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How to Ride a Mountain Bike

written by: Daniel P. McGoldrick • edited by: KJ Fitness,Ink • updated: 5/21/2009

For the beginner seeking knowledge on how to ride a mountain bike there are a few key points and techniques to understand in order that you operate the bike safely and have fun, which should be your goal anyway. Find out what these beginners tips are for this exciting outdoor fitness activity.

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    How to Ride a Mountain Bike on Rough Terrain

    If you’ve landed here you’re probably interested in finding out more about how to ride a mountain bike. It may be more precise to say that we’re going to talk about how to ride over the kind of rugged terrain a typical mountain bike trail has in store for the rider. It’s assumed that you know the basic principles of riding a bike on a road but want to know a few fundamentals about handling the trail and rising to the challenge of this great outdoor sport.

    Rules to Ride By

    First of all, never bike without a helmet. Before you set out to ride, make sure your tires are filled with air to the correct pressure, check you’re brakes out and make sure everything on the bike is secured. Lift the back tire up and rotate the pedals with your hand to make sure the chain is working correctly. Your seat should be adjusted so that your leg is just about fully extended when your pedal is down. Also, you want to have a nice comfortable bend in the elbow when your hands are on the handlebars.

    Stay loose because your body is a giant shock absorber for this endeavor and being rigid is no good for you. A word on trail etiquette; always yield to runners, hikers, fishermen, and equestrian riders. That doubles back to the rule about obstacles, which in other words means always be in control of that bike. Don’t be a dirt bag and leave any garbage out there, either.

    When riding, follow the maxim, "When in doubt, dismount." If you approach any obstacle, decline, or incline that you think is going to be trouble, dismount from your bike and walk it until you have ridden enough to improve your skills and handle the same kind of obstacle confidently.

    Good Tips for the Trail

    While riding look out ahead on the trail. Learn to anticipate what’s coming with your relaxed intensity biking stance slightly off the seat and holding the bars loosely. Don’t look at the front tire because you’ll end up crashing. When coasting, keep one pedal at 3:00 o’clock and the other at 9:00 o’clock to ensure you have a steady platform and you don’t clip anything that might be on the trail when your pedal is riding low.

    I’m not going to delve to deep into the drive train and how the gears work here except to say this: the chain should never be on the smallest disc in the back and the smallest disc in the front or be on the largest in the back and the largest in the front. Just remember; no little-little and no big-big. You’re riding a bike, don’t be afraid to have sayings like that in your head. Kids ride bikes after all.

    One of the fundamental things you must know is to plan ahead and if you see that you’re approaching a hill, shift down to that easier gear before you get to it. If you wait too long and cram down on the pedal when you’re already on the hill, it’s bad for the drive train. The chain could come undone, and moreover you probably won’t make it up the hill because you’ll be out of balance and inertia.

    You want to have a nice, easy, relaxed pedaling motion no matter what gear you’re in. If you’re bouncing up and off the seat, shift to an easier gear and the same principle holds true if you’re really cranking on those pedals to move. It’s all about using the bike to the maximum benefit and keeping the motoring machine, you, moving steadily and efficiently.

    Those are enough fundamentals to get you out on the trail and riding. Once you’ve been out a few times you’ll have some more technical questions, and we’ll cover them later. For now, stay relaxed, be safe, avoid trees, and have fun.