Ready to Ride? Three Trail Selection Tips!

Sheryl Senczakiewicz is a relatively new rider from New Jersey, and through a Series, specifically for brand new riders, called “Mud Chix Newbie Tips“ she will be guest blogging her opinions, tips, and tricks based on her personal experiences of learning to ride.


Ready to Ride?  Three Trail Selection Tips by Sheryl S

If you’re new to mountain biking and want to be prepared before you head out on the trail then read on. I hope that I can help you, whether it’s finding the right bike or learning a new skill. I LOVE mountain biking and as the new girl I know how easy it is to get confused since there is a TON of options out there. Consider me as your personal safety net.

You can learn more about me and my story by checking out my Who Am I page at, or read my interview on

So you have the bike, the gear and you’re itching to ride, there are a few things you should know before you head out on the trail. You may think you’re in shape since you’re a pretty active person. I was always outside hiking, running or horseback riding so I thought I was in good shape. You couldn’t be more off in your assumptions. This goes for you road riders out there also! Just because you can climb a 15% grade hill and average 20 mph doesn’t mean you have the fitness for a mountain bike.

Mountain biking is pretty similar to running an interval while carrying a 20 to 30 pound back pack up or down a steep trail in the woods. The bike is heavier than a road bike, there is more resistance due to larger tire size and now you have to maneuver your way around obstacles. Not to mention the mental fatigue is much greater than on the road. You must have a lot more focus on the trail, no zoning out and pedaling.

Now onto the topic at hand, you want to ride but don’t know where. Maybe you have not made many friends that mountain bike so you don’t have any one to ask for suggestions. You should talk to someone at your local bike shop and see if they have any group rides or suggestions for trails. Here in NJ, we have a great forum called MTBNJ which has trail locations, maps, and opportunities to make new friends. If you’re not in the area, ask around and see if there is a similar website in your area.

WARNING: Ladies, IF you have a significant-other that has been mountain biking for years and wants to “introduce” you to the sport, DO NOT ride with them your first few times. I say this out of experience. They may think they have a good idea of what trails to take you on but they don’t. Ask them if they know any girls that ride or a shop ride you can go on. Your first rides are very frustrating and will most likely cause arguments and you will not only resent them but mountain biking also.

Here are 3 things you should ask about/look out for when it comes to deciding on where you should ride.

1. Technical Difficulty of the trail

Is it very rocky or does it have a lot of roots? You will encounter rocks and roots, you’re in the woods, and it’s going to happen. A few of these here and there are manageable but I have run across trails where the frequency and quantity of these things are too often and too much. You want to avoid this; the smoother the trail the better for your first few rides. Some parks use the same rating system as ski resorts, green circle being the easiest and double black diamond being the hardest. If you ride at a place like this start with green circles and make your way up. If you’re bored and or comfortable on those trails, progress onto others.


2. Amount of elevation

Are there large hills on the trail? Are there any elevated bridges? Are there any sections of trail where the ground becomes a cliff on one side? A trail can be as smooth as a baby’s butt but has a hill that goes on for 4 miles at 20% grade and you will hate yourself. That’s not a fun way to start your first few rides.

Also, elevated bridges, like 3 or more feet off the ground, STILL scare the bejesus out of me, so I am sure they might intimidate you. It would be nice to know that these are on the trail so you’re prepared for them.


Lastly, the Cliff effect (a.k.a. exposure), a trail can be easy but if one side involves falling to my death if I happen to fall off my bike I get really freaked out.  It’s good to know these things so you’re prepared for them or can make an educated decision.


3. Length of ride (distance/time)

How long will this ride be? You may think that you’re ready to be on your bike for 2 or 3 hours, but in the beginning you’re definitely not. The ride could be perfect for you, but you will get tired mentally and physically if you’re on the bike for a long time. I would keep it to about an hour in length at first and then build from there. There is nothing worse than being exhausted and stuck out in the middle of the woods with another 2 hour ride back on your hands. Don’t be afraid to pipe up and tell the other people you’re with what your limits are.

Mountain biking is about enjoying yourself and nature. If you’re scared of a section of trail please get off your bike and walk. There is no shame in walking. It’s better than a hospital trip. Make sure you have plenty of food and water with you. Mountain biking is way more demanding on your body than you might think and you’re going to get hungry and thirsty. Riding smaller loops closer to your car is better so that you can get back in case something happens or you want to bail.

The Muddbunnies encourage and welcome female riders of all experience and skill levels to join them in getting down and dirty. Come on, ride like a girl!

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