Women’s Guide to MTB: Essential Beginner Tips

Women’s Guide to MTB: Essential Beginner Tips

womens guide to mtb

Hardtail Canada endeavours to provide useful, experience-backed information for Canadian mountain bikers. Part of this mission is developing high-quality, women specific content as it’s a niche that doesn’t gain a lot of attention.

I came in contact with a U23 female racer out of Ontario who’s a subject matter expert and was happy to collaborate.

She provided the information and media for this article, I produced it.

I hope this is the first in a series of high-quality, women-specific content on everything mountain biking.

So, without any further ado, let’s meet the expert:

hardtail mountain bike skills

I’m Jocelyn and I’m a female cyclist who has been racing and riding bikes for more than ten years. I currently race U23. I’ve raced mountain bikes at a local, provincial, national and international level. I’ve done many different types of racing including stage racing, track, cyclocross, and fat bike racing.

From my experience with both riding and racing I’m offering tips for other women looking to get into cycling, and more specifically, cross country mountain biking. Hopefully these tips will help new female riders learn to be competent cyclists in a male dominated sport.

If you are just getting into mountain biking, remember that it should be fun! Mountain biking is an opportunity to get outside in nature, get active and enjoy time with friends.

Women's Guide to Mountain Biking

Mountain Biking Differences for Women

Female MTB’ers have many different things that have to be taken into consideration. First and foremost, women have very different bodies from men (obviously!) which changes how our bikes need to fit, what gear we ride in, and even how we ride.

It’s also more difficult for women getting into mountain biking to find other women to ride with, as the sport has more men than women. And there are way fewer resources about women’s specific mountain biking. All of these factors combined can make it a challenge for the female mountain biking newbies to easily get into and enjoy riding.

How to Choose a Women's Mountain Bike

womens mountain bike

First and foremost–choosing a mountain bike. In terms of women’s specific bikes, the main brand that comes to mind is Liv. Trek, Specialized and others also offer women’s specific models. These models are designed to have a geometry that fits female cyclists better than other bikes. The downside is that they are often more expensive and heavier.

Female specific bikes are not necessary–my MTB is not a women’s specific bike. Women can fit most bikes as long as it’s the right frame size and set up to fit her body. One big myth is that 26″ or 27.5″ wheels are a better size for women. This is not true. I recommend 29″ wheels because they roll faster and can also roll over obstacles more easily, making them better for many beginners and experts.

In addition, hardtails are often the better choice for women because women tend to be smaller and have less muscle mass, meaning hardtails are better and easier for them to maneuver (they are also lighter and faster up hills). For more, check out 5 Reasons Hardtail Bikes are Great for Women.

Hardtail Canada’s note: There are two points I want to share with women riders. These have been pointed out to me by my girlfriend and others.

As Jocelyn says, it’s important to fit the bike to your body. A case in point is my girlfriend, who has a taller-than-average upper body. Her seat is quite a bit lower than most people’s, yet she easily reaches her handlebars.

Judging by her seat height she should be on a Medium (which she is), but judging by her arm position she could fit a Large. The lesson: don’t blindly buy a women’s specific bike and assume it will magically be ideal for a woman’s body.

Also, women specific bikes tend to be more expensive for the same level of components. The reasons are best left for a separate discussion. So, once again, if you are buying a women’s specific mountain bike focus on the fit, especially since you’re likely paying extra for it.

In regard to bike fitting, I’ll hand it back to Jocelyn in the next section.

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Mountain Bike Fit for Women

Proper bike fit is one of the most important factors when it comes to enjoying riding. Whether your bike is extremely expensive or more inexpensive, how it fits can make a world of difference. More specifically, women typically have longer legs and a shorter upper body which can impact how their bike fits.

Because of these factors, a shorter but taller stem is typically a good idea. If you just got a new bike and are looking to get riding, I highly recommend going to your local bike shop and having them fit the bike for you.

Try to find someone who has experience working with women. An improperly fitted bike can lead to severe discomfort and even injury.

If you aren’t able to go to a bike shop to have someone fit the bike for you, you can do it yourself. There are plenty of YouTube videos on how to fit a mountain bike.

Either way, once you start riding, always be aware of any pain or discomfort and adjust the fit of the bike accordingly. Riding your bike should NOT be uncomfortable and should feel good!

Women's Mountain Biking Gear

womens mountain bike gear

As the female side of mountain biking grows, more and more female specific gear options are becoming available. The question is: does female specific gear really make a difference, and what type of female specific gear should you be focusing on?

I’ve found that having a women’s saddle and women’s padded riding shorts make the biggest impact. With the difference in hip widths between men and women, these two pieces of gear are game changers for your comfort level. Most bikes come with men’s specific saddles, so it’s super important that women find a good saddle to fit them, rather than riding one their bike came with.

Some women are offered huge cushy saddles. Although they are great on cruiser bikes, they don’t allow for proper movement on a MTB. A good rule of thumb is that both your sit bones should fit on the saddle and there should be no uncomfortable pressure points anywhere.

A large part of finding good gear is trial and error. Many shops often have saddles you can borrow or try before you buy. The bottom line is that while any new sport usually means sore muscles and some adjustment, cycling shouldn’t be painful. If it is, keep trying new things to get comfortable. For more information, read Comfortable Women’s Mountain Bike Saddle: How to Choose.

Mountain Bike Maintenance for Women

Another important tip for women starting out in the sport is to learn basic bike maintenance. Don’t let the guys do it for you!!

In the end, you are always the one responsible for your own bike and making sure everything is tight and running well. Relying on others can result in things being done wrong, so it is always best to rely on yourself.

Basic bike maintenance skills include pumping up your tires, oiling your chain, adjusting the brakes and gears, and attaching and removing the wheels. None of these are complex skills but all of them are essential to riding.

Liv has plenty of excellent videos on bike maintenance for beginners in the Liv TV portion of their website.

Women's MTB Progression and Finding a Group

womens mtb progression

When it comes to improving, focus on gradual improvements. There’s no shame in starting on easier trails and slowly building up to the harder ones.

In fact, that’s the best thing to do to avoid crashing and injuring yourself. Don’t let others convince you to do something that is way above your skill level. Know your limits and push your limits, but don’t go too far outside of them.

Another great way to improve, and also have more fun, is to ride with other people (both women and men). All cyclists, beginners and experienced alike, benefit from riding with others.

I find this is even more important for women because we are so social (I love all kinds of group rides but the ones with the girls are always the most fun). There are plenty of Facebook groups where you can find local group rides and lots of clubs also run rides (Wild Betty’s, out of Toronto, does women’s group rides!).

I’ve met a lot of people through racing and simply getting out into the cycling community. Sometimes all it takes is stepping out of your comfort zone and asking another rider if they would be interested in group riding sometime. Most riders are surprisingly happy to ride with newer or younger riders.

For more information, read Finding Women to Mountain Bike With.

Jocelyn's Bio

Jocelyn MTB

My name is Jocelyn and I am a cross country mountain biker in the U23 category. I am on my bike almost every day and absolutely love riding. I’ve grown up riding my bike and I can’t imagine a life without it.

If you’re interested in reading more about my racing check out my blog https://jocelynstel.wixsite.com/ponytailracingtrail and follow me on instagram @jocstellar02. Feel free to reach out with any questions you may have!

I am currently sponsored by Cyclepath Oakville. If you live in the area and are looking for some help with your bike they are an excellent bike shop and will definitely be willing to help you out. I am also an ambassador for Liv, a company that produces top quality women’s specific products.

Hardtail Canada: Thanks for all the great info Jocelyn! Hopefully this helps other female riders navigate the mountain biking world.

If you have any questions or concerns about women’s biking, let Jocelyn know!

Comment below if there are other women’s specific topics you’d like to see in the future.

If you want to promote your local women’s mountain biking club on Hardtail Canada, please get in touch with our contact form here!


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