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Authored by 2021 Kaden Ambassador Sarah Gross
Being a beginner at any sport can be challenging, and with so many different choices of bikes and gear options out there, entering into the MTB world can be daunting. Where do you start? Before you dive head-first into the mountain bike industry, take some time to understand the things you will need to get into mountain biking.
Perhaps the most obvious piece of gear that’s required for mountain biking is a bike. There are lots of different bikes to choose from and everyone’s preference is different so I will highlight a few different options.
Hardtail – If you’re looking to start biking on a budget, consider a used hardtail mountain bike. Hardtails are typically the cheapest mountain bikes in the market and they climb like billy goats! If you decide you enjoy mountain biking and you’d like more suspension to absorb rocks and drops, you can develop your skills on a hardtail before you invest in a full-suspension bike in the future.
Full-suspension – When you decide you’re ready to be a little less rattled on the trail, a full-suspension bike will make the ride more comfortable. There are a few different types of full-suspensions out there with varying amounts of travel (the amount the suspension can compress). In order of least to most travel are cross-country bikes, trail bikes, enduro bikes, and downhill bikes. Downhill and enduro are meant for fast downhill (like at a resort) with jumps and drops. They aren’t great at climbing up hills due to weight and slack in the suspension.
For more tame terrain that varies between undulating hills and technical sections, stick with a cross-country or trail bike. The main difference is that cross-country bikes have less travel and are meant to go further. They are lighter and climb better than trail bikes, but they do not absorb as much energy with less suspension capabilities. Trail bikes are a happy medium with more travel. Climbing on a trail bike is not terrible and splurging on a light-weight, carbon build saves on weight. They can easily handle more technical terrain, so you feel more in control.
E-Bike – Electric, pedal-assisted mountain bikes have become more popular in recent years as they make climbing uphill on a bike significantly easier. E-Bike models can be hardtail or full-suspension and they can cost almost twice the amount of a full-suspension bike, though some are competitively priced. However, there is a catch. Many places, including certain National Forest trails, don’t allow e-bikes on trails that prohibit motorized vehicles, so be sure to check what trails allow e-bikes in your area before you purchase one.
Now, if you’re wondering whether or not you need a women’s-specific bike, I would say no, that doesn’t matter, but check the saddle section in number nine for more points on this topic.
This doesn’t need much explanation. Everyone is doing it these days and so should you. Check out helmets with Mips® for added protection from concussion and brain injuries.
The next most-important piece of gear you need is a hydration pack, or just a pack to hold your hydration. This can come in the form of a purpose-built CamelBak, a hip pack, or just a normal backpack you put your water bottle in. Yes, you could put your water in the bottle holder on the bike frame, but the pack holds other necessities like repair tools (mentioned in number four), a first aid kit, and trail snacks. Plus, water bottles don’t carry enough water for longer rides and they have the potential to rattle out of their cages during a ride. You definitely don’t want to be without water on the trail.
Your ride will be unpredictable, so it’s always a good idea to carry repair tools. You could find yourself in quite the predicament 10 miles from the trailhead with a flat tire and nothing to fix it with. Before heading out, make sure you pack a spare tube that fits your tire size (though other close sizes would work if you’re in a pinch), tire irons (I prefer plastic so that I don’t destroy my rims), and a pump. Those are the necessities, but you could also supplement your pack with a patch kit and CO2 canisters to help with re-inflation. Bonus points are awarded to those who practice changing a flat tire before going out for their first ride, or at least watch a YouTube video about it.
Depending on where you're from, some people pronounce it as "chammy" and some as “sham-wah.” Regardless of how you say it, this single piece of gear will save your a$$, literally. A chamois is a pair of padded bike shorts that you wear under your mountain bike shorts. For someone with wide sit bones like myself, I always have to wear a chamois in order to be comfy. Especially as a beginner just starting out, you will be able to get more rides in one week when you wear a chamois.
I learned this lesson the hard way when I got bucked off my bike on a short, rocky downhill. The truth is, getting your butt back just doesn’t cut it on steep sections. Putting the seat down and out of the way is your saving grace. Not to mention your downhill abilities will progress as you learn to move the bike underneath you and transfer your weight around the bike as you ride. That’s easier done when you can drop the seat down. Sometimes you can save some money and find dropper posts used on gear swap groups or on eBay.
Gloves have three main functions with biking — they prevent blisters from forming, they improve your grip, and they protect your fingers/hands if you fall. Further, I would highly suggest wearing full-fingered gloves to protect your fingertips. You don’t need anything fancy. In fact, some general-purpose work gloves from the hardware store work great.
While you don’t necessarily need these to begin with, they will become your best friends once you decide to invest in them. As a beginner, you are going to fall eventually. It’s inevitable. Being proactive and wearing knee pads on a ride will reduce injury. They will also last you well past your beginner stages, so they are investments that pay for themselves over time. As an added protection measure, you can also invest in some elbow pads. Thank me later. 😉
This point is especially important for female cyclists who have wider hips than men. If you find yourself consistently uncomfortable after rides to the point of bruising or chafing for extended periods of time, you should consider getting your sit bones measured at a shop. The shop can help you find a saddle with adequate width to fit your booty as well as women’s specific saddles that fit your lady parts.
I don’t mean dress to impress in standard terms. I mean you need clothing that can take a beating. It is *SO IMPORTANT* to have gear that is durable enough to withstand abrasions yet still breathable, so you don’t overheat. Like I said before, you’re going to fall down. You’re also going to sweat…a lot. Wearing performance-built items that stretch and move with your body will inevitably enhance your performance on the bike while keeping you cool and protected.
There you have it folks — a comprehensive list to get you started in the MTB world. In the end, it all comes down to being prepared and having fun. I hope you gleaned some insight for your next adventure. In the meantime, check out the women’s-specific mountain bike apparel that Kaden offers and get yourself some comfortable gear for your next ride.