So you want to get into downhill mountain biking, but it intimidates you…

You find yourself riding more technical terrain and have toyed with the idea of trying “downhill,” but something about it intimidates you. Hey, don’t worry, first time dher’s have all felt that way before. Eventually you’ll come to enjoy it and find it very fun and rewarding. So here’s a few things to help you get started on downhill mountain biking.

Do I need a downhill specific mountain bike?

Not necessarily. If you’re just starting out, the best thing to do is go with what you have. A basic XC bike with 4″ of travel can get you started. Basically what I’m saying is, try to see if you’d like DH first. There’s no need for you to drop all this money on a new bike and find out that you really don’t like it. Another option is to borrow a DH bike from a friend or rent one from a local shop.

Do I need body armor and a full face helmet?

Yes, protection is always good. Besides you can convince the wife to let you buy stuff because it’s going to keep you “safer.” Get some knee/shin guards as well as some elbow pads, you’ll be glad you did. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve crashed where the pads saved my skin. The good thing about a full face is it protects your money maker. This crash could have messed up Moe’s beautiful face, but lucky for him, the only thing he got was a bruised ego.

Go with someone that has been downhilling before.

For safety sake, go with people that currently ride downhill. For the most part, DH people are very friendly and always love to show the trails and techniques to newbies. Besides, going with people means someone has your back. If you get injured or have a mechanical, you can rely on them to help you out.

Having a group setting also helps you develop great bike handling skills. What I’ve learned is that everyone has a different way of riding. For me, I like to get other rider’s opinions about the best line to take. During the recent race series, I spent time with my team mates, Wes, Art and Corey on choosing the best lines. I had previously rode the course one way, but after consulting the guys, they all pointed out quicker and safer ways down the mountain. The input you’ll get from other people is uber worthwile and can eventually help you become a better rider.

Ride more, even if its XC or just on the street.

This one I can’t stress it enough. Getting your cardio level up and your bike handling skills honed will make a huge difference in how you ride downhill. Believe it or not, but DH riding is EXHAUSTING! You actually use quite a bit of energy riding down the mountain. Plus in some cases, you have to hike your bike up before you go down. Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you show up to the mountain with the best equipment, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be good at downhill. There’s some value to riding XC and learning how to handle your bike properly and getting into riding shape will do wonders to your DH experience.

Here’s a prime example of a first time DH rider. You may have seen this video before, but I’m going to show it again. Randy has NEVER been downhilling. He’s showed interest in it and when he had the opportunity to join me at Southridge he jumped on it. Though the video shows him doing well, I have to let you know that he did crash a few times before we shot the video. But he had a blast riding.

RL and Randy @ Fontana from RL Policar on Vimeo.

What are you doing sitting there reading this? Go out there and try downhill NOW!

About the author

RL Policar is an avid mountain biker and the Editor In-Chief of and Between the two sites, he's published well over 4,000 articles (and growing).