5 Rookie Mountain Bike Mistakes To Avoid

Avoid beginner mountain biking mistakes by following these tips


beginner mountain bike mistakes

There are a lot of new cyclists taking to the bike paths, roads, and trails. If you’re one of them, you’re probably encountering the steep learning curve that comes with cycling. Mountain biking in particular can appear very intimidating at first, though most riders are welcoming and more than willing to help you become a better rider. Here are five tips to get you started so you can ride over the learning curve and become a better rider by avoiding these beginner mountain bike mistakes.

Related: The Best Mountain Bikes Under $1000 for 2020

5 Beginner Mountain Bike Mistakes To Avoid

1 – The chamois goes under your shorts and you don’t wear underwear with it

beginner mountain bike mistakes

Mountain bike shorts with an integrated chamois (also known as a liner short) are a great investment if you’re looking to spend more time in the saddle. This small layer of padding can prevent saddle sores and chafing. One thing that’s not discussed nearly enough and often taken for granted is that the chamois is designed to sit against the wearer’s skin. If you wear underwear with a chamois, you will likely experience more discomfort. This beginner mountain bike mistake is easy to avoid by leaving the underwear at home when you hit the trail.

Related: The Best Mountain Bike Shorts of 2020

2 – Look where you want to go, not where you don’t

beginner mountain bike mistakes

Shifting, balance, body position over the bike, cornering posture… there’s a lot of important motions for beginner mountain bikers to learn. Eventually, all of these actions will become engrained in your muscle memory. When you’re getting started, the key to keeping on the trail and out of the brush is line choice. Simply put, look where you want to go, not where you don’t. Your body will instinctively follow where you look. If you fixate on a rock, log, or another obstacle, you will find yourself subconsciously steering toward it. Take note of trail hazards and quickly look past them. Likewise, when entering a sharp turn, don’t fixate on the apex, look through the exit of the turn and your body will follow suit.

Related: How to corner on a mountain bike

3 – Stay loose

beginner mountain bike mistakes

The importance of staying loose on the bike cannot be overstated. When you tense up, you freeze up and your body can’t react as quickly to turns and trail obstacles. Your bike’s suspension is designed to maintain traction with the terrain. Your body’s natural suspension: your arms and legs will absorb large impacts. When encountering drops and technical sections of singletrack, keep your body weight centered and your knees and elbows bent so you’re able to absorb the impact.

Related: How to relax while riding

4 – Uphill riders have the right of way

beginner mountain bike mistakes

Unless you are riding downhill-specific trails, uphill riders have the right-of-way. The reasoning is that it’s easier to get started after stopping when descending than climbing.

When descending two-way trails, look far ahead for uphill riders and find a safe place to stop. When climbing, listen for descending riders and time your approach so you won’t meet them at a blind corner where they will be unable to see you and stop in time. Regardless of which way you’re riding, know that mountain bikers must yield to hikers and equestrians on multi-use trails unless otherwise specified.

Related: Trail Etiquette Q&A

5 – Leave no trace / don’t damage the trails

beginner mountain bike mistakes

Playing in the dirt is part of the fun of mountain biking. But there’s a fine line between riding tacky “hero dirt” and destroying trails that are too muddy to ride. If your tires are caked with mud and leaving ruts then you shouldn’t be on the trail. As the saying goes, discretion is the better part of valor. It’s better to wait a few days than cause damage than can lead to erosion and result in trail crews fixing ruts rather than improving trails and building new ones. It’s not uncommon to encounter muddy segments when trails are otherwise rideable, in such cases, ride through the wet sections, rather than around them. Trail widening and overuse is a significant issue in many areas—do your part to keep singletrack single.

Related: The case for primitive trails

Part of being a responsible mountain biker is being a good steward of the trail and the environment around it. Make sure you pack out any wrappers from food you consume while riding as well as inner tubes or other items. Last but certainly not least, find your local trail advocacy organization. They’re generally your best point of contact for updates on trail conditions and participating in trail work days is a great way to get plugged into your local cycling community.

There’s a lot more to mountain biking

This is just a primer to get you started. We have an entire forum dedicated to helping new mountain bike riders.

Related: Mtbr’s Beginner Mountain Biker Forums

If you’re an experienced mountain biker. Share advice that helped you in the comments section.

About the author: Mtbr

Mtbr.com is a site by mountain bikers for mountain bikers. We are the best online resource for information for mountain bikers of all abilities, ages and interests.


  • jim christensen says:

    skid a lot and everyone will know you’re a beginner, skidding is bad for the trails and good riders will laugh at you.

  • Joey says:

    How about as a beginner , DON’T purchase a full suspension carbon fiber bike.
    A hard tail with front shock should suffice. If you blossom and improve your skills and physic , then by all means a full-suspension would be the natural progression.

    • jrktms says:

      that depends on expectations, go big or go home

    • Rob says:

      Not sure I would agree. A lot depends on the age of the rider, their fitness level and the type of terrain they will likely encounter on the trails nearest them. I would recommend that the bike be bought at a highly respected LBS so at least you will get a bike with decent components as well as advise on the bike that you would be best suited for.. A hard tail might work well as a first bike for a younger rider but someone middle age might really need that FS bike. As for a Carbon Fiber frame…not everyone is going to drop $9K or more on their first bike unless they are just filthy rich
      Look for models that are “end of year close outs” in order to get the best bang for the buck.

  • Ken says:

    Sure, whatever. The many YouTube and Manufacture demo videos never show a “Pro” skidding into a corner at break-neck speeds or scrubbing their speed with a tail-wagging rear wheel skid do they? Practice what is preached is a good rule to follow IMO. Stop glamorizing this type of riding if you want beginners to learn what is expected of them on the trials and leave the poor riding choices to the Red Bull closed course type “tracks” where there are no rules (obviously for the sake of the Extreme Sport), not trails.

  • Lou Harris says:

    Can we please update the obsolete rule “Uphill riders have the right of way?” Just use common sense. Most of the time, it’s actually easier to stop and get started going UPHILL. It’s safer too. Downhill riders are going faster, and it’s not super easy to just stop and let the uphill person pass. Most trails are wide enough (even singletrack) to move to your respective side of the trail and pass the rider going the other direction. It is ridiculous for a rider to “hog” the trail with elbows out and yell “uphill rider has the right of way!” Seriously?!!!?! We all have equal rights to be on the trail, and if we all use common sense passing a rider going up or down will happen quickly and without issue.

    • Gary says:

      Actually the reason uphill has the right away to to slow down the downhill rider for safety reasons. It’s not just because it’s hard to get started again. Use common sense and be polite and most people will let you pass without issue. However, having the attitude of I’m faster going downhill so get out of my way doesn’t fly…

  • Josh Patterson says:

    Lou, like it or not, this rule is far from outdated and more often than not, it is the best approach to passing situations. Unless a trail clearly states otherwise, this is trail etiquette all new riders should learn.

  • nicholas marotta says:

    gotta admit I agree with lou harris. I’ve always ridden to the side to let downhill riders pass and enjoy the flow of the down.annoying to stop while going down but who cares going up. I think its usually quicker to either ride off the trail or quickly jump off the bike. ive been biking all my life and I’m 40 and I only heard this uphill rule recently.. maybe its more American as I’m in the UK but I lived in calgary Canada for 5 years too?

  • Joey says:

    The up hill climber has the RIGHT to choose the LINE. DHill riders should respect this, especially if its a technical climb.

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