside. It is difficult for professionals to identify defects or pending defects here. Beginners run the risk of being ripped off. If you should definitely choose a used bike, it is best to consult a bike expert. You need a good eye to recognize a good used bike. Beginners are better off with a new or a reduced bike from the previous year. Here you can be sure that all parts are new. You can also get expert advice on frame size and ergonomics from specialists. Because only the right bike ultimately ensures a lot of fun.

Hardtail MTB for beginners

The biggest plus of a hardtail for beginners is the price. Hardtails are usually significantly cheaper than fullys with similar features. This is partly due to the simpler frame, but also due to the lack of a damper. So you need fewer components. A suspension fork is now mostly installed, so that hardtails are fun even on easy terrain. If things get a little rough, there are also so-called trail or enduro hardtails. These have a flatter steering angle and a longer wheelbase, which improves rollover behavior and tracking stability.

A disadvantage of the hardtail is also a small advantage for beginners: the lack of suspension naturally has disadvantages in rough terrain compared to a fully. However, you learn important driving techniques in this way: For example, the choice of line or the correct loading and unloading of the bike. Bikers who drive fullys from the beginning often tend to “iron” over everything without choosing a line. 

Beginners with little physical fitness are also happy about the efficiency, so a hardtail is often the best way to get started in the mountain bike world.

Fully MTB for beginners

Fullys have their advantage especially in the downhill area. The suspension at the stern and at the front dampens better, making it easier and safer to ride over rough trails. A fully takes a lot of the work off the rider’s hands.

This advantage is bought with a higher weight due to the additional parts (dampers, bearings, more complex rear triangle), increased maintenance and lower drive efficiency. Therefore, a fully can be pedaled “worse” uphill than a hardtail. However, there are big differences between the fullys. For example, XC only offer between 100-120mm of room, which is why they are still very neutral in terms of ride, but offer a certain amount of comfort on the descent. You can see this type of bike quite often in XC races, even in the World Cup. Trail or all mountain bikes are somewhere between 130-150mm room. They are the all-rounders among the fullys and are therefore well suited for longer ascents and more demanding descents. This type of bike is therefore particularly common on alpine cross routes. If you want to focus more on the descent, you should take a look at enduros. Depending on the version, these offer between 150-170mm of room. Thanks to modern kinematics, the bikes are reasonably decent uphill, but their strength is definitely downhill. If you only want to use lifts and other shuttles, since only the downhill is important to you, you will be happy with a downhill. Here you get a whopping 200mm + room and uncompromising downhill geometry.

In general, one can say that fullys are something for advanced users or for beginners who want to invest in the future. If you are sure that you are cycling permanently, a fully is also a good solution for beginners.

Beginners MTB for women

Fundamentally, special women MTBs hardly differed from the “normal” MTBs. The most important parts such as spring elements, brakes and chain drives are mostly the same. However, bicycle manufacturers are now addressing the anatomical needs of women in particular. This is primarily about body size, which is statistically lower for women on average. As a result, women’s models often offer smaller frame sizes and also wheel sizes (650B instead of 29er). In addition, many bikes are equipped with a top tube that is as deep as possible, which makes climbing easier. In rough situations, it is of course easier to get off the bike. Certainly somewhat doubtful for many women, some producers also give their women MTBs special designs.

Mountain bike equipment for beginners

If you have a small budget, you should primarily invest your money in a safe helmet. There should be no savings made here, since the risk of falling when mountain biking is quite high and you are only well protected by a high-quality helmet. If you still have money left, you can also buy a pair of padded pants that will literally save your butt during long day trips. Sporty clothing made of moisture-wicking materials also makes riding a lot more pleasant. Mountain biking also raises questions about shoes. While XC and marathon disciplines rely almost exclusively on click shoes, trail bikers, enduro riders and downhillers increasingly rely on flat pedals with special bike shoes. The idea is that it is easier and safer to get off flat pedals. For this, you ride more efficiently with click shoes and are not thrown off the pedals even in very rough sections. Here you have to decide according to your own preferences.

How much budget do I need?

As with many other things, there are no upper price limits for cycling. Fortunately, there are of course cheaper versions that are affordable for small budgets. We have put together an inexpensive basic equipment overview for you.

EquipmentPrice
Hardtail$600
Helmet$100
Padded pants$50
Pants and t-shirt$100
Shoes$110
Glasses$40
Total$1000

If you would like to dig deeper into your pocket, you might be happier with the following configuration:

EquipmentPrice
Trailbike$4000
Helmet$150
Padded pants$100
Pants and t-shirt$200
Shoes$150
Glasses$100
Total$4700

MTB training plan for beginners

Of course, training plans make sense. Even at the beginning, you can build up your stamina more quickly through targeted training. But maybe it is still better to concentrate fully on the fun of cycling at the beginning. Those who struggle too quickly with intervals and mileage specifications may lose the joy of this hobby. Basically, especially as an untrained beginner, you will improve your condition even without a specific plan. Only at a certain point will this no longer be enough and then you should definitely think about a training plan. 

MTB tricks for beginners

Even for beginners there are some important techniques and small tricks that are not that difficult to learn, but make a little impression. In addition, by practicing these tricks, you can improve your driving technique and lay the foundation for significantly more difficult maneuvers.

Wheelie

The wheelie is the classic among MTB tricks and is not even that difficult. While sitting in the saddle you bring the front wheel up by a pedaling impulse, where you then balance it with stretched arms and skillful weight shifting. The balance should not be maintained by bending and stretching the arms, but by shifting the upper body, increasing the cadence and gently pulling on the rear brake.

Stoppie

With the Stoppie, you don’t roll on the rear wheel, but on the front wheel. To do this, pull the front brake (be careful not to pull too hard) and shift your weight forward. Of course, sensitivity is also required when shifting weight. While professionals can roll several meters in this way, as a beginner you should be satisfied with stopping on the front wheel. This trains the feeling for the brakes and creates the basis for heavier driving techniques such as repositioning the rear wheel.

Bunny Hop

If there is a small obstacle in the way, you can simply jump over it with a bunny hop. To do this, first move the front wheel up by shifting your weight, throwing the upper body straight forward so that the rear wheel comes into the air. In this way you can jump in a very controlled manner and overcome large objects.

Get off safely

Falling over the handlebar is always the worst scenario, especially in steep terrain. If you get scared during the descent, you should not pull the anchor as hard as possible, but brake in a controlled manner and get off the bike at the back. To do this, push the wheel under you and put your feet to the left and right of the rear wheel. So neither the bike nor your own balance escapes.

Posture

Often you can see beginners standing on their bikes with their arms and legs straight. However, elbows and knees should be slightly bent so that blows to the bike can be cushioned quickly and efficiently. The elbows point outwards towards the end of the handlebars.