The Beginner's guide to Mountain Biking

Are you up for exhilarating outdoor adventures? Have a pal or partner hounding you to hit the hills? Simply want to get fit while enjoying awesome surroundings?

If you're wondering how to get into mountain biking, this guide is for you. Whatever your past MTB experience, we want you to be ready to tackle the trails.

Read on for fundamental skills, top bike selection tips and accessible locations to tune-up your technique. As well as that we've got some fantastic features to make sure you're equipped for day-to-day mountain bike life.

Scroll down to explore…

How to choose a Mountain Bike

Choosing a model

It's simple - just sit on a bike! The most important thing is reach, because while you can adjust the seat height, you can't alter the length of the frame. Prioritise control and be sure you can comfortably shift your weight behind the saddle while on the ride. Check out our guide for how to find the right size mountain bike for more details.

The best wheel size

…is personal preference! 27.5" wheels are agile and light, while 29" wheels are perfect for straight lines (but less ideal for winding trails). Rider height is also important; for instance, a smaller rider may find 27.5" wheels more manageable.

The best tyre type

This varies with the trail. Thin, shallow treads suit rides on dry ground, whilst wider, deeper tyres are perfect for muddy meanders. Try to get a balance between what suits you and where you will be riding.

So now you know the basics you're probably thinking, "What type of MTB should I buy?" Check out your options here:

© Oneplanet adventure

Basic Mountain Bike (MTB) Skills

Before hitting the trails, it's time to sharpen your skills. Using the correct technique will make life much easier whether tackling steep downhill descents or overcoming obstacles. Check out this short video from MTB Coach Sam Fowler as he explains how to improve your Mountain Biking.

MTB Trail Grading Guide

At trail centres, you'll find an array of coloured arrows indicating different potential routes. For a beginner, this could prove to be a bit of a puzzle. What do the arrows mean? What trails should you take?

In fact, these arrows represent the UK's standard trail grading system. Here's what they mean:

  • Green Routes

    These are the easiest, with smooth, wide tracks and shallow climbs. A perfect fit for beginner mountain bikers and families.

  • Blue Routes

    Blue is the next step up, requiring reasonable fitness and some biking experience. You'll meet short steep climbs, loose surfaces and tree roots. They're a great way of building up your MTB confidence.

  • Red Routes

    Red demands experience and technical skill. The trail width often decreases to singletrack, demanding riders to pass in single file. Expect berms, stones and steps, and be sure you're ready to master these obstacles before attempting.

  • Black, double black, orange

    The trickiest trails solely for experts, featuring unforgiving gradients and obstinate obstacles. Ones for the future.

Trail gradings can vary from centre to centre, so we'd recommend research in advance. Our advice is to stick to greens and blues. However each of the centres featured have reds and blacks as well, so you'll be able to progress once you're ready!

We've rounded up some great trail centres for beginners in the UK's favourite MTB locations. Read on to find out about Mountain Biking near big cities and trails in Wales, Scotland, the Peaks and the Lakes!

Trails Near Big Cities

The UK has plenty of great locations for escaping the 9 - 5 and getting back in touch with nature. We've compiled four of the best MTB trail centres for beginners, just an hour's drive from some of the UK's biggest cities.

© Oneplanet Adventure

Mountain Biking in Wales

Wales is well loved as the heartland of British MTB. From Snowdonian adventures to rugged routes within reach of big cities, Wales has something for everyone. There's a huge variety of trail centres and routes to pick from, but we've selected four of our faves.

Mountain Biking in Scotland

Rugged woodland rides define mountain bike trails in Scotland. In recent times the Forestry Commission has invested heavily into the 7stanes: seven trail centres every Mountain Biker should try out. Routes are well maintained and great fun for beginners and experts alike!

Mountain Biking in the Lake District

The Lake District is a scenic location for mountain bike holidays. There's plenty of beginner riding to be had in the foothills of England's highest peaks. Try out its two dedicated trail centres or wind your way around the waters.

Robert Thorpe,
Pedal North

The Peaks offer uber-accessible Mountain Biking in the North of England. Whilst the region has no dedicated trail centres, there is still plenty of cycling for a beginner to explore. Robert Thorpe from Pedal North tells us more…

Mountain Biking in the Peak District

If you draw lines between Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield and Derby, they converge right in the heart of the Peak District. The Dark Peak to be exact, near Hathersage and Edale. Not surprising, as this was the first and still is our favourite National Park. It's a haven for sports like mountain biking - if you know where to ride.

Ladybower Reservoir quenches the thirst of these cities with easy and well marked out trails to suit all levels of rider. For the adventurous beginner willing to ride uphill superb views await you, with swooping descents adding smiles to the miles, before you return to the visitor centre for refreshments. Many of the nearby gritstone edges also have bridleways to test your new found skills on too.

Further south at Ashbourne, the High Peak and Tissington Trails converge. Nearby bridleways weave through the picturesque valleys around Hartington. These provide easy trails for beginners as well as the more advanced rider. All you need is a sense of adventure. The National Park visitor centres provide excellent riding information, including routes, to make this area a bikecation sensation.

The Gear List

So you've found your dream bike, picked up some skills and worked out where to take it for a spin. Now it's time to get your gear and accessories organised. But what to bring? Our MTB experts put together this list of things you can't miss:

  • A pair of gloves will keep your fingers warm and give additional grip. They'll also add protection from any falls!
  • Although getting mucky is part of the thrill, mudguards keep off the worst dirt and prevent you from getting soaked through.
  • Lights are essential for low-lit or night time rides!
  • Shorts or trousers? It's a great Mountain Bike debate, which ultimately comes down to personal preference. See what suits you!
  • Helmets are a universally accepted part of MTB kit. You'll thank us if you take a fall.
  • Grab a few jerseys and you can be set for any season. Whether you're after breathability on summer rides or winter warmth, unrestricted movement is key!
  • Going out on a big adventure? A hydration pack or water bottle is a must.
  • Packing a spare inner tube and bike pump will prevent a flat from ending your day.
  • Glare-free glasses save you squinting on sunny mornings.
  • Finally, grab an action camera to record your best moments on the trail!

Fiona Outdoors

To ensure everyone enjoys their time on the trail, the best riders are friendly and considerate. Fiona Outdoors gives us her top tips for etiquette in the saddle:

Etiquette on the trails

  • Make yourself known: When approaching walkers or horses out and about, be sure to let them know without startling them. Slow down and ping your bell. On the trail, a cheery "Coming up behind you!" or "Rider on your left/right!" will do!
  • Left is right: Just like driving, ride on your left. This lets riders going in opposite directions pass one another with ease. This is essential on narrow or tricky terrain.
  • Patience is a virtue: If you find yourself closely following another rider, either on a long trail or any stretch of single-track, stop and give them space. That way, you can ride after them as fast as you like!
  • Perfect partners: Cycling while chatting with a friend is a great way to ride. However, be courteous. Ensure you're always giving other riders enough room and not bumping handlebars.
  • The Good Samaritan: The best mountain bikers always stop to help a rider in distress. Even if it turns out that they didn't need a hand after all, it's always favourable to ask!

Adele Mitchell

If you're new to the Mountain Bike world, the vocab can be as treacherous as any of the trails. Don't worry though! MTB blogger Adele Mitchell has given us a rundown of some key terms to take note of…

MTB Slang

Trail
where you ride your mountain bike! Trails may be natural or man-made, and the latter may be graded for difficulty, similar to ski runs.
Singletrack
a narrow mountain bike trail that is only wide enough to ride in single file.
Berm
a banked corner on a singletrack trail that allows you to carry more speed through that section.
Drop-off
a short, steep drop over rocks, roots or a natural step.
Roll up
the uphill version of a drop-off!
Root garden/rock garden
a section of trail that is particularly rooty or rocky.
Gnarly
describes technically demanding terrain such as roots and rocks that test your riding skills.
Tabletop
a purpose-built mound of earth with a wide, flat top that can be jumped or rolled.
Gap Jump (or double)
a jump with a space in the middle that needs to be cleared.
Air
what you get in the split second when both wheels are off the ground over a jump or drop.
OTB (‘Over the Bars’)
falling off face-first when you hit an obstacle or land a jump incorrectly. Best to be avoided.
Shred
riding with a high degree of skill, at speed.
Flow
a fast, exhilarating trail, and also the term for that euphoric moment when you are riding that trail at your best and loving it. In other words, the reason we ride.