So you live and breathe MTB, I know how you feel.
It consumes your every waking hour (and every available dollar), and you somehow bring any conversation back to the topic of shredding the gnar.
Your mountain biker friends, they understand.
Of course they do, they live it too.
But there is a problem. Your girlfriend (or wife) just doesn’t seem to comprehend how awesome mountain biking is.
Obviously that needs to change.
So today we’re going to take a look at how you can approach introducing MTB to your significant other, in a way that is more likely to end up in her talking excitedly about the tech trail she just rode rather than saying never again!
Before we get started – does this only apply to females? Of course not, however the vast majority of mountain bikers are guys, so it’s a common question that we’re trying to get to the bottom of here!
(And anything that helps encourage more girls to get out riding has got to be a good thing!)
What to do (or what not to do!)
Often at the point when we are trying to bring someone close to us into our beloved sport of mountain biking, we’re already well into our own progression journey.
This means we can provide plenty of useful advice, but it also often means we lose sight of the basics, or take for granted the skills or confidence needed to tackle different trails.
So let’s take a look at some of the common things to keep in mind…
Interesting adventures, not scars
I love the adrenaline factor of riding, and most often when talking about our recent trips or rides at the bike park me and my riding buddies are going to highlight all the scariest features and biggest crashes of the day.
But take a moment to think about the sport from a beginners perspective – unsure about what it all entails, and not at all confident of your ability.
The last thing you want to be hearing is that every ride is full of carnage and terrifying features.
So remember to also highlight to your girlfriend all the amazing experiences that mountain biking has enabled for you, and allow her to see the full range of benefits possible.
Maybe there was a particular wildlife sighting that you would never have otherwise had, or a shared appreciation of some epic surroundings on a recent ride – make sure these are known!
Get her a decent bike that fits
One of the trickiest parts about getting anyone into mountain biking is the cost of the bike.
I mean, are they going to get into the sport, or is this a once off?
You’re unlikely to want to drop many thousands of dollars on a sweet new bike without this being known first.
So, very often, those first few rides (at least) are on some old hand-me-down spare bike that someone had laying around.
While it might solve the financial element, this brings with it a few problems.
Firstly, the bike is quite likely to be the wrong size. This is a major issue – as the sizing of a bike being suited to the rider has a huge impact on their confidence and capability on the bike – and in turn, on their enjoyment of the experience.
This is precisely what happened when I was first wanting to get my girlfriend into mountain biking some years back.
I’m quite a bit taller than her, but I had my old XL size hardtail spare for her to use, and so we made do with that.
Not only was the bike frame too big for her, but it also was many years old, and had a much high standover height than more modern bikes – both of which contriubuted to her being less comfortable and confident on the bike.
The second thing that is problematic with just using an old spare hand-me-down bike in this situation is that very often the bike has old outdated and worn out parts. It’s not always going to be the case – but it’s very common.
This means that not only is your girlfriend needing to try and learn all the new skills and build confidence, but shes having to contend with dodgy gear shifting, poor suspension performance, worn out slipping drivetrain issues – and maybe even dangerous mechanical failures.
We went through many of these issues when first getting out on the trails, my girlfriend riding my old XC bike.
I had given it a quick glance over and thought it was running okay – but turns out the gears were shifting horribly (worn 3×10 drivetrain combined with old cheap components).
She found this very annoying especially as she was trying to figure out the gear shifting on the trail.
Not only this, but it was a thrashed old entry level hardtail, and had a terrible suspension fork on it – which wasn’t making the trail riding any more enjoyable.
But we were making the best of it, riding around some easy local trails, getting her used to the being on a bike for the first time in years, and building her confidence and ability on the bike.
And then the crank fell off.
Not what you need right when you’re trying to build confidence in your bike and your riding ability.
As I began inspecting the bike, she hunted around the nearby trail for the missing crankbolt – and came back with a handful of parts she’d found on the trailside. None of which were from her bike – clearly a lot of old worn out bikes get ridden around these trails!
So that was ride over for the day, and a long walk back to the trailhead.
Don’t forget the basic bike skills
When you’ve been mountain biking for a while, you tend to forget that bike skills like gear selection and braking need to be learned.
This is something I’ve definitely been guilty of, focusing immediately on trying to give tips about standing while descending, or looking further down the trail to see what is coming up and so on – without covering the basics first.
It was once we were a few rides in that I realized she didn’t yet know how to use the old 3×10 drivetrain and select the correct gears to be in – or which brake lever controlled the front or back brake.
So we went through the basics eventually, and I started being more mindful about these fundamentals – gear selection, how to brake (including one finger braking), saddle height and so on.
Then I was able to start introducing more experienced mountain biking concepts like standing while descending, body position, looking ahead down the trail and the like.
Make sure you have supplies and take breaks
We still laugh today about one of our first mountain biking trips many years ago.
I’d bought my girlfriend a basic hardtail, which though basic was still an upgrade from the old worn out hand-me-down XC bike I’d given her previously.
We headed out to Craigieburn for the first time, which I’d heard lots of great things about but had never ridden previously.
My own skills were rapidly increasing, and while she had progressed from an absolute novice, it would quickly become apparent that an epic all mountain adventure was too much too soon!
Excited to get out to these highly acclaimed trails in the mountains, we’d hastily thrown a few snacks and some water in our bags and hit the road.
Fast forward many hours – we were both out of food and drink, exhausted, and while I was still enjoying myself, she was on her last legs.
Aside from the rather ambitious trail choice (for a beginner), it also highlighted to me how important it was to take enough breaks and have enough food/water to keep us fuelled and feeling good about the day.
It’s one of those things that can easily be overlooked particularly when you’ve got two people of vastly different fitness levels.
Where I might just be drawn down the trail for hours enjoying each new section, without even thinking about it, she’d probably need to stop and have a rest every 15 minutes.
While this might be an annoyance to keep stopping and interupt your ride so often – keep in mind that this is likely going to result in her having a much more enjoyable introduction to the sport, and make her much more likely to keep going (and progress further).
Start on mellow trails
As already covered, trail selection is very important!
Pick a trail you’ve ridden before, and are confident she’ll be able to manage easily. You want those first rides to be confidence inspiring for her, not terrifying or demoralising.
Don’t just pick your preferred gnarly double black diamond descent because it’s what you enjoy riding – or because you want to show off your sick skills!
While you don’t want to endlessly ride flat gravel paths with zero challenge or enjoyment, you also don’t want to put her off the sport with something too scary or physically challenging right away.
Ideally you want to find a trail that she’ll find enjoyable, perhaps with a few optional mellow challenges on it that she can progress on as confidence grows.
Ride it more than once too. You probably take for granted that as a more experienced mountain biker you’re able to handle lots of different challenging terrain in quick succession, and riding gnarly trails blind.
Beginner riders do not have this ability yet (apart from freakish exceptions!) and so riding the same trail several times allows confidence to build more quickly, and stops them from having to worry about what is around every corner and just start having more have fun.
Not only this but as they’re now more familiar with the trail, they’ll be able to work on developing their skills on the bike, gradually increasing their speed, standing while descending, modulating their braking, moving their body position around on the bike and so on.
Combine riding with a destination
While us fully fledged mountain biking fiends don’t require anything more than shredding a trail to get pumped about a days riding, one thing which can be a great motivator to help get your girlfriend behind the idea of hours on the bike is a destination of some sort.
Maybe it’s a picnic at a specific point within a national park, or a cool little town to explore at the end of a long ride, or an epic view out over the ocean from the headlands.
Whatever it is, that awesome destination can help motivate and keep things upbeat even when the going gets tough – and creates some sweet memories to relive, and to associate to riding bikes!
Don’t go full enduro bro
It might be tempting as soon as you hit the start of the trail to take off, boost some jumps, roost some corners, smash some drops – but it’s not going to help your cause!
Remember, you’re trying to get your girlfriend into mountain biking – not impress your enduro bro’s!
If you leave her behind immediately, not only is it demoralising for her, but she’s also unable to see how you handle the bike and the terrain and just naturally learn from your example.
Riding at her pace might feel like slow motion at the start, but it’s equally important that you don’t just shame her into going faster than she’s comfortable with right away.
Crashes are an inevitable part of mountain biking, but she doesn’t need a bad crash at speed while learning how to ride.
As you both ride down the trail at a speed she’s confident at, you’ll also be in earshot to give pointers about features coming up, and advice on how best to ride that section.
If you’re riding ahead, you can serve as a trusted guide on how to ride over all sorts of different terrain, just as you yourself have no doubt learned from following faster more skilful riders down a trail.
Equally useful is taking some time to ride behind her, without following too closely/aggressively, so you can observe her technique. Then when you’re next stopped, you’ll be able to give some feedback – make sure you give props for things she’s doing well, in addition to the pointers about things she can improve.
Don’t go overboard with thousands of tips
My next piece of advice (after suggesting you give her tips), is not to give too many tips at once!
If before every ride you’re telling her 30 things to remember to do (or not do) on the bike, and then barking advice at her constantly down the trail, that is not going to go well.
It’s unlikely to be an enjoyable experience for either of you, and is probably going to feel overwhelming for her.
It’s much better to keep things simple.
Start with a basic trail that you’ll think she’ll enjoy, and make sure she has the basic bike skills as mentioned previously such as braking and gear selection.
Then pick one or two things to work on each ride – perhaps it’s encouraging her to stand up on the pedals when descending down a trail for example.
If you’ve taken a moment to explain why it is a useful technique, and then lead by example down the trail, she’ll be able to enjoy the ride and focus on trying to learn one skill at a time – rather than trying to remember dozens of different skills to learn on one trail.
I hope you’re found my advice here useful.
Just remember, we love riding bikes – and we want to share that enjoyment with those close to us right?!
We sometimes just have to dial back our pace a bit at the outset, and cover the basics, to help encourage them to give it a solid go, and once they’re progressing, who knows what amazing adventures it will take us on!