Rubber Side Down: 6 Tips For New Mountain Bike Riders

Unfamiliar territory + Unfamiliar wheels = Excitement

Hills are hard enough without having to avoid jagged rocks and protruding roots, let alone the sheer drop to the left and sometimes the right, to stay on a sorry excuse for a trail that is assuredly only going to lead to more hazardous terrain. Why in the fork would anyone want to go mountain biking? Finding myself between road bikes and between training schedules… and between cookies, I was eager to find the answer.

Actual picture of my un-flexed calf. I moonlight as a model.

I managed to track down a mountain bike last Saturday as well as find two compatriots brave enough to show a roadie the ropes. I convinced myself that this off-season shake-up was exactly what I needed to remind myself that biking is something people do for fun, not just a reason to shave their incredibly sexy and impeccably toned calves. Fun Fact: My sister once informed me that I have her ideal calves…as is.

It has been much too long since I have ridden on dirt, at least on a mountain bike. In a lot of ways, and I’m not ashamed to admit this, I’ve been afraid of it. It seems like every time I talk to one of the very talented mountain riders on the Art’s staff, it isn’t long before an epic crash story enters the conversation, complete with the unveiling of gashes, bruises, broken helmets and cringeworthy GoPro footage.

In actuality these guys don’t crash all that often and, as much as I hate to admit it, stock photography sites pay even more for images of their calves. It was clear that that I couldn’t attempt my maiden voyage with any of my co-workers. I set out with two buddies more equally suited to my level and, despite my best efforts, learned a thing or two about mountain biking.

The two “brave” gentlemen willing to wait for me at the bottom.

  1. Suspension Set-Up. If you are uncomfortable doing it yourself, have a professional set up your suspension to the appropriate air pressure for your weight. This is not a road or cross bike people, use the tools that have been given to you.
  2. Droppers do it better.

    Dropper. Get a dropper post, use the dropper post. Switching to a dropper seat post is like that fateful day when you switched from the Nokia caveman brick phone to a shiny new iPhone 4S. Pure awe-inspired happiness—wrapped in bacon.

  3. Technique. Okay, okay…ALRIGHT! I know a first time (in a while, at least) mountain biker is not who you take advice from but I have plenty of talented friends who like to give plenty of talented advice. This is what I got so far: A. Don’t brake in a turn. B. Lean back while descending. C. 29ers are rad. D. You should always be in your big ring at the bottom of the descent (you will be made fun of if not). E. Look where you want the bike to go, and definitely not at the bottom of the creek bed.
  4. Crashing. Follow steps 1, 2 and parts of 3 or you will be in serious danger of being told the following phrase, “Your face actually looks better covered in dirt.” Crashing hurts, especially going over the handlebars while clipped in, but not as much as it does on the road. And yes I’ve experienced both. You may get scraped up but most likely you’ll get back on your bike and be no worse for the wear. In fact you may even have an awesome gash that you can make up a better story about later.
  5. Wear a bell or you’re going straight to…

    Bells. Wear a trail warning bell. People can hear them, dogs can hear them and big ol’ powerful, easily spooked horses can hear them. They keep everyone safe and it is just good trail etiquette.

  6. Demo Bikes. Get over that opinion you have that all mountain bikers are dirty, hairy neanderthals who lack the class required for skinny tires (that’ll get the office riled up) and give mountain biking a shot. Borrow a bike from a friend or explore your favorite shop’s demo options. You know the local tarmac like the back of your hand but do you know what lies just over that ridge or past that cattle guard? I challenge you to find out.

I can’t say that I’ve developed any noticeable skill since that first ride but I have been on a few more rides and loved every harrowing moment. My attachment to the demo bike has started to get on a few nerves and that is why I’m happy to say that I have a new full-suspension “whip” (That’s what the kids are calling it these days) on order, set to arrive before Christmas. Deck the halls with tires of knobby. Fall la la la la, la la la la.

Rubber Side Down is a weekly column dedicated to the fledgling cyclist in all of us. Art’s Cyclery Web Content Editor, Jerald Westendorf is not a professional cyclist, and doesn’t try to masquerade as one either, but he does love to ride bikes. Whether you are clipping in for the first time or counting down the days until your first race, read on, learn from his mistakes, and keep the rubber side down.