Riding is no exception. In fact, riding bikes in the bush can be extra, extra daunting. Here is a list of handy hacks for first-time mountain bikers to ensure your first off-road experience is a positive one.
1. Get the gear
To mountain bike you will need…a mountain bike. It seems pretty obvious, but if your first foray on the trails is on an old hybrid from 1983 you may be setting yourself up for failure. Modern geometry, 27.5 or 29” wheels (preferably tubeless!) will add a lot of value to your first ride feels. Many shops have demo bikes to try if you’re just dipping your toes in, or borrow a bike off someone in the know (just make sure it’s a good fit for you!)
Aside from the bike, you need a helmet that is in good condition. Preferably not one that’s been crashed in or is a remnant from the 70’s stack hat era. A good pair of padded shorts (you can wear under ‘baggy’ shorts or on their own) can really help with nether region comfort, and some gloves are a good idea to protect you in case of hitting the dirt!
2. Find the trails!
Check out the Bicycle Queensland Where To Ride resource with most trails listed from all over QLD. There are multiple mapping apps that are available for download that can locate you on the trail with the network overlaid, making it tricky to get lost (winning!). Even better, reach out to your local mountain bike club. It’s quite likely they have some form of social ride, or can point you in the direction of where to head as a beginner.
3. Get down with the lingo!
When you’re starting out, ‘green’ trails and fireroads are your friends while you figure out the nuances of shifting gears, body position and vision. Tip! Shift down going uphill into an easier gear to keep the legs spinning, and down into a bigger gear when descending. Green are the easiest trail rankings, followed by blue, black and double black. A bit like skiing, but in the dirt and on a bike.
Other key terms include:
Drop: A quick change in terrain on a descent that requires you to shift your weight back and roll down it or ‘huck’ off it getting airborne
Berm: A cambered corner
Switchback: A series of corners
Rock garden: A garden of rocks
Double or gap: A jump with a gap between the lip of the takeoff and the transition/landing
Tabletop: A jump that has a platform between the takeoff and the transition/landing
4. Remember a few key points
Part of mountain biking is enjoying time in the forest, so a sense of adventure is a must. For newer riders that are a little concerned, I like to remind them that their bike was, in fact, created to ride trails. It’s literally what it’s designed to do. So if you look at that rock garden on dedicated mountain bike trail and it seems a little difficult, remember that’s what mountain bikes are designed for!
Take snacks and hydration. For rides over 90min, you can’t go wrong with taking a small carbohydrate-rich snack to keep your energy levels high. Not having a snack can lead to ‘bonking’ (where you feel rubbish and like the whole world is against you-and-what’s-the-point-of-life-and-your-legs-stop-turning-and-you-may-want-to-cry) And will be very detrimental to skill acquisition. Eating ain’t cheating!
Momentum is your friend. Try and do something too slow and you’re setting yourself up for failure! If you’re braking too much, your wheels can lock up and skid, which is much less in controlled than a happily tracking wheel.
You will probably crash at some stage. It’s part of the gig! You will usually just end up in some shrubbery and be totally fine, after all it’s pretty unlikely when you start that you’ll be sending it down a world cup downhill trail at 70km/hr with that level of risk. We take on the risk of the variability of mountain biking because it’s thrilling and fun!
Starting mountain biking is awesome, so get stuck in!
Bicycle Queensland's Chair and Director, Rachel Nolan has ridden the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail each year end to end across four days since her son was four years old, he is now seven. Below is Rachel's guide on how to ride the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail!