Mountain Biking

Mountain Biking Tips For Beginners | 10 Ways To Immediately Improve Your Riding

If you're new to mountain biking, or simply want a refresher, these handy hints will help you ride the trails with style and confidence

You know that old saying, it’s just like riding a bike? Well, it turns out, sometimes riding a bike isn’t as natural and easy as the professionals makes out. In fact, mountain biking can be downright scary and intimidating for beginners. That’s why we’ve compiled our top 10 entry-levels tips to get you out on the trails and shredding in no time. And once you’ve got it, we’re sure you won’t forget it anytime soon.

Without further ado, here’s our top tips for mountain biking beginners.

1) Get Intimate With Your Bike

Make sure your bike is set up correctly for you. Photo: Getty Images / iStock

Easily overlooked when you buy or borrow your first bike, having the correct setup for your body will help you in (and out) of the saddle enormously. Ideally, you’ll have a full bike fit before riding but if you haven’t there are a few key points to make sure you get right.

Seat Height

This is a big one. It sounds ridiculous, but even a couple of centimetres can make a difference to your power output and muscle capacity on climbs. You want to ensure that your seat is at the right height to get the full extension of your leg, without overextending your knee. This will ensure you get maximum efficiency out of your legs.

With one pedal down to the ground and the other high, your heel should just touch the bottom pedal with your leg straight (and a micro bend in the knee) while you sit on your saddle. And if you want to get really fancy, your crank (that bit that attaches your pedal to your bike) should be at the bottom of its stroke. When you’re doing this, make sure you don’t have to tilt to one side on the saddle – that means it’s too high.

Suspension and Tyre Pressure 

Once your seat feels right, you’ll want to spend a bit of time working out your suspension set up and tyre pressure. If you become familiar with the settings and are able to tune them properly to your weight and the conditions, you can improve surface traction to feel more stable and planted on your bike.

Mountain bike tyre pressures usually ranges from around 22 to 35psi. Overall, this is a fairly small range. If you can find the sweet spot though, you’ll be rewarded with better performance and more confidence. So what factors influence tyre pressure? You’ll want to think about your weight, the tyres you’re using, and the terrain and conditions you’re riding; generally speaking, you’ll also want more air in the rear than in the front as that is where most of your weight will be as you ride. Working this out can be a bit of an art. If you’re unsure, try somewhere in the middle to start and adjust based on feeling – if you’re getting bucked around, you can probably lower your psi. Slipping around in corners? Pump that guy up a bit.

Not everyone will be comfortable working out suspension or tyre pressure alone, and that’s ok! Don’t be afraid to go to your local bike shop and ask them to help you.

2) Body Position

Keep your body loose and springy. Photo: Axel Brunst

After you’ve crushed the climbs, you want to make sure your body is looking and feeling good on the down. Having a balanced and stable body position is key to maintaining control over your mountain bike as you navigate different types of terrain.

Most importantly, you want to keep your body loose and springy. By doing this, you’ll be able to react to what you’re riding, absorbing bumps and pushing your weight into the bike when necessary. So make sure your arms and legs have a generous bend in them. When you bend into your elbows and knees, it’s like a bit of cheeky extra suspension through rough terrain – trust us, you’ll feel the difference. You can also keep your knees and elbows wide to give you even more stability.

Also lowering your chest and hips towards the bike, with your chin over your stem (the middle of your handlebars), will keep your weight balanced as you descend and will stop you from unweighting the front wheel. Unless you’re just really into wheelies – then be our guest.

So, what do you do with your feet? Good question. Glad you asked. You want to make sure your pedals are level, with your dominant foot forward. Keep your heels dropped on your pedals. By bracing against the pedals, you’ll stay more stable on your bike as you let your body spring through different types of terrain.

3) Look Where You’re Going

It’s important to look where you’re going. Photo: Getty Images / iStock

Look where you’re going (it’s important). Ensuring your gaze is forward and ahead of you on the trail will make anticipating the terrain waaay easier. Your body tends to go where your eyes are looking, so stay focused on the trail ahead and not on the ground under your front wheel. This applies when you’re riding downhill or crushing the climb. Looking ahead will not only help you anticipate what’s coming up, but will help improve your balance.

4) Momentum Is Your Friend

It can be quite daunting, but braking less will ultimately help your confidence. Photo: Getty Images / iStock


When you start out mountain biking, it can be daunting to go a little faster than you’re comfortable with and it’s true that a lot of us will over use our brakes to begin with. To really improve your riding once you’ve got the very basics down though, you’ll definitely want to let momentum do its thing.

A lot of beginner mountain bikers will crash, not because they’re out of control, but because they don’t have the momentum to carry them over or through features and end up losing balance. If you can let off the brakes a bit as you come up to a more technical section or exit a corner, the momentum will help you through tricky rock sections and corners with confidence. Not to mention help you when you’re learning drops and jumps (when you’ve built the skills to do so).

5) Braking

Don’t pull too hard on your brakes. Photo: Pavel Anoshin

If we could only tell you one thing, it would be to start with light and even braking on both sides. The last thing you want to do is pull one brake and skid off the bike, or worse, dump yourself straight over the handlebars (can tell you from experience, that one’s not fun). 

You want to ensure your braking is consistent and controlled, feathered if you like; not a sporadic affair that leaves you with a whole bunch of near misses and crashes. Drop your heels and keep that bend in your knees and elbows to stay in control. If you want to come to a stop safely, move your hips back and over the rear wheel to compensate. 

Hot tip: the position of your hand’s matters. If you feel comfortable doing so, use your index finger to brake while having the rest of your fingers on the grips of your handlebars. This will give you more control over your bike as a whole.

6) Shift Early, Shift Often

If you can, downshift before you hit the incline. Photo: Tim Foster

When you’re punching a climb, a lot of us will head into it over confident in our legs or just totally unaware of what gear we’re in. The problem with trying to shift gears whilst you’re already climbing is that you’ll crunch your drivetrain and potentially end up with a snapped chain or worse. 

So, if you see it coming, make sure you downshift before you hit the incline of whatever you’re climbing. This will give you a much more pleasant pedal.

Same goes for riding downhill, but in reverse. You’ll want to shift into a more difficult gear to ensure your legs don’t spin out when you reach a pedal section or the bottom at speed.

7) Cornering

Keep your eyes on the exit. Photo: Tom Conway

Our number one tip? Eyes on the exit! Your body and bike will go where your eyes are. And so, with that in mind, keep your gaze forward and towards the exit of the corner.

Braking in the right part of the turn will make life a hell of a lot easier too – you want to use momentum to take you out of the turn, so brake before you reach the corner and then slowly let off your brakes as you turn to let your momentum carry you through the corner. 

Hovering over your saddle, feet level on your pedals with your heels dropped, keep your elbows wide to help you move the bike under you and maintain traction and balance. Once you’ve mastered where your eyes and braking is happening, try to think about raising your outside elbow and straightening your inside arm to lean the bike into the turn.

8) Be Active

Be an active rider, not a passive one. Photo: Chris Henry

No, we’re not talking about running alongside your bike for extra points. Taking control of your bike and making sure you’re active and engaged as you ride will take you from being a passenger holding on for dear life, to being in the driving seat on your bike.

To get the most out of your bike, you’ll want to actively manoeuvre it around corners and over technical features (and let its suspension absorb bumps and shocks). Actively pumping or compressing your suspension as you ride will also allow you to use momentum as you take on technical sections, hop obstacles or lift your front wheel when necessary to make your ride even smoother and more efficient.

9) Ride With More Skilled Riders

Riding with more experienced mountain bikers is one way to improve. Photo: Getty Images / iStock

There’s nothing more conducive to getting better on a mountain bike than riding a mountain bike! It goes without saying; the more time you put in on the bike, the more comfortable you’ll be and the faster you’ll improve. Repetition is great for improving your skills and fitness.

However, if you want to level up your riding, getting out with more skilled riders will give you the opportunity to observe others on technical sections and line choice to see how they handle their body and their bike. 

10) Relax!

Remember to enjoy yourself (riding is fun). Photo: Chris Henry

Often when we’re stressed (likely when we’re new to mountain biking), we tend to stiffen up. Try to keep your body relaxed to keep that loose and springy feeling – it’s key to staying on top of your bike and letting it do the hard work for you! You want your bike to move independently of your body, so think of them as completely separate parts of a whole, and don’t be scared to throw it around a bit.

Finally, enjoy yourself! The more enjoyment you have on your bike, the more relaxed you’ll be and the better you’ll ride.

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