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Mountain Biking: Tips for Women

Updated on July 13, 2011

Mountain biking is an exhilarating sport that allows you to connect with the great outdoors while getting a terrific workout at the same time.  Although portrayed as an extreme sport by media coverage, it doesn't necessarily have to be all about daredevil stunts and jumps if you don't want it to be.  Mountain biking is equally enjoyable for both men and women.  Because of the natural differences between men and women, there are some mountain biking tips that are specific to women that will help make the sport more enjoyable for them, while other tips are equally applicable to both men and women.

1. Bikes for Women

There are specially tailored bikes that are intended to cater for the common anatomical differences of a woman.  You may find these more comfortable and suitable for you.  For instance, women generally have a shorter torso and longer legs compared to men; women bike designs take this anatomical difference into consideration.  However, some women do naturally have longer torsos and will not find these bikes as suitable.  When shopping for a mountain bike, make sure you try them all out to find the one that fits you best.  If it happens to be a "man's" bike, so be it.

Other bike features to consider are the wider seats which accommodate a woman's wider set hips, narrower handle bars to match narrower shoulder widths, brake levers with shorter "reach" for smaller hands, and shocks to match a lighter rider.  There are plenty of other features you can take into consideration when looking to buy a bikes specific for women

2. Don't be Afraid to Ride with the Men

In general, men are stronger, faster and more aggressive on the bike (though not always), but don't let this intimidate you.  You can learn a lot by riding with them just as the experience of riding with other women is different.  Again, this assumption may be stereotypical, but the benefit women have over men is a greater willingness to be shown the ropes and a milder ego (though not always). 

3. General Riding Tips

You can learn a lot of riding tips, tricks and techniques by attending a mountain biking camp.  In the meantime, here are a few things to keep in mind when on the trail:

- Always look where you want to go, not where you don't want to go.  If you look at the trees or rock or the edge of the trail, then chances are, that's where you're headed.  Keep your eyes on the trail ahead and your wheels will follow.

- Relax!  Don't hold the handlebars too tight and keep your arms and shoulders relaxed. 

- Don't be afraid of your momentum.  It will help you over small obstacles, getting up inclines and around corners.  If you keep braking, you'll have to work harder to tackle these obstacles.

4. Maintain the Neutral Position

This is the ideal position to be in when approaching a descent or a technical part of the trail.  You should be on your feet (i.e. bottom off the seat), eyes forward, feet level and arms relaxed. 

5. Dynamic Riding

Don't just sit all the way through the entire trail.  Get off your seat and move with your bike (even if you have a full suspension bike); the ride will be more comfortable and you will find it easier to learn how to handle technical terrain.  Treat your body like a spring and let your arms and legs work with your bike's suspension.  Be prepared to move up and down, forwards and backwards, and side to side at all times.

6. Inclines

Depending on the level of the incline, try to stay seated at the beginning and save the standing climbs for the final stretch of the incline.  Standing climbs are also great for getting around a switchback (tight curves that are difficult to navigate at regular speeds), for short steep inclines, or cresting over a rise, however, they are generally not advisable when tackling a long ascent. 

Begin with a pace that you can maintain and try to keep an extra gear you can shift into in case you need it.  If the incline is steep, move forwards in your seat, lean forwards over the handle bars and try to maintain your pace.  Avoid wandering all over the trail and keep the front of you bike stable by pulling back and down gently on your grip.

7. Braking

There is a common biking belief that you should never use your front brakes.  That is incorrect.  The front brake offers you 60% of your braking power.  What you need to do is learn how to use it correctly.  Light application is required to avoid an endo, for instance, using one or two fingers when applying the brakes or a gentle repeated pumping action.  Skidding when braking is usually an indication that you are using too much rear brake.  This is bad for the trails so learn to correct it. 

8. Descents

When tackling a descent, always return to the neutral position to begin with.  Get off your behind, move backwards and lower your center of gravity.  Be comfortable with your speed but don't let it get out of control.  If you are skidding to slow your descent, you are out of control.  Avoid gripping the seat with your legs and keep your heels down.  If you need to use the brakes, follow the rules above.

9. Switchbacks

Always look as you move around the turn and keep an eye on the trail beyond the exit of the turn.  Maintain the neutral position, move your body backwards and extend your legs.  Slow down if you need to and keep your bike as upright as possible.  You can do this by keeping your outside elbow extended and bend the inside arm.  This maximises your tyre contact with the ground and keep your weight in balance.

10. Practice

Work on the skills you want to improve.  If you need more practice, stop at specific technical features of a trail and run through them with someone more experienced.  Alternatively, just practice the move a few times until you feel comfortable to move on.  Remember, there's nothing like practice to help you get better at anything - mountain biking included.

11. Enjoy!

Above all, make sure you enjoy yourself.  Push yourself, test your limits and do whatever you feel you need to, but keep it fun.  Remember, you are out there to get away from the stress of city life and enjoy yourself.

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