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When I was first introduced to mountain biking culture at the local watering hole here in Jackson, I was more than intimidated— I was terrified. I saw full face helmets, multi-thousand dollar bikes, pads on every piece of people’s bodies, and stories of shattered collar bones. I never thought I’d be into mountain biking until a friend sold me her used hardtail bike (more on that soon) and a few rad women introduced me to the concept that mountain biking could be a truly awe-inspiring way to move my body and explore the outdoors at any speed that felt good to me. I’ve outlined the advice I’ve got on getting started with a couple types of mountain biking as (what Katie Burrell calls) a leisure athlete.
An Intermediate Biker’s Gear List for Beginners:
- Helmet: Tectal - now $126.
- Helmet: Women’s Fixture MIPS II Helmet - $70.
- Sunglasses: Crave Clarity - $185.50.
- Hardtail Bike: Roscoe 7 - now $1,649.99.
- Full Suspension Bike: Joplin - $3,599.
- Gravel Bike: Diverge Sport Carbon - $3,500.
- Bike Shorts: 5" Airlift Double Trouble Biker Short - $68.
- Shorts: Frida Women’s Cycling Shorts - $104.95.
- Shorts: Women's Dirt Craft Bike Shorts - 12" - now $83.99.
- Pants: Backcountry Slickrock Pant - Women's - $99.
- Tank: Mudra Plyo Tank - $64.
- Tank 2: RecNylon 1/4 Zip Pullover - $98.
- Gloves: Full Finger Cycling Gloves - $19.
- Gloves: Ranger Gloves - $29.95.
- Clipless Shoes: Torch 1.0 Road Shoes - $89.99.
- Sneakers: Five Ten Freerider Mountain Biking Shoes - $110.
- Vans: Old Skool Shoes - $70.
- Fanny Pack: Black Hole® Waist Pack 5L - $69.
- Fanny Pack: Vibe - $23.96.
- Water Bottle: Co-op Cycles Insulated Water Bottle - 23 fl. Oz. - $16.95.
No matter what brand of biking you’re interested in, you’re going to need a helmet. I think it’s healthy to be really honest and say off the bat: mountain biking is dangerous. If you fall, you most likely land on dirt and rocks. Say it with us now, helmets are hot, brain injuries are not. Therefore, it’s important to take the safety aspect seriously. If you’re interested in gravel biking, cross country (XC), or enduro mountain biking, it’s best to have a helmet with a visor to keep the sun / dirt / rain / mud / ect out of your eyes / face. I love the Poc Tectal Trail Helmet for its shape, breeziness, and color options in both neutral and bold. Giro also makes a similar style for less.
Something I’m going to lump in with helmets here is eyewear (since it’s equally as important). Sunglasses are essential for biking to keep the sun / dirt / rain / mud / ect out of your eyes! Pro tip: It can be nice to buy the same brand glasses as your helmet since they often design them to fit together seamlessly like these Poc ones that come in several styles and colors.
Since we got the main safety piece covered, it’s time to talk about the most obvious piece of this puzzle: bikes! I highly recommend borrowing or renting bikes first to try out different types and see what suits your style. If you think you’re interested in trying out a bike fit for a trail, I’d look at cross country or enduro mountain bikes. These bikes will have suspension to deal with the force of rocks / roots / ect on the trails. Cross country bikes are made for longer rides while enduro bikes are made to do little hits and jumps (and even tricks).
I started out biking on a Trek hardtail like this one, and for context, I keep my wheels on the ground at all times (unless I’m feeling extra brave). I love the flowiness of gliding up and down trails through meadows of lime green aspens and gorgeous purple fire weed. My bike is a “hardtail,” meaning it only has suspension on the front of the bike. Hardtails tend to be far cheaper than full suspension mountain bikes and, since I ride mostly mellow trails, it’s been the perfect mountain bike for me to learn on. It can be good to start on a hardtail and progress to investing in a full suspension once you’re sure mountain biking is for you! I’ve had my eye on the Juliana full suspension bikes (Santa Cruz’s women-specific line) for years and I will for sure snag it one of these days.
If the idea of rocks / roots / ect on the trails makes your palms sweat, I highly recommend looking into gravel biking. Gravel bikes look a lot like road bikes (skinny) but usually have burlier tires. Unlike mountain bikes, they have no suspension so you’re not going to want to ride anything that’s too bumpy, but gravel bikes can take you pretty far and require a bit less adrenaline than full-on mountain biking. Specialized makes beautiful gravel bikes like this one that range in price depending on the features of the bike and whether or not it has a carbon frame.
If you’re looking for a deal (who isn’t?), Pink Bikes is an amazing used bike website for deals on all kinds of bikes. I also recommend having conversations with as many people you can about what type of bike would be best for you.
Next up, you’re going to want to think about your outfit! For shorter gravel or mountain biking rides, I’ll sometimes wear unpadded shorts like these from Alo Yoga. But if you’re riding frequently, you’ll want to get some padded shorts! These ones by Cycology are so much fun. I like to mountain bike with padded shorts under some longer Patagonia shorts so that I don’t get cut on branches or bushes on the edge of the trails. On colder days it can be nice to wear durable joggers like these ones designed by Backcountry.
As far as tops go, I like wearing a sleeveless tank or t‑shirt like top and try my best to bring a light layer along just in case the weather changes. Vuori makes my favorite tanks. This cropped one is nice and breathable. This one would work well with a fanny pack since it’s longer. My favorite thin jackets are made by Arcteryx and Outdoor Voices. I love this one because it’s so thin and packable. This one is nice since it’s got a kangaroo pocket and a hood as well.
Last but not least, you’ll need some gloves! It’s so much easier to hold on to your bike handles if you don’t have sweaty hands. I love these green ones by Sweaty Betty with pads and ventilation for breathability. I also love fox gloves because their grip is unmatched. These come in so many fun colors.
When it comes to shoes, there’s a really wide variety of options. But to break it down, you really just need to decide between using ‘clipless’ shoes or flat shoes. Clipless shoes are confusing because they allow you to clip into your bike pedals. I love having clipless shoes on my road bike and think these same shoes would work really well on a gravel bike as long as you make sure you’ve got compatible pedals. Clipless shoes make your biking efforts more efficient, but I’m honestly terrified of clipping in on my mountain bike because I want to be able to hop off at any moment easily!
If clipless shoes don’t entice you, opt for a pair of flat sneakers. Five Ten makes amazing biking specific ones, but if you’re not ready to commit that much to biking, vans are perfect for getting started. I biked in these for two years before buying biking-specific shoes and they were perfect.
The last thing you’ll want before getting started is some repair tools for your tires and bike — because it’s likely you’ll need to make a road or trail side repair at some point. This graphic designed by Katie Cooney is an amazing checklist for what to include. As far as how to carry this equipment, I highly recommend a fanny pack! Patagonia makes an awesome big one, but I’ve also loved my Mountainsmith one for a long time. If a fanny pack doesn’t sound like your style, there’s all sorts of frame bags out there that are so much fun. Filling your pack with replacement tubes for your tires, a tiny bike pump, and bear spray (if applicable) can make the difference in an accident being a small hiccup or a major problem. Don’t forget to toss in a bike-compatible water bottle when you’re buying the rest of your repair kit and stocking up on snacks.
Beyond gear, it takes consistency and a fun buddy to get into mountain biking. It’s a challenging sport that requires focus and a ton of energy, but can be accessible to all women no matter their experience level in the outdoors. Try it out, collect your gear over time, attend events in your local community for biking, and learn as much as you can. I believe there’s a form of biking for everyone whether it’s a cruiser on a beach sidewalk or a downhill bike at a resort and finding your biking groove opens up so many possibilities to explore the outdoors in a whole new way.