Mountain Biking 101: 17 Easy Tips for Casual Riders

At Maine Huts & Trails, we’re lucky to be surrounded by some of the best mountain bike trails in New England. And even though there are tons of fun things to do outside while you’re here, mountain biking should definitely be on your list! Here’s what you need to know before you tackle our backcountry trails:

1. You’re in good enough shape to get started right now: Mountain biking is the ideal sport to ease into, even if you’re not at your physical peak. Since it’s a mental exercise just as much as physical, your fitness level will naturally build up at about the same rate as your skill level. The result? You won’t be left gasping for breath – you’ll just gradually improve with every ride.

2. It’s actually a lot safer than it looks: It might seem insane to ride through twisting, turning, narrow trails over rocks and down steep hills. It’s not. Riding a mountain bike is a completely differently sensation than riding any other bike – it’s slower, more controlled, and much safer than it looks. Mountain bikes are designed to stop on a dime, power over roots, and hop down steep rocks. But that brings us to the next point…

3. Do not buy the cheapest bike you can find: Seriously. Go for full-suspension with high-quality components. Maybe that means you save up and wait one more season – it’s worth it! In the meantime, renting a bike from your local shop, or borrowing from a friend will help you get a feel for what to look for. Take your time, and find an awesome bike.

4. It’s slower than it looks: When you’re just starting out, you’ll be clocking about 6-8 MPH… about the same speed as a slow jog. So don’t worry about getting out of control. That being said, it’s safer and easier to get going a little too fast than a little too slow. Moderate speed makes everything suddenly come together – and obstacles that require lots of balance and concentration when you’re slow are barely noticeable when you’ve sped up a bit.

5. It’s not just for adrenaline junkies: Those videos of people flying down rocky, curvy trails and doing big jumps? They’ve probably ridden that trail a few dozen times, and they’re usually professionals. For most of us, it’s more of a meander than a rush… at least at first.

6. Mountain biking is not like road biking: If you’re a road biker ready to venture into mountain biking, don’t be discouraged if it feels like you’re starting over. While professional mountain bikers usually incorporate road biking into their training, it's just a way to work on their pedal stroke and lung capacity without distractions like roots and rocks.

7. Don’t trust your instincts: It will feel right to slow down. It will feel right to keep your hands on the brakes. It will feel right to keep your eyes on the ground directly in front of you. Those are all things that will make you fall. Keep your speed up – hands off the brakes until you need them, and your sight on the terrain about 10-20 feet ahead. Before you know it, that position will feel natural, and you’ll be much safer.

8. Trust the trail builders: When you’re on a professionally maintained mountain bike trail, you can rest assured that there is a way over and through every single section of that trail. And keep in mind that many, many people have ridden through each section with ease, and if they can do it, so can you. Maybe not today, but eventually it will happen… and that’s when you’ll be hooked.

9. Go with someone who knows the trails: Following another biker will help you find the best line and the right speed. Also, it frees your mind to focus on riding, not directions. And if you happen to need a trail-side repair, you’ll be happy to be with a local guide!

10. New trails will always be the hardest: Don’t be discouraged the first few times on a new trail. Be prepared to ride over the same section a few times before it works out. Knowing what to expect makes it exponentially easier, no matter your skill level.

11. Take breaks: One of the best things about mountain biking? It takes you to some of the most beautiful and remote places in the world. So don’t just fly past that waterfall; stop and take a break. Have a snack, drink water, and catch your breath. To keep your mind in the game, you’ll need downtime to regroup.

12. Balance is everything: Keep your weight over the middle of your bike, with your feet planted firmly on the pedals, and steer with your core. Your elbows, hands, and knees should be loose enough to allow your bike to move freely underneath you.

13. When in doubt, stand up: It feels counterintuitive, but just getting up out of the seat will give you the extra power you’ll need to get over an obstacle. 

14. Don’t be afraid to crash around: Mountain bikes are built to take a beating. It might take a few ‘oh *@#!’ moments, but you’ll soon see that you and your bike are capable of more than you think. When you just let yourself go and let your bike do the work, you’ll be surprised at what you can make it through.

15. Challenge yourself:  Sticking to the same easy trails every time you ride won’t help you improve, so try out a trail that makes you work a little harder. There’s no shame in hopping off your bike and walking through a section you’re not ready for. And that’s the beauty of mountain biking! If you find yourself in a tough spot, you’re still just walking in the woods.

16. Practice good trail etiquette: When you do get off your bike and walk, make sure you’re ready to get yourself and your bike all the way off the trail. This allows other bikers to ride through without slamming on the brakes, and keeps everyone safe. And uphill riders have the right of way – it’s harder for them to get going again, so let them keep the flow.

17. Stick with it: The first few summers on a bike aren’t always easy. You’ll slog yourself and your bike up steep hills, over narrow bridges, and down slippery rocks. Your shins will be bruised, and there will likely be a few cuts and scrapes. It’s all worth it.

The bike trails in Carrabassett Valley are fantastic – but there are a lot of options, and a lot of miles. That’s why we recommend going with a guide.

Learn more about biking at Maine Huts & Trails, including guided bike trips >>