In this instalment of our series for mountain bike beginners, our resident medical doctor and athlete extraordinaire, Dr Rosie Carey, tells you how to kick your new biking hobby into gear
You have the bike, you have the kit, you have the gear; now you actually need to get onto the bike and ride.
Before heading out to Holla Trails (my preferred spot for riding), I suggest that you get comfortable with your bike in your garden or driveway. If you don’t have a suitable space, there is a large grass parking lot at Holla Trails that you can use.
Learn which are your back brakes and which are your front and get comfortable with changing gears and learning which gears are which. It helps a lot if you are comfortable with your bike before heading out to the single track – trust me, you don’t want to be worrying about which brake is your back brake while you’re busy careening down a steep hill.
Another note about bike comfort is to ensure before you take your bike out for a ride that you’ve had it set up properly. Your local bike shop will do this for you and it takes a few minutes. It’s basically adjusting the seat and handle bar height to fit your body. An incorrect bike set-up can lead to, at best, an uncomfortable ride and, at worst, an injury.
Once you are comfortable with your bike, you are ready to take it out for a ride. Yay! The following are some tips to making your ride more enjoyable and less scary.
- Mostly use your back brake. As a beginner rider, you should use your back brake for about 70 percent of your braking power, and your front brake for the remaining 30 percent (gently pull both brakes at the same time in that ratio). Grabbing your front brake is instinctive, but it will result in you going over the handle bars, which could cut short your budding mountain biking career.
- Look where you want to go (and not at the obstacles you want to avoid). Trees on either side of the trail? Look straight through them at the trail ahead. Big root across the trail? Look past it at the trail ahead. High bridge? Look at the far end of the bridge; and never, ever look down. Again, it goes against your instincts to avoid looking at obstacles, but the rule of mountain biking is that you go where you look. Try it out if you don’t believe me, just not on a high bridge!
- When going down a steep downhill, keep your weight back. That way, its more unlikely for you to go over your handle bars. You really want to avoid going over the handle bars if possible!
- Speed is your friend. Yes, this goes against your instincts too (sensing a common theme here?). The faster you are riding, the more stable you are. Don’t believe me? Imagine a rolling tyre: it’s far more likely to stay upright while it’s got some speed. Once it starts to slow down, the tyre starts to wobble and once it slows down enough, it falls over. So, when you’re unsure, speed up instead of slowing down.
- Commit. (Kind of like in life.) Once you’ve committed to something, a downhill for example, stay with it. Don’t change your mind halfway down the hill and try to get off the bike, as the chances are very high that you’ll fall. Choose a line, commit and go for it. Hesitation will only lead to falls. If you are too nervous to do something, rather get off your bike before attempting it and push your bike over the bridge, obstacle, or downhill.
Of course, it’s far easier to learn something like mountain biking out in the field (see the pun?) than off a piece of paper, so try to get a patient and experienced friend to help you start off your mountain bike journey.