Is mountain biking hard to learn?

Road cyclists yearning for an improved workout and a little time in nature might try mountain biking. This energetic cardio workout provides beautiful views combined with inclines and declines for an overall body workout.

Mountain Biking Defined

While the name sounds self-explanatory, you do not need an actual mountain-to-mountain bike. You do need a specialized bicycle that differs in numerous ways from a road bike. Mountain bikes more closely resemble BMX bikes for adults. They have fatter, thicker tires and heartier frames. These bikes can easily ride in dirt, rock, etc. They differ in three key ways from road bikes:

  • Fat tires with rugged tread to provide added traction when off-roading,
  • A nearly upright cycling position,
  • Better shock absorbers and suspension systems.

Mountain biking refers to essentially any off-roading that includes an incline. That means you can mountain bike in any state. You really only need a hill or two.

What Is Trail Mountain Biking

Two main types of mountain bike trail exists – singletrack and doubletrack. The term singletrack refers to the typical trail type. The width of the trail ranges from just over shoulder width to just wide enough for two bikes to pass one another. The term doubletrack refers to a trail wide enough for two individuals to ride mountain bikes side-by-side. Doubletracks typically use gentler grades with fewer technical features.

Similar to skiing, mountain biking uses green, blue and black mountain bike trail ratings. Trails feature one of four ratings:
  • Green Circle,
  • Blue Square,
  • Black Diamond,
  • Double Black Diamond.

Green Circle: Beginners should start with green circle trails since they require minimal physical exertion because they only have gentle climbs and descent. These typically consist of doubletrack or wider trails that exhibit smooth ground with little to no rocks or ground shift. You can also use this trail when exploring a new area as the first ride.

Blue Square: A blue square trail provides a slight challenge. It includes steeper climbs and descents than green circle trails plus the trail typically provides more mileage. These trails also provide more sidehill exposure and rockier terrain. You should already be adjusted to the altitude and have advanced mountain biking skills.

Black Diamonds/Double Black Diamonds: A black or double black diamond trail provides a significant challenge for riders with at least one steep climb or descent, rocky terrain and multiple technical moves and jumps. These trails run longer and tire you out. You should have significantly advanced mountain biking skills and guts for glory. Some of these trails prove quite scary.

What Are The Different Styles Of Mountain Bikes

The same manufacturers who make road bikes, also make these mountain bikes. Look for Giant, Trek, Cannondale, GT and Santa Cruz to find a trusted name that offers high-quality bikes. You can purchase the bikes and equipment at local bike shops or online at options like, or

Although it might sound a little busy, seven types of mountain bikes exist. Some work well for general off-roading, while others are designed for riding the type of scary trail you find on a double black diamond. Here’s a rundown on bike types.

  1. Trail bikes represent the most ubiquitous type of mountain bike. You ride these on any trail as manufacturers design them for many types of climbs and descents.
  2. Cross-country bikes focus on the speed of the ride as well as the climbing ability. Manufacturers make these bikes lighter and more efficient to ride.
  3. All-mountain/enduro bikes make taking on a black diamond trail easier because they’re designed for big climbs and steep descents. They also feature a light, efficient design.
  4. Downhill/park bikes provide the most durable bikes available. You ride these bikes at lift-serviced bike parks. Ski resorts often use their trails for mountain biking during warm months when there is no snow. These bikes use fewer gears, and the suspension allows greater movement. This is because you remain in descent the entire ride.
  5. Fat-tire bikes feature massive wheels of between 3.7 inches to 5 inches in width. Ideal for sand and snow, they provide great traction on any trail and riders use them for all-season trail riding. Beginners often start with this bike type.
  6. Rigid bikes have no suspension so they may not provide as much comfort during trail rides. Shock absorbers are a good thing if you try anything above a blue trail.
  7. Hardtail bikes feature a front-end suspension fork that absorbs front wheel impact. The rear wheel has no suspension. Hardtails cost less and feature fewer moving parts, so they require less maintenance. Many of these bikes have a front fork lock, so you can use it like a rigid bike, too.
  8. Full suspension bikes provide a wide range of variants, but most include a front fork and rear shock absorber. They offer increased traction. You can lock out the rear suspension on many of these bikes, so you can achieve improved power transfer when climbing ascents.

Mountain Biking Beginners Gear

The gear required for mountain biking bears a close resemblance to much of what gets worn by riders for road biking. The exception is riding downhill/park bikes. Because you ride these on dangerous descents, you must wear body armor and full-face helmets on these rides. For all other types of rides, you can use the following equipment:

  • Bike shorts or leggings, depending on the weather,
  • Cycling jersey with long or short sleeves, depending on the weather,
  • Gloves to protect your hands and wrists,
  • Mountain bike helmet with venting and MIPS technology to protect your brain in case of an accident,
  • Mountain bike shoes made for platform or clipless bike pedals,
  • Platform pedals for your bike when you begin learning mountain biking, so you can quickly put down your foot for stability and dismount if needed,
  • Clipless pedals are what you transition to when you build your skills as a mountain biker because, despite the name, you clip your shoes to these pedals,
  • Hydration packs let you wear a backpack full of water and drink it through an attached straw so you can remain hydrated without making water stops,
  • Handlebar bag or under-the-seat bag,
  • Mountain bike repair kits include a spare tube, CO2 inflator or hand pump, chain tool, Allen wrenches and a multitool.

Stash your repair kit in the handlebar bag or under-the-seat bag. You also tuck your snacks or lunch into these bags. Many trail riders or mountain biking trails take hours to ride. You should not only take enough water to properly hydrate, but take plenty of lightweight, but hearty protein snacks. Jerky and trail mix prove popular choices on these types of rides. Granola bars and protein bars also provide small-sized nutritional snacks that easily fit into these bags.

If you enjoy riding road bikes but want to spend some time in nature, try mountain biking. You can combine time in the forest or on a mountain trail with getting a great workout. You obtain all cardio benefits of road biking with the added challenge of sand, rock and steep descents and ascents. Nearly every state has a state park with suitable dirt trails. Check out Trail Link to explore available trails in your state. Get your bike and equipment and head out onto the trail for a little fresh air and a challenging ride.

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