Beginners guide to MTB Park Riding

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Whether you’re new to Mountain Biking, or just yet to hit the trails in your local Mountain Bike Park – there are some tips and tricks you should learn to make your ride more enjoyable, and safe!

While it may not sound like a big deal, unexperienced riders new to a Mountain Bike Park trail system should be aware of potential hazards. Most accidents occur within the park when a rider comes off on a trail they shouldn’t be on. How will you ever progress without diving head first into the water, you ask? By mastering the basic concepts and skills behind bike control, that’s how!

Trails throughout your local Mountain Bike Park are designed and classified (in terms of difficulty) in a specific manner, as to decrease the chances of the wrong riders coming to grief on the wrong trails. Even before we look into which trails are most suited to you, we need to understand the basics of navigating your way around the trail network.

Come prepared

It’s no use getting to the trail head and realising you’ve left your helmet at home. Never, ever, get on the bike and on the trail unless you have the necessary equipment and your bike is running soundly. Safety is your number one priority in the Mountain Bike Park, especially if you’re riding alone.

Trails can be unpredictable with weather able to create a sudden obstacle or blockage, leaving you unprepared for a potential bail out. Here are the basics behind what should be included, and what else to consider including in your kit when you head to the Mountain Bike park for the first time:

– Your bike! Checked and running soundly
– A helmet which meets AS/NZA 2063:2008
– Sturdy, closed in shoes
– Your riding clothes, and optional gloves
– Your phone

– Camelback / waterbottle for hydration
– Bike pump, either on you or in your car
– Spare tubes and puncture kit, either on you or in your car
– Bike multi-tool

Learn the 'trail etiquette'

When you are ready to jump on and hit the first trail, you have to be aware of a few codes of trail etiquette – keeping you out of danger, and avoiding being at the receiving end of an angry co-rider’s wrath!

– The trails typically flow in one direction only. Pay attention to the trail maps and sign posts that head every trail beginning, following the direction of the arrows. If you enter a trail and cannot see the signpost, you are heading in the wrong direction and can cause an accident.

– Never go past markings indicating a closed trail! It might look enticing – the sight of fresh trail for example. But it is not always the case. A trail may be closed for a number of reasons; either being under construction (from new), undergoing major maintenance, obstructed and not safe to ride, or closed for a race. If you continue onto closed trail, you are likely to either cause yourself danger, or ruin the hard work of others!

– Be mindful of who is around you. Should you come across a rider who is slower than yourself, do not force them out of your way to get past. It is your responsibility to ensure they are aware of you and if you wish to move past, make your intentions known clearly and with enough time for them to react and leave a safe passage.

– If you come across a rider who is hurt or in need of assistance, you are obliged to stop and offer assistance. If you cannot assist, you should find the quickest and easiest solution to get further help. Never leave an injured rider on the trail whether you think they are safe/getting help or not.

– Carry spare tubes and a pump. It is inherent with Mountain Biking that you are bound to get a puncture at some stage. Do not expect riders to hand over their only supplies if you did not want to carry your own.

– Carry your own water. There may be no water point anywhere on the trails for you to fill up. Not only is it unfair to ask another rider for their own water supplies, you are putting yourself at risk of overheating and dehydration.

– Be friendly to riders. The trails are there for the public to use, and as such families/kids are often enjoying the same facility as yourself. There is zero tolerance to rude, abusive riders and they are dealt with appropriately.

– If you find any lost property on the trails, it is courteous to pick it up and hand it to the nearest bike shop. The bike shops have an extremely large circle or riders where a message can be made public regarding the lost property. Please do not feel obliged to claim any property found.

– Do not litter. If you carry snack-bars, wrappers or any foreign materials you are expected to take them out of the trails with you. Do not leave it on the ground or at the trailhead. The trails are highly sensitive and any litter left on the trails not only leave an ugly sight but detriment the eco-system.

– Do not ride the trails if you are ill-prepared or not equipped to do so. A helmet is absolutely obligatory and no exception will be made to excuse any rider caught not wearing one. Your bike must have both front and back brakes working adequately, bar ends fitted (no hollow ends of the handlebar visible). You are endangering others and yourself if you enter the trails on unsafe equipment.

– If you come across any wildlife, be respectful and give plenty of clearance. Snakes are found in many parts of the Cairns region, and if you are unfamiliar, slowly move away. Do not attempt to pick up, chase or handle any wildlife.

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Learn the trail system

At first, the trails with the most squiggles according to the map might look like the most promising, or the ones starting from the top of the hill. It should be noted the trails are designed, built, and placed in a specific manner to cater for all types of riders, and to keep the wrong riders from entering the wrong trails. It is vital to understand the rating of the trails and which you are comfortable (and experienced) enough to be riding. Trails in the Mountain Bike Parks are generally rated using the IMBA standards of classification:

Green Circle trails are typically for beginners. They are flatter and leave out the steeper areas of the trails. They also stay clear of obstacles or sudden and disrupting changes in the surface. As a typical trail network, the Green trails often are the first available when leaving the ‘trailhead’ and are laid out in a way where the harder trails are start/finish from this first basic loop, meaning you cannot find yourself on a higher rated trail without first having accessed it via an easier Green trail.

Blue Square trails are the next step up. They include more climbing/descents though where the path is of a smoother surface, and requiring less balance/technical skills to navigate. Riders who are not as fit or strong may struggle where the trails may lead further up the hill and run for a longer distance before rejoining an easier Green loop. Blue trails may also include sections where the rider has the opportunity to get air-time and ride purpose built obstacles where a higher skill level is required to navigate.

Black Diamond trails are more advanced. They often will only lead out from Blue trails, which act as a ‘filter’ to keep out less experienced riders. The surface will vary greatly and can climb and descend very steeply and suddenly. The surface can be very uneven, having multiple obstacles such as rocks and roots where the rider must have high levels of technical skill to safely navigate. It is very strongly recommended that riders who are comfortable only on Green trails do not attempt any Black trails, where the rider can easily find themselves out of their comfort zone, often always resulting in loss of control.

Double Black Diamond trails are the most advanced and difficult in the network. Typically they only make up a small percentage of the trail coverage, but require the most advanced level of skills to navigate safely. They are often the hardest trails to reach, requiring skills equivalent of Black trails to get to. They are often less maintained to offer a more challenging surface to ride, and may be narrowing and more restricting, requiring very high levels of balance and co-ordination over extreme varying terrain conditions and gradients, including jumps, drop offs and cambered bends. The beginnings of these trails are clearly marked with warnings indicating their difficulty rating, and it is very highly recommended no unexperienced rider attempt them.

All trails are marked at their beginning with a trail name (or number) and their respective difficulty rating as indicated by either the Green Circle, Blue Square, Black Diamond or Double Black Diamond. It is your responsibility to gauge their your level and not attempt trails that are outside of your own ability.

Look before you jump

When you are starting to tackle the intermediate and advanced trails, it is often a good idea you check out the trails prior to riding. With harder trails come more obstacles and features able to catch out the unaware. If you feel unsteady and are relying on responding to the bike, and not to the trail, you are probably still not in full control. Heading into any obstacle unaware will cause loss of control as a result of your bike reacting to the sudden change in terrain. Stop, and walk in front and have a look at the trail, or particular feature you are about to tackle first, and then decide whether you are comfortable . If not to see what skill set is required to safely ride the feature, it serves as a gauge an indication to yourself you are not capable of safely riding the trail and should go around.

The harder trails in the park are marked as Intermediate / Advanced / Expert to begin with – but also when there is a particular feature to be aware of, there may also be a warning sign and an optional ‘B’ line around. Always be aware of what is coming up, and never go blind into a new, difficult trail if you are unsure. Again, with your safety at stake, there is nothing to prove with tackling every hard feature there is. Give yourself time to improve and learn new skills by riding within your before taking unnecessary risks.

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Have fun!

Get out and have fun! Mountain Bike Parks offer a great opportunity for riders learning the ropes, with the array of varying trails suiting every rider from beginner to expert. They offer a safe haven for riders to enjoy the sport they love, stay healthy, meet like minded people and share stories! You will be quick to greet and make new friends who will serve as future trail buddies, and an extra safety net should you begin joining in group rides. Take your phone and snap the action on the trails!

The harder trails in the park are marked as Intermediate / Advanced / Expert to begin with – but also when there is a particular feature to be aware of, there may also be a warning sign and an optional ‘B’ line around. Always be aware of what is coming up, and never go blind into a new, difficult trail if you are unsure. Again, with your safety at stake, there is nothing to prove with tackling every hard feature there is. Give yourself time to improve and learn new skills by riding within your before taking unnecessary risks.

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