Gearing Up

Just like skiing, mountain biking is a wonderful sport that can be fraught with frustration if not started the right way. The problem is that, if we can ride a bicycle, we generally assume that we already know everything about the technique and the equipment, and don’t need any lessons. While this seems logical, mountain-biking is a totally different universe, because there is highly specialized equipment just for it, plenty of gravity going up and down, uneven terrain, and most often than not a narrow, single-track involved!

These differences are the key reasons for considering professional help that can take a rank beginner into a smart mountain-bike rider. Things like learning the basics of using the brakes the proper way, understanding the “platform” concept, knowing about correct body placement and feeling comfortable with obstacles and single-track riding. These elements where probably not part of the curriculum used by your mom or dad when you learned how to ride your first bike!

This said there are countless reasons for getting into mountain biking; most folks get into the sport either by accident, special circumstances, like a visit to Deer Valley Resort, or just because they want to try something new. There are also many ways to get started. First, there’s the gentle one, which consists of beginning on asphalt bike-paths, staying on flat terrain and progressively tackling the more challenging trails. Then, there’s the “full-immersion” program that takes rank-beginners into the heart of the matter, with guts and gusto, straight up into the mountain. These forms of entry points often match certain age groups too. Middle-age people will gravitate towards the former, while teenagers and young adults may pedal more assertively into the sport and enjoy a faster learning curve.

Going at mountain biking progressively is probably a good idea for middle-age and older individuals. These riders can be a bit apprehensive and often don’t have as much time available for the sport. They can transition naturally from their regular biking experience into some slightly heavier equipment in which familiarity with the proper use of gears, brakes and terrain requires some time to be learned. After practicing these skills for a while on bike path or gravel road, they’ll be ready to explore more complex terrain and get familiar with uphill climbs, descents and single-track trails.

If the riders aren’t quite ready for taking that step, either because they are just afraid or don’t have the stamina the activity requires, they might be better off switching to a lighter, cross-country mountain bike design that can be used either on gentler terrain and on wider trails covered with asphalt, gravel or dirt. Before they do, however, it might still be an excellent idea to take a few more lessons. On the other hand, if riders get comfortable on single trails and their ups and downs, improvements will largely be a function of time, mileage and increased level of difficulty. It is at this stage that a good combination of lift-assisted biking and practicing on blue runs can provide this key ingredient that’s so important in mountain-biking: Experience!

If the riders are young, energetic and fearless, they can literally take the plunge either by mean of lift-assisted, downhill biking or ease into single-track cross-country riding. As mentioned earlier, the participant’s age plays a crucial role. Teenagers and young adults can learn with buddies and thanks to a combination of grit, good balance, athletic abilities, peer pressure and lots of practice; they will learn the rudiment of the sport and improve quite rapidly.

Again, for all of these groups, the best way to get started is by taking lessons as there is a technique to be learned and this can save a lot of grief to the newcomer. Without lessons, these skills must be acquired the hard way and this can translate into a much longer process. In fact, unless the rider can get out 20 or 30 times each season, like some of the locals do, the morale of a successful mountain biking experience is to take lessons from the start, stick to practicing and getting out as often as possible.

Now, don’t delay, take that first step into mountain biking before the season is over!

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