Your boyfriend’s into mountain biking, and thinks you should try it. Maybe you’re stoked, and maybe you’re a little bit nervous. No matter how you’re feeling, you should know this: if you want to be successful at biking, you have to take responsibility for your own experience… don’t let him be the driver!
Last year, I stood where you stand now. I’ve just wrapped up the end of my second season of mountain biking, and I’m happy to say that I finally feel comfortable calling myself a “mountain biker.”
My story is one you’ve heard before, I’m sure: Will, my now-fiancé, quickly fell in love with mountain biking. Knowing that sharing a sport means more opportunities to get out and do said sport, he was excited when I showed an interested in getting on a bike as well. Just like that, I became the cliche: the girl who followed her boyfriend into mountain biking.
Will was “all in” from day one, dropping a couple grand on a sweet full suspension Yeti and other high end gear. I was more cautious, opting to buy a cheaper used hardtail in case I didn’t end up liking biking after all.
My first season gave me a taste of what mountain biking could be, but many rides ended in frustration. Hell, a lot of rides tipped the scales into argument territory! Now, at the end of my second season, I’m riding confidently and I feel like we’ve made it through most of the growing pains that couples experience when a dude tries to get his gal into mountain biking.
It took me two years to embrace mountain biking, with a lot of wrong turns and grumpy rides. Here’s what I did, why it sucked, and how you can do better.
1. Make sure your gear fits the bill.
What I did: My first few rides were on a friend’s ancient, squeaky hardtail with weird gearing. On one of those rides my front wheel actually fell off while I was riding – not a recipe for confidence. Once I decided I liked biking enough to invest a few bucks, Will helped me find a used hardtail for a good price. As it turns out: a good price isn’t worth anything if the bike doesn’t fit. I could just baaaarely stand over my top tube, making for some uncomfortable (and sometimes downright painful) dismounts. Not to mention – we were riding trails that maximized his full suspension, and I was really feeling the bumps on the hardtail.
My third bike, a new, professionally fitted Santa Cruz Bantam, was a much better choice, but the seat didn’t go down far enough for my height. It wasn’t until I got a dropper post a full year later that I ever experienced the feeling of riding downhill without a seat jammed firmly up my ass.
Why it sucked: It’s impossible to work on technique and skill building when you’re constantly fighting your gear. On bike #2 I was so afraid of banging my lady bits that I never worked on any skills, because I was always looking for the next place I might need to bail. Before I got the dropper for my Santa Cruz (side note – I now know that seat posts can be trimmed! If your seat doesn’t go all the way down, take it to your local bike shop to see what they can do.) I knew that going faster on the downhills would help me ride out the bumpy bits, but I kept going over my bars because I couldn’t get my body in the right position with my seat so high. Will, on the other hand, had a perfectly dialed setup and couldn’t understand why I was having such a hard time adjusting. Of course he was progressing faster than I – he wasn’t waging war on his gear every time we hit the trail.
What you should do: You need to insist that you get the best gear available to you – you shouldn’t be riding an ancient bike while he’s on the latest and greatest! That might mean demoing a bike for a few rides, and investing in a more expensive bike down the line. Check in with your local shop, some places will give you credit towards buying a new bike for each demo ride you take.
The bottom line is this: riding with ill-fitting gear won’t make you enjoy biking. If, like me, you still likes biking even with shitty gear, you’ll want to upgrade ASAP, and you’ll probably lose money when you try to resell the cheap stuff (I know I did.) Though it is a bigger initial investment, it’s much better to get decent gear up front. That way, if you end up hating it (unlikely, especially if you follow the rest of my tips!) you can sell it all, and you won’t have lost any more money than you would’ve if you had to replace a bunch of sub-par gear mid-way through your first season. Bonus, less tears!
2. Take a lesson!
What I did: When I started biking, my thought process went something like this: I’m pretty athletic, and I learned how to ride a bike when I was 5. Will didn’t take any lessons, and neither did anyone else that we rode with. Surely, lessons are for noobs!
Why it sucked: While the basics of biking came easily to Will, they eluded me. Having previously only ridden a townie, I knew little more than “point and pedal” – which only gets you so far. I spent months trying different things, falling a LOT, and getting frustrated, simply because I didn’t know what I should be doing. Eventually, I got in over my head and supermanned down a loose rock garden in Jackson Hole, which resulted in some mega confidence issues and finally pushed me to get some professional help.
What you should do: Bite the bullet and take a lesson. It can be one on one or a group clinic, but don’t take the lesson with your dude. No matter how well you two get along, you won’t learn as much if he’s there. A lesson (or two, or more!) will give you the foundation you need to build the skills that will make you an awesome mountain biker.
I finally got around to taking a real lesson a few weeks ago (at the end of my second season) and now I kick myself for not looking for help earlier. I took two three-hour lessons from the wonderfully talented ladies at Moab Mountain Bike Instruction. The first was taught by Sylvi, an instructor who has been teaching mountain biking for over six years. With the calm, measured voice of a yoga instructor, she showed me how I should sit on my bike, where my body should be, and what I should expect different moves to feel like. The second lesson, with Ashley, focused on “getting after it” – something I wasn’t thinking about at all before my lessons. After taking these lessons I was relaxed, confident, and crushing it – a 180º difference from the terrified post-crash rider I was before.
One unexpected benefit of taking the lessons was seeing how other people approach mountain biking. Before my lessons, I had only ever ridden with – and compared myself to – Will and a handful of friends, even though they were way more experienced and conditioned than I. Riding with different people gave me some new perspectives that made me feel much more confident in my skills. I couldn’t ride as hard and fast as Will, but I definitely wasn’t lame!
3. Don’t be afraid to session!
What I did: I desperately, desperately didn’t want Will and friends to think I was a loser. So, for every ride I put on my game face and tried my hardest to keep up. Any time I rode up to something that was scary or seemingly above my level, I hopped off my bike and walked around it as fast as I could.
Why it sucked: By treating every ride like a race to the finish line, I was preventing myself from getting better and maybe even making myself worse – I was skipping things without even trying! Now, I believe that there’s no shame in walking sections, but it’s not acceptable to skip part of the trail before giving it a shot.
What you should do: Go on session rides! Tell your guy that you want to ride in front, and stop to repeat any sections that give you trouble. More often than not, you’ll get it after a few tries and your confidence will increase tremendously – think of it as a little investment now that will pay off big on your future rides.
If your dude complains that riding this way will be boring and awful, he’s absolutely wrong. Will has spent some time sessioning sections with me over the last few months and has really enjoyed it – forcing yourself to ride things differently has huge benefits.
Of course, not every ride needs to be a session ride, and you should also be careful about pushing the limits. When you go out for your first few rides, make sure your time and place goals are appropriate. Don’t start a long loop so close to sunset that you have to power through. Don’t jump from 5 mile rides to a 20 mile ride.
4. Finally, have him read this:
I’ve generally accepted the fact that Will is naturally better at most sports than I am. However, this knowledge doesn’t make it any easier to be the one struggling! Oftentimes when he sees me floundering he’ll try to offer some helpful advice. Sometimes it’s just what I need, but other times (even when I know he means the best) it sends me into a fit of rage. As the receiver of lots of this advice, I’ve come up with some general guidelines for advice givers. Have your dude read this section before you guys go out together.
Boyfriends/Husbands/Anybody trying to get someone new to like biking:
I know that your helpful comments always come from a place of love, but sometimes it doesn’t come off that way. Here’s how to get your point across without offending us:
- Eliminate the word “just.” You know – “You just need to ride faster!” “Just keep pedaling!” “Just pick your front wheel up and you’ll make it over that rock, no problem!” (Side note – that last one resulted in my most painful bike fall, ever. Turns out there’s a lot more to it than “just pick your front wheel up” as is evidenced by my crotch getting super intimate with my headset. Ouch.) I get it – by prefacing your advice with “just,” you’re trying to make it sound like something reasonable. From our perspective, it sounds more like “this is so easy for me, why are you having a hard time with it?” Any time you want to use the word just, try to rephrase it in a way that sounds more like a suggestion. For example, if she says “I feel like I’m going to crash on these rocks” you might say “Sometimes, I feel more comfortable on bumpy sections with a little extra speed.” If you can’t think of an alternative without using the word “just” – just keep that comment to your damn self. You’ll thank me later.
- If you’re going to cheer her on (which you totally should!) make sure it’s something that deserves praise. If she’s looking great, tell her so. If she’s looking wobbly, don’t tell her she’s looking great – find something you can genuinely compliment her on and focus on that instead. Things I like to hear when I’m riding:
– You were right behind me on that climb!
– You looked way more relaxed on that section.
– It took me forever to finally get that section!
– You never would have gotten that section last ride/week/year!
Bonus points if she’s frustrated and you can point out something else that she’s crushing instead.
- Listen. Sometimes, we just want to gripe. Biking is hard and can be frustrating! Let her talk before you jump in with your life altering tips – she might get there on her own without you!
Disclaimer: Poor Will has gotten the short end of the stick in this post. I don’t mean to make him out to be the bad guy – really! Without Will, there’s no way that I would be anywhere near the biker I am today. Me learning how to mountain bike has been a huge growing process for both of us, and I’m forever grateful that he’s willing to share his favorite sport with me.
Club Ride Apparel Zest Shorts
Love these combo shorts for longer rides – very comfortably padded chamois, outer shorts fit well.
Five Ten Freerider
These flats are perfect for biking – the super sticky 5.10 soles grab the pedals and the stiff base keeps your foot from collapsing. Comfortable, too!
Giro Tessa LF
Full fingered gloves are great for protecting your hands against whippy trees and grass as well as the occasional fall.
Multi-Sport Hydration Pack
Patagonia Fore Runner Vest 10L
My go-to pack for all activities. Love the capacity versatility and strap pockets.
These socks are the best! Good length, pretty affordable, and a bunch of sweet designs.