Brigitte Stoppel has been mountain biking for over thirty years and is passionate about helping others to get out on the trails, especially women. It would be fair to call her an expert, so we asked her to write down her top ten tips for starting out.
This is the first of a three-part blog series, by Brigitte Stoppel.
I started MTB to be out in nature, to travel to amazing places, meet other adventurous people, to be challenged by the environment and to gain fitness.
I bought my first mountain bike second hand, almost 30 years ago, and I had no idea how much joy it would bring me over the years.
The rewards have always outweighed the falls.
I have made a lot of mistakes, but I relate mountain biking to life; There are rocks, ravines, and big hills to navigate over, but once you reach the top the downhills are so worth it.
Plus, if you find a community around you that shares the same path, the journey is so much more enjoyable.
To help you not make ALL the mistakes I did, I have compiled a basic check list.
The first four points are as follows:
1. Always check your bike before you head out via the “M” system.
Visualise an M shape, as you move from front wheel, to headset, to bottom bracket, to seat, and down to rear wheel.
At the front wheel, check the tyre condition and pressure (for beginners around 20-25psi depending on your weight). The spokes and wheel should be tight and check all the bolts.
Move onto the headset and make sure it’s tight.
Check that you can reach your brakes with one or two fingers from your grips.
Move down to the pedals and cranks then up to the seat. With a dropper seat (if you have one) you might have some movement, but the rest should be tight.
Check the rear tyre and spokes, that the derailleur is aligned, and the hanger is not bent.
2. Basic Riding Gear.
Spend time finding a good helmet that fits correctly - it’s there to protect you.
Invest in knee and elbow guards as one falls a lot, especially when starting out.
I use them all the time and they have often saved my knees and elbows from nasty gravel rashes or cuts.
Full finger gloves are highly recommended as often the fingers are the first to cop a fall.
Protective eyewear is important, especially when cycling where the tracks are dusty, narrow and there’s a lot of vegetation.
Carry basic first aid to help you or your fellow rider.
A toolkit with pump, multi-tool, spare tube and tyre lever is essential.
For longer rides, I take a small bag consisting of dried fruit and nuts, water and a bottle of electrolyte.
There are many ways to carry items – bikes come with inbuilt tool kits, there are hip bags, cycle specific backpacks and bike clothes that have pockets for tools etc.
Mountain biking can lead to areas where there is not a lot of human traffic so it’s best to have all the essentials.
3. Have the right bike set-up.
The saddle should be at hip level or when you sit, there is only a slight bend in your knee when pedalling.
The suspension of the bike should be set up according to your weight and serviced twice a year. Keep an eye on the air in the front fork, make sure that it is not leaking oil and that the sag and rebound is set correctly.
Hard tail bikes do not have the rear suspension, only the front suspension needs to be checked.
4. Practise basic skills on a flat surface first, for example at the local park.
Learn ‘neutral stance’ on the bike. Your body should not be too far forward, nor too far back. Your feet should be level with each other.
Learn what the brakes do and how to stop quickly and safely.
Practise cornering where your body stays stable but you let your bike move under you, keeping the attack position. Pedals should stay level and do not brake in the corner.
Learn to change gears at the right time; the terrain varies constantly.
Master lifting the front wheel so as to get up onto obstacles.
Invest in a bike clinic to learn these basic skills before heading out on a trail for the first time. It can make all the difference.
To read Part Two, click here.