Stick to the Green
Mountain biking, like trail running, opens up the outdoors to a new breed of appreciators. Tramping and camping aren’t for everyone. Some people also want fitness, a test of skill and some excitement mixed in with their day in the bush. That’s where mountain biking comes in.
These days the sport is everywhere and everyone from five-year-olds to eighty-five-year-olds are doing it. It costs a lot less to get into than it used to and beginner and family-friendly trails are popping up all over the place.
We think it’s well overdue to do a quick guide of giving it a try for the first time.
The first thing you need is a bike and a helmet. I would suggest borrowing or hiring these for your first ride.
Some of the parks like Woodhill in Auckland or Whakawerawera in Rotorua hire bikes out of the car park. Otherwise, pretty much every town in the country has a bike shop that hires a few models.
Where to go
The Kennett Brothers guide to Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides, now in it’s 9th edition, is the bible of mountain biking in New Zealand. It specialises in the long remote trails that you won’t find elsewhere.
Often less of a club than a bunch of volunteers who maintain the trails, you can also try your local mountain biking club. Most regions have at least one and they usually have a website with trail maps and information.
And failing that there is tracks.org.nz which is fairly comprehensive list of tracks in New Zealand, although it’s a bit patchy in some areas of the country.
When you get there, the first thing to do is decide which trail to go on. Hopefully you have a map or there is one posted in the car park. Stick to the novice trails (usually green on most maps) and work your way up. If you find it a little sedate or easy then try a higher level. Beware of black trails or anything with diamonds on it. These are usually expert trails with steep cliffs, big jumps and super steep sections.
And once you’re on the trail, if you see a sign with red crosses on it that means there is a purpose-built jump coming up. The more crosses the harder it is. I’d suggest you avoid these completely, there’s usually an easy way around. You’ll get to these eventually but maybe not on your first day.
When you’re all ready and have decided where to go, there’s a few basic skills to concentrate on.
- Master the brakes. Do this in the carpark first. Figure out which one is for the rear wheel and which one is for the front. Most people who crash on their first day use the front brake too much and get pitched over the handlebars. Beginners should always apply a little more pressure to the back brake than to the front to avoid this.
- Stand up when you’re going downhill. You legs are like added suspension and you will need it going downhill. Don’t be tempted to sit down unless the trail is flat or uphill. And when I say stand up, I don’t mean straight up like a bean pole, I mean crouched with your knees and arms bent, ready to absorb any bumps and lumps.
- If you are going downhill and it gets steep, don’t worry, put your butt over the back wheel (it helps if you’ve lowered your seat a little already) and you’ll find the bike can go down almost anything. And if you followed pointer number two you should be able to do this easily.
- Having said that if a trail gets really steep or bumpy don’t be afraid to get off and walk until it flattens out. There’s no shame in that and it’s an important skill to learn.
- If you do need to stop, make sure you put the foot down that’s closest to the upside of the hill. To forget this could mean toppling sideways off the bike.
There are many more skills to master, but these should see you through your first day.
I’ll leave you with perhaps the most important tip. Make sure you stop and enjoy your surroundings. New Zealand mountain bike parks are some of the most beautiful in the world, from the lush rainforests of Rotorua to the alpine tussock of Queenstown. Don’t forget that mountain biking is two words and only one of them involves biking.