Congratulations, you bought a mountain bike. Now here's the billion other pieces of gear you need to have a good time. Katie Lozancich photo.
You’ve done it. You’ve bought your very first mountain bike. Still soaking in the purchase, your phone buzzes. It’s a text from your friends that reads “get to the trail loser, we’re going mountain biking.” Excitedly, you take off your front wheel so your bike can fit in the back of your sedan. Your friends huddled in the parking lot when you arrive. As you park a realization hits you: they’re all dressed the same. ¾ length jerseys, fast sunglasses that look like knock-off Pit Vipers, and not a single pair of gym shorts. And why are they all wearing fanny packs?
Panicked, you debate making a run for it, but it’s too late. They’ve spotted you. Nervously you get out and brace for the worst. But your friends don’t give a f*ck—they’re just stoked to see that you’re willing to give the sport a try.
If it’s any relief, many of us have been in your shoes. Mountain biking is a complicated sport. There’s a dress code that no one talks about and a ton of random gear that you need to simply keep your bike running. And just when you think you’ve got things dialed, the industry introduces a new trend that blindsides you—like the fanny pack. So for first-timers, we’ve compiled a few things that you’ll want as a new biker. Hopefully, this makes it easier to focus on the important things, like riding your bike.
Protecting your dome is essential, and no, you can’t wear your ski helmet. Do it and we will make fun of you, as will everyone else. But, in all seriousness, you’ll want a mountain-bike specific helmet because they’re designed to protect the back of your head from rocks, roots, and all the fun pointy stuff on the trail.
Helmets are divided into two categories: full-face or half shelf. Before you pick one, really think about the riding you plan on doing. Wanna get sendy in the bike park? Protect that money maker with a full face. Bit of pedaler? Get a half shell. In a nutshell, half-shells are more versatile, whereas full faces offer more protection.
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Shoes are arguably the most important part of your kit, yet so many new bikers brush it off. Vans are not equivalent to bike shoes. You might think you’re saving yourself an extra $50-100, but they’ll do you no good in a rock garden. There’s nothing more troubling than having your feet fly off your pedals at mach speed, and bike shoes help prevent this.
Compared to a regular shoe, a bike shoe is built with sticky rubber on the bottom that grips onto your pedals. They’re also a stiffer shoe, which aids in pedaling. On top of that, they tend to be made from pretty durable fabric to protect your feet from obstacles along the trail.
You can wear all sorts of things mountain biking: athletic clothes, your favorite flannel, or inflatable dinosaur costumes. But before purchasing your kit, take a second to reflect on the kind of mountain biker persona you want to embody. Really dig deep for this one. From park rat to enduro bro, there’s a lot to choose out there, so choose what fits your riding style and shop accordingly.
The dinosaur costume is also a popular look. Katie Lozancich Photo.
But in actuality, bike-specific clothes do have their perks. Jerseys and shorts are designed to feel less restrictive while riding, and with moisture wicking fabric you’ll stay cooler and drier on that long pedal. If anything, your first purchase should be a pair of shorts, they’re way more comfortable than those gym shorts and the sturdier fabric provides extra protection when you fall. If money is tight, focus on getting the essentials: jersey, gloves, and a rain jacket. The rest will come in time.
A chamois is the weird padded diaper liner that is worn underneath bike shorts, and no one talks about them. But if you want to be able to walk after a long climb, you’ll want one.
Pro tip: don’t wear underwear with them, it reduces chafing.
Fanny Pack / Hydration Pack
The industry is trying to pull a fast one with their fancy “waist bags”, but we all know it’s just a ruse. Don’t lie to us, it’s a fanny pack damn it! As ridiculous as they look, these packs are becoming the beloved choice to carry snacks, water, and tools on the trail in a less bulky manner that keeps weight low on your body, where it should be while riding.
If your pride won’t allow you to wear such a thing, backpacks are an option too. A traditional riding pack is the tried and true method for carrying all your things, and they’re more spacious than a fanny pack.
I have some tough news for you: your bike will inevitably break. Things happen on and off the trail, that’s just the harsh reality of the sport. When things do go south—like a flat tire—don’t be caught unprepared. Here’s what you should actually put in that handy pack you bought: multitool, tire plugs, spare tube, CO2 inflator, a spare chain link, and an extra derailleur cable. It might mean you have to carry one less pouch of to-go applesauce, but it’s worth not being stranded two miles from the car as a thunderstorm builds above you.
Say hello to your new home. Stock Photo.
Visit Your Local Bikeshop
Great. You were an excellent padawan and bought all those nifty tools—now what? Learn how to use them. YouTube has lots of great tutorials to learn simple bike mechanics, but better yet see if your local shop is hosting any free clinics. It’s a hands-on way to learn more about your bike, a great way to meet other riders, there’s usually a cute shop dog, and the money goes to supporting the shop. It’s a win-win for everybody.
Trail builders like Heather Bradford in Crested Butte help make riding possible. Be sure to give back to your community through trail maintenance days. Jake Fojtik photo.
Grab a shovel
Bike trails were not created by the movement of the earth’s tectonic plates, but rather the hard work of your local trail builders. These dirt artisans could use a hand or at the very least a cold beer. Trail maintenance is a great way to give back to your favorite trails, and many areas host organized dig days. A bike shop is a good place to get more information, otherwise a google search along the lines of “[city name] mountain bike chapter” could point you in the right direction. To learn more about the impact trail building has on a community, check out our Blood Sweat and Gears series, which explores trail networks throughout the U.S.
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