As a newbie to the world of mountain biking, the prospect of going along for a ride with people you don’t know is a daunting thought. Exciting on one hand, yet frightening on the other. Many questions pass through your mind, so we’ll explore a few and give some tips to help you gain some confidence in accepting the challenge.
What is a social ride exactly?
Well, it’s not a race or training ride. A proper social ride is exactly that, it’s social. It’s simply about enjoying some trails with who ever ventures along for the ride. You’ll often see or hear a few terms used when announcing the social ride such as, “No drop” , “Easy pace” , “All welcome” , “Bring an MTB in good working condition”.
No drop is a term we are seeing more and more and this is telling prospective participants in the social ride that they will not get left behind. you won’t be left to survive in the bush for several days while the Westpac chopper circles overhead looking for signs of life. However, this doesn’t mean that the more fit and faster riders won’t charge down a trail at break-neck speed, but it does mean they pledge to wait for you at many points along the way so you can catch up. Typically, any trail that’s basically flat or featureless is a chance to ride slowly and chat. Any downhill section is a chance to hammer.
A good leader
An experienced social ride leader will ensure that the ride is ridden at a relaxed pace and the riders will always stop at intersections and wait for the last riders to arrive. They will also give the last riders a minute to regain their breath and check they are ready before heading off again. They understand that just because you’ve taken longer to arrive, doesn’t mean you weren’t working very hard to get there. As a newbie, you’ll often work a bit harder than the faster riders until your fitness kicks in. A social ride leader will expect some riders to be slower and need more time to recover between efforts. If they weren’t prepared to cater for this, they wouldn’t hold an easy pace social ride open to beginners. Large groups will even see the ride leader assign a “sweeper”. This is one the regular riders that knows the course well. The Sweeper will stay at the back of the group to ensure no one gets left behind or has a mishap without someone there to help.
When you have a strong fitness base, it’s very easy to be riding along at an “easy pace” that is very slow for you, but is still tearing the legs off newbies. When elite riders go for an “easy pace” ride, it tends to be relative to their fitness and speed. That “easy pace” might actually be barely attainable by most average riders, let alone poor newbies. Thankfully though, most riders offering easy paced social rides are average riders who simply feel like taking it easy that day and use the chance to offer some company to newer or slower riders.
Tell them you are A newbie
Don’t be afraid to let the ride leader/organiser know you are a newbie. In fact, we strongly suggest you do. Reply to the invitation and let them know how often you’ve ridden, how long you can typically ride for in the bush. Ask if they think the ride is suitable for you to join. You’ll be surprised how many riders will jump at the chance to help a newbie get into their mountain biking. Mountain biking is inherently social. Even the races cater for the casual rider because the MTB community at large wants the sport to be accessible to as many people as possible. This breeds riders that thrive on helping others and get a thrill from having a positive effect on another rider’s experience.
I’m holding everyone up, they must hate me
Bzzzzt. Wrong. No, they don’t. And if any do feel like you are holding them up, they are on the wrong ride and should be on a training ride instead. We suggest you don’t try to keep up with the faster riders if it’s just going to push you well beyond your skill level and physical fitness level. Doing so, will encourage the likelihood of crashing and you’ll wear out quickly. You won’t enjoy that. You’ll also arrive at each intersection totally wrecked and need longer to recover before moving off again. Better that you pace yourself and arrive at the re-group points with enough in reserve so that you recover in a minute or two. The other riders will be busy blabbing about their bikes, races or whether Dove deodorant holds up better than Brute 33. They’ll probably need to be herded away again by the ride leader because they are too engrossed in chit chat anyhow. That’s social riding. By all means put in an effort to improve and get faster, but don’t kill yourself in the process.
This term is used to tell you that even though the ride organisers don’t know you, they will welcome you along. It tells you that you don’t have to be known to anybody in the group, they are happy to meet new riders whether they be experienced or newbie. Of course you can soon make yourself unwelcome but probably not in the ways that, as a newbie, you fear. As explained above, it’s not about you having low level skills or fitness and speed. To be unwelcome, turn up and be abusive, argumentative, demeaning to others or totally unprepared for the experience. We’ll touch on that last one shortly. In several decades of running social rides, we have rarely ever seen anyone new join a social ride and make themselves unwelcome, so we doubt you’ll manage that anyhow.
Good working order
We have personally owned many bikes over the years and some were worth hundreds of dollars and others many thousands of dollars. And, we can distinctly remember many occasions when we were out on our expensive machines and got our butts handed to us (totally out ridden) by a rider on a bike worth only hundreds or a couple of thousand dollars. The point here is, a bike in good working order is not judged by the dollars your bank account suddenly dropped by when you purchased it. The money people spend on MTB’s varies considerably for many reasons. The key thing is that the bike is a proper mtb of some sort (not a bmx or commuter for example) and that it is mechanically running well. It’s not fun for the other riders if your bike keeps playing up and causing issues and stoppages along the ride. Having a bike in good working order doesn’t mean you have to take it to your local bike shop to have it tuned up and inspected before every ride. It simply means that, as far as you know at least, everything is working as it should, including enough lube on the chain and air in the tyres.
Training to go on social rides?
Should you train to be able to join social rides? This may depend on the social ride. If they say it’s an average pace ride then getting some kilometres under your wheels and fitness into your body is going to be needed. However, for easy paced social rides it will depend the ride itself. As an example, Momentum Is Your Friend may post up a ride designed specifically for newbies. This ride will be no longer than about 1 1/2 hours at a pace suitable to the slowest rider in the group on a trail network that is suitable for the skills of newbie riders. As long as you can cruise around on bike paths for a couple of hours, then you’ll be ok to join one of those rides in the bush with Momentum Is Your Friend. If you are joining the average social ride however, then being able to ride around mtb trails at a constant pace and handle the basic trail features (logs, roots etc) for a couple of hours will make the experience nicer for yourself and others on the ride.
What to take with you
Every rider should strive to be self sufficient. By this we mean you should be carrying the water and food you need and the tools and spares you might need in case of mishap. Lets look at these things a bit closer.
There are several factors that will determine how much water you need for the time you are out there, to your body size, to your fitness, the day’s temperature and how hard you are riding. It’s difficult therefore, to put an exact amount to the water you need to carry. Rule of thumb though is to drink around 1 litre of water per hour on days with temps above about 25C. The important thing to remember is staying hydrated will cause no problems at all other than maybe needing to dive for a bush for a quick pee at a re-group spot. But get dehydrated, and you can spend hours, even days in severe cases recovering. You may get headaches after a ride also. When you get back from your ride and have that inevitable pee, check the colour. If it’s very yellow and even a bit murky, you have not drunk enough water despite what you may think. Drink more next time.
Again this will depend on all of the things listed under water above, with the exception of temperature. When you are hungry on the bike, your body is telling you that you’ve let it’s quick access energy stores deplete. You risk your muscles fatiguing more and recovery being longer if you don’t eat during heavy levels of exercise which mountain biking certainly is. Eat before you get hungry. Suggested snacks are things like bananas, yogurt covered muesli bars, energy bars, and bread rolls. You want stuff that is easy to eat and digest. Having some sweet food is ok but not whole chocolate bars for instance. These just give you an energy burst that lasts for a short time. Your body reacts by countering the sugar intake and usually overdoes it and this gives you an energy low. Never eat or drink anything on race day or a long ride you haven’t eaten or drunk before. You want to be sure your body can handle what you are putting in it. Don’t use a long ride to experiment. Choose a range of snacks for long rides including low GI foods for extended energy release, but maybe having a something for a boost like some gummy bears or similar isn’t a bad move either.
Spares & Tools
A spare tube is the most obvious spare you need for most rides. Even if you have your tyres set up tubeless, a spare tube is a good idea in case you get a cut in the tyre that the tubeless setup can’t handle. Take a pair of bike tyre levers (small levers to help remove a tyre off your rim) with you also. Even if you are unable to use them yourself, the more experienced riders will appreciate that you at least have them with you. There will always be at least one experienced rider (usually several) all too happy to help you out and get you going again. Most of us are used to helping out newbie riders in this way. As a new rider, you probably don’t know enough about your bike to warrant dragging along lots of tools you don’t know how to use. So aside from a spare tube and tyre levers what else should you have with you? The best answer is a cycling specific multi-tool. These handy, little tools have several useful tools in them. Look for one that has Allen key/wrenches of at least 4,5,6 and 8mm. Also, having 1x flat screwdriver and 1x Phillips screwdriver is handy also if your bike has any screws on it’s gears for instance. Some multi-tools will even have a chain repair tool (known as chain breaker) built in as well and these are a good idea too. Having a chain joiner link to suit your chain is handy in case of a broken chain. As your experience grows, you’ll likely add to the list of spares and tools you’ll carry. You’ll even learn to adapt what you carry according to the ride you are going on, and maybe how far you are likely to have to walk back to the car. Cable/zip ties are another handy thing to have in the event of something breaking as they can be used to repair or hold things out of the way so you can still ride home.
To carry your tube and tools there are 3 basic ways.
- If you can afford one, a hydro-pack is the go. It provides pockets for carrying things and also of course you can drink from it.
- You can buy a tool bag that straps and/or clips under your seat.
- You can wear a cycling jersey with pockets.
Ok, that’s a lot to take in for a newbie right? So let’s summarise shall we?
- A social ride is a relaxed ride, ridden at a pace that suits all riders.
- Tell the ride organiser you are a newbie and check that they think the ride will suit you.
- Make sure your bike is in good working order.
- Having enough fitness to ride for an hour or two will usually be enough.
- Pace yourself. Don’t expect to keep up with experienced riders, they don’t expect you to anyhow. Ride at a pace that allows you to recover in a minute or two at each stop.
- Take water and food along.
- Take a spare tube and tyre levers, maybe a multi-tool also.
- Remember that all riders were newbies once and most are happy to welcome and help a newbie get into the sport.
We hope that helps.