Jumping on a bike and taking a spin around the block seems like a relatively easy thing to do; but hitting the trails for a day of mountain biking?

That seems a lot more intimidating!

  • How do you handle the terrain?
  • Where do you go to find trails?
  • Do you need to have a special bike?

It’s these types of unanswered questions that can create barriers to sport, so it’s time to get them answered and get you out there!  To help speed up the process, GirlsGoneSporty turned to Joy McCulloch, a professional Mountain Bike racer and USA Cycling certified coach to push past the barriers and set you on the right track.

Q&A Tips for Beginning Mountain Bikers with Joy McCulloch

GirlsGoneSporty (GGS): If a person wants to take up mountain biking, what factors will help make their first few attempts more successful and fun?

Joy McCulloch (JM): Realistic expectations! If you have only ridden a bike in spin class or maybe a few times around the block when you were 12, having realistic expectations will really help make the experience a positive one.

Set yourself up for success. Select a route that will be simple with a bit of a challenge that leaves you excited yet wanting more. Knowing your limitations and being comfortable with the level you are presently at will really help.

If you have a friend who is an experienced mountain biker, ask her to accompany you and to show you a trail that would fit your skill level. Chances are she will be really excited to share her passion with you and help you have a positive experience.

Also, the bike can make a big difference in how the experience goes. The number one tip I would give is to make sure it is in good working order. It may be a loaner or a friend’s bike so you can’t be too picky on the caliber of machine, but you can make sure that it’s clean and fully operational.

GGS: What are the primary differences between road bikes and mountain bikes? For a beginner who isn’t sure she wants to focus on mountain biking alone, is there a good “middle of the road” bike she can choose that would allow her to do a little road work and trail terrain?

JM: Road bikes and mountain bikes differ all the way from the handle bars to the width of the tires. The cool thing about a mountain bike is that you can ride it on the dirt or the road. I wouldn’t suggest taking your new sleek road bike off-road anytime soon. However, there is a cool compromise with a Cyclocross Bike. A hybrid of the road and mountain bike, this bike features knobby tires but in the standard road bike size. It also has the classic drop handle bars of the road bike, but the gearing and tire selection allows you to take the bike on the dirt without much hassle.

If you are just starting out, if may be best to purchase a road bike which you can ride on paths and with groups and get comfortable on the bike before taking your skills off road. Your region could also dictate which type of bicycle you purchase due to trail availability.

If you live in the city and you have to commute to trails, buying a road bike is better idea. You can ride straight from home and enjoy the fitness and community the bike can bring.

If you always have to drive to begin your ride, you may lose interest and your bike will begin to grow dust.

GGS: What are the best ways to find bike trails based on ability level?

JM: Google! Do an internet search of your region for trails, state parks, conservancies and other agencies that may have trail maps. MapMyRide, Strava, and GeoLadders are examples of websites that provide countless trails, routes and rides and are usually broken down into specific levels.

GGS: What other gear should newbie mountain bikers always have with them on the trail?

JM: All mountain bikers, new or old, should have the following gear with them:

  • A helmet
  • Gloves to protect the hands from the harsh conditions
  • Enough water and electrolytes in either bottles or a hydration pack
  • Multi-tool
  • Correct size and style of tube
  • Patch kit
  • Tire levers
  • CO2 cartridge and trigger
  • Enough food for the excursion.

You also want to always carry a RoadID or similar device which contains your personal information and emergency contact.

GGS: Are there any other tips you would give to women just starting out in the sport?

JM: Have fun, create a network and always challenge yourself.


I don’t like wearing tight biker shorts because I’m not a huge fan of my thighs, but I need the extra padding they offer. Are there any other solutions?

GGS: Yes! These days women can find a wide variety of cycling gear that’s perfect for every body type. We love the new cycling skirt options, like the A-line Elle Skort by Castelli. But if you’d rather wear shorts, there are options out there with a looser fit, like the Pearl Izumi W Launch Short. You can also find padded briefs to wear under your other workout gear.