1. Sunglasses: Not just a fashion statement
If you have ever been on a fast boat on the water, you know that sunglasses serve more than one function. Whether the sun is shining or not, sunglasses are not just for keeping the glare from your eyes, but debris, dirt, and wind.
When mountain biking, you will be surprised by some of the things that end up flying at your face. You have to be prepared to dunk under tree branches, avoid debris, rocks, dry dirt, and abrasive wind. Sunglasses are essential in doubling as eye protection from physical environmental dangers as well as UV rays and glare from the sun.
Also, it looks cool. You would be surprised how great you feel with some great biking shoes, gear, and sunglasses that suit your personality and riding style.
2. Shift early
This technique is extremely important. When considering a hill that is ahead of you, it is imperative that you do not shift while you are traversing the grade, but before you start up the hill. Shift into the appropriate gear for the hill you are about to encounter and then begin to pedal. If you can pedal, you can shift; if you are having a difficult time keeping the pedals going, do not try to shift into an easier gear—this may very well break your chain.
If you break your chain, your ride is over for the day, and if you are in the middle of the trail and there are no shuttles nearby (or at all), you may find yourself walking your bike out the rest of the way.
3. Do your safety checks
It is imperative to make sure you complete a few quick safety checks before heading out on your mountain bike. The main things to check are your brakes, air pressure, chain, and helmet.
You can first check your brakes on your front and rear to make sure they are working properly. You do not want to be descending down a hill and find out your brakes are a bit off. Simply squeeze each brake lever; you can also check that your quick-release levers for both tires are in the closed position. It is imperative that you do not ride with poor or non-functioning brakes.
Next, check your air pressure in your tires using a bike pump with a built-in pressure gauge. You will likely need to top off your air before a ride, whether you are going on a short bike ride or a day-long trail. Most mountain bikes are inflated to anywhere in between 25 and 45 psi. Make sure you know the perfect pressure for your tire according to the trail type. Lower pressure in one’s tires can be great for additional trail contact and absorption of bumps, however if you hit a rock with underinflated tires you can cause a pinch in your tire, leading to a flat.
Next is the bike chain. Mountain biking naturally kicks up dirt from the trail, which causes the chain to become dirty or gunked up in moist conditions. Maintaining your bike chain is important to do before you even hit the trail. Make sure your chain is clean using dry or wet lube made for mountain bikes. Remove any excess before heading out, or else it may attract dirt.
Finally, we come to safety. Whether you bike on the streets, paved trails, flat dirt trails, or mountainous biking trails, it is imperative to wear an appropriate helmet every time you ride. Mountain biking is much more intensive and dangerous than flat, paved road biking. Mountain biking includes elevation changes, a rough and rocky environment, potential cliffs or other drops, and pedal straps/toe clips.
Due to frequent drops and descents, most mountain bikers need pedal toe straps to keep their feet secure when riding. Should you crash, which happens to everybody, it is even more important to have a helmet on if you make contact with rocks, dirt trails, paved trails, or a variety of environments that can cause injuries.
4. Carry multi-tool for trailside repairs
Carrying a multi-tool or lightweight gear to repair your bike is incredibly important, regardless whether you are going on a short or long bike ride. A multi-tool is your best friend out there on the trails. Should you need to patch a tire, adjust your brake levers, adjust your bike chain, or fiddle with a tune up mid-trail, it is incredibly important to make sure you have the equipment to take care of some of the issues that may arise.
You can place a tool like this in your lightweight pack with your water, food, and other items you have brought with you. This is a great place to store something else that all bikers are glad they used as beginners and still use for long bike rides: Chamois Butter.
This awesome stuff can be found at a pharmacy, online, and at any bike shop. To prevent chafing, use some of the Chamois Butter on the areas of your legs or “nether regions” that may chafe and you’ll be glad you did.
Digressing aside, multi-tools and gear that are important for trailside repairs and maintenance are an excellent way to ensure you are not caught unaware on your first or 100th bike ride.
5. Know the rules of the trail: Etiquette
This piece of advice is not about what you can bring on the trail or what type of gear to purchase. Nevertheless, etiquette on the bike trail is exceptionally important for safety. Imagine driving a car on a busy street while knowing nothing of the rules of the road. If you do not know what side to drive on, what signs mean, how to interpret the indicators of other riders, or how to traverse the environment safely, then this could be dangerous.
Knowledge is power and etiquette is up there as the most important pre-ride action you can take. Make sure you have a helmet and make sure your bike is in great condition—but also make sure you know how to be a responsible and courteous rider.
Mountain biking can be done on paved roads and dirt trails alike, and it is rare where there are no other riders sharing the trail with you. Be sure to follow some of the rules of etiquette to follow:
- Let others on the trail know of your presence (call out your location or ring a bell to alert others on the trail to let them know where you are)
- When approaching other bikers, hikers, animals (such as horses), or other individuals, be sure to give them a wide berth while slowing down so nobody gets into an accident
- Ride on Mountain Bike trails only (to respect those keeping trails in shape, as well as the people hiking, running, and enjoying their times on different trails, make sure you ride only on trails that are open to mountain biking usage)
- Never scare animals (this is self-explanatory). Enjoy the scenery and nature around you—do not harass it
- Yielding (do everything you can to alert fellow bikers/trail users that you are approaching). Bikers are very nice people and offering a friendly greeting or ringing a bell are good ways of saying hello so that they can adjust their riding to avoid a crash. When near another biker or a hiker, make sure you do this before yielding.
You can view the “Rules of the Trail,” which is an excellent list outlining the rules of etiquette, authored by the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) at https://www.imba.com/about/rules-trail.