Should beginners start out on plush bikes?

Hey Lee,
Here is a didactic question for you: Is it better for a beginner to start out on a bike that’s overkill for the trails they normally ride (e.g. a 6″ travel AM bike for tame trails) or is it best to learn on a less plush bike so they really must learn handling skills (assuming that person could afford to purchase either)? I kind of think the former is true…

My wife had a mid price hard tail and never made any progression in handling skills because going fast felt harsh and scary. She was afraid to try anything new, rode slowly and only on the easiest trails. Then she got a hand-me-down long travel AM bike. She was instantly more comfortable at speeds and started to venture into more technical terrain. And she got a lot better. Now she can take the hard tail out and rip and enjoys the added challenge of the smaller bike. So the plush bike was like training wheels that allowed her to learn how to ride.

Of course one could make the opposite argument, like why BMX riders are often so darn good at mountain biking.

I would love to know your thoughts-Thanks! Jake


Awesome question, plus you win the Word of the Day competition.

This issue has as even more facets than a 20-side die (any Dungeons & Dragons players out there?). Let’s try to break it down:

• Any bike you enjoy riding is a great bike. The perfect bike. The best bike ever.

• Theoretically, the best way to learn riding skill — to earn real, lasting, transferable kung fu mastery — is to ride a rigid bike with flat pedals. This connects you with the ground, and it teaches you the art of pump. Yeah man, any decent BMX rider rips on a mountain bike. Hence the oft-told story of BMXer Jones showing up on a borrowed hardtail and winning pro slalom.

• Kids should definitely start on BMX bikes and work their way up.

• Most of us started on BMX bikes, but we lost touch along the way (or we never had the touch), and we enter mountain biking as timid adults.

• If you’re afraid, you’re not learning, and you’re not having fun.

• If a bigger bike gives you the confidence to ride your best, go for it. Enjoy. Best bike ever. But be careful: You’ll be carrying more speed on crazier terrain — and what will you do if X happens? If you keep rolling that die, the 20 will come up.

• For me, learning to jump was a long and gruesome process. I was rocking an Intense M1 DH bike with full armor, and I was scared to death. It’s funny looking at videos today; those jumps were tiny (and I was terrible!). The big bike gave me the confidence to go for it. As I got better, I started riding smaller and smaller bikes. Today I’m decent on most bikes in most situations (yeah, even a 20″). BUT: I needed the 8-inch crutch to get started.



Know more. Have more fun!

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