13 Beginner Mountain Biking Tips You Need To Know

Flashing through the forest, whipping around berms, smashing through boulder gardens. That’s the dream right?

But how do we get from shaky corners and snail pace to Loic Bruni status? And who even is Loic Bruni?!?

Rolling into the world of mountain biking can seem overwhelming at first, as if everyone around you is speaking some secret language. But what if I was to tell you that it doesn’t have to be so hard… that just by following these beginner mountain biking tips, you could be on your way to glory??

Ok, I’ll try not to get too far ahead of myself and you shouldn’t either. Mountain biking for beginners is a journey. One in which you will experience thrills and tears, with many hurdles and hiccups. But one that is bound to bring about some of the best days of your life.

My beginner mountain biking tips are all about sharing the not so obvious basics. They’re focused on building good habits, habits that will stick with you and set you up for a lifetime of epic mountain biking adventures.

So let’s get the wheels rolling with a great video from GMBN

Look Where You Want To Go

Our mind controls our body. And wherever you look, your body will take you there. In most circumstances, this is a good thing… unless you’re staring at an obstacle you’re trying to avoid!

This is one of the most common issues beginner mountain bikers have. An obstacle presents itself, fear sets in and takes over all conscious thought, causing us to stare at the tree or rock we’re flying towards.

For this reason, looking where you want to go is the number one rule for mountain biking.

The trick is to not fixate on those dangerous obstacles. This can be rather daunting for beginner mountain bikers but if you can push past the fear and look beyond the rough sections, I can assure you you’re going to have a better time on a mountain bike.

Keeping your eyes up and constantly scanning the trail before you allows your brain to assess all possible routes before choosing the correct line. Essentially, by choosing your line ahead of time, you can focus on avoiding those dangers that lie ahead.

Here is the process to help break it down.

How To Look Where You Want To Go

  • Keep your eyes up, focusing further down the trail
  • Scan the trail ahead and identify any hazards
  • Choose your line (over or around the obstacle)
  • Brake before the hazard
  • Look past the obstacle and trust your body (DON’T stare at it)
  • Ride confidently through the section
  • Repeat!

This is my number one beginner mountain biking skill and if you follow these steps time and time again, you’ll quickly advance to the level you want to be.

Displaying beginner mountain biking tips by keeping my eyes up and feet level while mountain biking in Blue Derby

Stand Up

Many mountain bikers in their early days believe they have more control while seated on decents.

This is dead wrong.

Standing up on the pedals gives riders the room and flexibility that is needed to maintain perfect balance. Basically, unless you’re pedalling, you should be in a standing position.

But it’s not as straight forward as just being up out of the saddle.

There is a correct technique to this which, again, can be alien to beginners.

In the standing position, your feet should be on the same horizontal plane, practically level with one another. This position allows you to be ready for anything the trail throws at you and keeps your balance perfectly central over the bike.

Keeping your pedals level also allows both feet to be clear of most rocks and other obstacles on your path. Pedal strikes are common and can cause an unfortunate mishap.

It’s not until cornering where this changes slightly.

Mountain biking through a technical corner on Dungog Common mtb parks cross-country loop

Brake Before The Obstacle

Nobody wants to invest any time in braking and who can blame them? It’s boring.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret…

A superb braking technique will directly result in your skills skyrocketing.

Braking correctly before the danger zone sets you up for success. It increases control and grip, boosting confidence and making you feel in control.

Basically, the danger zone refers to any section of rough terrain, obstacles or corners. At any point you think you need to slow down, there is most likely a danger zone coming up so make sure you’re looking ahead and preparing to slow down before it’s too late…

If you brake in the danger zone, traction can easily be lost and this can cause you to fall at the most inopportune time.

Brakes can be a mountain bikers saving grace or worst enemy. Learning how to use brakes correctly is paramount for success and may be the most important mountain biking tip for beginners I share here today.

Kyle & April have created a great video on learning the best techniques of braking. And it is something I think you’ll gain a lot from.

Learn The Basics Of Cornering

This is where many beginners come undone. But before I get stuck into this tip, I want to add that cornering is a step up from the first three. In order to nail the next few tips, you need to be comfortable with the above three first!

Anyhow, back to the basics of cornering!

Cornering around berms (a corner with a raised bank to enable better support for high speeds) is quite different to regular flat corners. The off-camber nature of a berm requires you to lean into it.

The biggest tip I can give for cornering is to stand up if it’s a descent, brake before the corner and keep your outside foot down…

Yes, this does contradict the whole level pedals while standing situation but hear me out!

As you begin to lean the bike you need to maintain a perfect centre of gravity and to do this you need to shift your weight to the outside foot. In doing so, your outside foot will naturally dip. This not only increases traction and control but it creates more clearance between your inside foot and the ground.

There is a hell of a lot more that goes into a great correct cornering technique and is a skill I strongly recommend mastering.

Weighting your outside foot for cornering as a great beginner mountain biking tip

Maintain Momentum

It’s a self-preservation instinct to wipe all of our speed and try to navigate through obstacles as slow as possible. But this can sometimes be the downfall of mountain biking for beginners.

Momentum is your best friend when navigating a rough trail. If you ride too slow, your wheel will drop into every hole and hit every imperfection that lies on the trail. But if you maintain momentum, you’ll simply glide over them.

As gravity dictates, the faster you’re going the better balance you will have. Tyres are designed to hold maximum traction while rotating as well, so if you wipe all of your speed you are also compromising the grip.

Yes this can be scary, but overcoming fears is how we progress and since you’re here I’m guessing that’s what you want to do.

But just remember, with higher speeds comes higher consequences. To avoid needing to ride faster than your ability, stick to the trails within your skill level and progress strategically.

Candace smashing the gravity enduro trail at Ourimbah MTB Park, showing off her mountain bike skills

Shift Your Weight Around

One thing I notice all too often when observing beginner mountain bikers is their stiff riding style. It’s all too common for beginners to tense up whenever the terrain gets rough.

Trust me, I was one of them!

But this is a bad habit to get into. Staying stiff and tense while riding will result in a massive decline in performance and control, not to mention you’ll fatigue and become sore rather quickly.

Rough and uneven terrain is pretty much the definition of mountain biking and if you want to ride the trails comfortably, you’re going to have to learn to relax!

A great way to approach this beginner mountain biking tip is to always treat your bike and body as completely separate entities. Don’t be afraid to throw the bike around beneath you.

Stay limber and let the bike do the hard work for you. The suspensions job is to take the impact while your job is to guide your bike. If you hold on too tight, you won’t have enough room to move the bike where it needs to go.

Slicing through the trees showing beginner mountain biking tips in Glenrock MTB Park

Relax

Mountain biking is all about being smooth and embracing the thrill. It’s about having a good time and enjoying the great outdoors.

Staying calm and relaxing on a mountain bike encourages a flowing and flexible nature. It encourages good riding technique and the ability to assess tricky situations without freaking out.

There’s no need to stress, just stick to the trails you’re comfortable with and be confident! An obstacle is only as scary as you make it…

how to brake on a mountain bike using both brakes together at Dungog common mtb park

Set Your Tyre Pressure

Some of the best beginner mountain biking tips I can provide aren’t skills to introduce into your riding, they’re important set up techniques to encourage comfort and confidence.

Your tyres are the only connection point between the bike and the rugged terrain your riding, so taking the time to inspect and set your tyre pressure before every ride can make a world of difference.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is riding with the wrong tyre pressure.

If you set your air pressure too low, your tyres will be more prone to puncture and you can incur damage to your wheel rather easily. But if your tyre pressure is too high, you may lose traction and find it hard to control the bike while cornering or braking.

So what is a good beginner tyre pressure?

There is no exact answer to this question and it’s going to take some trial and error on your end to figure out what is best for you. But a good starting point is 28psi in the rear tyre and 25psi in the front. Having a slightly higher air pressure in the rear is normal as it is the wheel that takes the brunt of impacts. Whereas the front tyre’s main job is to maintain grip and control while braking and cornering, so slightly lower pressures aid this.

As I said before, there is no right or wrong pressure and it will take some time to dial it in. Trial different pressures and see what works best for your mountain biking style.

pumping up a tubeless tyre with an air compressor, the final stage of how to setup a tubeless tyre

Set Up Your Suspension

Assuming you’re riding a dual-suspension bike, it is oh so important to understand the how and why of setting up the suspension correctly.

The purpose of suspension is to soak up harsh impacts and keep your tyres grounded to maximise grip and control. This will smooth out the trail, making the obstacles a little less menacing.

But if the suspension is too hard, you could be bouncing around like a ping pong ball. And if the suspension is too soft, you’ll be at risk of bottoming out (compressing the bike’s suspension past maximum travel and slamming the end stop).

With a well-balanced suspension set up, your bike will glide over rough terrain while keeping your tyres attached to the ground as much as possible.

There is quite a bit that goes into setting up your suspension and the guys from GMBN explain it perfectly.

But as a quick tip, the most important aspect of setting up suspension is setting the correct sag. Sag is a term that refers to the amount of suspension used while you are sitting stationary on your bike. Setting the correct sag ensures that your spring (whether it be air or coil) has the right amount of preload (air) in order to operate at its peak. A great starting point with suspension sag is setting it to 30% of travel.

Wear The Correct Gear

You don’t have to go out with guns blazing and purchase every piece of top-level gear before you’re ready to tackle the most gnarly trails, but there are some staple items that you need to buy!

These items will make a world of difference.

  • Helmet – This one is a no brainer! (pun intended) If you’re going to take it off-road you need to invest in a mountain bike specific helmet. Such helmets provide better protection in the event of a crash and are built to cover more of your head. I’d recommend spending the money and buying a helmet rated with MIPS or equivalent.
  • Mountain Bike Specific Shoes – This will be a game-changer! You won’t believe the amount of grip you’ll gain pairing mountain bike specific shoes with your pedals. Honestly, it will feel like you’re glued to the platform!
  • Mountain Bike Shorts – One thing I noticed in my early days riding was always catching my pants on the saddle. For obvious reasons, this is not okay. But when I purchased a pair of mountain bike shorts, it immediately stopped. They are designed in a way to offer maximum comfort and flexibility without being too baggy. They’re also made with a thicker material that can withstand the rough terrain.
  • Knee Pads – If there is one piece of protection (other than a helmet) that you should invest in, it’s knee pads. Not only will the help with grazes and hard knocks to the knees, but they can also save you from the inevitable pedal strikes that will happen!
  • Gloves – This is definitely a debatable one as some mountain bikers prefer to ride without gloves. But in my opinion, gloves are a staple item. They help increase grip and protection while wicking the moisture from your hands. If you’re in two minds about buying gloves I’d suggest giving them a go.
Wearing the correct mountain biking gear as a beginner mountain biking tip

Choose The Right Beginner Mountain Biking Trails

If you ride down a professional level downhill track before you’re ready, I would almost be willing to bet money that you will throw your bike away. It will destroy your confidence and potentially your desire for mountain biking forever!

Knowing your limit is a proud skill that few people possess, but one that is very important in mountain biking.

Ride trails you’re comfortable on. Progress slowly and challenge yourself based on the skill level you’ve acquired. Before you know it, you’ll be hitting the gnarlier trails and sending it off jumps.

Ride With Someone Better Than You

There is no greater way to progress than riding with a friend that is better than you. Many of us learn from watching others perform a skill first. Following a friend down a trail and trying to match their speed or take the line they’re taking will open your eyes to possibilities you didn’t know existed!

But more than just improving. Riding with friends will take the seriousness out of mountain biking and only build your love for this wonderful sport even more.

It’s the best way to gain confidence.

Sending a big whip over a big step down at Stromlo MTB Park mountain biking in Canberra

Be Consistent

Just like all things in life, consistency is key if you want to progress. Being consistent isn’t just going to cement these beginner mountain biking tips in your brain, it’s going to provide you with the most important skill…

Experience.

And it’s through your own experience that you’ll learn the most. Nobody can tell you exactly where to shift your weight or exactly how hard to squeeze the brake lever. That’s all going to come through time on the bike.

I could think of many worse things than having to mountain bike regularly!

Summing Up Beginner Mountain Biking Tips

As you can see, there is more to this than just pedalling down a trail.

As a beginner, your job is to build good habits and through good habits will come confidence, and through confidence, there’s no telling where you’ll go.

What’s most important is you put these beginner mountain biking tips to the test. Challenge yourself, heck, challenge me if it makes you better. Just know one thing…

I can only give you the tools, it’s up to you to get out there use them.

beginner mountain biking Pinterest Pin