Introducing Friends to Mountain Biking
May 24, 2021
Written by Travis Brown, Program Director for Arrowhead Bike Farm
Think back to when you went on your first mountain bike ride. Remember the first log you tried to roll over or the first rock garden you went through. How has your perspective changed since you started? What could have made your first ride better? In terms of activities, mountain biking is my biggest passion, and I have built my career around making it more approachable for folks who want to try out. The way that we share mountain biking with friends and family can have a large impact on their riding future. My goal as Program Director for Arrowhead Bike Farm is to provide strategies for creating positive experiences when introducing your friends and family members to this activity. There are four main areas we want to focus on to ensure a positive experience for your rider: gear, trail selection, timing and providing tips.
The gear that we get for our rider will have a very big impact on their experience. Let’s start with the bike. Make sure the bike that you get for your rider fits them properly! This is not only important from a safety standpoint but a bike that is properly fitted will be easier for them to manage compared to one that is too big or too small. Ask to borrow a bike from a friend that’s the same height as your rider or rent a bike. If this gets you a new person to ride with, It will be well worth it.
Plus-sized hardtails work really well for building confidence in beginner riders. The improved traction and stability can encourage them to try features they may not have with a narrower tire. These bikes also increase the likelihood of success when managing sections of trails with rocks or roots.
Clothing and nutrition can make a big difference in their experience as well. Make sure they have clothes that are comfortable for exercise. They don’t need to be in lycra, but jeans will lead to an uncomfortable ride. If you want to go the extra mile, pick up a pair of inexpensive liner shorts with a chamois. This will have a huge impact on their ride and add a ton of comfort. Bring snacks along that you know will excite your rider. This could be their favorite Clif bar or some fancy chocolate to keep their energy levels high. If your rider is running low on energy they are more likely to run into problems on the trail. A little bit of sugar can go a long way.
The trail that we pick to take riders on is incredibly important! The goal is to pick a trail that will leave them feeling accomplished, challenged and wanting to improve. This is important because if they have a really hard time on a trail the day could end with them feeling defeated. We want them to feel like they have challenged themselves and have features they are excited to come back to and try again. Generally, we are looking for a beginner trail with moderate amounts of climbing, optional — but achievable — trail features and short loops. I have found that by sticking to short loops, between 1-4 miles, it’s easier to avoid overexerting your first-time rider. There is always the option to do the trail again or increase the difficulty if you are looking for more riding. This will also help build their confidence because each time we ride the same trail we improve a little bit. We should leave our riders wanting to ride something harder instead of wishing they had started on an easier trail. Keep in mind that this ride is for THEM and not for you.
When introducing folks to mountain biking you will need to set aside more time for a ride with a new person than for your personal rides. You will likely be riding at a slower pace and making more frequent stops. Take it slow and at their pace. When people feel rushed it can add to the stress of trying a new activity and increase the chance of riding out of their limits. This can result in a crash. Ideally, this ride will be a fun overall experience, which also includes the times when you aren’t on a bike. Bring a little trail lunch, or have some sandwiches back at the trailhead. Have some coffee or beer ready for after the ride. Mountain biking is more than just time on the trail, it’s about connecting with the outdoors, community and comradery. Take time to allow your rider to appreciate all that mountain biking is.
Giving riding tips to our riders can be helpful, but it’s important to know when to stop! Providing simple tips to improve stability on the bike may be welcomed. Tips like standing up over roots and rocks, keeping your eye scanning ahead, having one finger on each brake at all times and riding with equally weighted/level pedals when coasting can help mitigate a lot of risk for your rider. But, be careful not to over instruct them. When we are introducing friends to riding there is also a relationship dynamic at play. Pay close attention to your rider if they are getting annoyed by you constantly peppering them with tips. Our well-intended advice may not be welcome or even the best advice for our rider. Some folks like to learn on their own. You can use features on the trail to demonstrate line choice if your friend is interested. Selecting the right trail should encourage independent learning. You always want to stay positive and genuine. Instead of focusing on what they are doing wrong, praise what they are doing right. For example: “I liked how you were looking down the trail; I love those level pedals,” etc. If your rider is excited about learning more, sign them up for a Mountain Bike Skills Clinic (we have several here at the Farm). People will learn differently from a professional instructor compared to a friend or partner.
Sharing our passion for mountain biking with our friends and family is one way that we can build up the mountain biking community. Follow the guidelines provided in the article about gear, trail selection, timing and providing tips, and you are much more likely to create a great first experience for your rider. Let’s get more folks out on the trails!