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Getting out there

Thursday 3 May 2012

Getting out there: Tips on starting trail riding (mountain biking), riding with others, training for an event, keeping motivated and planning to succeed.  Using cross-training and dealing with breaks in your riding.


Starting trail riding (mountain biking)

The main thing with trail riding is getting to know your bike and feeling a bit confident on it before you hit any challenging singletrack (narrow, unsealed off-road trail). This assumes your bike is ok for trail riding - a mountain bike is best but some comfort/hybrid bikes/city bikes will cope with easy unsealed off-road trails. Trails like the Otago Rail Trail are more like unsealed roads than true single track, so most bikes can handle these.

Most of the comments above apply to giving trail riding a go. Having a bike that’s not too big is especially important for riding off-road, as is good protection (helmet, gloves, shoes). Mountain biking demands more of a bike, so your bike really does need to be in good condition - brakes especially. 

A good place to get some sense of trail riding is out at Rabbit Island’s Conifer Park trails system (see link to map below). Wherever you start off, riding with someone who is relatively experienced with mountain biking can be a good way to pick up basic skills, but make sure they’re prepared to go at your pace and that they understand that you don’t go from beginner to “follow me flat out” in one session. 

More tips for off-road trail riding:


Riding with others

Some people may want to get a bit of their learning or their routine riding done on their own, others prefer company - do what works for you. There are advantages to riding with others though, especially if at least one of them is experienced; they know good places to ride, can give you basic riding tips, and provide encouragement on the days you get impatient. Getting a routine of riding with another person or with a group also helps to provide the discipline to get out there - especially if you’re just starting and the feeling-fitter rewards haven’t kicked in yet. Just make sure the riding pace of the group works for you.

There are a number of regular, low-key cycling groups around Nelson-Tasman - check out this website under ‘Cycling’, ‘Ride On’ and ‘What’s On’ for your area. It’s also worth checking with other people you know to see if anyone else is interested - you may find others are in the same situation and, bingo! you’ve just kicked off a riding group of your own!

If you’re thinking about entering cycling events, be realistic about your level and give yourself time to train.

If you’re sharing the ride with some friends or a (social) ride group, here’s a few things to remember to keep things flowing along nicely.

  1. Give each other room. If you’re riding in a line don’t crowd the rider in front - keep your front wheel back from theirs so if they have to brake or swerve suddenly you don’t get wiped out. It also means you can look at where you’re going and not just focus on the rider ahead.
  2. If you’re on the road you’re allowed to ride beside another bike, but don’t do it if you’re blocking traffic. If you’re riding two or more abreast on bikepaths try to keep to the left and watch for oncoming bikes or bikes behind you who may want to pass.
  3. Don’t pass other cyclists on the left. 
  4. Try to ride smoothy - sudden stops, acceleration or turns can push other riders out into traffic or into the weeds (at which point there will be words, and possibly tears).
  5. Let others know what you’re about to do; if you want to stop or turn call that out so others in the group can be prepared. On the road use hand signals to show drivers what you’re up to. 
  6. If you’re riding on the road it’s illegal to text or talk on a mobile phone.


(In council-approved events, especially involving experienced riders, the rules about ‘bunch’ riding are a bit different - the event organizer will explain these.)


Training for an event

There’s an old saying; “Fail to prepare; prepare to fail”. 

Sound grim? Actually it probably depends on what you’re preparing for - a 5km fun ride or the Rainbow Rage. The main thing is to check out what level of fitness (and skill, if you’re riding off-road) is necessary for what you have in mind. Ask someone objective too; someone who knows (or asks the obvious questions about) your current level of riding and knows about the event. Bear in mind that an off-road event (even the Rainbow Rage or a ride on the Otago Rail Trail) is different to riding on a sealed road - it’s slower going on gravel or earth and a bit more balance is needed - so include some of this kind of riding in any training you do for these events.

If you just want to finish and don’t care about winning, remember that having a reasonable level of fitness (and skill) just makes the whole experience more enjoyable.

And don’t forget - make sure you bike is up to the event too! 

Check out these links for detailed information on training;

Here’s a training guide for a specific event:



Everyone who exercises finds that motivation comes and goes, it doesn’t matter if they’re a top level competitive athlete or someone who just runs, walks or cycles to stay fit. If you’re not in the mood you’ll find a zillion reasons to bail out; you hurt or think you might be getting sick, or old, or it’s been a hard day, or there’s too much to do, or too little to do and you’re bored. Or it’s winter, and it might rain/snow/be slightly wet, or it’s summer and too hot, or windy or if you ride that route one more time you’ll go nuts. 

On a bad day it might be all of these!

When motivation is an issue don’t get too bogged down by it, see if you can shift yourself into a different space. Some things that you can use to help might include:

  •  Change your routine, get some variety happening - ride somewhere new, at a different time, maybe at a different pace. If you really feel stale try a period of walking as a change from cycling. 
  •  If you ride alone, try riding with someone else or as part of a group for a while. Groups work well to keep the energy up and to trade encouragement. It can be easier to bring fun into the ride if you’re with others, and fun really helps with motivation.
  •  If you don’t have a routine, try to establish one - doing something out of habit is a lot easier than having to be disciplined every time you think about going for a ride. (More on this below.)
  •  Throw in some rewards - give yourself a treat if you push through the resistance and get out there.
  •  Negotiate a compromise - tell yourself “ok, I'll only ride for 10 minutes” and head out. Don’t focus on the ride, just get out to have a look around your neighbourhood, at the change of seasons, at that new house being built; shift the focus from riding to ‘being out there’.
  •  Give yourself some structure. Having a goal can really help - aim to enter a fun ride or similar so your exercise has a definite purpose. Or ride against your past riding times so you’re tracking your progress and competing against yourself. Keeping a log of your rides can help with this and makes your progress really tangible. Keeping a log will also help identify what works for you and what doesn’t (best time of day, gaps between rides for recovery, food and drink that helped - or not).


Plan to succeed

If you love exercise and have no problem with self-discipline and motivation, great! If you’re like the rest of us then having a plan that gives your exercise some routine and structure will help. Leaving things loose means that each time you ride you’ll have to decide 1) that you will, and 2) when to fit this in. 

When your ride is a planned routine (“I ride on these days at these times”) you let the power of habit take over the decision-making. Also, other activities don’t get to crowd out your riding time, and your good intentions don’t die from putting-off-ness. 

Plans or routines don’t need to be hard-core; if you need to swap a time - that’s fine. If it happens that you can make it work better by changing stuff around - go for it. Use your riding plan to give yourself a pat on the back as well; when you’ve mostly stuck to it, celebrate that achievement - you deserve it.


Using cross-training

Nope, not training while angry - although it’s true that exercise is a really good way to burn off the tension we hold when we’re angry (or when we’re stressed). Cross-training is throwing in other forms of activity into your routine to add some variety; stuff like swimming, walking, running are common options. 

Cross-training can be good for cyclists as riding mostly uses our lower muscles (legs, and those around our hips and bum), so something like swimming is particularly good as it pushes that load out to our whole body core, and our shoulders especially. 

Dealing with breaks in your riding

Maybe you had a break due to work pressure, sickness, injury or maybe your motivation just got up and crawled out the door. It happens. 

So how do you get back into the saddle?

Relax. Breaks happen, you may lose some fitness but that’s ok; you had it before, you’ll get it back. Remember the bit about being progressive - build your rides back up gradually. If you were riding for half an hour before, drop that time back and ride slower - let you body tell you where to start. If you’ve been sick - especially with a virus - your system will definitely need recovery time, so just ease back into it. If your body’s fine but you just haven’t had time to ride your muscles and joints will still need a bit of time to readjust back to the demands of exercise - push it too fast and you risk injury.


Where to ride

Where to ride - cycle paths 

Where to ride - off-road/trails