Top Mountain Biking Tips & Gear For Beginners, From SA Experts

by | Apr 5, 2024 | Training

Inspired to take up a new sport in 2024 and start tackling some trails? You’ve come to the right place! We’ve got expert advice covering all areas you’d need to know; from how to take on the uphills and downhills and how to use your gears to how to keep your balance and the best gear you can buy. These mountain biking tips for beginners (and even the more experienced riders) will take your ride from confusing to confident and help you score a new PB on the hills.

READ MORE: 13 Benefits Of Cycling For Physical And Mental Health, According To Trainers

Source: The South African Women’s MTB Survey presented by Liv

The State Of Mountain Biking In South Africa

A short ride from South Africa’s concrete jungles, you’ll find tons of rough and ready terrain, begging to be explored. And the women of South Africa are taking them on in droves.

Per the South African Women’s MTB Survey, presented by Liv, the number of women new to mountain biking has grown from 7.1% in 2018 to a lively 16.74% in 2022.

Over 51% of female mountain bikers are heading to the trails on bikes to get outdoors and a further 34% cite the social aspect as their main motivation.

Either way, getting on the trail on your trusty bike is great all around.

READ MORE: 9 Great Sports To Try In 2024

The Benefits Of Mountain Biking

According to Idaho Sports Medicine Institute, you’ll rack up your cardio points while improving your strength and endurance. It’s also a great way to nix stress and anxiety, since being outdoors contributes to feelings of peace and contentment.

The potent mixture of benefits makes for a great reason to get riding and build up on a new skill. With these mountain biking tips, you can make the most of your rides and manoeuvre technical points with ease. (Read 13 more mental and physical health benefits of cycling here)

Meet the experts: Robert du Preez is a mountain biking coach at Rubber Side Down. Victoria Rose is a Women’s MTB Skills Coach for Ride Like A Girl MTB Skills. Jessi Nixon and Darryn Stow are bike coaches at Bike Park Uitsig.

How To Navigate Hills In Mountain Biking

How To Take On Downhills 

mountain biking tips man going downhill
Image by Darcy Lawrey on Pexels

Ever heard that going downhill, you should lean back on your bike? Don’t do that. “This advice is now outdated and should be ignored,” says Robert du Preez, mountain biking coach at Rubber Side Down. “Your body should always be centred on your bike, in all situations and on all terrain.

The keywords you should think of when trying to centre yourself on your bike are ‘heavy feet and light hands.’” For downhill, get out of the saddle and stand up on the pedals with heavy feet and light hands.

How To Navigate Uphills

“When it comes to body positioning for climbs, the most efficient position is seated,” says Victoria Rose, a Women’s MTB Skills Coach for Ride Like A Girl MTB Skills. “However, when climbs get steeper and more technical, we need to consider shifting our centre of mass more forward on the bike to meet the angle of the climb as well as to maintain good grip on the front wheel.” This means going boobs-to-bar so that you’re preventing your front wheel from lifting and creating instability.

READ MORE: How Cyclist Candice Lill Is Approaching The Absa Cape Epic

How To Manoeuvre Through Rough Terrain 

To successfully move through rocky areas, make sure your elbows are open like a butterfly (not hunched inwards), and keep your knees open, too. This allows you to control the bike more efficiently when turning, climbing and cruising, say Jessi Nixon and Darryn Stow, bike coaches at Bike Park Uitsig.

Source: The South African Women’s MTB Survey presented by Liv

How To Use Your Gears

How To Get Used To Your Bike Gears

mountain biking tips picture of gears on a mountain bike
Image by Lum3n on Pexels

For beginners, Nixon and Stow suggest riding down a flat road and experimenting with the different gears on your bike.

“Run through the gears all the way from the hard ones to the easy ones,” they say. “Scroll up and down just practising when you need to change the gears.”

How To Find The Right Cadence 

Simply put, cadence is the number of revolutions (or rounds) your pedals make per minute as you ride.

“Our gear selection is directly linked to how it makes us feel,” says Rose. “A desired rpm (or reps per minute) is between 60 and 90. If our pedalling is slow and it feels like a lot of power to turn those pedals over, our gear is too hard. If our pedalling is fast and our legs are spinning, it will feel bouncy and sloppy, meaning our gear is too easy. Both extremes take just as much effort and can make us feel fatigued.”

Rules of thumb: on a climb, look for a slower cadence, and on downhills, look for a harder gear.

Why You Should Change Gears Often 

In mountain biking, there are new technical sections around every corner and on each path. Matching your gears to the section will make everything easier.

“You could come around a corner and then it could be a steep uphill or there could be rocks,” says Stow. “The moment you feel resistance increase in your pedal stroke, shift to a lighter gear. As you feel less resistance, shift to a heavier gear to generate momentum again,” says du Preez.

READ MORE: Meet Caroline Matsimela, Opening New Doors For Women’s Cycling

Source: The South African Women’s MTB Survey presented by Liv

Mountain Biking Tips To Improve Your Technique

Let Your Eyes Guide You 

Often, you can be too focused on your bike and not at what’s up ahead. Focus on what’s to come and you’ll find your abilities soar. “Focus on the trail and where you want to go. This will simplify the info coming into your brain and you’ll be more relaxed,” says du Preez.

Focus On Your Balance 

“If you don’t have balance, you’re going to struggle on steep climbs and switchbacks,” says Stow. “A lot of people skip this and then go slightly faster and crash and hurt themselves.” To up your skill, practise balancing drills, like single-leg deadlifts, to increase your proprioception and core strength. (Try these 9 bodyweight exercises to improve mobility, too!)

Go For A Class 

“The best thing you can do for yourself and your riding is to take a skills lesson with a qualified skills coach,” says Rose. “Join a riding club that caters for different fitness and skills levels and try your best to join as many rides as you can.” You can also try out Zwift, a virtual training app that allows you to compete with others around the world while smashing your goals.

READ MORE: Exactly How To Start Your Weightlifting Journey

The Best Mountain Biking Gear To Buy

These essentials not only allow you to navigate the hills but also make things so much more enjoyable. 

Mountain Biking Helmets

mountain biking tips helmet

This Rockrider EXPL helmet is adjustable for comfort, has 17 ventilation channels and is compatible with ponytails.

The Cairbull Trail AM features increased head coverage, a 3 level adjustable visor and supports cycling goggles.

Sweat-wicking and odour-free, this Oakley DRT3 helmet also has height-adjustable yoke for a comfortable, customised fit.

Cycling Shirts

mountain biking jersey

This shirt has highly breathable lycra with two-way stretch (to maintain its fit over time) and pockets at the back for snacks.

Featuring ultra-soft knitted Italian fabrics and UPF 50+ protection, you’ll be perfectly comfy and score UV protection.

The Capestorm Terrazzo jersey features pockets, is also a lightweight, breathable fabric and comes in a cute design.

Cycling Shorts

mountain biking shorts

These shorts are kitted with Italian silicone grippers on the legs and pre-moulded padding for extra support in the saddle.

The Van Rysel shorts, with three layers of padding, ensure comfort during long rides, while stretchy fabric moves with your body.

The RBX shorts from Specialized have support that moulds to your body to ensure maximum comfort and minimal friction.

Cycling Gloves

mountain biking gloves

Slim without being restrictive, these are compression-moulded and have a four-way stretch and silicone fingertips.

The Louis Garneau Calory gloves are made with a stretchy fabric, foam padding and let air in, so you stay comfy.

These dual foam gloves offer a premium, high-performance gel and memory foam for superior all-day comfort.

READ MORE: Meet The Absa Cape Epic’s Powerhouse Cyclist, Fran Mille

Cycling Knee Pads

Leatt Knee Guard Airflex Pro knee pads keep you cool and protected with Airflex tech that keeps things airy. Plus there is side and upper knee impact protection.

With breathability and a secure fit, you can’t go wrong with these knee pads from ION Bike. They’re also super absorbent so you’re more protected from impacts.

These knee guards are breathable and lightweight for maximum comfort and still allow you full range of motion thanks to a high-stretch rear panel.

Cycling Shoes

These lightweight shoes are easy to manage and allow you to feel the pedals beneath your feet. A top locking mechanism means you’re in and out of your shoe in seconds.

The Rockrider mountain biking shoe fits like a glove without suffocating your feet. It’s snug and flexible on the inside, but stiff and sturdy on the outside. Love!

The Bontrager Evoke Mountain Bike Shoes are made for all-around performance and are built with a Tachyon rubber sole for ultimate off-bike confidence.

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