It’s Easter Sunday, I’ve consumed my body weight in chocolate and it’s been raining all weekend. The weather hasn’t stopped me tearing up the trails, hopefully you’ve been out as well. There’s a saying in the Mountain Bike world; there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear.
On this note, I thought a post for beginners would perhaps be useful. I’ve been riding a lot with people new to the sport and riders getting back into the sport after a few years out, so they’re either absolute beginners, or technology has changed enough for questions to be asked. Some of the questions that have come up are frequently asked, so with any luck, this may help you if you’re looking to get into MTB, or if you’ve had a few years out!
Really, everything can be summed up by watching this video by the guys at IFHT:
But, to help out a bit more, some common Q&A’s are below:
What type of bike should I get?
This is a rather personal choice and depends what type of riding you want to do. If you plan on getting driven to the top of a mountain and riding down, you should look at Downhill (DH), or possibly Freeride (FR) bikes. If you’d rather be doing some super long distance singletrack, a Cross Country (XC) bike may be up your street. However, for the trail centre riders and weekend warriors, a Trail, All Mountain or Enduro bike will more often than not be the best weapon of choice. Full suspension, with 140-160mm of travel and slack head angles, 1x gearing and a dropper post seems to be today’s standard. The best thing you can do is research and ask your local bike shop (LBS) if you’re unsure.
Size is important too – again, your LBS will be able to help here, but be sure to check Geometry charts carefully if you’re buying online.
What should I take with me when I ride?
Again, personal preference here, but below is what I take with me on my usual rides. Most importantly, (after a bike of course) are a helmet and a huge smile; the rest is optional!
On the body – Helmet, cycling specific shorts and jersey, full finger gloves, kneepads and flat soled shoes (Five Tens are awesome) are my go to kit. Not pictured are socks and a padded liner short to keep your undercarriage comfy!
In the bag – Bandage, alcohol wipe and surgical tape make for a very basic first aid kit. Powerlink, chain tool, allen/hex key set and a small multi tool, Energy bar, tablets (to pop in your water – bladder not pictured) or gel and a spare tube, tyre lever and pump (not pictured) are great to have. Zip ties and electrical tape are useful for ‘bodge’ fixes to get you home in a squeeze.
Bottle or bladder?
Bladder.. what? Simply, it’s a plastic reservoir with a drinking tube that fits snugly in your backpack. Most hydration packs will come with one, and they’re fantastic. I usually take a bladder filled with 1.5-2 litres of water in my backpack, as I can keep everything together and secure. For smaller rides, a water bottle would be fine, but I would personally always recommend a bladder for anything over 2 hours. Some good companies to look at are CamelBak, Osprey and Evoc.
Where to buy a bike from?
These days, the internet is full of bike sites, with massive sales to attract business. Direct sale sites (Such as Bird Cycleworks, Canyon and YT) are really starting to take a serious chunk of the online market, as they cut out the middle man (physical shops), which allow them to offer incredible bikes for incredible prices. The only downside is that the service will more often than not be through email and phone. Luckily, Bird are local to me and really do offer some of the absolute best service in the industry.
Local Bike Shops are also a great place to buy from, as you can get some very personalised service and the aftersales is usually very impressive. Brilliant Bikes in Chobham, or Swinley Bike Hub, for example. The benefit of a Local Bike Shop is that you’ll usually be able to demo the bike properly, to allow you to get a feel for how it rides.
I tend to avoid chain stores, purely because they work on volume, which means the service can be a lot worse (I am generalising here!). If you are set on a bike from a chain store, please check everything is tightened properly for your own sake.. from experience, loose bolts can cause major problems to your bike and you! You can expect the test ride to be in a car park, if you’re lucky.
What should I upgrade first?
You don’t have to upgrade anything, just ride and enjoy it! That said, a lot of companies will stock lower specification pedals, handlebars, stems and saddles, to allow them to offer higher end gearing, wheels or suspension.
If you’re adamant on changing parts, shop around and know what you want. Pedals can make a huge difference, Shimano Saints or DMR Vaults (if you’re riding with flat pedals) are both outstanding (M530 or XT Trail pedals if you’re clipping in are both superb). Stems and bars are a personal choice, but for trail riding, generally the wider the bar and the shorter the stem, the more fun you’ll have. Charge make some extremely comfortable saddles on a budget, with their award winning ‘Spoon’ available for around £25 (or less if you shop around)!
Should I service myself?
If you have the space to do so, absolutely. The more you learn, the better. If you have a mechanical issue when you’re out riding, you may just be able to get yourself home if you spend the time to learn some basic maintenance. In the Winter months, the main thing is keeping the bike clean, lubricated and rust free.. look after your bike and it’ll look after you. I personally use Muc Off products, although Hope, Pedros and Fenwicks also make some great cleaning gear.
In terms of servicing, Park Tools not only do the best tools, they have an amazing resource of information online, or YouTube is your friend here! It all else fails, go to your LBS and ask if you can watch what they do to fix your bike. Most mechanics shouldn’t mind, as cyclists love to talk bike to anybody willing to listen (even if that’s their poor wife that couldn’t care less about cycling… sorry Emily!)
With any luck, this has helped you out at least a little. If you’d like any questions answered, leave a comment below!
Ian @ Stealth Riders