Going for a ride can be as simple as putting on some shoes, throwing on your helmet, jumping on your bike and riding straight from your front door and just seeing where you end up.. This can be the beginning of some great adventures if your lucky, or it could be an opportunity missed.
Here are a couple of tips that will help start you off planning some guaranteed great adventures!
Firstly we need to think about the ideal time to go. How much time do you have? What is the weather doing? What's your level of fitness? Does anyone know where you are going?
These are all very important things to consider because you want to have a good time and we want the ride to be fun! It's not so much fun in the pouring rain for hours and hours when you're a little bit lost or you've bitten off a little more than you can chew. When you are just getting started mountain biking, it's great to take it easy as you start out, then it give you a great point to build from.
Ideal time to go... If you are a beginner, then you might not know the trails so well, you might be more likely to get a little lost, have a little crash or mechanical issue with your bike that is a little more complex than your used to. For these reasons, as you are starting out, it's a great idea to go when there is a little more traffic on the trails and not to go too far in to the wilds without someone with a little more experience. Let's face it, nobody likes unnecessarily pushing their bike for miles because they had a basic but crucial error with their bike (like a broken chain) and didn't know how to fix it. And the same goes for if you have an accident, if there are lots of people around, it is more likely that you can flag someone down to help with your puncture or sore spot. We all like to get away from the crowds but we also like to know that there are people around just in case...
Checking a Weather Forecast before you go!
If you are going out for more than half an hour you should know what the weather is doing
Sometimes that ideal time to go for a ride may not be so ideal because of the weather. Maybe its too hot or too wet.. You don't want to get caught out. Have a look at a weather forecast if for no other reason than to know what you need to take. I like to use a website called windy.com because it has pretty pictures and is very good at modelling what is happening in the back country and gives you a good idea of what could happen and where the weather is coming from. This will not only help you from getting caught in the rain and damaging trails but it just means that you can be prepared for the potentials..
How much time do you have?
It could be a matter of a quick 20 minutes after work before it gets dark or you just know that you can't last much more than an hour before your energy tanks start to empty. It doesn't matter what the reason for the limit, the end result is the same.
I like to try and give my self a time frame (whether I am actually limited or not) and then plan a ride that will fit within it. Even if your not tight for time, this helps you practice your time awareness skills. Set a time, look at a map and start to estimate track times and then remember what you guessed and compare that with your actual times. Have small additions you can add on at the end rather than doing the little loops first and then getting stuck way out the back somewhere when you only have another 10 minutes before you are meant to be meeting your non mountain biker friends for a beer at the end of the day.. As you start to get good at this you will be able to start planning your rides to fit with whatever free time you have. This will impress your friends when you take them out and can plan a ride to the exact minute! This also helps when you tell someone that you will be back at a certain time so that if you do get into any trouble at all, they know if you are over due and in need of rescue.
Can you read a map? Once you know how long you are planning on going, you can start to plan your route. This really backs up the point above of having an overdue time, but also telling someone where you think you will be going. This is rule number one for going into the back country. Have a little look on the internet and see how much beta you can find, whether or not you can get a map to have reference on your phone. I like to take a photo of maps at trail heads just in case I do get a little confused. This little photo can be used as a very helpful tool in case something does take a little longer than expected, or you are limping a sore friend or bike back to the car so that you can take the easiest route back to the trail head.
Remember, when you get tired, this is when you are most likely to make mistakes and have an accident. Take it easy out there. Ride within your ability. Have a good time. And of course, if you are going somewhere new and can't find anyone to go with, don't be afraid to get a guide. I have wished that I had done this is my travels around the world with my bike. It can help save a lot of time and get you on the best trails straight away!