Each spring, there are new bike riders who consider buying a mountain bike to get into the sport. If you are curious and want to try MTB trails, here is an overview of what to expect.
For 20 years I have been riding on most of the trails in Ontario. I still love it, and wear a permanent smile every time I go out on the trail.
What is Mountain Biking? & Would I Like It?
First off, you don’t need a mountain to go mountain bike riding and (sadly) there are none in Ontario. Still, here in the province we do have enough hilly, varied terrain, to make your your legs feel the burn after a few hours.
What you do need, is a reliable mountain bike and to be in good health. This is a fun sport but also a full exercise. It’s not about speed or distance; it’s all about challenging terrain and overcoming it. (And staying on the bike LOL)
And yes we all go over the bars at one point, but the trick is to be aware, plan your crash, and walk away.
If you are road rider, and you have good legs that helps. From there you will need to hone your skills in balance, climbing, braking and perspective as you weave between the trees.
There are many subcategories of mountain biking that you may gravitate to:
- Dirt Jumping
but first let’s get to the basics.
What is it Like to Ride a MTB Trail?
Most mountain bike trail areas are made up of a few straight wide dirt access roads (I never see vehicles on them) or often these are Nordic ski tracks in the winter. Then add random hiking trails that are more narrow and still rather straight and boring.
Finally the third blessed type are the trails cut specifically for MTB riding. Amen!
Called single track, they twist and turn going nowhere in a hurry. Add some mean hills, roots, rocks, logs, mud…ya it gets to be a technical slow grind sometimes, but that’s the draw. Then minutes later the payoff of a fast winding descent, now hold on to your bars, it’s more thrilling than a roller coaster.
Some trails are smooth and easy with packed soil, others have a mix of glacial stones and rocks. Up in cottage country you have giant boulders and solid flat rocks to ride over, OH what fun!
A few locations have man-made structures to entertain and dare you. Ramps, skinnies, bridges, jumps..for now AVOID until you have experience.
The key to MTB riding is to challenge yourself, grow your skills and not have a bad crash that takes you out. There is no shame in passing on a tricky structure or walking a steep hill so you can ride another day.
At times, it’s how fast can you go without putting your foot down, how tight can you take a turn before the bike slides out or how skilled are you at clearing a log or rock garden.
You are one with the machine, taking on the challenges, winning every meter as you go.
Your focus is the terrain 3 meters in front, no time for daydreaming here. This sport demands your attention and if not, you go down. :^(
Looking at a typical MTB ride it can take 2 – 3 hours and only cover 15 – 20 kilometers, but you earn them. Most trails run both directions so heads up on blind corners, call it out. Besides the odd cyclist about, you may see hikers for a walk, their dogs and kids but not often.
Be polite, slow down, announce yourself, especially if passing horses. You now represent mountain bikers and we want to stay friends with everyone who is a trail user. As for noisy ATV traffic, there is next to none on the loops I have reviewed on this website.
Half of the MTB trail loops in Ontario have few signs or directions, so a GPS app on your phone (if you get coverage) or a paper map & compass can keep you on track.
Being out in nature, car free, in a never crowded, peaceful forest environment is a welcome change from the city life. If you like hiking it is sort of similar, though you cannot sightsee much as your focus is on that trail.
Most loops are shaded from the burning sun, block the wind and light rain. Expect bugs in the spring and all summer when close to wetlands. Keep moving to keep them off, yet the moment you stop for a snack or get a flat, you can be a target and a tasty snack! And check for ticks, a new problem in tall grasses.
Almost all MTB areas are out of the city, so look at putting in an hour + of driving to get there.
Who is Suited for Mountain Biking?
If you are a bicycle road rider and you love going long distances really fast, this isn’t going to work for you.
Mountain biking is all about technique, riding slow and taking on the ever-changing challenges of the terrain.
Beyond the hills (and some of them are very steep) the terrain can be anything from loose sand and gravel to mud, wet grass, rocks, roots, boulders, sticks, logs…..
Fatbikes are a new offshoot, that keeps MTB riders doing it all year round over snow, ice, frozen lakes, even in blizzards!
Though 75% of the riders I see on the trail are guys, women enjoy it as much and why not? Riders ages go from kids with their Dads to old veterans. I noted the average age of MTB visitors to this site is in their 40’s, yet you can keep at perhaps well into your 60’s.
Some young riders who have done BMX and Skateboarding take on MTB trails as similar added activity.
What Kind of Bicycle Do I Need?
You just cannot take a road bike on a MTB trail, that is going to trash you and the bike..and get you a flat for sure.
My first mountain bike had no shocks and that was a rough ride. These days front shocks are a must for more control and less hammering to the body. Add a rear shock as well, and your ride gets more smooth and you can go faster.
The next thing your bike needs to be is quick to stop with disc brakes and have fat knobby tires for traction.
You also need some really low gears (big rear rings) to get you up those steep inclines without cursing or walking.
There is plenty to say for later, so here is a bit more advice on buying a bike to get you started.
Want to rent a bike to try? A few shops in your town may rent and Hardwood does.
What Do I Need to Bring on the Ride?
I’m not going to mention everything one needs, but quickly you would bring lots and lots of water and granola power bar type food to keep you going. Running out of energy in the middle with 2 hours to go is not smart.
You must carry a repair tool kit that has a pump, spare tube and also the option of a patch for flat tire. Include tools for tightening loose bolts and fixing your chain if it pops on a hill, or else having to walk out 10km, with the bugs biting will teach you a few lessons.
This kit can go under your seat in a pouch, or better yet in a small backpack that has a water bladder and room for a jacket, your phone, (GPS unit) ID, car keys, camera, a paper map and bug repellant. And wear a helmet!
What you don’t need on the trail is money (where are you going to spend it?) or a kickstand, bike lock, sunglasses (wear clear ones) or saddle bags.
Some of the trails on this site are remote and seldom travelled. Be prepared! Tell someone where you are going.
Where to Learn How to Mountain Bike Ride?
Getting into MTB riding is a gradual progression, testing and honing your skills.
Ideally you should ride with others to learn from them and as support if something breaks or you get hurt.
Joining a local MTB club online or a ride group at a bike shop is a good idea. Be sure other seasoned riders don’t mind a slow learner and are willing to teach and wait for you. Some advanced ride groups are hyper and never stop or wait for anyone.
A few locations rent bikes and have lessons. This can help you decide if it’s your thing cause watching YouTube videos vs. actually riding will be harder than you thought.
So mountain bike riding techniques are all about balance and knowing what speed and gear to be in to get over the terrain/obstacles in the next 5 meters. Pick your “line” to ride through then you reassess the next 5 meters and make adjustments, and on and on… Once you get into the flow of it, you will love it.
Want to Learn More?
Here are a few good books to guide you to greatness:
The book comes highly recommended by seasoned riders.
Ya it’s a little dated but the core info is timeless. A new edition would be welcomed…
A fun easy read, hand illustrated manual on MTB riding with humorous cartoon drawings throughout. Caulk full of tips and advice. I think it is out of print but still relevant for learning the basics.
Try to find it used as I did. Maybe not on Amazon, seems expensive.
And now for a few Laughs…
Suggested Easy MTB Trails in Ontario for Beginners:
Note: most of the trails at these locations are rated for beginners but not all, some trails may be too difficult for you.
Please review maps and ride within your skill level to not get injured. Mountain biking is a thrill, and sometimes a spill, it has its dangers which you need to be aware of and avoid. Ride at your own risk.
North of Toronto –
Centennial – all MTB track, hilly, some not for beginners
Eldrid King – forest park ride with some hidden single track
Jefferson – close but hilly, some simple runs
Albion Hills – hilly, ride the X -ski trails easy, other MTB loops not for neebies
Christie Lake – north of Hamilton, perfect for beginners, almost all MTB trail and easy
Midhurst – Barrie – half of the trails are easy
Coulson’s Hill – Brandford – hilly, many trails, twisty but not to tough
Guelph Lake – Guelph, most trails are easy, a few roots
Torrance Barrens – Bala – flat rock, little climbing
Hardwood – Barrie – bike rentals, lessons, enough easy track, most advanced
Northumberland – Port Hope, most trails are easy
Wildwood – near St. Mary, long, varied cross country park ride
Sauble Falls – Southhampton – some easy track in here
ALSO: Some intermediate Park Paths on this site aren’t quite up to mountain biking specs but are trails in the woods that can suite beginners in getting used to terrain that is not paved.
Bendor – N of Toronto, mellow not single track
Whitchurch – N of Toronto, easy, close, flat, little MTB trail
Heber Down – Whitby, a few hills, variety
Awenda – Midland, long and easy
Bracebridge RMC – one hill, forest park ride
Beyond this quick run through, there is much more I could say, but for now this is enough to help you consider mountain biking as your new outdoor pastime…and you should.
and if you do, say hello when you see me on the trail – Dan