Getting into mountain biking, back in 2016, was one of the best decisions I ever made. Mountain biking has taken me from mountain tops to desert landscapes, with some of the best times with friends I’ve ever had. So, with that being said, mountain biking can be a daunting to get into. The websites like PinkBike and Backcountry will make it seem like you need a $10,000 mountain bike and all the top gear in order to hit your local trail. I’ll let you in on a little secret… that couldn’t be further from the truth. I got started with a $150 Walmart mountain bike and gear I already had!
This might be obvious, but in order to go mountain biking, you need a bike, and a mountain bike will help the most with it. This can be as cheap as a $150 Walmart mountain bike with a small front suspension, or even a rigid frame, old-school mountain bike from the 80s. As long as your bike has grippy enough tires to ride off road, you are technically mountain biking.
Any bike with suspension will be a great place to start. That can include a bike that has a front fork with air or springs to help absorb the bumps you face on the trail. This bike is referred to as a “hardtail” since there’s no rear suspension. Even better is a bike that has a rear shock as well. This is referred to a “full suspension” bike. Full suspension bikes are the most comfortable on the trail, but also the most expensive because of all the moving parts. Within these categories, there are a countless number of brands, tire sizes, suspension travel, weight, and components. So with that being said, I would go to a bike shop and let them tell you what the best bike you can afford within your price range.
Price. This tends to be the number one driver in bike purchase decisions. Like I said, I’ve ridden everything from the $150 hardtail I bought from Walmart, to $10,000 full suspensions I’ve demoed at bike parks. I currently ride a 2015 full suspension bike that I bought used off PinkBike buy/sell page for half the retail price. So there is a bike out there for everyone… just maybe not this year during the Covid bike shortage.
Beyond a bike, a helmet is the only other piece of gear you need to get into mountain biking. A helmet, like an airbag, is the only thing keeping you safe from the unexpected crash. 99 times out of 100, your head never touches the ground in a crash on a bike, but that 1 time is why we wear helmets. And just like bikes, there are an endless number of brands that offer helmets for color, shape, ventilation, weight, style, and of course, price. At the end of the day, go to a bike shop or big-box store and try on a helmet, because once its on your head you’ll never see it and all that matters is how it fits. Helmet prices can range from $30s on Amazon and Walmart, to $100 on average from a name brand, up to $200 for a specialized helmet.
Packs & Tools
Beyond apparel, I personally thing the next most important thing to carry on you for every ride are the tools needed to make quick fixes or fixing a flat tire. That being a bike multi-tool, pump, tire levers, and tube. Like anything there are special versions of these, but nearly any one will do. Any bike specific multi-tool that has an array of Allen wrenches, a pump that will be able to reach your desired riding pressure (usually up to 60psi), tire levers help peel the tire off the rim, and any set of bike tubes will do. Don’t worry about spending too much money here. But remember, if you don’t have the spare tube or pump, and you get a flat, you will be walking your bike home. This has happened to me many times when I first started biking.
Now, how best to carry this set of equipment is up to you. Most people tend to put all these tools into a pocket of a hydration pack or fanny pack that they ride with anyway. For some, they like to mount all three pieces of equipment directly to the frame of their bike so they’ll never forget it. These packs, made by Camelbak, are the same ones you might already have for hiking. Or even the fanny pack you use for hiking is plenty fine for mountain biking with. Just make sure is comfortable and can fit all your gear, spare clothing, and snacks.
Face it, if you’re getting into mountain biking, it’s going to kick your butt at first. So I would definitely recommend bringing along water with you on a ride. There are two main locations for storing water. First, the simplest, in a water bottle that you store on the frame of your bike. Second, a little more common, is in a hydration pack, like the ones you hike with. there is no right or wrong answer here, it’s all about preference. But obviously, you can store more water in a bladder on your back, than you can in a bottle on your bike. Nearly any big box store, bike shop, or Amazon can solve this problem for you for under $30.
As long as your feet are comfortable, you’re doing something right. In general, mountain bike shoes have a rigid sole which helps when pedaling and avoiding obstacles. Hiking shoes or boots tend to do really well, especially if you need to push your bike over an obstacle when getting started. In addition, mountain biking shoes have a grippy rubber that sticks to your pedals. I’d recommend against using flexible running shoes which won’t hold onto your pedals well. Skateboarding shoes; however, are great at sticking to the pedals.
Down the line there are bike specific shoes that will work great for flat pedals (normal ones) and pedals with clips (referred to as clipless). There are off-brand shoes I’ve ridden thousands of miles in that I got off Amazon with minimal complaints. And now, after many years, I’ve finally got a pair of nice mountain biking shoes that I love as well. Shoes, like any piece of equipment, can range from $50 to over $300 depending on how stiff, light, and fancy you want them.
Eyewear is just a smart thing to ride with, no matter what kind it is. Think about it, you might be riding through the woods and not see the low branch that is sitting perfectly at eye level. Next thing you know, you get smacked in the eye, swerve off the trail, and crash your bike. Sure, that’s extreme, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard little rocks and branches bounce off my glasses while riding. Without glasses, there is no doubt I’d have damage to my eyes by now.
Starting off, just wear your sunglasses you’d go hiking with that won’t fall off your face. Then, I’d recommend getting an oversized pair of sunglasses to give you more protection and visibility on the trail. Things to consider are how they fit in your face with your helmet on, how they breathe when they’re on your face, and of course, how light or dark the lens is for the riding conditions.
Shorts & Shirts
Guess what, as long as you can pedal wearing it, you can mountain bike wear it. Flat out, you do not need to go out and get a full kit to ride in. Wear something comfortable and similar to something you’d go for a hike in. My first piece of clothing Id recommend buying will be a Chamois, aka a Shammy. These are padded bike shorts used for all types of biking. It makes riding more comfortable when you have a hard seat and also helps prevent any chafing on long rides.
Down the road, mountain bike specific clothing can be very beneficial. Beyond the shammy, durable mountain bike shorts and shirts are helpful during a crash. Most of the time, they’ll survive the crash and help protect your skin from getting cuts or rashes. But really, any wick-away shirt will be just fine to go riding in. I will say that some mountain bike specific shorts, like the Backcountry Slickrock Bike Short, will last you many seasons, as compared to a pair of athletic shorts which might wear away after a season on the bike.
Now you got all the gear you need, get out and go ride you damn bike! There is no such thing as a bad day when you’re on your bike! Trust me, I’ve ridden for 3 days, in the cold rain, over and around the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and loved every single minute of it. Okay, maybe not every minute, but it was still a lot of fun!
My name is Zachary Kenney and I’m an adventure filmmaker & photographer. My passion is to tell stories that will hopefully motivate you to go live a more adventurous life. Whether that is to experience the view from the summit of a mountain, or wandering through a new town on a road trip. Currently based out of Park City, UT.