The First-Timer’s Mountain-Biking Guide

This guide is easy to understand, and perfect for a newbie who has just had the idea to try mountain biking.

Read on to learn how to pick a bike, accessorize, and learn some basic techniques that you must know before you head off.

First Bike on a Budget

Many seasoned riders recommend getting a used bike your first time around. The obvious reason being that you can get an intermediate-level bike for the price of a new beginner bike. The fact that most riders take immaculate care of their bikes will come as a relief for you.

Another advantage is that since the bike has already been ridden, you likely won’t need to work to figure out any faults by yourself. Hopefully, the old owner will tell you.

When scoping out the bike, prioritize the fit. It needs to match your height, riding style, and flexibility. Take the bike for a spin before you make any concrete decisions.

Craigslist and Facebook are good places to look for used mountain bikes. Once you locate a bike you’re interested in, meet with the seller somewhere near a police station for increased safety.

Another great place to find used mountain bikes are bike shops that rent bikes. These bikes will be well-maintained, and most often will be late models in good condition. Keep an eye out for these three features:

  1. Air Fork – This is the suspension for the bicycle. This type of fork uses compressed gas to provide shock absorption. They are lightweight and more adjustable than coil forks.
  1. Clutch Rear Derailleur – The derailleur is the part that shifts through your gears. One with a clutch will hold the chain taught, preventing it from slapping your bike’s frame, or falling off over bumps. Though not absolutely essential for a beginner, it is a nice feature that can save you some headaches. 
  1. Disc Brakes – Most any newer mountain bike worth riding will have a brake disc in the middle of the wheel, rather than brakes on the rim like your old 10-speed. Disc brakes are much more powerful, and less likely to get damaged from rocks and roots on the trail.

Accessories to Heighten the Experience

The biggest advantage of buying a used bike is that you have money left over to buy other essentials that you need. These are tools that increase your safety and comfort while riding:

  1. Helmet – Always choose a helmet that fits you well. The helmet shouldn’t move more than an inch, it should cover your entire scalp, and not disrupt your vision.
  1. Hydration – Use a water bottle holder that bolts onto your bike carrying at least a liter of water. Alternatively, you can also use a water pack that you wear like a backpack.
  1. Shorts – Bicycle seats can be uncomfortable to new riders. Buy a quality pair of padded shorts with a chamois in the crotch area to reduce bruising and chafing.  
  1. Travel Insurance – Taking a fall is inevitable, so you may as well prepare your bank account for the repercussions. Insubuy offers activity-specific insurance plans, including mountain biking travel insurance. Be sure to have proper insurance in place to protect your finances before your next mountain biking vacation.
  1. Multitool – Even a well-maintain bicycle can require maintenance on the trail from time to time. A multitool includes all the common tools you’ll need for trailside repairs. This includes wrenches, tire levers, and chain links. Don’t forget to pack a spare inner-tube and tire pump as well.

Beginner Mountain Biking Tips

Going Uphill

  1. Pick a low gear – Riding in a lower gear makes pedaling easier. When going uphill, you’re already fighting gravity, you don’t want to fight with the pedals as well.
  1. Continuous pedaling – Coasting for even a bit will result in you having to double the efforts to build the speed back up. Keep pedaling consistently when climbing a hill.
  1. Lean Forward – If the climb is steep, then you may feel like you’re doing an unintentional wheelie. To prevent that, lean forward while going up a slope. This will keep your weight balanced and your front wheel firmly on the ground.

Going Downhill

  1. Gear up – If you’re in too low a gear, pedaling will be impossible. Choose a gear that allows you to pedal easily at the speed you’re going. If your bike has two front chainrings, shift into the bigger one.
  1. Don’t Oversteer – Even a slight shift in your body’s position will change the track of your bike. Try not to oversteer, so that there is some stability. Concentrate more on the general direction you want to go.
  1. Stand on the Pedals – Bumpy descents can be hard on your rear. Stand on the pedals so that the shock is absorbed by your knees and legs. Also, keep the pedals parallel to the ground so you don’t catch any rocks.

Bunny Hopping Tips

Bunny hopping is how you get over big rocks or logs. This is a crucial skill that you need to master before you tackle harder trails. You need to loft the bike over the object without hitting it. These are techniques that will help you master bunny hopping:

  1. Crouch on your bike with bent elbows, knees, and back. The pedals must be parallel to the ground.
  1. Use your built-up energy to quickly stand up tall, like a meerkat peering out of its den. As you stand, keep pressure on the pedals, and pull the handlebars towards your chest.
  1. Firmly push the handlebars forward, while simultaneously pushing your heels downward. With practice, this will lift the wheels off the ground. Try this on small obstacles at first. And remember, practice makes perfect. 

Slowing Down

Braking is more than pulling the levers, especially when mountain biking. If you’re too forceful, you could take a tumble. Here’s how to properly brake:

  • Braking should not force you to twist your wrist too much. You should be able to apply the brake with only one or two fingers. Train yourself to quickly adjust to a comfortable position when you’re riding out of the saddle.
  • Be aware that the front brake will stop your momentum by 70%, while the back tire brake will slow you down by 30%. If you want to slightly slow down, applying back brakes will suffice. But, do this with caution. If applied too forcefully, the back brake will cause you to skid.
  • When approaching corners, always brake before you reach the corner, not while you’re in it. When riding through corners, you will already have lesser control over your bike. Applying brakes when you’re not in control is when falls happen.
  • Most think a full-force brake is the best way to get from one hundred to zero. They can’t be more wrong. Modulated braking is your best friend. This when you pump the brake lever with pauses in between to vary the braking power. This will help you avoid skidding.

Get a bike, master these techniques and you’re ready for your first trail ride. Make sure you take a friend and some music along for company.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?


For visitors, travel, student and other international travel medical insurance.

Visit or call +1 (866) INSUBUY or +1 (972) 985-4400