But now you feel like you're ready for more challenging and longer rides, up steeper hills, perhaps more technical terrain. Here are some tips to help you up your mountain bike game.
1. Train on a Spinning Bike
If you have a 9-5, it is a challenge to get up a mountain to ride after a grueling day at work. But that's no excuse to not train! I know -- indoor cycling gyms sound dreadful, but training on a spin bike, especially if you amp up your bike's resistance, could help get your cycling muscles stronger. Even the pros do it! Being on a controlled environment without worrying about technique or terrain gets you focused on conditioning those leg muscles.
2. Know What to Eat and When
As if pedaling up a steep hill is not difficult enough, you also have to make sure you're fueling up for your rides. Mountain biking takes a lot of endurance and strength and it is important that you have energy to power through. It is easy to sometimes think the culprit for mediocre rides is yourself or your bike, but sometimes it boils down to your body and if it has adequate fuel compared to the amount of work. Everyone is different and you have to find what works best for you. Take snacks with you that are easy to eat on the go, like energy chews or waffle bars.
Hydration is also essential, as it is with any sport or activity that gets your heart racing. You should be drinking water throughout the day anyway, but even more so when you're going out riding, especially in hot weather. Always carry water. Some people I ride with like to infuse their water with electrolytes by using supplements like Nuun electrolyte replacement tabs.
4. Practice Shifting Gears
I think the best way to learn is by doing, and often by making mistakes. When I was learning how to mountain bike, I made many mistakes (I still do!). I would punish myself by being on high gear when climbing up a hill. When I realize I need to gear down, it was too late. I would either run out of steam or my chain would derail. There are also gears for the right kind of terrain. But all of this you have to learn by being on the saddle!
5. Ride with Better Cyclists
I ride with a group of talented guy mountain bikers, and I will say that being the only girl (often at the tail of the pack) is both humbling and challenging. Riding with stronger cyclists might seem discouraging, but if I am trailing behind them, it pushes me to ride stronger. Tagging along with better riders also helps you learn better technique. Just by watching more advanced riders muscle through rocks or careen through steep descends, I am picking up better riding technique via osmosis.
6. But Also Ride with Your Friends!
Get your friends into mountain biking, if you haven't yet. If that is not a viable option, search for social rides where you live. Ladies, if you're looking for more female mountain bikers to ride with, seek out mountain bike clinics in your area specifically designed for women (most are taught by women). Those are potent networking spots.
7. Sweat it Out
Train even when you're not training. Someone gave me the tip once of doing squats as you're brushing your teeth. Throw some bootcamp and high interval exercise into your training routine. Mountain biking is about endurance as it is about strength, so you have to make sure your training regimen includes good cardio training.
8. Lastly, Just Ride
They say that to master something, one must do that something for 10,000 hours. We don't have to be literal here, but the only way your brain and your muscles will learn a new skill is if you keep at it. So go out and ride! And ride often! Ride hard, but don't forget to ride easy, too, keeping that big grin plastered on your face, the way you did when you were six.