Getting into mountain biking

As mountain biking has matured, developed and diversified, so too has the manner in which you can enjoy the experience. Here are the most popular ways to begin mountain biking with your family.

Your local trails

Local trails offer a great way to get an instant fix of off-road fun and in many cases reveal fresh new ways of seeing your surrounding area. Equally, there is a part of many cyclist’s psyche that enjoys adventure. Searching out new, previously unexplored routes satisfies both those urges.

Before you start the most important thing to know is where you can and can’t ride. Cyclists in the UK can use bridleways, byways open to all traffic (BOAT), restricted byways, unsurfaced or unclassified country roads (green lanes), and permissive paths that haven’t been closed by their landowners. The full details can be found courtesy of Cycling UK. In Scotland, access rules are different and can be found at Outdooraccess Scotland.

To find local trails you can’t beat local knowledge and experience, think about friends and family, do you know anyone who already enjoys mountain biking? Beyond that you could chat to your local cycling club, many have regular organised off-road rides. Your national cycling body such as British Cycling will have a club finder page to help.

Using an Ordnance Survey map will allow you to see a wide range of trails, another option is to use a map or online source such as Strava or Trailforks and look for interesting trails in your local area and beyond. Remember, different countries and even regions can have different access restrictions so do make yourself aware of these to help you explore responsibly.

The joy of local trails is manifest, there is the immediacy element: you can set off from your front door and be enjoying your bike in minutes. But there are also deeper benefits. If you do end up riding with a club you will learn not just about local routes but other riders will almost certainly help advise you with technique and handling. Even if they don’t give you explicit guidance, just watching how others take on the same trail obstacles can be very informative. Also, becoming a member of the local off-road community can be a nice experience in itself.

Pros

  • No expense involved — just head out the door and ride
  • Meet others and learn from their experience
  • A very natural way to enjoy your bike and the great outdoors

Cons

  • Variations in the quality of local trails
  • The need to be mindful of other trail users
  • You’ll be bringing the mud straight back home, so be careful when you go inside!

Getting into mountain biking

The trail centre

The beauty of trail centres is that they are structured places to develop bike handling skills. Leisure trails marked as ‘green’ are excellent introductions to very mild off-road riding where cyclists can learn the basics of bike control on loose, muddy and uneven surfaces. Then, as riders become more proficient and confident, they can progress onto ‘blue’ moderate trails, ‘red’ difficult trails and eventually ‘black’ severe trails for only the most adept mountain bikers.

Pros

  • Easy way to begin riding off-road
  • Clearly signed routes and difficulty levels, so riders can take on only what’s suitable
  • Often have excellent facilities and well-maintained trails
  • Great way to develop skills in a relatively controlled environment
  • Surrounded by like-minded people

Cons

  • May need to travel some way to reach them
  • Routes can become stale if you’re a frequent visitor
  • Busy at popular times

The Forestry Commission has a great selection of trail centres in England and ScotlandNatural Resources Wales also manages a range of world-class mountain biking facilities. To discover other local centres, online mountain biking community MoreDirt has a great trail centre finder page and Trailforks, an app for your smartphone as well as a website is a great worldwide resource.

Getting into mountain biking

Racing

For mountain bikers who want to take things up a notch and pit their abilities against others, racing is an attractive choice. There’s a huge range of racing disciplines these days: cross-country (XCO), Marathon (XCM), Enduro, Downhill, Four-cross (4X) and even Mountain Bike Orienteering, many of which have events geared towards younger riders.

Contacting a local mountain bike-friendly cycling club is one good way to start. You can use British Cycling’s club finder to find your nearest one or your own countries national cycling body should be able to help. For younger riders, it’s also worth asking about local mountain bike racing at school, there may well be somebody on the staff who can guide you in the right direction. Finally you could just take the bull by the horns and enter an event. British Cycling’s upcoming events page is the place to begin for UK riders, just click on the ‘Mountain Biking’ tab on the left.

Mountain bike racing teaches a rider to pace themselves, to maximise their abilities and react strategically to other riders. In terms of both physical fitness and technique, nothing develops a rider’s abilities quite as effectively as racing.

Pros

  • Learn to pace yourself
  • Excellent for improving fitness and stamina
  • Fun way to satisfy competitive urges
  • A great way to meet like-minded people

Cons

  • Races are only held at certain times and days
  • Costly when you include travel and potentially accommodation
  • You will find yourself spending more and more on kit and equipment

Getting into mountain biking

Trail-building

While part of the attraction of off-road cycling involves exploring the natural landscape, it’s also true that a lot of hard work goes into creating dedicated mountain bike trails. Keen off-roaders who want to help maintain or even improve the facilities they love can take part in trail-building activities and learn a host of new skills.

The leading organisation when it comes to trail building is IMBA: the International Mountain Biking Association. IMBA UK have a fantastic practical guide to trail building. For anybody wanting to join in with organised and officially sanctioned trail-building sessions, the Forestry Commission has volunteer groups operating at its sites across the country.

Because you’re off the bike when trail building, it doesn’t directly help with cycling skills. However trail building instills qualities that are transferable to other areas of life: working as a team, basic construction techniques, and thinking creatively. Also the satisfaction and the knowledge that you helped make mountain biking a little better for everyone is a great feeling.

Pros

  • Learn how to work effectively in a team
  • Add your own input to what makes a great trail
  • By helping others enjoy their bikes, you are giving something back
  • It’s actually great fun

Cons

  • Less time spent actually riding

If you have any questions after reading this guide please feel free to get in touch via email info@islabikes.co.uk or over the phone +44 (0)800 008 6297.

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