We're diving headfirst into the world of mountain biking - a sport that offers a unique blend of freedom, fitness, and breathtaking experiences.
Whether you're a complete beginner or have dabbled in the dirt before, mountain biking has something for everyone. So, let's saddle up and explore the boundless possibilities that await us on two wheels!
What is Mountain Biking?
Mountain biking, or MTB for short, involves riding specially designed bicycles, aptly named mountain bikes, over diverse terrains, from rocky mountain trails to lush forestry singletracks and everything in between. Despite its name, you don't need to head to the French Alps or the high alpine heights of the Great Rockies; you can ride a mountain bike anywhere, on cycle paths, fire roads, bridleways and, of course, dedicated mountain bike trails.
As with any sport, you need some fitness and ability, but less than you may think to enjoy the world of MTB. If you know how to ride a bicycle unassisted, you're most of the way there! Your fitness, skill and confidence will build with every ride, fuelling you to go further for longer and tackle new and daring challenges.
What is a Mountain Bike?
Before you hit the trails, it's essential to understand what makes a mountain bike. So let's delve into the key characteristics of a mountain bike, beginning with the suspension system. It’s one of the most defining features of a mountain bike and it’s responsible for cushioning the impact of riding over obstacles such as rocks, roots, bumps and pretty much anything else the trail has to throw at you, making your ride much more comfortable. Hardtail mountain bikes have a front suspension fork only, whereas full-suspension bikes feature both a front suspension fork and a rear suspension shock.
Unlike road bikes with smooth and narrow tyres, mountain bikes are equipped with wider, knobby tyres, providing excellent traction on loose and uneven surfaces. There are a variety of mountain bike tyres made with different rubber compounds and different tread patterns.
To take control of steep gradients and high speeds, mountain bikes need a lot of stopping power. Disc brakes offer the most responsive and reliable stopping power, even in wet and muddy conditions.
Mountain bike handlebars are flat and wide, unlike the drop-bar style found on road and gravel bikes. MTB handlebars have a more relaxed position, and the extra width offers better control and leverage to manoeuvre your bike and body position when tackling technical sections and winding trails.
Over the past decade, electric bikes have become hugely popular with riders worldwide. An e-MTB features a motor and a battery on the bike frame and offers pedal assistance. Although e-bikes are a little heavier due to the extra components, they are perfect for making the most of your ride time by helping you get uphill quicker and with less effort!
What are the Mountain Bike Disciplines?
Downhill Mountain Biking
Downhill (DH) mountain biking embraces speed, technical descents, and gravity-assisted thrills. Riders tackle steep and rocky trails, hurtling down mountainsides with adrenaline-pumping velocity. Downhill bikes are purpose-built for this discipline, featuring a lot of suspension to help cushion the impact you feel from trail features such as rocks, jumps and drops. Because the focus of downhill bikes is on getting down the trail as quickly and efficiently as possible, these bikes aren't suitable for going uphill, so you'll often find shuttle buses, gondolas and chairlifts transporting riders and their downhill bikes to the top of the trailhead.
Cross-country Mountain Biking
Cross-country (XC) mountain biking is a more endurance-focused discipline that involves covering long distances and navigating various terrains, including climbs, descents, and technical sections. XC bikes are lighter and have much less suspension than downhill bikes, making them efficient for going uphill and well-suited for longer rides. The bike's geometry is more upright, promoting a comfortable riding position during extended periods in the saddle. Cross-country riders are typically fuelled by the satisfaction of conquering challenging climbs and pedalling far and wide!
Enduro / Trail Mountain Biking
There's a saying in the MTB world, "Earn your turns". Enduro mountain biking, also known as All-Mountain and Trail Riding, is the most common type of mountain biking, leaning to riders who enjoy a balance of climbing and descending, whether at pace or for fun with friends. Because of the equal balance between going up and coming down, enduro bikes bridge the gap between downhill and cross-country, offering the best of both worlds; with a mountain bike that can climb efficiently and descend rapidly.
Leisure Mountain Biking
Leisure mountain biking is all about enjoying the beauty of nature, exploring scenic trails, and embracing off-road thrills at a more relaxed pace. Leisure riders can choose from various bike options, including hardtail mountain bikes (with front suspension only) or full-suspension bikes if they desire added comfort on rough trails. The goal here is to experience the joy of mountain biking without the pressure of competition or pushing physical limits.
Hitting the Trails
Before you embark on a mountain bike ride, you'll need to consider what trails you want to ride and whether they're suitable for your skill level. The colour-coded grading system provides valuable information about the terrain, technical challenges, and overall experience you can expect while riding. Here's a breakdown of the common trail grades you might encounter:
Green (Beginner & family-friendly)
Green trails are perfect for beginners or riders who are new to mountain biking. These trails are generally wide, well-maintained, and have gentle slopes. You can expect smooth surfaces, minimal obstacles, and a relaxed riding experience. These trails are a great starting point to build confidence and develop basic riding skills.
Blue (Moderate or Intermediate)
Blue trails are a step up from green trails in terms of difficulty. They might have slightly steeper sections, small obstacles like roots or rocks, and occasional tight turns. Riders with some experience will enjoy blue trails as they provide a bit more challenge while still being manageable for most riders.
Red (Difficult or Advanced)
These trails have more technical features like larger rocks, more significant drops, and tighter turns. They often have steeper climbs and descents, requiring higher skill and confidence. Red trails provide an exciting challenge if you've been mountain biking for a while and want to test your abilities.
Black (Severe or Expert)
Black trails are for those comfortable with highly technical terrain and challenging obstacles. These trails can include large drops, steep descents, tight switchbacks, and demanding technical features. Riders attempting black trails should have excellent bike control, advanced riding skills, and a strong understanding of mountain biking techniques.
It's important to remember that these grades can vary slightly from one trail centre to another, so it's always a good idea to check local trail information or ask experienced riders for advice before attempting a new trail. As a beginner, starting with green and blue trails and gradually working your way up to more challenging grades is a great way to enjoy and progress in the world of mountain biking.
Why should you go Mountain Biking?
Just imagine leaving the city buzz behind and immersing yourself in the beauty of nature. Sounds good, right? Now imagine this on two wheels; the wind in your hair as you tear down a trail with your adrenaline spiking as you reconnect with your inner child. Whether it's for fun, freedom or fitness, the thrill of mountain biking provides an addictive buzz of excitement and accomplishment.
We won't sugarcoat it; mountain biking is not without its fair share of challenges and moments that may induce fear. And like when you first learnt to ride a bike, there'll be falls along the way. Still, whenever you overcome a new trail or clear an obstacle, you emerge stronger and more confident, with an overwhelming sense of triumph.
But mountain biking doesn't have to be an individual pursuit; there's a whole community filled with passionate, like-minded individuals. Arguably one of the biggest attractions for women worldwide is the warm, welcoming, and supportive nature of the sisterhood of mountain biking. It's a place where friendships are forged, knowledge is shared, and experiences are cherished.
So, what are you waiting for?
Armed with the fundamental knowledge of mountain biking, are you ready to embrace the spirit of MTB and let your adventurous spirit take flight as you discover the joy of exploring untamed landscapes on two wheels?
Get your wheels in motion, find your passion, conquer your fears, and discover the limitless possibilities awaiting you on the trails.