I am still very much a beginner Mountain biker, but I don’t often turn down new adventures so when my boyfriend said he wanted to bike Moab, I didn’t hesitate. Granted, Moab is known for its world-class biking and many trails are more tailored to advanced riders. But for all of the beginners out there, read on to see the Moab trails I conquered (as well as one I didn’t) and 5 tips for the beginner mountain biker (in Moab and beyond) for wherever the road may lead you.
Prior to Moab, my only previous mountain biking experiences included three easy cross country trails in Montana (one last year, two this year), one cross country trail in Issaquah, WA, a climb and downhill in Bellingham, WA, and then two bike parks (Duthie Hill in WA and Valmont in Boulder, CO). Also, I just learned how to ride an actual bike last year (that’s another story) so steering and riding singletrack did not come naturally to me at all. And yet, I still biked Moab!
Tip 1: Stop by a Local Bike Store
Any area that you want to bike in, be sure to look up the local biking shops. The employees are typically mountain bikers who can give great recommendations for local trails. Not to mention, you can pick up quality local gear (posssible review coming on shorts above – made in USA!) Many thanks to the folks at Poison Spider in downtown Moab who recommended nearby trails for my skill level and camping suggestions. Below you will find my five day Moab itinerary.
Day 1: Rodeo (9 miles)
Day 2: Mustang (3 miles) plus some random trails near Horsethief Campground (fun area with loads of trails you can take from your site)
Day 3: Dead Horse State park loop (14.5 miles)
Day 4: Navajo Rocks (8.8 miles, but you can make a longer loop here)
Day 5: Stayed around downtown Moab instead of attacking the Whole Enchilada (28 miles) with my partner. While I don’t enjoy turning down challenges, I was advised to sit out per my skill level and honestly, I’m grateful for that advice.
Tip 2: Head Game: Fight the Fear
As I mentioned above, I just learned how to ride a bike last year, so steering and single track riding do not come naturally to me. When I’m riding near a cliff, my lack of expertise in both of these areas creeps up to the forefront of my thoughts, and I must actively replace self-doubt with positive self-empowering thoughts to ensure my safety. Truly some of my scariest falls have come from the moments I was the most afraid. “Don’t fall over the cliff, don’t fall over the cliff,” is the last thing I recall thinking before crashing into a bush on the safe side I was hugging, throwing me off my bike and towards the cliff I was trying to avoid. I knew at that moment, I let fear overcome me. I even said aloud, “It’s OK, it’s just fear.” Damn. Fear almost f*cked me up.
The next time I felt an overwhelming amount of fear, I started mumbling things to myself like, “You got this. You know what to do. Look through this turn, look where you want to go.” That last part of looking through the turn and where you want to go is ingrained in my brain from my super patient teacher and it happens to be a lifesaver. It reminds me to look ahead instead of down at the piles of cacti or over scary cliffs.
On day 5, when I hung around downtown, I found myself complaining to the teller at Wells Fargo that I wasn’t good enough to ride the Whole Enchilada with my partner. To this, she smiled and said she mountain bikes as well, but wasn’t good enough to ride that trail yet either, and then she said, “You know, I don’t think a lot of people realize but mountain biking is all in your head.” I couldn’t agree more. So while we both may know we aren’t ready yet, we can still work on conquering fears one by one until our minds and bodies are simultaneously ready for more substantial challenges.
Tip 3: Follow Someone Better Than You
I have been extremely fortunate to have a patient partner who is teaching me everything and never makes me feel bad for being the slow one. I realize not everyone may have this level of support but even just following someone who is more advanced than you will help you sharpen your beginner skills whether it’s by paying attention to the lines they take (especially helpful on technical climbs and drops), by taking note of their form, or simply by having that person to be your point of “looking where you want to go”. I swear following a confident body, especially on some scary downhill turns has probably saved me from a few potential panic crashes.
Tip 4: Hang Out in Bike Parks
No, you don’t have to do the crazy jumps (unless you are ready), but it’s a great place to listen in on the tips people are giving each other. Everyone at the bike park has something in common – they go to play, to try new things, and to get better. As much as I would prefer to go to a bike park on a weekday when fewer people are there, I have also swallowed my pride on a busy Saturday and lined up with the little kids on the XS jumps section. On the plus side, I was able to listen in on some of the tips parents give their kids. Not to mention, some of the adults also have coaches who have some pretty great insight. My favorite advice was from a father to his tantrum-throwing son, “You don’t ever have to ride that again, but you do have to be better at handling things that challenge you.” OK, perhaps that applies to life more than mountain biking, but you can pick up some technical tips as well, “Point your toes when you are in the air!”
Tip 5: Repetition
It’s no secret that the more you practice something, the better you become. However, when you are trying something new and scary, it can be easy to take longer intervals than necessary. Or maybe that’s just me? Either way, I’ve found that forcing myself to practice regularly with no more than a couple of consecutive days off in between riding has also made me a better rider. At least as s new rider, I’m learning lessons every time I go out, and the sooner I get back on the bike, the more likely those lessons are going to stay fresh.