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I grew up in Boise, and all of my friends mountain bike. When I went home back in April, I spent some time exploring the Boise hills on foot, and I decided that maybe it was time for me to give mountain biking a try.

But deep down, I was deathly afraid. I’ve never been all that good at any downhill sport. Like skiing? I’m the absolute worst. I’m not sure if it’s the speed or my (lack of) balance or if it’s all just fears in my head. Either way, I figured I’d face the same challenges with mountain biking.

After returning home from my John Muir Trail backpacking trip, I experienced a bit of new-found confidence in my outdoor abilities, so I decided to pull the trigger and buy my first mountain bike. I went with the Novara Madrona 29er Women’s Bike from REI due to its inexpensive price tag ($479) and its good reviews. I figured if I really got into it, then I could always upgrade to a more high-tech bike down the road.

Within the last week since getting my shiny new bike, I’ve taken it out on three rides and had a total blast. I’m starting to realize that while, yes, mountain biking is challenging, some of my fears were unsubstantiated.

So in case you are also considering giving it a shot, I wanted to share my first impressions of mountain biking with you.

1) Mountain biking is very different than road biking

I’ll start with the most appealing aspect of mountain biking for me. It gets you out into nature, away from the cars, and can take you places that you wouldn’t be able to see on a road bike. But what I’m really talking about here is the differences in technique. For example, on a road bike, when you start going uphill, the natural instinct is to stand up to get a little more umph in your stride. On a mountain bike, however, the experts tell you to stay seated so your back tire doesn’t lose traction with the dirt. This isn’t necessarily common sense, so if you are just starting out, here are a couple of articles with tips for making the transition from road to dirt.

2) Biking uphill is damn hard

Even after hiking 240 miles with a 45 pound pack on less than a month ago, I seriously struggle with even the slightest incline on the bike. The fact is that biking uses totally different muscles than running and hiking, and you shouldn’t get discouraged too quickly. And just like any other sport, it takes practice to get faster and stronger, but with dedication it will happen. In addition, core strength is super important for mountain biking. Check out these articles for advice on how to get your biking bod into tip-top shape.

3) Mountain biking doesn’t have to be fast and scary

I always pictured mountain biking being a super fast sport. Probably because of all the videos you see of those crazy Red Bull riders. Eventually I think I’ll look forward to whipping around corners and charging downhill…but for now, my goal is to get more comfortable and to learn how to better handle my bike. If you are searching for flat, well-groomed trails near you, use the trail finder on the MTB Project website or read this post:

4) There is no shame in walking

This was some advice I received from a mountain biking friend when I bought my bike last week. He told me that I should never be ashamed to get off the bike and walk. If you are going up and you just can’t make it, just get off and push the bike to the top. Or if you are flying downhill and feel a little unstable or scared, hop off and walk down until it levels out. It’s way better than crashing and burning.

5) Contemplate taking a class

Sometimes learning from your friends just doesn’t cut it. They might know how to ride a bike, but they may not have the patience or the formal knowledge to bring you up to speed. You can also read all you want on the internet, but nothing beats an intensive course where you get to learn and practice your skills with the help of an instructor. I’m considering one of the women’s only clinics offered by BetterRide, so stay tuned to see how that goes. Here’s an expert’s opinion on the benefits of a formal course.

Are you a mountain biker? Please share your tips with us newbies in the comments below!

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