My first (mountain) bike ride

I finally decided to get a bike this summer and after much debate, I went with a full suspension mountain bike instead of a hardtail.  I bought my bike at The Cyclepath and was really impressed with the store.They took the time to explain everything which was very useful as the last time I had ridden a bike was in grade school.  I wound up with a Trek Fuel EX ladies bike.

An interesting fact I learned while buying my bike is that only 20% those who buy mountain bikes in Calgary are girls.  I never knew there were so few women who mountain biked but after going out twice, that seems about right.  In the interest of providing some basic information for anyone (or any ladies) out there who are starting, here’s a few things I figured out after a couple rides.

Essential Gear:

  1. Helmet.  If you have a smaller head you should check out the kids helmets.  They’re half the price and not all look like kids gear.
  2. Bell.  In Calgary it’s a law that you have to have a bell on your bike if you’re using any city pathways or roads.
  3. Gloves.  I thought they were for sun protection but they have padding which helps relieve the pressure on parts of your hands.  I bought gloves with gel padding.
  4. Padded shorts!!!!!  I did’t buy these at first and after two rides, I quickly changed my mind on their usefulness.  While the padding feels funny, it’s really not visible and you can buy pairs that are meant to be worn under any shorts or pants.

Nose Hill biking

Other bike related things you need:

  1. Repair kit.  I have an extra tube, portable pump and tire levers which help take the tire off.  If you don’t know how to fix a flat (as I didn’t), sign up for a lesson. The Cyclepath offers discounted repair & maintenance lessons to anyone who bought a bike there.
  2. At home pump.  The portable pump takes a while to inflate with so it’s nice to have something stronger at home.
  3. Lock.  Two words: Bike theft.

Husband & Tyler taking a break. You can see the mountains in the distance

Where to go biking in Calgary?

  • Nose Hill: Our friend Tyler graciously volunteered to take my husband and I out on our inaugural bike ride.  Nose Hill is a great place to learn mountain biking because it’s very wide open and you can always see where you’re going.  There are single tracks that are not too technically challenging and the views of Calgary and the mountains are incredible.  There’s also a great breeze on all the hills which is good for hot or buggy days.
  • Fish Creek: If you stay on the paved or gravel roads then Fish Creek is awesome for beginners.  You can see a lot of the park and get in some good climbs.  Unfortunately all the single tracks I’ve tried have been way above my level.  They weave tightly between trees and have very steep downhills with an abundance of roots and rocks.  And once you’re in the forest, if you have to walk your bike up/around something there’s no breeze so the bugs are ferocious!

Biking in Nose Hill

General tips from a beginner:

  • Don’t stare directly in front of your wheels while riding.  At first I would ride looking down.  I was so worried about running over rocks and staying on the track that I was continuously scanning whatever was in front of my bike.  I found that when I looked up at where I was going, it helped me keep my balance and stay in the track.  Even if I did go off the track a bit or ran over a big rock I was better able to regain my balance than when staring at my front wheel.
  • Don’t be afraid to go fast!  The first few hills, I was scared that if I went too fast I would lose control of my bike.  Turns out, when you go faster, your spinning wheels generate more angular momentum.  This means that the faster you go, and the faster your wheels spin, the harder it is to knock your bike off it’s path.  Just trust the laws of physics on this one! ;)
  • Gear down before hills.  Once you’re climbing a hill, it’s very hard to gear down.  I found it helped to overestimate how much to gear down.  Whatever gear  I thought was adequate, I’d go one lower because it was easy to gear up if I needed to.
Funny story?  On my first ride I was so proud of myself for making it down this steep hill without getting off my bike.  I wasn’t able to make it up the other side so I got off my bike.  This guy says to me “Don’t worry about walking your bike up, you’re a girl”.  I’m pretty sure he was joking but, what an odd joke to tell a stranger!  I let him know that I wasn’t pushing myself too much because I had a weeklong mountaineering trip I needed to be 100% for.  I don’t think that was the answer he expected!
If anyone has any other tips or suggestions for starting out mountain biking I’d love to hear them!