Mountain Biking 101

February 28, 2020

Ready to learn how to ride? Breaking into mountain biking can seem intimidating for beginners, but we’re here to lay the foundation for you. We’ll have you talking the lingo and riding the trails in no time! 

Arrowhead Bike Farm is passionate about mountain biking and creating an inclusive community. We want you to be a part of it! Mountain biking makes exercising fun while also letting you spend time outdoors and create new friendships. But we know that getting into a new activity is a big step and can often cause some anxiety. The first article of this ‘How to Mountain Bike’ series will help you start your transformation into a confident mountain biker by giving an overview of the types of trails, trail ratings and the styles of riding. Now, allow us to ease some beginner’s nerves…   

Mountain Biking Trail Types 
here are three popular types of mountain biking trails: singletrack, doubletrack and rail-trail. Each type has its own unique challenges and thrilling rewards. 

Singletrack trails are the most common. They are narrow, usually around shoulder width and must be ridden in single file. Imagine: You are in the zone — winding through diverse terrain and curving to the landscape on a singletrack trail as you boldly mix in more technical features. This can be a reality in the New River Gorge with singletrack trails like the Arrowhead Trails. 

Doubletrack trails are known for being wider and, for the most part, smoother than singletrack trails. They are wide enough for an off-road vehicle or truck to drive on and can range from forest roads to mixed-used hiking and biking trails. Coast side-by-side with your riding partner on a doubletrack trail like Long Point Trail in the New River Gorge. 

Looking for a relaxing cruise with great scenery? Check out rail-trails! Made on old railroad beds, many of these trails follow along rivers and mountains to ensure the best possible views. The gradual climbs and descents of rail-trails are often less technical than singletrack and doubletrack trails. Hop on your bike and head over to one of the many rail-trails in the New River Gorge, including the Southside Junction Trail, White Oak Trail, Greenbrier River Trail and Meadow River Trail. 

Trail Ratings
Trail builders and mountain biking communities have been working towards assigning difficulty ratings to trails so that riders can be better informed about what they should take on next. Many factors that go into determining the difficulty of a trail, including the amount of climbing, steepness of the terrain, number of terrain features (things on the trail to ride over), the difficulty of terrain features, distance and more. Understanding the different ratings is important so that you don’t hop on a double black diamond when you’re just looking to stroll along on your bike. Below are the Internal Mountain Bike Association’s general expectations for each difficulty rating. This may look familiar because it was adapted from the skiing. 

  • Green Circle:
    36-inch wide trail, solid and packed riding surface, the unavoidable trail features smaller than 2 inches, bridges wider than 36 inches
    In the Arrowhead Trail system, this would include the Clovis and Adena loops. 
  • Blue Square:
    24-inch wide trail, mostly solid riding surface with some variation, the unavoidable trail features smaller than 8 inches, may include loose rocks, bridges 24 inches wide 
    In the Arrowhead Trail system, this would include the Dalton and Lecroy trails. 
  • Black Diamond:
    12-inch wide trail, widely variable riding surface, the unavoidable trail features 15 inches or less, may include loose rocks, the trail features 48 inches tall, short sections may exceed criteria T
    There are no Black Diamond trails in the Arrowhead Trail system.
  • Double Black Diamond:
    6-inch wide trail, unpredictable riding surface, features taller than 48 inches, many sections exceed criteria 

    There are no Double Black Diamond trails in the Arrowhead Trail system. 

Riding Styles
From zig-zagging the S-curves of switchbacks to grunt uphill climbs using your lowest gear, riding styles can vary. To pick a riding style, you have to determine whether you want an easy cruise on a wide trail or if you want to channel your inner daredevil on an intense ride. Luckily, there is a style, and a local trail, for everyone. 

  • Cross-country
    Cross-country riding is for those who are seeking out fewer berms and rock gardens for more speed and endurance. This style of riding is less technical but will physically challenge the riders’ endurance. Strength and durability are key to this riding style. Cross-country riding in the New River Gorge can be done at the Arrowhead Trails.
  • Trail
    Short climbs followed by descents are a recreational rider’s ideal type of trail. This style is for people looking to simply enjoy riding their bikes. Since the terrain can vary, trail riding requires a bike that will maneuver well in a variety of circumstances and focuses on versatility over being lightweight and efficient. Looking to try trail riding in the New River Gorge? Head to Arrowhead Trails, Chicken Wire to Fayette Station Road Trail or Hawks Nest Connector Trail.
  • Enduro
    Combine long climbs followed by even longer descents with adrenaline-pumping jumps, drops and pump tracks, and you have an enduro rider’s dream course. Examples of enduro trails are the Monongahela National Forest-Kennison Mountain Trail, Tea Creek Mountain Trail and Slaty Fork Trail system.
  • Downhill
    Intense. Extreme. Exciting. Downhill riding is designed for seasoned bikers who love speed. This riding style takes place at ski resorts during the summer, where you can opt for a lift that will take you and your bike to the top of the mountain so you can coast down! Most resorts offer green trails to get you warmed up, but the difficulty can quickly progress. Be sure to use caution, and make sure to wear the appropriate protective gear. 
  • Bike Park
    Bike parks look different all across the country. They can provide man-made features that allow you to practice specific skills. Become a pro at riding across narrow bridges, going off jumps or riding pump tracks at bike parks. The concept for bike parks came from skate parks, but now the features are more friendly for mountain bikes! Test out downhill riding or practice new skills at Snowshoe Bike Park and Arrowhead Bike Farm Jump Track.

There you have it — a basic overview of mountain biking. We hope we’ve helped you start this wild journey. Now, it’s time for you to figure out what type of trail and riding style is best for you! Don’t forget to read the trail ratings before setting out! 

And if you’re having trouble finding the best bike for you, well, we can offer some advice there and on other mountain biking topics, too. Stop in the bike shop and keep following this blog to learn more about the best bikes for each riding style and more helpful tips.  

Mountain Biking Clinics

Ready to Take Your Riding Up a Notch? Book a Clinic or Camp
Clinics are lessons focused on learning or improving specific skills. All clinics start off with learning and practicing skills in an open grassy area. Then clinic groups will usually head out to the trails to put new and improved skills to use in typical trail riding scenarios. Clinics can be a fun and super powerful way for beginners to learn important basic skills and for advanced riders to drastically improve their riding through skill improvement.

Find a Mountain Biking Clinic

Featured Photo: Brice Shirbach