First Impressions of Mountain Biking

Use these tips to learn how to do Moab like a local and be a responsible visitor while hiking, camping, off-roading and more.

First Impressions of Mountain Biking

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!


Written by Kristen Bor

Hey there! My name is Kristen, and this is my outdoor blog. I discovered the power of the outdoors in my 20s, at the time I needed it most. Now 15 years later, prioritizing that critical connection with nature continues to improve my life. My goal at Bearfoot Theory is to empower you with the tools and advice you need to responsibly get outside.

23 comments on “First Impressions of Mountain Biking

  1. Bike setup is key to being comfortable. Tire pressure is a huge factor in how your bike performs. Try experimenting with some different pressures.

    Riding the same trails over and over while you are dialing in your bike setup is a great way to learn what you like and what you don’t like about different adjustments you make, (bar angle, brake lever position, seat height, seat position forward or back, etc.). Small adjustments go a long way and really change how you feel on the bike.

  2. My husband recently shared with me that he would love it if we learned how to mountain bike together. As someone who loves the mountains and hiking I thought I’d jump at the suggestion but instead felt fearful and brushed his idea off. After reading this, however, I feel more open to giving it a try. Thanks for the tips and helpful links, they’ll come in handy. I’m sure you’ll love it even more after riding in Canyonlands National Park.

    1. Daidri – I can totally relate to that feeling, but I hope you’ll give it a shot! I went on my 4th ride yesterday just outside Zion. It was a sunset ride on a gorgeous beginner trail, and it was so much fun! Also, the good thing about the bike I bought from REI is that they have a one year return policy, even if you have used the bike. So if you try it and decide mountain biking isn’t for you, you can return the bike for a full refund.

  3. I gotta say, one of the things that struck me also, was the uphill biking. It is so different from a road bike. Other than that, it is a lot of fun, the more you go faster you want to be. The next thing you know, you are biking over huge rocks and being a daredevil.

    1. Hi Jack! Thanks for the comment. I’m still a bit intimidated by the whole mountain biking thing, but I’m going to try to push myself to get out there more this summer. Maybe one day, I’ll be that daredevil! -Kristen

  4. Brilliant post and obviously really encouraging for all of us here – I’m not the best on a mountain bike so still building up my courage, but hopefully in the near future I’ll have it down 🙂

    1. Thanks Paul! It’s an intimidating sport & I’m still working through my fears. Would love to follow your progress so make sure to come back and tell us about it!

  5. Awesome post Kristen, You know when I first bought mountain bike, I was deadly scared but watching your friends do awesome thrilling adventure you slowly get over your fear. I think it’s more about passion which drives you to master your Mountain biking skills than anything. 🙂

  6. Very useful information. This post really important and informative for mountain biking and different kind of road biking.

    Great post!! Thanks for your sharing this post.

  7. This is a great post,Kristen. I have heard that Idaho is beautiful, specifically Boise. I definitely need to put that on my to-do-list places to visit. Also good information about how when you go up hills on a mountain bike you need to be seated; I would have thought it was the opposite.

  8. These tips are extremely helpful. I’m fairly new to mountain biking so I’ve been having some issues with biking uphill. Now I know that it’s better to sit down for better traction. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Mountain biking is really a nice way to exercise especially for the youngsters. I always recommend it for the teenagers because it is cool and also good for your health. Thank you for your nice blog post ( I found it on google :-)) and keep the good work.

  10. Great post. For me mountain biking is not that intimidating. However, it is difficult. It takes a lot of work. I want to go biking more but I have to work on my endurance.

  11. Nice post and very informative for those who are thinking of mountain biking for the first time. Especially your tips will help for the first time mountain biker.

  12. I have started biking recently and I agree with this article a lot. Like I used to think that road bikes and mountain bikes are almost the same! But this surely was an eye-opener! I think getting hold of folding bikes can be the decision of my life!

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