Are you looking to take advantage of the fall weather and try mountain biking but are not sure where to start? Nathan Kleckner, a physical therapist at DMOS Orthopaedic Centers, provides some tips on how you can get started in addition to avoiding injuries.
Selecting the right gear
The first step to a successful mountain biking experience is choosing the correct equipment. You will want to make sure you have a suitable bike, a helmet that fits correctly and protective clothing in the event you fall.
It is important that you have the right bike, based on the activities that you will be doing on a regular basis. If you are new to cycling, the best way to do this is through both online research, as well as visiting your local bike shop. Talking to the experts will help to ensure that you have the right bike for you. When you do select a bike, it is essential to be comfortable with how it functions and what each gear is designed to do.
Protecting yourself from injuries is key in any sport. Make sure you are choosing the right helmet based on the type of mountain biking you are planning. As with the bike, if you are unsure, talk to the experts at the shop.
- Half-shell mountain helmets closely resemble a typical road bike helmet however they come equipped with a visor to protect your eyes from sun and mud.
- Full-face mountain bike helmets are for the more aggressive biker practicing downhill mountain biking. This helmet covers your entire head and can be used with neck protection, unlike the half-shell helmets.
Protective clothing like gloves, goggles and knee-shin guard pads are some of the gear available to protect yourself in case you fall, as well as from other hazards such as branches, rocks, and brush.
Switching from Pavement to Dirt
If you are an avid cyclist on pavement, the change from pavement to dirt can feel quite different. You can prepare by checking your tire pressure, testing your bike and connecting with experts.
- Tire pressure is key. If your tires are overinflated, you risk losing traction once you hit the dirt. So it is important to read your recommended tire PSI (pounds per square inch) and stay on the lower end — but not so low that you are damaging your rims. To find your optimum tire pressure, try to find a balance that provides you traction and stability while still protecting your bike.
- Join a group. If you are new to mountain biking, joining a group is a great way to learn best practices, as well as trails in the area. Try looking for mountain biking groups to connect with through your local bike shop or social media.
- Test your bike. Before you set out on your first trail, test your bike to ensure it is adjusted correctly. Make sure you are comfortable using your body to lean into and counter your turns to avoid sliding out.
When you are ready to take on your first trail, there are a few things to keep in mind to avoid injuring yourself. Warm-up stretches, hydration and taking it slow will help ensure your safety as you begin to build your level of expertise and comfort on your bike.
Stretching before a bike ride is an excellent way to warm-up and prevent muscle soreness.
- Knee to chest stretch: If you tend to experience stiffness or tightness in your lower back, consider trying this lower back stretch. In this stretch, lie on your back with your toes pointed upward. Slowly bend your right knee and pull your leg to your chest. Wrap your arms around your thigh, knee or shin (whichever is most comfortable) and gently pull the knee towards your chest. Hold for 20 seconds and slowly extend the leg back into the starting position. Repeat with your other leg.
- Piriformis muscle stretching: If you are looking for a good overarching stretch to warm-up before biking, this one is a good one to try. Lie on your back with both feet flat on the floor and your knees bent. Pull your right knee to your chest and grasp the knee with your left hand, pulling it towards your left shoulder. Hold the stretch for 5 seconds and gradually work to increase this number. Repeat for each side.
Dehydration can reduce performance and increase your chance of injury. Drinking water not only helps to regulate your body temperature but also prevents muscle cramps. If your bike does not have a spot for a water bottle, consider investing in a hydration backpack.
Take it slow.
When you are out on your first ride, remember to go at your own pace. Try and look ahead on the trail about 40 feet to allow yourself to see upcoming trail features and the ability to scope out the more technical terrain.
Mountain biking is a physical sport, and like any sport, it is necessary to continue to exercise in your downtime. This is why Kleckner recommends working on areas of muscle weakness outside of riding. “Good, general exercises to practice include squats, lunges, calf raises, planks, hamstring curls and hip abductor strengthening,” said Kleckner.