If your introduction to mountain biking was anything like mine, you know that there is a right way and a very wrong way to introduce someone to the sport. My first singletrack experience? A backcountry shuttle ride in Utah on a borrowed bike with tennis shoes and an outdated helmet. On the first descent I grabbed a handful of front brake and went over the bars. I didn’t get back on a mountain bike for 5 years.
A successful introduction takes just a little bit of planning, some forethought and a healthy dose of patience. In the end, you will have a new riding buddy and a friend for life.
1. Equipment Check
Get started on the right foot – make sure your friend is riding a bike that is the right size and in good working order. Remember, your spare large hardtail does NOT fit your friend who is 5’2”. Don’t even try. Do a quick bike check to make sure everything is rolling smoothly. Consider picking up a demo bike from a local shop. A lot of shops will apply a demo credit to the purchase of a new bike!
Ensure your friend is wearing a helmet that fits and is prepared with plenty of snacks and water… then throw an extra granola bar in your pack, just to be safe. No one likes being hungry and it’s easy to underestimate how hard they’ll be working on the bike. Do you have a spare set of pads you can loan them for the ride? Offer them up!
2. Picking the Ride
Take a minute to plan the right ride – not too hard, not too long, not pushing daylight, not on the hottest day of the year, etc
Before you head out, set expectations and let your friend know the length / estimated time of the ride. This will help your friend know how much water and snacks to bring, and help ease their fear of the unknown. Keep in mind, a trail that you can lap in 20 minutes may take an hour with someone brand new to mountain biking.
For a first ride, better safe than sorry. Don’t overdue it. Consider having a short and long ride option so you can bail early if that’s best.
3. Cover the Basics
Take a quick minute to make sure your friend understands the very basics of mountain biking. For example, explain the front and rear brake and remind them to “ease the squeeze” with the brakes. Don’t let them grab a handful of front brake! Consider reminding the new rider that it’s best to stand on level pedals when descending. Explain how to work the dropper post.
4. Don’t preach
You are not an instructor (or if you are, please call us). Even some of the best riders accidentally offer bad mountain biking advice. Keep your riding tips basic – just enough to avoid an OTB.
If you see your friend making a potentially fatal error on the ride, politely offer a little tip to save their as*. Otherwise, don’t turn the ride into a skills lesson unless asked. If there is a feature you suggest they walk for safety’s sake, consider walking the feature yourself even if you know you can ride it. Set a good example and encourage your friend to ride within their ability level.
5. Set the Pace
You can help to set a good pace whether you are riding in front or taking up the rear. If you are riding in front, don’t pedal off leaving your friend in the dust. Take it easy! On the flip side, don’t ride right on your friend’s wheel. Give them some space so they don’t feel pressure to rider faster than they are comfortable.
6. Take a Break
Remember how hard you were breathing when you first started mountain biking? Give your friend plenty of opportunities to rest. And remember, the break doesn’t start until they get there, even if you’ve already been chilling for 5 or 10 minutes.
7. Check yo’ self before they wreck themselves!
Be humble and patient. Don’t refer to rides or features as easy or short. While they may be for you, to a noobie everything can feel like a big deal and you don’t want to squash that feeling of accomplishment. Their first handful of miles on a mountain bike should be about fun and your job is to make sure they want to get back in the saddle to do it again!
8. Make Introductions
Congratulations! You are a great friend for introducing your buddy to the sport. Now it’s time for them to spread their wings! Mountain biking is not a monogamous sport. Introduce your friend to other riding buddies and get them connected with a good local shop. Set them up with a group ride and be sure to send them our group riding tips!