Selecting a Trail

Tips for beginners looking for place to ride their new Mountain Bike

Mountain biking is a great way to exercise and enjoy the outdoors. You know that and have the gear and desire to get out there and ride, there is only one problem – you do not know where to ride. No worries, there are thousands of public trails crisscrossing the country and chances are there is one near you. But selecting the right trail is something many new riders have a problem with, so here are some tips to help you get started.

When selecting a trail there are three key features you need to consider- difficulty, elevation gain and length. Each is a critical issue, especially when deciding whether a new trail if a good fit for you.


In truth difficulty is a relative term, especially when you are a novice. What you buddy considers a warm up could be the equivalent of a marathon if you are not accustomed to riding. But what we are discussing here is the technical difficult. Skiers will be familiar with this term as it is the same term used to describe slopes.

The difficulty level is determined by the number of obstacles and how much experience is needed to navigate these obstacles successfully – otherwise know as without crashing. Every trail will have some obstacles otherwise what is the point of leaving the pavement. But, as a beginner, you want to limit the type of obstacles to short stretches. You also want to avoid jumps, long or narrow bridges and steep downhill sections. It is best if you limit your first few rides to smooth as possible. Some trails are marked depending on difficulty. Similar to ski slopes the easiest will be marked by a green circle and the hardest with two black diamonds.

Elevation Gain & Exposure

When biking elevation refers to the upward grade you will encounter or steepness of hills. Exposure refers to bridges, or other elevated platforms, you need to cross. Yes, more advanced trails will have very extensive bridge systems some of which will wind for long distances several feet or more on the ground.

Anyone who has ridden a bike of any sort knows that elevation is a major factor in determining difficulty. Yes, the trail may be technically easy but if it is one long hill after another you will quickly find out what kind of shape you are really in.

Have you ever crossed a narrow, wooden plank bridge on a bike before? Most riders have not, at least until they encounter one on the mountain bike trail. If you are not accustomed to performing this task, or have a fear of heights, I suggest you keep this to a minimum as well until your skills are up to the task.

Length of the ride

This sounds like a no brainer, but you would be surprised how many riders set out on an otherwise simple trail only to find themselves miserable half way through because they have discovered it is twice the distance they are capable of completing. Nothing will discourage you quicker than having to push your bike back to the parking lot or calling your buddy for a ride.

Most trails will be labeled with estimated time, as well as total distance. Remember that this is calculated for an average rider, riding at the level the trail is rated at. A novice on a green circle trail should be able to complete close to the estimated time, a novice on a double diamond will take much longer than listed. Start on short beginner trails, you can always complete multiple circuits or do more than one trail in an afternoon.

Remember, every sport has a learning curve and mountain biking is no different. Start with what you are comfortable with and you will find riding easier, more enjoyable and safer.

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