You’ve got the bike, now what are you gonna do with it? Have fun! Here’s how to maximise it with our tips to plan your first mountain bike ride.
Are you looking to head to the hills and forests for your first mountain bike ride but unsure where to start or who to turn to for answers to all those questions you have?
In this article, we’ll go through everything you need to consider:
- How to find trails you can ride
- How to choose your route
- What to wear
- What to bring with you
- Other essential need to know information
Find where to ride
We’ll assume you’ve got the bike and you’re ready to have fun, so you’re halfway there. First, you need to find somewhere to ride. It really can be as easy as heading out your front door and exploring, but the riding you have available on your doorstep will vary widely depending on where you live.
Mountain bike trails broadly fall into two camps: naturally occurring trails and man-made trails located at trail centres which have the convenience of car parking, toilets, cafes and waymarked trails graded by the skill level required to safely complete them.
The beauty of a mountain bike is you can ride it anywhere, from the local woods to open moorland, but sometimes you need a bit of research to find these trails. Local maps will detail legal trails, bridleways and byways as a starting point, but often mountain bike trails won’t appear on these maps and you’ll find an online mapping resource like Trailforks, Strava or Komoot useful in finding trails in your local woods.
Trailforks is a huge database of user-generated trails and routes. You can search for a trail by punching in your location or moving around a map where it’ll display lots of useful detail such as distance, elevation and difficulty.
Komoot and Strava also let you search for routes and rides in an area of your choosing, and uses the millions of rides uploaded every year to clearly show popular trails and riding spots.
What trails are best?
Official mountain bike trails like those at a trail centre are often the easiest introduction to trail riding if you’re new to the sport. Firstly they have their own websites where you can research the trails in advance of your first ride, exploring what’s on offer and deciding if it’s for you. The trails are graded in terms of difficulty, which makes it easy to choose the right trail from the start. They’re also grouped by distance and elevation, so you can avoid biting off more than you can chew.
Trails at these trail centres are graded by difficulty. Green is the easiest progressing through blue, red and to black, the most challenging grade. The grade can be a factor of the distance and climbing elevation, requiring a certain level of fitness. It can also indicate the skill level needed to safely get around a trail.
Green and blue commonly feature mellow trails that are smooth and not at all intimidating, and won’t feature any challenging obstacles like drops, steps or jumps. The addition of features like drops, jumps, rocks and roots increase as you move up the grades.
Trail centres with graded trails make it easy to progress. Many also feature a short skills area as well. Start with a green or blue and only once you’ve mastered the trail and feel comfortable and safe on your bike, before considering moving up to the next grade. Some trails also have choices with higher graded extensions and diversions if you’re feeling ready to step up.
Getting ready for your first ride
Now you know where and what you’re riding, it’s good to make sure you’re ready. You’ve got your bike and that’s all you really need, but there are a few extras to consider.
We’d always advise wearing a helmet as anything can happen on a mountain bike ride and it’s best to be safe rather than sorry. If you’re feeling a bit nervous you might want to consider upping your impact protection with some knee pads.
You’ll want to wear clothing that you’re comfortable in, will keep warm and dry if it’s winter or cool and airy if it’s summer. This can be specific mountain bike clothing made from technical fabrics and fit for purpose, but you can use t-shirts and shorts if you’re just starting out.
You can also take extra clothing this way in case the weather changes during your ride. When you’re riding in the forest or hills the weather can change quickly, so it pays to be prepared. A waterproof or windproof jacket is very useful if the weather unexpectedly turns, or you’re riding in big hills or mountains.
Riding a bike can be thirsty and hungry work, so consider taking some snacks and a drink. A small backpack is perfect for carrying some food – flapjacks, bananas, nuts etc – and a water bottle.
At this point in the article, it’s worth adding a note of caution. Crashes and bike problems (mechanicals) can and will happen from time to time, maybe not on your first ride, but it’s best to be prepared for these situations. Even if you’re riding within your limits on a green trail, accidents can easily happen (speaking from experience here) so consider packing a small first aid kit and ensure you know how to use it.
We’ll imagine your bike is perfectly set up before riding, but mechanicals can strike at any time, and there are few things worse than a long and lonely walk back to the car to ruin your day. It’s better to carry these tools and not have to use them than not have them when you need them most. Essentials that can get you out of a pickle include a spare inner tube, pump and tyre levers to fix a flat tyre, a multitool for tightening any loose bolts, and a chain tool and spare link in case your chain snaps.
Check out our Mountain Bike essentials guide to make sure you and your bike are prepared for your first ride:
We would also highly recommend taking a phone with you in case you need to phone for help in an emergency, and make sure you know the right number to call in the area you’re riding. It’s always worth letting others know your intended ride and route just in case as well.
There’s safety in numbers too, and if you’re just starting out mountain biking you could consider joining a local club or riding group as many host beginner rides which are a great way to get into the sport, as you’ll be offered lots of friendly advice and help to ensure your first mountain bike ride leaves you smiling and wanting to come back for more.