Fresh air in the lungs,
dust on the legs, sweeping landscapes in view — hitting the trail reaps huge physical and mental rewards. But if you’re putting rubber to the dirt for the first time, it can be a little intimidating. The right gear can make the transition to mountain biking more enjoyable.
We've outlined the basics to get you out and on the trail for miles of joy.
Hot days on the trail are paid out in liters of sweat. You need a jersey that breathes well and wicks sweat quickly. Mountain bike jerseys fit looser for better airflow and are offered in sleeveless, T-shirt, zip front and tank styles. But don't assume their casual styling means they're any less technical.
For mountain bikers, shorts provide as much protection from the unpredictability of the trail as they do the saddle. Padded Lycra bike shorts can pass in a pinch, but over time they will take a beating on the trail. Investing in a pair of dedicated mountain bike shorts will prove a better option.
More durable than gym shoes, a dedicated mountain bike shoe provides a stable platform to transfer energy from your legs, through the bike, to the ground. Mountain bike shoes fall into two categories: flat pedal and clipless. Both should feel stiff, yet comfortable, and lock your heel into the cup. The choice depends on the type of riding you’ll do (and your comfort with unclipping from the bike). Stepping off a flat pedal has zero learning curve, making it safer to tackle rocky terrain. Clipless pedals (contrary to the name) “clip” onto your shoes through a cleat bolted between the lugs. The cleats snap into the pedal, locking your foot into the bike. Twisting your foot unlocks it from the pedal. It takes some practice, but clipping into the pedals allows you to pull up and push down with each pedal stroke, providing maximum energy transfer between you and the trail. These are a great choice for more cross-country-oriented rides that don’t require constantly stepping in and out of the pedal.
Gloves are one part grip, one part protection. Sweat or rain can make your grip slick. Gloves will keep you connected to the handlebars, prevent blisters, and, if you go down, you will appreciate the coverage. Even for sunny summer rides, we like full-finger gloves. A good pair should be lightweight and nimble, allowing you to work the levers without overheating.
You still need a chamois to protect your backside. The good news is that many MTB shorts include a padded liner short, but you can also choose to buy the outer short and liner separately if you want higher performance comfort.
Socks wick moisture away from the feet, offer a bit of cushioning, and can protect the lower legs from flogging by brush. Cycling socks are some of the very best socks you can buy. They stay up, are durable, and they’re fashionable enough to cross over into everyday wear. Taller socks can provide a little more protection, support, and warmth.
Backcountry weather can be fickle. Summer afternoons can quickly shift from sunny to stormy in the flick of a gear. Like hikers, mountain bikers should prepare for the worst. Every rider should stow a simple jacket in the pack to unfurl with the change of weather. A waterproof-breathable jacket can protect you from a rainstorm, but it can often be too warm (and bulky) for riding. Unless you regularly ride in the rain, most riders will be better served with a water-resistant jacket. This will have a DWR coating to shed light rain, while the lightweight material helps cut through the wind and disappears in the pack. On cold morning rides, these jackets provide fantastic warmth when you point the rubber down the hill.
Terrain changes quickly when mountain biking, especially on trails you’re unfamiliar with. As you start to point the rubber down more technical terrain, consider knee and elbow pads. Protecting your knee and elbow joints ensures you’ll be ready to ride another day. A good pad will have some pre-curve to fit around the joint while allowing it to articulate.