Want to try mountain biking? Excited at the prospect of throwing yourself down those gnarly, twisting trails on your trusty, knobble-wheeled steed? But not sure where to begin? That’s understandable – the vast array of bikes available can be pretty bewildering in itself. But this guide will wheel you through the basics: the three main types and some of the most popular brands of mountain bikes; essential starting kit; and some of the best places in Colorado to enjoy some top dirty wheeling…
What kind of mountain bike should I choose?
The huge variety of models, and the sometimes confusing techno-jargon, disguise the fact that there are three basic types of mountain bike:
Rigid: a rigid bike has no suspension, front or rear. This reduces the complexity, and therefore cost, weight and the amount of maintenance you need to do. The most rock- and root-strewn tracks will however be joltingly uncomfortable, making it harder for you to maintain control. But rigid bikes are a good bet if you’re starting out on a tight budget.
Hardtail: these are bikes with a suspension fork on the front wheel but an unsuspended, i.e. hard, rear wheel. This type of bike allows you to tackle more challenging terrain with a greater measure of comfort and control. In weight and cost, hardtails sit between rigid bikes and full-suspension models.
Full-suspension: full-suspension bikes have suspension at front and rear, improving your riding comfort over the most demanding terrain. But they are heavier; the greater complexity means greater maintenance demands; and of course they are more costly.
Have a browse online, but do get down to your local bike shop, where the staff can give expert advice tailored to your personal requirements, and you can get hands-on before buying. Getting the correct frame size is key, and the staff will help you get this right; and various parts can be fine-tuned to give you a perfect fit and feel. There’s also no substitute for taking your bike for a test ride.
What kit do I need to start with?
You should always wear a helmet when mountain biking – it’s a fantastic sport, but one with obvious potential hazards. No two heads or helmet models are the same , so it’s important to try some on before you buy. Your helmet should be a snug, but comfortable fit, without excessive movement if you try to jiggle it back and forth. It should be a level fit on your head, and not obscure your vision. The chin strap should be comfy but secure, and it branches into straps that should run either side of your ears. As always, ask your bike shop adviser if unsure.
Bikes can be equipped with either flat pedals or the confusingly named clipless pedals, which do require your shoe to clip into the pedal! The former allow you to wear a greater variety of footwear, and you can get started with a decent pair of sneakers. The latter require you to get a pair of specialised cycle shoes that are compatible with that particular clipless pedal. But whichever type of pedal you choose, a dedicated cycle shoe has a stiff sole that gives you a more effective transfer of energy from your body to the bike. Try before you buy is paramount – and specialist shops may also offer custom after-market insoles to give your feet a perfect personalised fit.
Gloves are not essential, but strongly recommended for most beginners. They give your hands grip in wet and mud, insulation from wind and cold, and protection from falls and general abrasions. They can also absorb some of the vibration from the bike, reducing buzzy soreness in your hands and forearms. You can get fingerless gloves for summer, but in winter you want to fully cover your hands. Try some before you buy.
Pump, puncture repair kit and multi-tool
Life gives you lemons and biking gives you punctures – so the value of always having a pump and puncture repair kit speaks for itself. A good multi-tool is also super-useful for those inevitable trailside repairs. But kit doesn’t mean much if you don’t know how to use it – get some advice from your shop adviser, or search on YouTube for videos on basic bike repair.
Wooded trails mean lots of branches, and sooner or later one really sharp twig is going to have your name on it – not to mention the lesser annoyances of dust, wind and flying critters. So we think eye protection is almost as essential as a helmet. Clear glasses are great because you can wear them at all times and won’t be plunged into Stygian gloom when you ride into thick cover. You can also get glasses with interchangeable lenses to cover you for all light conditions from bright sunshine to twilight murk (yellow lenses can enhance terrain detail when the light is very flat).
We are all different shapes and sizes, so try before you buy. From body-hugging Lycra to looser shorts and trousers, there’s plenty of choice out there – but have a look at legwear that provides some padding. Your rear end isn’t used to being parked on a jolting bike saddle for considerable lengths of time, and a little padding can go a long way to improving your day.
Socks provide an intermediate layer between your shoes and feet, absorbing much of the abrasion from one to the other. This will reduce chafing and blistering, as well as keeping your feet warm. Cycling socks will be padded in the right places and be made of breathable fibers that help to keep your skin dry.
Water bottle/hydration pack
Biking is a cardio-intensive activity, and of course you need to stay well-hydrated through your biking day. Get at least a water bottle, but better still get a hydration pack, a water bladder which you can wear on your back and sip as you go by means of a long straw. Hydration packs usually come with plenty of pockets for your valuables, lunch, puncture repair kit and first aid kit.
Once you’ve got the hang of a basic puncture repair kit you will likely want to upgrade to a small toolkit – this should contain your puncture repair kit and pump, plus a spare inner tube, two tire levers and a set of Allen keys. Bike inner tubes have two valve types – Schrader (also known as ‘car type’) and Presta. Some wheels and pumps will only work with one type, so ask your bike shop if you’re unsure.
Mountain Bike Brands
The most cursory web search will reveal the plethora of bike manufacturers out there – but listed below are some of the best-known, and best, brands that you are likely to encounter:
Specialized was founded in 1974 by Mike Sinyard, a cycling enthusiast who sold his Volkswagen Bus for $1,500 to fund a cycle tour of Europe, where he bought handlebars and stems made by Cinelli to take back to the US. Sinyard started out importing Italian bike components that were difficult to find in the United States, but the company began to produce its own bike parts by 1976, starting with the Specialized Touring Tire. In 1981, the company introduced its first two bikes, the Sequoia, a sport-touring design and the Allez, a road bike. Specialized also introduced the first major production mountain bike in the world, the Stumpjumper, in 1981.
Santa Cruz Bicycles was founded by Rob Roskopp and Rich Novak in 1993. Their first bike, in 1994, was a full suspension bike called the Tazmon. The company manufactures 20 models of mountain bikes, including the “Juliana” range of mountain bikes designed specifically for women. Their bikes are fabricated from either carbon fiber or aluminum, and suited to a wide range of disciplines.
Yeti Cycles is a American bicycle manufacturer located in Golden, Colorado. Yeti mountain bikes have been around since 1985 when Yeti Cycles was founded by John Parker. Parker was a welder who built movie sets in Hollywood and later became a mountain bike designer and racer. Yeti Cycles originated in California during the time mountain biking was getting started. The first mountain bike World Championships took place in Durango, Colorado in 1990. In 1991, Parker moved the Yeti Cycles factory from California to Durango to be closer to the action.
Niner is a company that exclusively produces 29 inch wheel bikes. Advantages of 29 inch wheels over 26 inch include the ability to roll over larger obstacles, and the likelihood of giving taller riders a more natural frame geometry. Disadvantages include greater weight of bike, more force needed to control and brake the bike, and a less suitable fit for smaller riders.
The company was founded in 1971 by Joe Montgomery, Jim Catrambone and Ron Davis to manufacture backpacks and bags for camping and later bicycle trailers for bicycle touring. Today, Cannondale produces many different types of high-end bicycles, which are no longer hand-made in the US. They specialize in aluminum (rather than steel or titanium) and carbon fiber frames, a technology in which they were pioneers.
In December, 1975, Richard Burke and Bevil Hogg established Trek Bicycle as a wholly owned subsidiary of Roth Corporation, a Milwaukee-based appliance distributor. In early 1976, with a payroll of five, Trek started manufacturing steel touring frames in Waterloo, Wisconsin, taking aim at the mid to high-end market dominated by Japanese and Italian made models. Trek built nearly 900 custom hand-brazed framesets that first year, each selling for just under $200. Later that same year Trek Bicycle was incorporated.
Mountain biking in Colorado
Like bike? Then a Colorado mountain-biking trek awaits you: the joy of white-knuckling down a winding, bouncing wooded trail, sun on your back, challenging and beautiful terrain in front of you. This is Colorado mountain biking, with a range and quality of single-track trails equal to anywhere on earth. Bikers from all over the world come to Colorado to tackle this rocky road paradise.
Beginner Bike Trail: Boreas Pass, Breckenridge, 6 miles Boreas is a fun family ride that begins as a wide road — an abandoned narrow-gauge rail bed — and develops into a forested single-track that winds past relics of the region’s mining past. The Boreas trail is perfect for an afternoon or early evening ride for those seeking a quick excursion with spectacular mountainside views.
Intermediate Bike Trail: Hunter Creek Trail, Aspen, 2 miles This trail starts near Aspen, runs alongside Hunter Creek and rises up to a beautiful wildflower meadow. The shaded path crosses several bridges and climbs more than 700 feet in the first mile along steep, rocky terrain before easing out into a rolling single-track.
Advanced Bike Trail: Monarch Crest Trail, Salida, 32 miles Pack a sturdy heart and good pair of lungs for this long-distance, high-altitude ride. This intermediate to expert rider’s playground begins at the top of Monarch Pass and is jumbled with boulders and trees along much of the route. The challenging climb tops out at about 11,960 feet and then tips you down onto an exhilarating downhill through rocky terrains and stream-beds.
Andrew Murray 2015
*Mountain bike lingo: grunts and grinders are grueling uphill climbs, requiring use of the lowest gear, i.e. the granny gear. And when all is running smoothly, you are dialed in. so now you know.