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Downhill mountain biking (DH) is an exciting sport that can be enjoyed by anyone who knows how to ride a bike. Mountain biking is a great way to explore the outdoors, stay in shape, or just have fun. And it can be addictive. Racing down the side of a mountain is a lot of fun indeed. Although downhill mountain biking can also present some danger. However, with some basic skills and the right accessories, it can be enjoyed by the entire family.

Yes, the entire family. Regardless of your age or biking experience, downhill mountain biking can be practiced by anyone. Plus, there’s no age to start. Indeed, my wife started at 42 years old with no prior mountain biking experience whatsoever. Today, she may not be any Rachel Atherton, but she’s having a lot of fun. And in fact, that’s the whole point of downhill mountain biking: fun and accomplishment.

So, if you’re interested in trying DH, here are some downhill mountain biking for beginners’ tips.

men downhill mountain biking on top of the world in Whistler

Before Hitting the Trails

If you’re a true beginner, before even hitting the trails, you should practice some basic skills. It will give you a feel for your bike. Simply find a location with a small hill if you can. If not, no worries you can also practice on flat terrain to start.

Get a Feel for Your Pedals

It might sound a little weird but start by practice moving your foot away from the pedal and placing it back rapidly. Firstly, while sitting on your bike with one foot on the ground. Secondly, move on to releasing and replacing your foot while pedaling around for a bit. Those with toe clips and clipless type foot pedals will want to spend a bit more time practicing. Indeed, this is important, because you’ll find out that being able to place back your foot rapidly after it slipped from your pedal is crucial. And might happen more often than you would think.

Camelbak

Pedal While Standing

You should get as comfortable as you can with pedaling while standing on your bike. Try lifting yourself off the seat while standing on the pedals, then crank them around. You should try this in higher gears on flat ground then again in lower gears while on a hill.

Standing up on your bike is important. Indeed, as the terrain constantly changes and is not always flat and nice if you’re seating you will be kicked out of your saddle. And believe me, you don’t want that. Furthermore, standing will give you more stability and room to move your body with the flow.

men showing the 2 downhill biking main positions

Coasting

You should spend a bit of time coasting while standing on your pedals. Indeed, in downhill mountain biking you will ride most of the time without actually sitting on the seat. Keep your arms bent and your elbows out. And above all don’t lock your knees. Also, when coasting, make sure your feet are parallel to the ground, not one up and one down. Indeed, this will help with balance and prevent hitting rocks and roots.

Moreover, make sure to adjust your seat height so it’s not in your way. Contrary to other types of biking, your seat should be low. And it should leave you room to move freely. Keep your body relaxed, as there will never be a position where you should have either your knees or your elbows locked.

Now, try experimenting with shifting your body towards the rear end of the bike. Which is the position you’ll take while going down steep hills. In fact, steeper the hill, further back your body will be.

Shifting Gears

Get a feel for shifting gears with your bike. The higher gears are harder to pedal and will go faster while the lower gears are easier to pedal and will help you ascend hills. As you get to steeper hills, it’s best to shift before you get to the hill rather than while you’re on it.

men on a mountain bike dropping

Dropping Down a Curb

Try finding a curb where you can easily get to the upper portion of it. Practice at a moderate speed, standing and coasting right off the curb from the upper level to the lower level. Try this at different speeds until it becomes second nature. Indeed, dropping down is something pretty often in downhill. And it’s also pretty fun once you get the hang of it.

Time to Hit the Trails

With your new find comfort on your mountain bike, you are now ready to try those new skills in the bike park. Indeed, downhill mountain biking is mostly practiced in bike parks with lift access. Or at least shuttles. This is simply because downhill specific mountain bikes are not made to pedal up. With their big dual suspensions, dual crowns, and heavier weight it would demand too much effort. However, they are perfect to go down steep hills and over obstacles of all kinds.

mountain biking trail signs

Understanding the Different Trails

It is important to understand trail signage if you don’t want to get into impossible situations. The trails will be identified in two ways: by level and by type. Indeed, there are two types of trails. They can be either flowy or technical. Flowy, or freeride, trails are mostly machine-built and have man-made features. They are normally wider, have fewer natural obstacles, and are faster riding. They are normally identified with an orange oval with their level of difficulty on top.

As of technical trails, they embrace the rugged shape and natural terrain. They also will have more rocks and roots, bumps, and holes. They are usually identified only by their level of difficulty on smaller signs, and with a “lightning” design in them on bigger signs.

There are also five levels of riding difficulties. Beginner trails are with a green circle. Intermediate with a blue square. Advanced, a black diamond. Expert, a double black diamond, and Proline are identified by a red triangle. However, a few mountains have a different coding, so make sure to check it before you hit the trails.

men from back mountain biking

Start Slow

It can sound scary to go to the bike park as we are used to seeing videos of pro riders jumping big gaps and doing crazy stuff. However, this is not the only level available to you. Like any sports, with downhill mountain biking you need to start by the beginning.

Green trails are designed to give you a feel for riding on dirt and down a mountain. Indeed, they are designed wide and with no obstacle. The grade is also pretty small, so you won’t pick up too much speed to start. So, go slow and practice your new skills to be as much comfortable as you can. And then try some more. And remember standing up on your pedal with your feet flat will give you more stability.

Go at Your Own Pace

The most important thing you must remember is to go at your own pace. Indeed, do not try to follow more experience riders if you don’t feel comfortable. That’s how accidents happen. And remember that every rider has its own pace. Some will learn faster and get the hang of it rapidly. Others will need to practice a lot to get at the same place of comfort. But, as long as you’re having fun, who cares how fast you’re going.

Once you feel comfortable enough on the green trails, it’s time to get to the next level. So, it’s time to try blue trails and get new basic skills. Blue trails are more flowy and/or technical. They will be steeper and have some rollable obstacles, so you can start practicing those. And once again, go at your own pace. When comfortable, start going faster, or try black trails.

2 photos side-by-side of a men downhill mountain biking a big rock

Practice, Practice, Practice

The more you’ll ride, the better you’ll get. It’s with practice that it will become second nature. With practice you’ll understand which lines are easier and how to master obstacles. Downhill mountain biking is about surpassing your fear. So, with practice the jump you once thought impossible will become easy. And the gap that was so scary will become one of your favorite features.

Additionally, it’s always good to remember that most bike parks offer lessons. Group lessons and private lessons. They also have camps. So, if you need an extra boost to up your game, or to understand how to do certain obstacles, they can be a great solution. They are also a nice way to meet riding buddies that are the same level than you.

Downhill mountain biking can look scary. In fact, it is scary. But scary good. With downhill you’ll learn to live in the moment. You can’t think about anything while going down, every ounces of your body will be concentrating on the task at hand. And each time you’ll get a little faster, a little more comfortable; or pass a new feature, you’ll be so proud of yourself. You’ll get a boost of confidence and self-esteem. This is truly a wonderful sport which can be practiced by anyone from 4 to 99 years young. See you out there!

What is the one thing about downhill mountain biking you would have like to know before trying it? Let me know in the comments.

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