So you’ve caught wind of these great trails nearby with bikes whizzing around them. You like the idea of pedaling on dirt through the forest. And as they say, “it’s just like riding a bike.” What, then, are the next, first steps to get mountain biking yourself? We’ve put together a few tips and tricks to help you get started. Let’s begin with…
What to Ride
You’ll need a bike to ride, of course. A “trail-worthy,” knobby-tired, multi-geared bike, preferably one with at least a suspension fork up front. A very popular model for people just starting out on the trail, for example, is the 29 inch-wheeled hardtail. Where to find such a machine? Your local bike shop is the best place to get advice, try things out for size (make sure you’re on a bike that FITS!), and get educated before you hit the trail. You can check out our list of bike shops that are part of the Retailers Alliance, note that not all VT bike shops are listed.
A bike can be one of the larger expenses of starting to get into mountain biking. Before you commit, try out a bike from a local shop (VMBA Members get some pretty sweet deals!) or even try a friend’s bike. There are also local programs from businesses such as Old Spokes Home that have programs to help overcome this barrier to entry.
What to Wear
These items are all more or less essential for any MTB ride, even a short, close to the car one.
- Shirt and Shorts: Athletic, wicking gear appropriate to the weather. MTB is a vigorous, aerobic sport and you will sweat, a lot. Wear appropriate sports gear if you can and always check the weather forecast to inform your clothing decisions.
- Shoes: Sneakers with a solid flat sole. Running shoes will work fine, but the flatter and stiffer a rubber sole you put on the pedal the better. Supportive skate shoes or hikers are usually fine.
- Backpack: A pack for a tube, repair kit, multi-tool, phone, water, snacks. You’ll notice the majority of riders out there have on a backpack. Keeping essentials off the bike and having enough water is a smart move.
- Helmet: Goes without saying, but let’s say it anyway – you should always wear a helmet when you ride a bike.
- Gloves: Sweaty hands are not the best things for gripping and braking. MTB gloves are very low profile, fairly inexpensive, and comfortable, but still work at keeping your hands feeling good even on long days on the bike. While gloves are suggested, they are completely up to the preference of the rider, some riders choose to go without them.
Where to Ride
There are many, many options in Vermont for where to ride your MTB, from small in-town trail networks like North Branch Park in Montpelier or Cady Hill in Stowe, to big, expansive networks crossing multiple towns like Kingdom Trails, Ascutney Trails, or Slate Valley Trails. A great place to look for where to go and what to expect is our Plan Your Ride platform. Most of the trail networks in VT are free to ride, some are maintained by local organizations/businesses and do require a day pass.
Make sure you always check trail conditions and possible closures before you go. You can link to any number of trail network conditions reports from our Trails in VT page, or check Chapter’s social media posts for updated information. Chapters update their networks in various ways, so please take the time to check trail conditions before you go, especially during mud season and after rainy days.
Be aware of the land you do choose to ride on – over 80% of Vermont’s trail networks are on private land, where the owners have graciously allowed the public to use trails that cross their properties. Be sensitive to this fact by respecting signage, driving cautiously on your way to the trail head, and being generally respectful and appreciative of the land and it’s resources. Check out proper trail head parking areas and make sure you’re parked there legally once you arrive.
Finally, refer back to our Plan Your Ride platform for all kinds of other information to inform your decision of where to ride, where to eat, where to shop, and where to stay. Heed any and all COVID-19 Guidelines.
How to Learn and Improve
Many bike parks, like the Killington Bike Park, offer “Learn to Ride” packages with rentals, lifts, and instruction all included in a discounted price. Check out our DH in VT partners to find a resort near you.
Another great option for riders of all levels is to join a local group ride. Check your local Chapter’s website, our Events page, and social media for group rides in your area – many are “no drop” rides, are structured to be welcoming to novice riders, and will also have groups for advanced riders.
However you get into biking and wherever you decide to start riding, get stoked! Mountain biking has blown up as a favored pastime for a reason – it’s an incredible way to experience nature, stay fit, get the adrenaline pumping, and interact with the local community. Remember to support the trails that you ride by joining VMBA – select one Chapter or select them all – your support is critical to the building and maintenance of our amazing trails.