“Wow, this rock feels soft on my butt” she said as we had finally reached the half way point on the ride. Jenn was tired, had a really sore butt, was frustrated, and had stopped having fun on her first mountain bike ride several miles ago. We were miles from the truck and the flat rock she was sitting and resting on was so much better than the mountain bike saddle that it felt comforting by comparison.

Our couple trip to Sedona was a well-intended scheme of mine to get away from the kids, spend time with the wife, and hopefully spark a love in mountain biking with my better half.

Now, miles away from the trailhead I had committed a huge fail by poorly planning and executing a first time mountain bike ride for my wife that would lead to years of trepidation and reluctance to straddle a mountain bike.

Since she’s forgiving and a little long suffering, years later she’s given mountain biking, even riding with me another chance. Now she’s gaining a greater appreciation for riding. It will probably never be the get-up-to-ride-at-4am-to-ride hobby for her that it is for me, but we’re finding that when we do it right, we can share the experience together in a way we both enjoy.

So how did I get it so wrong the first time? How did I turn a hobby that I love into a miserable experience for her?

Maybe you’ve done it yourself, or you’ve seen them on the trail. You know who they are. That couple on the black diamond trail with the one trying to smile through the suffering and the other wondering why it’s taking so long to get through the trail. Many relationships have been stressed riding the Zen trail.

Since that fateful trip to Sedona, I’ve had the chance to introduce many others to mountain biking and figured out a few things that make the difference. We’ll break it down into the three major categories; the bike, the route, and the attitude.

“Wow, this rock feels soft.”

The Bike

When taking someone on their first mountain bike ride it can be tempting to just have them use the old bike that’s been hanging around. Maybe it’s your old bike, a Walmart special they picked up years ago, or loaner from a friend. Don’t do it. Period. The bike is the foundation of the experience. Chances are the old bike that you have is the wrong size, needs a tune, and weighs a ton. An essential part of mountain biking for the first time is experiencing what a modern, well maintained, capable bike feels like. While the new rider may not appreciate the difference between a carbon vs aluminum wheelset, they can certainly tell when the bike they are riding is shifting like crap, feels way too big, or is a hand-me-down. My rule when I introduce a new rider is they ride the nicest bike I own if it fits, or we rent.

Nothing ruins a good ride like a clapped out bike, so take the time so make sure the bike is in good working order, the right size, and adjusted for the rider. Little things like adjusting the brake levers so their comfortable can really make the difference. Lastly, full suspension is a great way to reduce the likelihood of a sore rear end for new riders.

Singletrack is rad, however, consider starting the ride on double track.

The Route:

Planning a good route often is the deciding factor between an introduction to a life-long hobby or a one-and-done experience. There are two considerations when choosing a route; technical skill required and physical exertion. You can never go wrong by starting off with a trail that is easy and relatively flat. The first time ride is not a time to max out the new rider’s heart rate or teach them how to ride through a rock garden. It’s also good to start the ride on a double track. A few minutes on a double track can be beneficial for the rider to learn the cockpit controls and gain confidence in managing the new bike. As you transition to single track, be mindful of the rider’s skills and don’t take them anywhere that is going to inspire fear for the first ride. It’s helpful to pause before any sections of trail that may be of increasing difficulty to explain the change in the trail and point out any preferred lines.

When planning the length of the ride error to the side of a short ride. Mountain biking for the first time for even the fittest rider can be exhausting. Mountain biking introduces a combination of muscle groups working in rapid coordination that for the first timer can be both physically and mentally exhausting. During the ride, watch for cues that the new rider may be tiring and adjust the ride length accordingly. Most people won’t tell you they are getting tired until they are beyond fatigued and to the point where the ride is no longer a positive experience.

When planning a route for a new rider I try to include interesting points on the trail such as dinosaur tracks, historic landmarks, interesting geology, or viewpoints. These little stops help create the feeling of adventure.

So keep it easy, short, and fun.

Pro tip: Plan a route with cool things to see.

The Attitude.

When you lead the ride, you also lead the experience with your attitude. Start with the right mindset and expectations. Let go of all expectations to get a great workout, PR that climb, or clean that techy descent. The focus should be on creating a safe and fun experience. Keeping it safe means being sensitive to the new rider and not putting them in situations where they feel they might crash or making them feel pressured to perform beyond their limits. Keeping it fun means staying endlessly positive. Be happy they are with you no matter how they ride and show it to them with positive feedback and enthusiasm.

Avoid pumping the new rider with endless tips and techniques. New riders should only have one or two new skills to focus on for each ride.

Tell them they are doing awesome and you’re happy they are with you. Let your passion for the ride show and they’ll pick up on that feeling and will usually want to be a part of it.

And if you do all that, you may find that you’ll have something more to share with those you love and more cool people to ride with. Or, if you get if all wrong, hopefully they’ll be forgiving like Jenn was for me and you can try again.

Hey buddy, thanks for playing bikes with me.

Written by Logan Phipps.

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