While we’d argue that enjoying yourself is an integral part of any sport, having a good time is absolutely at the core of mountain biking.
“A lot of people will say the best rider on the hill is the one who’s having the most fun,” says Martin Astley, director and founder of BikePark Wales.
While you’re unlikely to be having the most fun on your first try, we asked Astley for his advice for new riders, so you’re well prepared to have as good a time as possible when you’re just starting out. Here’s what you need to know.
1. You Can Hire All The Kit You Need…
The best analogy is a ski resort. You’ve got one group of people who are super-keen and they’ve all got their own kit, whereas people who are new to the sport will tend to hire all the kit and maybe get some instruction as well.
It’s the same at BikePark Wales. We’ve got super bikes you can hire, plus we can provide the helmet, knee pads, elbow pads, gloves – all that kind of stuff.
It’s worth going to a dedicated bike park or trail centre if you’re a beginner. They are all-weather, so you’re not going to be bog snorkelling, and you can pick a trail that’s been specifically designed and graded for your ability, plus you can get the equipment.
2. …But Take A Waterproof
The only thing that is important to have with you, which you won’t get at a trail centre or bike park, is a waterproof jacket. Especially in Wales!
3. The Trails Are Colour-Coded
Green is beginner. Blue is intermediate. Red is advanced and black is expert. We actually have something called a pro line as well, which is really, really challenging.
A beginner trail is less steep and much more predictable. Although there will be changes in gradient as you’re going down, it’s been designed so that the bike never runs away from you.
The surface that you’re riding on will also be more uniform. If you ride on a more advanced trail, parts might be really rocky and loose, and then parts might be really muddy.
4. You Don’t Have To Ride Uphill
We have a fleet of minibuses with trailers. You load your bike and we take you to the top of the hill, then you bomb your way back down and repeat. We’re one of four places in Wales that have that facility. Then there are lots of publicly operated local trail centres which are more like a cross-country loop, where you have to pedal up and down on your way around.
5. Do Use Your Front Brake
It’s a myth that you shouldn’t use your front brake because you’ll go over the handlebars. Definitely use your front brake, or you’ll be going too fast and skidding everywhere, but use it wisely.
6. Don’t Fixate On Your Front Wheel
Look ahead down the trail. You have to scan, looking 10 metres in front. Once you’ve become an advanced rider, your eyes will be constantly scanning from 10 metres to just in front of your wheel, then back up to 10 metres.
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7. It’s Not Uncomfortable
Modern bikes are incredible. They have about six or seven inches of suspension travel on them, really powerful disc brakes and very grippy tires. It’s really not uncomfortable.
8. Learn How To Fix A Puncture
Bikes have evolved greatly over the years, but punctures are still a big part of mountain biking. Unfortunately, if you ride mountain bikes a lot you’re going to have to fix punctures.
9. You Can Now Get Lessons
Mountain biking traditionally has been a sport where people don’t get instruction, because it doesn’t really have a club structure. But in more recent years coaching has become more and more common, and not just for beginner riders but also for more experienced riders too.
BikePark Wales in the Brecon Beacons is the UK’s largest purpose-built bike park. There are 40 trails now available including the new Kermit trail, which is ideal for beginners. Find out more at bikeparkwales.com
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.