New to Mountain Biking?

I always find the first ride for a new mountain biker to be a bit of a conundrum: the trail I choose has to be easy enough for the newb but hard enough to be a challenge mentally and physically. Too easy for the newbie and the rider loses interest. Too hard and the newbie never comes back. WAY too hard and the newbie warns other potential newbs to not even try it. It is always a fine line determining which trail will illicit the right response, that being: I want to mountain bike again!

What I have figured out, through trial and error, is that the Fullerton Loop is not a good trail for the first timer. Over the past year I have taken two friends new to mountain biking to the loop as their first excursion on dirt and well, they have not ridden a mountain bike since then. Aerobically, they are both in good shape. The first enjoys half marathons and the second hits the gym and the basketball courts on a regular basis. They were challenged physically which is always a goal. Mentally though, the descents on the Fullerton Loop, intimidated them to the point of no return.

Personally, I think you should feel like puking on your first mountain bike ride

On my first mountain bike ride I went out on the Fullerton loop solo (no mountain biking friends when I started out) with little more than a print out of directions from the website, thanks Mr. Erdelsky. I remember being tentative on the downhills but I did not find them to be overwhelming. I was never scared for my life but I did find myself gasping for air after just four miles. This assessment of my first ride has influenced my decision to bring new riders to the loop. My thought process is that if the newb is in decent shape they should be fine on the loop. However, I vastly underestimated the lasting mental effects of getting scared out of your mind on the loop’s descents.

OK, so after thinking about these issues for a while, I decided to take my friend Adam, new to mountain biking, on the most tame trail I could conceive of while still barely being a “mountain biking” trail. Telegraph Canyon in Chino Hills State Park is very mellow, so much that I have hiked a good portion of it with my 3 year old son. Adam and I met up with a couple of roadies posing as mountain bikers: Leo and Leo’s friend (yes, I suck with names) and we took the 12 mile out and back at a very newbie friendly pace. Adam even made it all the way to the turn around point and only once felt as if he wanted to hurl. Pretty good, huh?

Whats even better is that Adam is ready to hit the loop now. He said so both verbally right after the ride and in an email sent a few weeks later. He is waiting for his new helmet to arrive via brown Santa and we’ll be tackling the Fullerton loop next. Success!

5 Replies to “New to Mountain Biking?”

  1. This is absolutely true. I’ve introduced quite a few people to mountain biking, and I’ve learned to identify trails and match them up to prospects. I start people on different trails based on my perception of their capability.

    Also, I agree that the biggest fear for new people are the downhills!

    I remember being scared sh!tless going down a slight grade with some ruts and rocks. I remember taking my brother for the first time, and he had to walk down a slightly graded, non-technical fire road. It’s definitely something most people do not have any experience with even if they’ve ridden bikes on the street a lot. They haven’t learned to trust their suspension and how to manage braking yet, so it’s a process. Only repetition can get them confident to tackle the downhills.

  2. Being newer to mountain biking myself, RL and some friends drug me out to Aliso-Woods Canyon to ride up Cholla and down Rock-It and Coyote. I literally though I was going to die from an aneurysm half way up Cholla. I was even getting out my phone to make a final phone call to my wife and kids to prepare them for the news of my untimely death. Once I reached the top and rested a bit, it wasn’t so bad. As stressful and scary as Rock-It was, my adrenalin was pumping and I felt like I was really accomplishing something.

    For me, one thing that got me coming back was the fact that no one in the group made me feel like I was holding them up or it was a problem to stay back and wait for me. Even coming down Rock-It and having the guys charge ahead full speed and show me how it’s done while having Priscilla trailing behind me to make sure I was okay helped me feel comfortable out there.

    One of the biggest reasons I never started riding earlier was not due to a lack of desire to get out there, but because I didn’t really know anyone that rode. If I did know anyone that rode, I didn’t want to feel like that total novice out there who was totally clueless (I did accidentally wear my wifes helmet that first ride though) and holding everyone up.

    It is a tough balance to get that first ride to fit the new rider just right, but I think the most important part is making sure they feel comfortable and that they have some fun. I think that’s enough to get most people back out there riding again and trying some more challenging trails.

  3. Jacob,

    Glad you’ve enjoyed the times you’ve been riding. To me its more fun to get new people riding than trying to keep up with the uber fast guys.

    Besides some of my fondest memories of riding was when I first started out. It seemed like every trail was an adventure on its own.


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