Beginner's Tips

RINEMBA Beginner MTB'er Clinic

In 2015 RI Nemba put together a beginners clinic program which was viewed as very successful and a heck of a lot of fun. We had the full range of people show up. People with some skills, complete newbies, male, female, young, old, fit and looking to get fit.. Girls don't be afraid of attending, there were way more females than males and we all had a good time.

It's a no pressure way to start mountain biking open to anybody. Having a bike was not even required as NBX provided some demo bikes. We expected to loss riders as the 6 week program progressed but we actually gained more participants as well as more volunteer help.
As we prepare to do it again in 2016 we discussed what we did good and what we could have done better.

What we did good:
We had fun
We introduced new people to MTB'ing
We introduced people to the Big River management area.
Everybody who came (including some volunteers)to the six week program learned new skills.
Did I say we had fun?

What we need to do better:
Work a little closer to a script to make sure we include every thing we wanted.
Provide maps ahead of time so people can see what we are going to do and be able to do it again for practice.
Follow up e-mailings to encourage the precipitants to join us on organized rides. Most rides welcome beginners and pace accordingly or better yet split into groups so nobody feels there are holding the group back.

This write up is and effort to preview what we will be doing and to help us help you.

What will be covered.

  • 1. Bikes and equipment
  • 2. Safety and pre-ride preparations
  • 3. Initial skills. Shifting, pedaling and body positions
  • 4. Intermediate skills including hill climbing and descending
  • 5. Advanced intermediate skills including hopping fallen logs and rock gardens.
  • 6. Extreme drops, aerial acrobatics and high speed downhills. NOT Included

To help make this write up more useful we have included hyper-links to videos on web sites like Youtube so keep your computer handy.

Have a question go to the RINEMBA on Facebook and ask, it's as simple as that. You can ask about anything, where to ride, when to ride, when are group rides, what trails fit you skill level and the list goes on.

Rules of the road:
IMBA developed the "Rules of the Trail" to promote responsible and courteous conduct on shared-use trails. Keep in mind that conventions for yielding and passing may vary in different locations, or with traffic conditions.

  • 1. Ride Open Trails: Respect trail and road closures — ask a land manager for clarification if you are uncertain about the status of a trail. Do not trespass on private land. Obtain permits or other authorization as required. Be aware that bicycles are not permitted in areas protected as state or federal Wilderness.
  • 2. Leave No Trace: Be sensitive to the dirt beneath you. Wet and muddy trails are more vulnerable to damage than dry ones. When the trail is soft, consider other riding options. This also means staying on existing trails and not creating new ones. Don't cut switchbacks. Be sure to pack out at least as much as you pack in.
  • 3. Control Your Bicycle: Inattention for even a moment could put yourself and others at risk. Obey all bicycle speed regulations and recommendations, and ride within your limits.
  • 4. Yield Appropriately: Do your utmost to let your fellow trail users know you're coming — a friendly greeting or bell ring are good methods. Try to anticipate other trail users as you ride around corners. Bicyclists should yield to other non-motorized trail users, unless the trail is clearly signed for bike-only travel. Bicyclists traveling downhill should yield to ones headed uphill, unless the trail is clearly signed for one-way or downhill-only traffic. In general, strive to make each pass a safe and courteous one.
  • 5. Never Scare Animals: Animals are easily startled by an unannounced approach, a sudden movement or a loud noise. Give animals enough room and time to adjust to you. When passing horses, use special care and follow directions from the horseback riders (ask if uncertain). Running cattle and disturbing wildlife are serious offenses.
  • 6. Plan Ahead: Know your equipment, your ability and the area in which you are riding and prepare accordingly. Strive to be self-sufficient: keep your equipment in good repair and carry necessary supplies for changes in weather or other conditions. Always wear a helmet and appropriate safety gear.

Bikes and equipment:
Bike: Any mountain bike can be used but as in most sports the gear needs to match the service that is required. We will not recommend any type, brand or price point but we will recommend that you by you bike from a bike shop. The reasons are simple, they have skin in the game. If they sell you the wrong type bike the potential lose of your trust means the loss of your future business. Discount stores on the other hand will not miss you future bicycle business.

Once you have made the choice of which bike you want the bike shop will set the bike up to fit your body. Things like seat height, seat fore and aft position, stem height and length will make a big difference in how comfortable you will be on the bike. They also assemble the bike correctly and make a safety check before it goes out the door.
As you develop MTB skills you will put more demands on your bike and it's parts. Breaking parts 2 miles into the wood just before the sun sets will make for an interesting walk. Do yourself a favor visit a bike shop and get a bike professionals input. Ask us about the bikes available from NBX, they are limited on ride day so ask ahead of time.

Personal Protective Equipment:

No matter how good our clinic is you can count on falling off your MTB. We all do it, it's part of the sport and there is risk involved, you can get hurt. You need to protect yourself and here are some things that will help.

Helmet: To ride a NEMBA ride you MUST wear a helmet, Like the bike get some professional help with this. There other choices beside pink and blue. All new bike helmets will have an approval from some test society, but that does not mean they will all protect you the same. Why not? Because they have to fit you correctly. This is where the bike shop guy can help. Some people have round heads and some oval and there are different models for each type. Can you make them fit you better with the adjustable suspension system? Well sort of, but starting with the correct basic shapes helps. Ask the salesmen when you buy it. If he can't help ask for his boss.
One other thing about helemts, they are design for one crash only. That's right, if it hits something when you fall it has likely done it's job by crushing part of the Styrofoam liner. Many helmet manufactures have crash replacement plans that will give you a very good price for a replacement

Eye protection: Sports glasses can save your eye sight, we recommend them when riding.

Gloves: Since we've already told you your going to fall we advice you to land on your shoulder and roll. Most people falling for the first time stick their hands out and use them to break the fall. Or their collar bone, wrist or shoulder. It happens, not often but you can scrape up you hands pretty good. Gloves help and you will see almost everybody wears them.

Short and Jerseys: The only reason to get cycling clothes is they are sexy. Well maybe, maybe not but they will make you ride more comfortable. Good padding in your shorts will not bunch up and chafe also both shorts and jerseys will wick away sweat.

Shoes and clipless pedals: We would not recommend clipless pedals for your first mtb ride unless you have experience using them on a road bike. You will see many mtb'ers using clipless and they are a help once you gain some skill. You can keep the adjustment fairly loose and still enjoy the benefits. There are several makes on the market, SPD types are by far the most popular and we would recommend you start here. If not using clipless the flat mtb pedals need to be grippy. Many of them have metal pins in them to help hold you shoes firmly on the pedal. There are several type of shoes on the market for mtb'ing, some are made strictly for clipless cycling and some have softer soles that allow easier walking as well as flat pedal riding.

Hydration pack: You'll see most mtb'ers with Camelbacks or other type backpacks. They can hold about 100oz of water as well as tools, keys, phones and food. Why is this under protective gear. De-hydration on a hot humid day can cause heat stroke and kill you. Don't do that. Water bottles are an alternative and some people use them, ask around and see how people feel about each.

Cell phone: The first cell phone I owned was purchased because I rode alone in Acadia DEM area and I figured I could call 911 for help. That was over 20 years ago and it turns out that even though the service company maps said there was coverage there that was not true. Today the coverage is better. Smart phones can use apps made just to help you enjoy your ride and keep you safe. Ask around for the APP people are using. OpenMaps has most of the trails in RI and the rest of the lessor parts of the world.

Tools and spare parts: We recommend the following be part of your ride kit.

  • 1. Spare tube that fits your wheels.
  • 2. Tube patch kit for your second flat.
  • 3. Tire levers
  • 4. Air pump
  • 5. Bike Multi-tool
  • 6. Spare chain connector link to repair broken chain
  • 7. Chaintool. to remove excess outer link of broken chain.
  • 8. A lot of people carry a rag, 10' of para cord, tie wraps and a small roll of electric tape or fiber tape.
  • 9. Money, it can be used to cover a ripped sidewall. And hey there may be a Del's truck in the parking lot.
  • 10. Consider carrying a small first aid kit. Add a large blood stopper bandage. You might never use these things but I've used these twice and it made a big difference.
  • 11. How to repair flats.
  • 12. How to repair bike chain.

Safety and Pre-ride inspection:
MTB'ing can be a potentially dangerous sport if we are not prepared. The prep starts at home before we move the bike outside. Here's a few things we need to do before the ride.
Check out ride equipment. we don't want to leave anything at home we need in the parking lot before the ride. Here are some of what you should look at.

  • 1. Check weather to determine what protection we will need.
  • 2. Clothes- Clean riding short, jersey., socks, gloves, shoes and helmet are the basics. In cold weather add tights, wicking layer, long sleeve jersey, insulated gloves, lycra hat for under helmet, shoe covers etc. In cold weather the outer layers should have vents that when open let out heat and water vapor but can be closed if you stop or end up walking
  • 3. Rain gear if it forecast.
  • 4. Sun screen.
  • 5. Bug spray. If you are wearing lycra clothes be aware PEET in bug spray will damage it and elastic. Don't spray it all over the place just hit the skin.
  • 6. Skin lube. To prevent chafing, you should be able to figure out where to apply it after the first ride if you were stumped at the suggestion.
  • 7. Hydration pac or water bottles. Go with water. Sugary liquids tend to grow stuff if not cleaned out of bladder or bottle when done.
  • 8. Food, no not a burger and fries. An energy bar mid ride can make a huge difference on a long ride.
  • 9. Post ride supplemented drink to re-hydrate and replace minerals lost with sweat. Drink this before the post ride beer.
  • 10. Check your tools and spare tube. If you used your patch kit last ride did you squeeze the air out before sealing it, if not it may have set. Replace if needed.
  • 11. Is your cell phone fully charged and have the numbers of your riding buddies.

The bike. Look it over the day before the ride. (I once took the chain off my bike to clean it and forgot to put it back one and did not realize until I got to the trailhead.) I've seen several people drive over a wheel they took off to put the bike on a rack.

  • 1. Tire pressure good.
  • 2. Spin the cranks and check for tight chain links. Clean and lube same if needed
  • 3. Listen for odd noises. The may be loose bearings, brakes dragging, chain skipping or wheels rubbing on frame.
  • 4. Check cables and hydraulic brake hoses for damage.
  • 5. Sit on the bike and compress shocks. If soft adjust air pressure.
  • 6. Spin both wheels and see how long go before stopping. Should spin freely for a while.
  • 7. Check wheel alignment and for loose spokes.
  • 8. Check brakes for not only the ability to stop but how close the levers come to the bars and are they equal in distance. Maybe be time for new pads or fluid flush.
  • 9. Check derailleurs and shifters for function across the entire range.
  • 10. Check bolt when bike is new and a couple of times a year.
  • 11. Check handle bars grips and end plugs are in place. Get the Velox rubber plugs. They are cheap, last forever and don't break. Yes, they do weight a few grams more.

Note: Looks like a lot but it should not take more than a few minutes if nothing is wrong and could save hours of frustration if you have a problem on the trail.

At the trail head.

  • 1. Get bike ready to ride. Give it a once over as you checked everything before you left the house. Double check front wheel is tight if you removed it for transport.
  • 2. Decide on ride leader.
  • 3. Decide on meet up after ride if the group gets split.
  • 4. Quick visual check of other riders equipment. Amazing how many time a mile into the ride someone realizes they forgot their Camelback or helmet

Go ride.

Initial skill:

Ok, we're at the trailhead and ready to ride. Nice flat fire road, it'll be easy.

Remember when you first learned to ride as a kid and you would put one foot on a pedal and push with the other to get some speed before you threw your other leg over the bike and pedaled off. Forget that skill for mtb'ing. You will always be better off if you straddle the bike with one foot on a pedal raised about 30 degs above horizontal and push off with the other. The trail is not like a level road and this works in most places either uphill, down hill or on difficult surfaces. Take advantage of the environment around you. On an uphill or downhill it might help to apply the brakes and lean against a tree. This will allow you to get both feet on the pedals and quickly apply pressure. It sometimes helps to have your free foot on elevated rock rather than flat ground to start as well.

When we started this I mentioned it was a good idea to purchase your bike at a bike shop rather than a big box store. One of the things a bike shop professional will do for you is set your bike up for you. They will likely not do a complete bike fitting, usually about a $100 extra, but they will do a visual setup of your handlebars, stem and seat position. These things all help with cycling efficiency and comfort. If you don't have easy access to a bike shop technician ask an experienced rider. This video and others like it on Youtube can also help.
Also important to pedaling is the foot connection to the pedal. Some people use flat pedals and some use clipless pedals it's up to you. In fact most higher end bike do not even come with pedals. If your bike did come with pedals and they are of the hard plastic type you might want to replace them before you go into the woods. They tend to be slippery and good contact between the pedal and your foot is key to good safe riding. A good place to start is a pedal with small metal pins in the surface of the pedal. They dig into the sole of your shoe and prevent your foot slipping off. You may eventually want get clipless pedal, if you don't have experience with them on a road bike it's a bit of a steep learning curve for a beginner. If someone talks you into installing them on your bike from the start no big problem just keep them loose so you can get your feet out.
The pedaling itself in fairly simple position the ball of your foot slightly forward of the pedal stem and push down on each pedal in turn. Be a conscience of the fact that you only push one pedal at a time. The less weight on the pedal coming up the better. If your using clipless pedals you can practice pedaling one side at a time this helps with un-weighting the offside pedal. It's easier to pedal seated and it's good form to stand off the saddle if not pedaling. It's also not recommended to pedal through tight turns. Lastly be aware of rocks and stumps that can catch you pedals.

Body Position
Next we need to decide on a body position as we ride. As you gain experience you'll realize how important body position is and how it changes on different parts of the trail. You will always be better off keeping you center of gravity lower. Here's some pic of a normal riding position, uphill and downhill.

Good riding position

What The above photos shows is what is often called the attack position. Sort of opposed to the just riding along position. You may be thinking that if I'm just riding along I don't need that aggressive position and you would be right right until you do. When your on your mountain bike in the woods you may not always know whats ahead of you, in this position you improve your chances of being able to ride along in more difficult area. This is the position you want when you come across rocks and roots in the trail or about to hop over a log in the trail , cross a stream or transition from a smooth trail to a bit of a climb or downhill. The easiest way to get in a good attack position is to get you butt very slightly out of the saddle and lower your chest.

Position for uphill

To get up a hill the first thing you need to do is get in a lower gear, hopefully before you start going up. A small hill that may be enough but for a steeper uphill good position will help a lot. Taking a look at this guy, we can see he has shifted his weight forward and lowered his center of gravity. He has sled his butt forward to the nose of the seat and he is rotating his wrists down to help weight the rear wheel and maintain traction. You may be able to hammer in a higher gear up a short incline but spinning a lower gear is a better approach up a longer steep incline.

Position for downhill

These photos show some aggressive bits of going downhill but the position is the same. The biggest fear in going downhill is doing an endo or face plant. We avoid this by shifting our weight back with our butt out of the seat and our center of gravity low. The saddle is pinched with your thighs. In these pictures you can see that they have their butt off the back of the seat. You can handle some rough downhill from that position.

Position for a turn

In a turn on a bike you need to lean into it. That combined with a lower center of gravity and being out of the seat will help in any turn and is essential in higher speed turns.

Wrong position
A common theme to for good riding is low center of gravity and butt out of the seat for more challenging terrain. This guy is too upright with his center of gravity too far forward. He is also about to jam his nuts into the stem and his face into the ground. If he had shifted his weight back and lowered his centered of gravity he would have been a hero instead of a zero. Don't be this guy.

I've been to several beginners bicycling schools since I got into biking and they always made a point of telling which side of the handle bars the front and rear brakes were on. As a beginner I'd say don't worry about it. Equal pressure on both brakes will work for most every situation you will likely get into for sometime.
That being things there are some things you do need to know about braking. First, when you do figure out which brake is which do not just use the rear brake to skid the rear wheel. Aside from looking like a dweeb, it tears up the trails for no good reason which leads to washouts when it rains. On the same subject the wheels need to be turning to brake effectively. That's why ABS braking systems were invented for cars. If you going downhill and braking hard and the wheels start to skid give it a little slack before you loose control.
Second, like any wheeled vehicle when the brakes applied the weight is shifted forward. Remember the picture of the downhill position, that's what you need to do when braking hard. Shifting you weight back puts more weight on the back wheel and shares the braking load a bit more equally. Also if your going downhill and braking shifting your weight back will keep you from endo'ing.
When not to brake, there are a few places not to brake and they are usually when you commit to ride something and then have that oh sh$t moment. Things like crossing a narrow bridge, crossing a stream, crossing a puddle or on a stunt often end better if you keep pedaling.
Lastly if your ridding in a tight group and you have to stop, yell stopping. Usually about the third guy gets it right but at least the 4th and 5th guys aren't going to hit you.

The purpose of multiple gears on a bike is to allow you to use of it's mechanical advantage to apply your physical ability in a way that maximizes your ability ride the nature of the terrain your on. In short we trade speed for the climbing ability and vice-a-versa. Big gears ratios allow us to go faster and small ratios allow us to climb steeper and longer but slower.
A few simple facts about shifting for the beginner.

  • 1. The chain must be moving to shift gears. Shifting while stopped is like yelling I'M A NEWB.
  • 2. Less pressure on the chain will make shifting easier. Shift early when approaching a hill.
  • 3. Shifting under load and cross gearing can damage maybe break you chain.
  • 4. The left shifter controls the front gears on the crank and the right shifter controls the gears on the rear wheel.
  • 5. On the shifter the little lever shifts to the smaller gear because it is spring powered. Shifting to the larger gear requires more push and the longer lever helps with this
  • 6. If your approaching a hill downshift before you get there.
  • 7. If you get caught in the wrong gear on a hill it's easier to shift to a smaller gear in the front than a bigger gear in the rear.
  • 8. As a beginner how do you know when to shift. If in a group listen for more experienced riders shifting. If by your self listen to your legs if it's easy up shift, if it's hard downshift.

While braking allows you to grab both levers at the same time. Shifting requires slightly more finesse and trying shift both at the same time both is also like Yelling NEWB. The gear system depends on pushing the chain sideways and causing it to jump to a difference cog and once it's there prevent it from auto shifting down to the next smaller gear. Take a look at these videos to get some of the basics.

Just Riding along:
We covered a bunch of things to get you started, now it's time to get on the bike. The first ride will be as a group on a fire road. Get on the bike start pedaling. Whats the first things you need to get yourself into the sport. Here's a few things to start you off for the first ride.

  • 1. Look down the trail. You need to see what's ahead of you to keep safe and enjoy the ride. The person in front of you may have a cute butt. Or their rear wheel may be mesmorizing but look out in front of you at the trail.
  • 2. In looking ahead of yourself look down the trail instead of at the front wheel if your about to hit it your to late.
  • 3. As you look down the trail you see a rock and you want to avoid. It's common practice for new riders to stare at it until they run into it. Don't stare at an obstacle, find the route around it and commit to it and keep looking down the trail.
  • 4. The trails are full of obstacles that make it different than the East Bay Bike Path and that's what makes it fun. You need to have a basic strategy on how to ride them and remember stopping is an acceptable strategy. Here are a few things you can come across as you ride along.
  • 5. Sand: Deep sand can take control you wheels and make it difficult to steer. Going around sand is a good idea. If you have to ride through it gear down a bit and ride straight across. Turning can be tough. It will slow you down, make it hard to steer but if you fall, it's soft.
  • 6. Puddles: Choices to be made here. If the trail is narrow riding the edge to get around it can cause the edge to erode. As stewards of the woods we don't want to do that. If the puddle is small down shift and go through it slowly. That helps avoid splashing mud out of the puddle and making it bigger. Some of the trails we ride have puddles that are huge and deep. Going through them is not a good option. If there is a “go around” use it. If the puddle edge is narrow don't try an ride it. Dismount and walk around, less environmental impact.
  • 7. Unconsolidated rocks. This is an area with small rocks from ping pong ball size to baby head size. This can be intimidating, but if you keep some speed and look ahead you can ride through most of this stuff. Just keep your weight on the seat light and back and go for it. Watch an experienced rider do it first. You really can ride it.
  • 8. Small branches on the trail, like small rocks you can get light on your seat with the weight back a bit and ride over them
  • 9. Larger Log, we'll discuss that a bit later but good riders can clear some good size logs.
  • 10. Roots, if they cross the trail just ride them, if hey are diagonal to the trail they can push the front wheel side way. Try and lift your front wheel over them. They may push the rear wheel side ways as well but you will rarely fall from that.
  • 11. Streams, if there's no bridge the choice is to ride it or find log, rock or whatever to walk across. If you with an experienced rider who rides across, follow them. If your on your own and want to ride it look for a sandy spot rather than brown organic material. With the sand you know where the bottom is, with mud or leaves, who knows. Again shift down then go straight across.

Riding alone:
I think it's worth mentioning that you need to be award of the hazards of mtb'ing and the risks only increase if your alone. That being said I like riding alone. No stress, ride your own pace where you want and stop when you want to. The down side is if you have a problem your it. I got my first cell phone simply as a backup when I rode alone. Of cause that was in Acadia when there was no cell service there but hey I tried. Here are a few things to keep in mind if your going to ride alone.

  • 1. Get a map of the area you plan on riding and mark the trails you plan to ride. Then leave it with someone who might be interested in seeing you again, wife, friends, loan shark, etc.
  • 2. Carry bits and parts you might need. No one is going to lend a spare tube, link, tool, pump or whatever.
  • 3. Bring a fully charged cell phone and check the reception as you ride. Avoid no service areas on your next ride
  • 4. Bring an emergency kit in your Camelback. I carry the following
    a. Aluminum coated space blanket.
    b. Electric tape.
    c. Bandages. Remember a big bandage will work on a small cut, the opposite, not so much. My wife who is a nurse recommended a “blood stopper” they are a bit expensive, the pharmacist recommended a panty liner as a good alternative. Electric tape or duct tape willwill hold it on. Wrap duct tape around your pump.
    d. Benedryl gel caps for allergy reactions like bee stings. Once gave these to a women who's husband was carrying her out of Big River after she was stung by a bunch of bee's. She could hardly breath. She popped these in her mouth and it helped a lot very quickly. Felt like a freak'in hero.
    e. Individual wrapped antiseptic wipes. Aso good for cleaning up after chain work.

Advanced riding:
Ok, not that advanced but worth looking at more closely.
Hill climbing, This is part of the sport, the better you set yourself and the bike up for the climb the easier it will be. The first thing that will make all the difference is seeing the hill before you get there. Waiting till your struggling to pedal will usually not work This might not be that easy if your behind somebody else in a group but if you hear gears shifting that's a good sign something different is about to happen.

  • 1. When you see the hill size it up. Is it a short hill you can power up without shifting go for it. Longer and steeper hills will require changing gears to get some mechanical advantage.
  • 2. Shift before the climb starts by shifting to a bigger gear in the back. If your in a too low a gear in the back at the start you will spin out and lose momentum. Shift to the granny gear in the front so you have some resistance but remember its going to get hard quick.
  • 3. As you start going up the hill shift your center of gravity lower and move way forward on the seat.
  • 4. As the effort increases shift to a bigger gear in the back and try and keep a steady pace. It's not a race (yet) so maintain your pace for the long haul.
  • 5. To shift to a bigger gear try and ease up on your pedal stroke a little to make the shift easier. Shift one gear at a time.
  • 6. If you have to stop, get off the trail if you can so the person behind can pass.
  • 7. When you get to the top shift up. You don't want to start the downhill in so low a gear you spin out when you need some power.

Downhill,Body position is everything going downhill, you never want your face to get to the bottom of he hill before your bike or your ass. Shifting your center of gravity down and back is the way you prevent that from happening. How far back, getting you hips completely behind the seat is not out of the question.

  • 1. Shift up to a gear that will allow you to put power to the ground if you need it.
  • 2. Survey the track for problems rocks, roots, drops, sand etc. Figure how your going to ride them.
  • 3. Control speed by short tapes on the brakes. Don't wait till your going too fast and apply them hard. Sure way to skid and loose control.
  • 4. When you apply the brakes use both of them equal. With your weight well back you will not endo and your less likely to skid.
  • 5. If there are people behind you don't block the trail by stopping if you can help it.
  • 6. Did I mention keeping your weight back.
    This video is a bit intense but the basics are there.
  • Riding logs: Watch the video.