How to Ride a Mountain Bike

How to Ride a Mountain Bike

Speed, fresh air, rapidly changing images between trees are a common experience of mountain biking, a very popular extreme sports activity. If you are interested in understanding how a person feels on an MTB, you can learn this by preparing properly on your first tracks, developing skills needed to drive such a bike, and finding trails that will fit your skill level and interests. I have prepared a few tips for you to make your ride safe and enjoyable. Check it out! 


According to, your MTB should be of an appropriate size – it should match your height, body type, and leg length. Otherwise, it will be uncomfortable and inefficient. An experienced salesman in a good bike shop will help you find a bike suitable just for you. Many of them also offer repairs, maintenance or discounts for future purchases. 

In general, there are 3 types of mountain bikes that you can experience, depending on your interests:

  • Rigids do not have suspension which means that there are fewer mechanical parts to worry about and you can ride on easy roads. It’s harder to drive off-road because there are no shock absorbers.
  • Cross Country Hardtails (XC) are good for most novices who want to start to overcome difficult terrain. In this type of bike, there’s a suspension on the front wheel.
  • Downhill bikes are the most expensive MTBs with full suspension (front and rear) which makes them the most effective and quality mountain bikes for riding on difficult terrains and speed riding down the hills.

You don’t want to rush with buying a bike – try out a few models in test runs (ask for a half-an-hour ride) to make sure you choose the right one. Bike shops are often located near parks that have trails where you can try out a rental bike. There’s no point in investing a lot of money on a brand new bike if that’s not something you can enjoy.

Choose a helmet. A good helmet should be a priority if you want to start cycling off-road. Your helmet should fit snugly but not cover the view or pull down on your ears. Never get on a mountain bike without a helmet. 

Consider an additional safety mechanism. While there is no need to buy anything immediately for your pre-departure trips, there are some safety equipment and accessories you may want to purchase later. As you progress in your ride, you may find that you need something else, but it is entirely up to you, your riding style, and your needs. You may need:

  • Gloves;
  • Knee/elbow protectors/guards;
  • Protective glasses;
  • Riding shorts (or other riding gear);
  • Bottle of water;
  • Hydration pack.

Be prepared to fail. During your first trip, as well as, possibly, in the following, it is likely that you will fall at some point and you will need to be sure that your bike can withstand it. You will catch the air by riding on rocks and mountains, bump into twigs and bushes, ride through mud and sand, etc. You may get scratched and bruised on your first trips, so get ready for light abrasions. Also, a good idea is to have a phone with you and make sure you (or someone in your group) has at least one:

  • Band-aid;
  • Bottle of water;
  • Bandage set; 
  • Multifunctional knife;
  • Pump; 
  • Multi-tool; 
  • Spare inner tube;
  • Extra pair of socks;
  • Raincoat or warm clothes.

Stay in shape. A mountain bike is a part of a walk through the forest, aerobic exercises, and a bike show. Besides a good bike, a healthy body will be your most important part of the equipment. You don’t want to get off in the middle of a trail on steep slopes because you’re too tired and walk back, do you? While most riders (even the most experienced ones) often ride their bikes and go through particularly difficult turns, it is better to stay on your bike and keep the momentum. Too frequent stops and new starts, due to your poor physical shape, will eventually make the ride more difficult.

If you haven’t ridden often lately, but want to start mountain biking, go for a few long bike trips to make you feel comfortable again. Ride a few miles, alternating between riding and sprinting, to get yourself back in good cycling shape.

Skills Development

  • Start slowly. Angle the handlebars and adjust the seat according to your preferences, so that you feel comfortable. You don’t need to impress everyone with riding bump tracks or freerides. Find areas that are relatively flat and get used to riding a bike on a not very smooth surface. Ride the grass to get used to it and let the bike gain momentum. Then go to the hills to practice gear shifting and balancing.
  • Look forward, not down. When you’re on a trail, keep your eyes up and watch what’s about 50 feet ahead of you, to see barriers, low hanging branches, and steep turns that await you on the way. You may get distracted by something interesting or want to look at yourself, but you have to stay focused, balanced, and consider obstacles ahead. It will be easier for you to stay balanced and let the bike do all the work for you. 

Look where you want to ride, not where you don’t. Imagine you see a large tree that blocks your trail and everything in front of you. If you stare at it and start saying, “Don’t hit the tree! Don’t hit the tree!”, you’ll most probably hit it. Sometimes, our bodies can be smarter than our brains. The body will strive to get itself where the eyes suggest. This trick will make the brain show its eyes the right direction, and the body will have a better chance of moving on.

Imagine that you are a terminator with a laser beam coming out of your eyes. Run these beams forward along the route and, based on your experience, follow the best path that appears to be the fastest, calmest, and safest. On steep corners, pay attention to the edges of the trail. If you keep an eye on that line, the bike has a much better chance of staying on a path.

  • Slow down properly. Experienced MTB riders learn how to shift their weight to increase the braking on a bike without braking for a very long time. This is more controlled than sudden braking. When descending, shift the weight backward, but brake more with the front wheel. Too much front braking can lead to a flip, and rear braking can cause blocking, so be careful and use brakes wisely to slow yourself down and control your descent. It can be tempting to push the brakes as soon as you see your first steep descent, narrow path, or angled turn. 

On the track, try to avoid braking and instead learn to use the speed in your favor to overcome more difficult barriers. The bike will follow a certain trajectory, so it is easier to lose balance at slower speeds, making it more dangerous to overcome obstacles.

  • Learn to go up and down. Approaching a slope will effectively keep you in motion with comfort and speed. Training to behave properly while descending is a big part of MTB riding.

When you are going to “climb” a mountain, try to stay on your seat and lean forward. On the road, this position may require more power to pedal. Do not overpedal so that the chain is less tight. Use a low gear before the hill and then pedal.

When you are going down, the most important thing is to relax. Don’t try and control your bike too hard. Focus on obstacles and get out of the seat, keeping the pedals parallel to the ground.

  • Develop the correct gearshift technique. Gear shifting allows a bike chain to slide on a smaller or larger gear diameter, requiring less or more load on the pedals, respectively. It is important to try to shift before you get to a hill and start to slow down considerably.
  • Pedal and stay on your bike. Speed is your friend. Fast riding means that you can work less hard and use the impulse to your advantage, maximizing the efficiency of your bike and the body. Keep pedaling and try not to slow down too much, and the bike will do all the work for you.

At the same time, don’t be silly. Slow down, stop, and check for extremely difficult turns or descents before you come across them too fast. When you start, stick to beginner trails and have your breaks.

  • Walk your trails first. Generally, you should familiarize yourself with the trail while walking. To know what to expect, where bumps are, what you’re to do is a good idea. This can prove to be a pretty fun walk, where you will explore your future route, making the first trip on it more exciting. Think of it not as a “ruined surprise,” but as training a pro.
  • Look for famous and popular trails. A lot of online and local communities can help you find trails in your area, but you might also consider going on a trip to a popular mountain bike destination once you gain some experience.
  • Talk to specialists. Other riders in your area should be familiar with the local routes that bicyclists can use. Many parks have special areas for mountain biking. Many cities also have clubs that design and maintain bicycle routes specifically for riding. Find out which ones are most suitable for beginners and check with other MTB owners. Common places for mountain biking trails include public or national parks, “hot roads,” rural access roads, private property (with permission), etc.
  • Study the rules. When you are on the trail, you should stick to a part of it and give pedestrians the right of way. Often you will meet pedestrians on the trail, and sometimes encounter tourists, dogs, people on horses, and children playing, so it is important to stick to the rules and see what you do. You don’t have to go too fast, especially if it’s a particularly busy day on the trail, and you don’t have to go through blind turns. Be aware of the other riders around you and get out of the way when they approach you from behind. Do not be one of those riders with a bad reputation. Don’t drive beside people, splashing turf on their faces. The road does not belong to you. It is common.


  • Reduce tire pressure. The maximum recommended tire pressure is one of the main rules. This provides a smoother and more productive ride and is better protection against flat tires and wheel damage if there re pits on your way. However, when riding on a mountain path, the opposite must be done – the tire pressure should be minimal or slightly higher than the recommended pressure.
  • Use both front and rear brakes. This is a good general rule for all types of cycling, but it is especially important for several reasons when you are riding an MTB. Having a balanced effect on the front and rear brakes will allow you to control the speed with less chance of blocking any wheel. If the front wheel is blocked, this is almost a guaranteed way to flip over the handlebars. If the rear wheel is locked, the tire will slide and you may lose control.
  • Up the hill – shift forward; down the hill – shift backward. 
  • Speed is your friend when it comes to barriers. When you approach a difficult section of the track or a barrier, your first thought is to push the brakes and slow down. As you gain experience, you’ll soon realize that maintaining a steady speed will help you get through more easily, whether it’s a log, a large rock, or tree roots. Motion impulse helps a bike to ride over the tops of barriers, reducing the chances that you will be thrown from side to side.
  • The first time you ride, you don’t have to have all the equipment you will see on most people.
  • If you have chosen an uncomfortable trail, get out of it and walk it before you ride and adapt.
Sean Lockwood

Sean is a programmer with a passion for extreme sports. Favourite extreme sports discipline is biathlon. Started this blog because of the great love for nature and adrenaline which results in something extreme like Extreme Sports Lab (ESL).

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