Mountain Biking: Safety Tips for Beginners

Mountain biking is a great outdoor sport to pick up if you want to get back to nature and relax for a few hours away from the hustle and bustle of city life.  However, mountain bike trails can be challenging and isolated which makes the sport a little more dangerous than your regular sporting activities, especially when undertaken without the proper preparations.  That said there is a lot you can do to improve your safety out on the trails.

These are a few mountain bike safety tips for beginner riders:

1. Make sure you have all the essentials that you will need out on the trail.  These include your first aid kit, bike repair kit, water, food, and appropriate biking gear, among other things.

2. Learn how to perform basic bike repairs before heading out onto a trail.  At the very least, ride with someone who knows how to perform all the basic bike repairs, such as fixing a flat tyre, derailed bike chain, broken bike chain, or loose/broken spoke.  You can learn all these and more from your more experienced friends, your local bike shop, a good biking book, or from the Internet.

3. Get some basic first aid skills in the event you have to deal with the injuries from an accident out on the trail.

4. Check your bike and make sure it is properly maintained and in good working condition.  Also make sure it is properly adjusted for you, such as the seat position.

5. Find out the rules of the trail so you can observe them.  For instance, only ride on open and approved trails.  Check the park map brochures to find out which are the approved trails.

6. Always wear a helmet and make sure it is fitted properly.

7. Practice safe riding habits at all times.  Never ride beyond your control and slow down around blind corners.  Also be sure to ride at your level.  If the trail gets too challenging for the level of your ability, it is better to stop and walk it than to blunder through on the bike.

If you are really new to mountain biking, you may want to brush up on some of your riding skills at a local park, school, bike path or around your neighbourhood before hitting the more challenging mountain bike trails.  The following are some basic riding skills you should practice and be familiar with before heading out onto the trails:

1. Shifting gears – if you have never ridden a bike with gears before, you need to practice shifting gears.  Higher gears are harder to pedal but they will allow you to go faster.  Lower gears are easier to pedal and great for ascending hills.  Get a feel for which gears work best for varying inclines so you won’t be fumbling blindly when you get out there.

2. Balance – move your body around to see how it affects the balance of your bike. As well as getting a feel for left and right balance, you also need to know your front and back balance. Shifting your weight over the back wheel will help increase your traction on an incline.  If your back tyre is slipping, you need to move backwards on your seat.  If your front tyre is lifting off the ground, you need to move forwards to transfer more weight over it.

3. Standing on the bike – learn how to stand on your pedals and how to pedal standing up as you will require these skills to handle the more technical aspects of the trail.  When coasting while standing on your pedals, keep your feet at 3 and 9 o’clock.

To pedal standing up, start on a flat road and shift down to a low gear.  The increased pressure you need to apply to the pedals will help you stand up naturally as you push against the pedals.  Practice riding standing up on different inclines and on different gears until it becomes second nature.

4. Climbing and descending – it is important to know how to handle hills.  This involves a combination of gear shifts, riding standing up and balance.  Descending is a lot more dangerous than climbing a hill, therefore, if in doubt, walk it.

5. Dropping down a curb – practice dropping down from a curb as you will require this skill on the uneven terrain of a mountain bike trail.  Ride standing at a moderate speed and coast off the curb from the upper level to the lower level.  Practice this move at different speeds until you feel comfortable with it.

6. Rounding corners – always brake before entering the corner, not while you’re in it.  Remember to look where you want to go, not where you don’t want to go because your bike follows your eyes.

7. Braking – remember that 60% of your braking force is in your front brakes, so use them but carefully.  Don’t hit the brakes sharply, but apply pressure slowly and gradually.  If you keep your eyes on the trail ahead and anticipate sections where you need to slow down, you won’t have to brake hard.  Hitting the back brakes too hard causes skidding and is damaging to the trails.

The following are tips you can’t practice but you should be aware of:

1. Narrow trails – keep your eyes where you want to go and don’t look off the trail. Slow down around blind curves as other riders or hikers may be around the corner.

2. Obstacles – move your weight back to allow your front wheel to glide over the obstacle (e.g. rocks, holes, bumps).  Occasionally, you may need to lift your front wheel to clear the obstacle.

Mountain biking is a great sport for beginners to pick up however it is important to take the necessary precautions before getting out onto the trails.  Make sure you have the basic skills – bike repair, first aid and riding skills – before heading out.  As long as you plan ahead and take along the essentials, you should be able to relax and have some fun in the great outdoors.

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