Before you get started though, here are a few handy tips to get you on your merry way.
A bike is a good idea to begin with. Depending on the type of trails you want to do, there are a good few choices to make. The good news is though, you can test the waters and see if you like the sport with very little financial commitment. We at Rothar have demo day with hardtails and full suspension bikes alike, or if we don't have what you want, all of the major trail centres will offer bike rental.
Secondly, you need a bit of gear so that you don't find yourself stranded in some obscure corner of the mountain (think that darkness sets pretty early during the low season, and especially in the woods!) so don't get caught and bring a puncture repair kit + spare tubes and a pump with you.
Thirdly, you need a helmet. Again, most centres (and us at Rothar) would rent it together with the bike.
Clothing wise, you cannot do without gloves. They protect your hands in case of fall, they provide you with better grip and therefore control of the bike, act as a shock absorber taking some pressure off your hands and will absorb some of that sweat, preventing your hands from slipping off the bars. We would also recommend a waterproof shell (a light one you can keep in your bag), because, well, Ireland, and some snacks and a bottle of water (reusable is best - or if you are that way inclined, fill in the bladder in your backpack).
You will also need a puncture repair, spare tubes and a pump - the days are short in the low season, especially in the woods, and you don't want to get stranded in some remote part of the forest.
Choosing your route
Choose your route carefully. Being bold is good, being overly confident is not. Start with the gentle trails. Most centres would have a map of the different trails, sorted by difficulty (beginner's to expert's - stick to the sanctioned trails). The last thing you want to do on your first ride is scare yourself and ruin your day. Start out with nice gentle trails to give yourself a chance to get acquainted with the bike and the feeling of riding off road. There’s plenty of time for the gnarly trails once you improve a little bit.
Get used to the bike before you hit the trails. Set the saddle at a comfortable height, get used to the gears and to the riding position. The brakes will be your biggest challenge. Brakes on mountain bikes are really powerful (for obvious reasons), and also very sensitive. The last thing you want to do is pulling the levers too hard and find yourself face in the mud, or your chin hitting a rock. You should always endeavour to pull the brakes lightly - we recommend you keep one finger on the levers at all times. That will allow for emergency braking, but also encourage you not to put too much force on the levers.
Trust your equipment
The mountain bike is designed to roll over tree roots and rocks and bounce down step sections. So trust the equipment and instead of attempting to swerve every obstacle (which is impossible on technical sections) trust that your bike will be able to deal with it.
Riding your bike
Your riding position is crucial on a mountain bike.
- Drop your heels. Bracing your feet against the pedals helps your body maintain stability and resist the forces that downhill braking puts on your body.
- Keep your arms and legs bent. When your arms or legs are locked out, you aren’t able to react to the terrain. Maintaining a bend in your elbows and knees will allow your joints to act like extra suspension on rough descents.
- Shift your hips back slightly. Your range of motion will depend on the steepness of the descent. Small body position adjustments go a long way!
- Look ahead. It will give you the opportunity to ensure you are in the right gear. It is important to try to do your gear changes in advance of a climb or technical descent as changes mid-section can prove tricky
Go with better riders
Learning from experts or from someone who knows what they are doing will make you progress faster. If you have nice friends who don't mind showing their expertise to a rookie, go for it. Or try to find a group ride.
Riding behind people who are better than you will also give you the opportunity to improve. Watch how they position their bodies when going up or downhill. You can also witness first-hand how they handle rough, rocky sections.
Mountain bikers are friendly people. The main thing you do need to know is that you must yield to faster riders coming up behind you.
You will often hear the expression “Rider Up” being used, this simply means that somebody is coming down the trail behind you. All you need to do is find a safe spot to pull in and let them pass.
Prepare for a fall
You will fall off your mountain bike at some stage. But do let this put you off. You will not be speeding down the trails on your first couple of rides so your falls will tend to be of the comic variety and will be far less painful than you expect. Kneepads, elbow pads and back protector are available, think about using them.
If you do take a fall try not to get nervous when you get back on the bike. The more relaxed you are, the less likely you are to take a spill. A rigid body will result in jerky movements on the bike which never end well. So think happy thoughts and off you go!