Have you seen mountain bikers coming back from a ride, big grins on their faces, giving each other high fives and thought; jeez, those girls look like they’re having a great time! If you’re thinking of giving mountain biking a try, here’s a few things to help you get started.
Need to buy a bike? Head to your local bike shop and make friends with the shop staff. Building a relationship with a bike shop makes it a lot easier to come back and ask questions later! Bike shop sales staff are experts at helping people figure out which bike is right for them and they will spend time with you going over different options. If you plan to ride mostly off-road dirt or gravel trails, the bike you will get is different than if you want to ride on paved paths or roads. In the last few years there has been a huge increase in the number of women specific bike models, and most major bike brands make women specific bikes. There are even women specific brands like Liv Cycling, whose bikes are designed for women by women. That’s not to say you can’t buy a men’s bike; depending on your height, weight and body type, a bike sales (wo)man will be able to help you determine what the best fit is for you. Bike fit is probably the single most important factor; you won’t want to ride it if it’s uncomfortable.
For trail riding, at a minimum, you’ll want a bike with at a front suspension. Rear (aka “full”) suspension
bikes are a great step up if you have a little extra money to spend, but not necessary for your first mountain bike. Most bikes now have 27.5” wheels, which means you’ll be able to roll over stuff more easily than with the older 26” wheels. It also means you don’t have to pedal as much to go the same distance, yippee! It’s best to go for a bike with disc brakes; these will make braking easier and more consistent in various trail conditions such as mud or dust. A good quality entry-level mountain bike will cost somewhere from $1,100-$1,600. Beware! Bikes can be very expensive, but for this amount you can get a bike that will last you a few years.
There are a few other essential items you’ll want to make you happy on your rides. Invest in a good pair of bike shorts with padding (it’s called a “chamois” in bike talk). I’m a huge fan of chamois cream as well, which is a smooth lotion you put in your shorts to prevent chaffing or irritation (yikes!). If you don’t have clip-in pedals, flat soled shoes are good because they keep your feet firmly on the pedals. Don’t forget to get some gloves, and to wear sunglasses when you are riding, both of these help keep branches from whipping you when you start getting your shred on! Finally, don’t forget your helmet!
You’ll want to be prepared in case you have a mechanical issue on the trail. A basic repair kit can save you a long walk back to the trailhead, so pack the following items with you in your jersey or hydration pack: tube (make sure it’s the right size!), CO2 dispenser and cartridge (or a pump), multi-tool, tire levers. If you need help learning what these items are or how to use them, ask you new bike shop friend! You can expect to pay $300-500 for “extra stuff” to get you all geared up.
You can ask your bike shop friend how things work on your bike. For example, get the low-down on how to change gears, how the brakes work, and anything you might need to know about the suspension. Keep an eye out for local bike maintenance and intro to mountain biking clinics, lots of shops and community groups host them.
When you are ready to ride, it’s a good idea to practice somewhere like a grassy field so that if you do fall over, it doesn’t hurt too much. This is especially important if you are trying clip-in pedals for the first time. When you feel comfortable with the equipment and are ready to hit the trails, find some beginner areas with smooth, flat-ish trails and work up towards trails with more roots, rocks, and technical sections. Again, local shops can be very helpful with trail maps, clinics and ride groups.
Mountain biking is a really exhilarating sport that will forever challenge you; that’s why it’s so much fun! Sure it can be a little intimidating, but start at your own comfort level and before you know it you’ll be lady-shredding down the trails. Have fun!