What do I need to get in to mountain biking?
June 17, 2006 2:49 PM   Subscribe

I'm wanting to get in to mountain/off-road biking. What do I need and what do I need to know?

Since moving out here to Colorado (I'm in a suburb of Denver) I purchased and mid-range (quality...not distance) mountain bike (no clue what kind...got it from a friend who fixes up bikes, but he assured me it's pretty decent quality and I trust him).

At any rate, I'm wanting to get more in to the off-road/mountiain (think Xterra) side of biking but have no clue what sort of gear I really need for that or what I need to know as far as any "known" rules or whatever.

I also need a way to find out where good trails for that sort of thing are.
posted by JPigford to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Xterra? Like the sport-utility vehicle?

You need a helmet, and gloves would be a good idea. If you plan on riding further than you'd like to walk back, you should have the equipment and knowledge to repair a flat tire. And you need some kind of hydration system, by which I mean a water bottle. That's about all you really need--there's a lot of gear fetishism in cycling, but you don't have to go that route.

Here are IMBA's Rules of the Trail, which focus heavily on environmentally-friendly, responsible behavior.

For information about good local trails, ask at a good local shop. I feel sure that a Denverite will chime in with some suggestions.
posted by box at 3:30 PM on June 17, 2006


A helmet and a water bottle. The biggest obstacle in getting into biking is just getting out there and doing it often enough that you get in shape and start really enjoying it.
posted by joegester at 3:59 PM on June 17, 2006

Gloves. The first time I went mountain biking, I didn't realize how important they are. I still have scars on my hands.
posted by JMOZ at 4:16 PM on June 17, 2006

Your local bike shop almost certainly will sponsor or know of weekly group rides in the area. They're generally ability-specific (easy, medium, insane) and there will sometimes be women's only rides. In my experience (in a bunch of places), these groups have been welcoming to beginning riders, helpful, and great guides to the area and its trails! You'll learn about bikes, technique, maintenance, and meet a bunch of interesting people.
posted by lumiere at 4:47 PM on June 17, 2006

The essentials are gloves, a helmet, water, food, and flat-repair equipment (pump, spare inner tube, tire irons and patch kit).

I suggest you take it easy with buying anything else immediately, because the culture surrounding mountain bikers is very gear obsessive. People will be suggesting hydration packs, anodized bolts, "Alien" toolkits, special shoes, special pedals, special clothes, and all sorts of non-essential but flashy items. Before you know it, you'll have sunk $500 on accessories for a sport which you don't know you'll stick with.
posted by randomstriker at 5:15 PM on June 17, 2006

As far as good trails go, just ask at your local bike shop, or join a bicycle club for a few rides until you get the feel for your neighborhood...
posted by anthill at 7:19 PM on June 17, 2006

Check out the articles and the forums on utahmountainbiking.com. Yes I know you're in Colorado. The articles and overall organization on the site are outstanding. We also have a few out-of-state members on the forums.

posted by neilkod at 9:40 PM on June 17, 2006

"nth"ing the helmet, gloves, waterbottle. A pair of cycling shorts or a liner with a chamois also makes a tremendous difference.

However, the additional eqipment that has made the most wonderful impact on my cycling (both road and mountain) is a set of clipless pedals and shoes. There are deals to be had; especially when riders are looking to upgrade or bike shops are moving through inventory. eBay is also a wonderful source for new and like-new gear. For instance, using eBay and semi-annual sales at local shops, I use a pair of Eggbeaters (made by Crank Bros.) interchangeably on both of my bikes and one pair of mountain shoes and one pair of road shoes and spent less than $130 for everything.

If you're not sure about the clipless route, or if you're a brand-new rider, at least get a decent pair of "cages." You don't want to hit a sharp turn on the singletrack only to have your feet slide right off.

Have fun! You're in a great place to ride!
posted by sara is disenchanted at 10:04 PM on June 17, 2006

I've always thought that contact points with your bike are particularly important. If you have a good saddle (set at the right height), a handlebar that you are comfortable with (the width of the bar can completely change the ride of the bike) and a decent set of pedals you'll be singing.

I agree with sara is disenchanted on her choice of clipless pedals, but you might also want to consider a pair of flat, spikey pedals, without clips or cages. Something like these.
posted by ganseki at 3:50 AM on June 18, 2006

I have bount mtbr.com a good source of tail locations, but I don't live in Colorado, so I don't know about there. BUt I'd still th ink it would have a number of references.
posted by JamesMessick at 4:26 AM on June 18, 2006

i would say that a camelbak is a pretty handy piece of gear. not only will it take care of your hydration needs, but you can put your flat-fixing kit in there (pump, tube, tire irons, patch kit) and it gives you a secure place to stash your wallet, keys, toolkit, cell phone, extra clothes, food, map, etc. is it essential? no, you can accomplish pretty much the same thing with a bottle cage and a saddle pack, but it is really convenient. this is a nice entry-level model that won't break the bank.

as for places to ride, check out mtbr.com. it's heavy on the gear fetishism, but they have an excellent section of trail reviews, including one for the front range. you might want to take a look at their forums (beginners, front range, western slope). i've had good luck with the falcon guides as well. your local bike shop will certainly have recommendations. so might your imba affiliates. and if you have a friend who's into mountain biking, definitely ask him/her as well.

i have to say, you've picked a fine place to start mountain biking. colorado has more that its fair share of some of the finest trails and terrain in the world. you're going to have a great time!
posted by the painkiller at 4:36 AM on June 18, 2006

Stuff I having in my hydration pack on a nice weather XC ride:
  • 1.5–3 liters of water
  • a spare tube or two
  • tire irons (plastic ones to avoid destroying the rims)
  • small pump
  • a couple of spare power links to fix a broken chain
  • a good quality multitool which includes a chain tool that doesn't suck
  • cell phone (turned off)
  • small first aid kit
  • a banana or two if I expect the ride to last 3 hours or more
Additionally, in my jersey pocket I put ID information. I usually keep the house key there as well.

I also often bring a heart rate monitor and GPS receiver. These are of course not essential but, for example, in the case of the GPS receiver I like the ability to mark interesting spots and trails I happen to discover. It's also fun to make maps of the rides.

I recommend getting a good helmet, one that's fairly light weight and cool. Gloves and cycling shorts are also highly recommended (you can wear baggy shorts on the outside if you don't want to show off your well-toned thighs). Don't forget glasses, they will keep wind, dirt and bugs out of your eyes. Finally, if your trails are anything like the ones I ride, you'll want to get some knee protection (in a fight between your knee and a stone, the stone always win).

Clipless pedals are pretty much a must for XC. Don't use cages, leave those on the road. Flatties work but they're no fun for XC riding. It might be a good idea to avoid the cycling shoes if you go for flatties since the firm sole will make you less "connected" to the bike.

There are good quality cheap versions of most of these things but in the case of the helmet it is best to put fit and feel first and price second. A hydration pack is very convenient but using a back pack and water bottles work just fine, just make sure the back pack sits firmly and comfortably to your body.
posted by rycee at 7:15 AM on June 18, 2006

What you need to know will be taught by asphalt, branches, gravel, and long hikes carrying the bike. Or you can spend $15 or so tracking down one of the late William Neely's excellent illustrated books: "The Mountain Bike Way of Knowledge" and particularly "Mountain Bike! A Manual of Beginning to Advanced Technique."

Among other things, you'll learn minimalist repair, how to log hop, how to look cool (he was kidding), how to pass a horse on the trail, minimum impact biking, and the appropriate method of determining the severity of injury: (if an injured rider stops asking about his bike, he's really hurt).

Neely, writing in Chapel Hill in the late '80s, was an excellent source of practical advice on repairs, injuries, technique, gear--all of it obviously hard-earned and humorously phrased. These books are the kind of treasure I scour AskMefi for, and it's time I stopped hoarding them.

Some of the gear stuff is a little outdated, but that doesn't matter. His books are like riding with a more experienced buddy.

He also wrote about kayaking and drew great cartoon-style maps of forest divisions and river areas.

Many bike shops, like Chapel Hill's Performance Bicycle, will let you participate in the tuneup-repair of your own bike for a different rate--this helps a lot. Lucky for you they're in Denver too, on S. Colo Blvd.. They'll also tell you about trails.

Finally, a lot of ski areas had a summer activity that may meet your needs: they'd let you take a lift up with your bike and ride down. This was ten years ago, though.
posted by Phred182 at 9:24 AM on June 18, 2006

Some good general advice for dealing with tricky sections of the trail: Keep your focus on the path you want to take, not the obstacle you're trying to avoid. If you keep looking at that tree you need to go around, you're going to run right into the tree.

Sorry if that sounds like a cheesy motivational-speaker's platitude. But I mean it literally.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:06 AM on June 18, 2006

Try and find some more experienced riding buddies. You'll learn a ton just by watching what they do. It's especially useful to be able to follow them through tricky sections so that you can see (and follow) the line they're riding.

And I like randomstriker's suggestions for essential equipment.

If you got your ride from a friend who fixes up bikes, does that mean it's used? If it is, one of the best improvements you can make is to get a nice pair of tires that are good in the kind of conditions you'll be riding in. (If it doesn't have them already, of course.) If you go really high end with the tires, you'll spend $80-100; but tires are really important-they are (hopefully) your only contact with the ground. Ask your riding buddies what they like, or someone who works at a local shop.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 6:19 PM on January 22, 2007

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