Before you start mountain biking, you’ll need a few mountain bike essentials. The good news though, is you don’t need to spend a lot of money upfront to get started. A moisture-wicking t-shirt, some old sneakers, a helmet, and a bike are all you really need.
But if you know you’ll be spending a lot of time shredding singletrack and working on your skills, you might be looking for a more complete list of essential mountain bike gear. To help you out, below I’ve crafted a list of the must-have mountain bike gear items for newer riders.
Of course, you can always add on to this list (mountain bikers tend to have a never-ending catalog of gear they either need or want and the distinction between the two is often quite blurred…) but these are the essentials.
Ready to gear up to take on the best sport in the world? Here is a list of the 10 mountain bike essentials to help you get out and start shredding the trails
The Two Big Mountain Bike Essentials
1. A Bike
Obviously, you need a bike if you’re just getting into mountain biking, right? But what kind of bike do you need? Really anything that you can afford – whether it’s new or used. Any mountain bike is better than no mountain bike. If you’re just starting out, don’t worry too much about specific bike components. You can upgrade later after you’ve decided that mountain biking is awesome and the only sport you ever want to do. (Which is the only logical decision that you’ll come to).
If you’re looking for used bikes, PinkBike – the Craigslist of bikes – is a great place to start.
Here are a few pointers to help you find a perfect first mountain bike:
- Make sure you chose the right size bike. This is really important. An ill-fitting bike is probably the worst mistake you can make when buying your first mountain bike. There are tons of resources online to help you choose your right size, so do the research beforehand.
- Opt for dual suspension (ie shocks in the front and in the rear) unless you’re really only going to be riding mellow, minimally technical trails. Dual suspension (aka full-suspension) will make your ride a lot smoother and allow you to ride a wider variety of trails as you progress in skills.
I’ve written a few guides on how to shop for a new or used mountain bike. Check them out below:
- How to choose a mountain bike
- Tips for buying a used mountain bike
- The best women’s mountain bikes (& do you really need one?)
- A complete guide to mountain bike brands
2. A Helmet
A helmet is just as important as a bike, but unlike a bike, don’t buy a used helmet. You have to protect your noggin and mountain biking can be a high-stakes sport so you want to make sure your helmet is top-notch. Promise me that you’ll always wear a helmet when riding, ok? It’s one of the most important mountain bike essentials you’ll own.
I highly recommend investing in a MIPS helmet. MIPS stands for Multi-Directional Impact Protection and it provides extra buffering in case of a crash. Most mountain bike helmets these days come with MIPS technology and you’ll see a little sticker that says MIPS either on the inside of the helmet or on the back. The POC Tectal or the Smith Forefront are two great options.
Another (but slightly more expensive) option is a breakaway helmet. If you think you’re going to want to ride more advanced trails and features at some point, including bike parks, a breakaway helmet is a great choice. I personally wear the Bell Super DH MIPS Breakaway and I love it. Basically, a breakaway helmet is a regular helmet with a detachable chin guard. You can use the half-lid helmet for easy rides and then attach the chin guard when you enter more challenging terrain.
Other Mountain Bike Essentials
3. Mountain Bike Shoes
Normal sneakers will do at first if you’re just getting into mountain biking, but eventually, you’ll want to upgrade to mountain bike-specific shoes. This is because the soles of mountain bike shoes are designed for mountain bike pedals.
You’ll also need to decide whether you want to ride flats or clipless. There is no one right answer, it really depends on what you are comfortable with and what kind of riding you want to do.
I personally ride with flat pedals while my boyfriend rides clipless.
Either way, Five Tens are one of the most popular brands out there for mountain bike shoes and they’re what I almost always opt for. I find them to be extremely comfortable, stiff, and grippy. The Five Ten Freerider’s are a great choice (men’s versions here) or you can check out other options in my Best Women’s Mountain Bikes Shoe’s post.
4. Mountain Bike Gloves
Mountain bike gloves give you a better grip on the handlebars and they absorb sweat so your hands don’t slip. They also mildly protect your knuckles in case you encounter an errant tree branch or jutting rock. Gloves aren’t a mountain bike ‘essential’, but they’re definitely nice to have and I recommend getting at least one pair.
My favorite mountain bike gloves are HandUp Most Day gloves. They’re last longer than other gloves I’ve tried, they’re made in the US, and they’re fun!
5. Hydration System
You’ll most likely be sweating a lot as you pedal up long climbs and through miles of pedally singletrack so it’s important to stay hydrated. You have several options when it comes to carrying water:
a) You can use a water bottle cage on your bike frame. Water bottles are fine for short rides, but I don’t recommend relying on them for longer rides. They can also go flying off your bike as you rattle down descents, so water bottles aren’t my favorite choice.
b) The second option is a hydration pack or a fanny pack. Both are good choices, but I personally prefer a backpack. Some riders prefer fanny packs, I just haven’t found one that doesn’t feel ‘saggy’ or dig into my stomach.
Look for a hydration pack that has a hydration sleeve to carry a 2-3L water bladder and has extra pockets for basic trail tools. The Osprey Raven and Osprey Raptor are two of my favorite mountain bike hydration backpacks.
6. Bike Shorts & Liners
Mountain bike shorts (aka baggies) & liners (aka shammies or chamois) are definitely both top mountain bike essentials because, without them, you’d have a very sore tush after your ride. Some bike shorts come with padded liners and others you’ll need to buy separately.
The outer shell/short isn’t as important as the padded lining. You can use any sort of sports short over the liner or you can invest in mountain bike-specific ones (my all-time favorites are the POC Essential MTB Shorts). If you’re a lady shredder, be sure to check out my huge guide on the Best Mountain Bike Shorts for Women).
I do recommend buying the liners separately from the shorts. Mountain bike shorts can be ridden in a handful of times while liners you ideally want to wash after each day in the saddle to help prevent chafing. Some liners do detach from the shorts, but it’s best just to buy them separately.
For more tips and recommendations on mountain bike apparel, check out my post on What To Wear Mountain Biking.
7. Tire Pumps
You will need two types of bike pumps if you are serious about mountain biking: a floor pump to keep in your garage or car and a hand pump to throw into your pack as you ride.
A floor pump is more powerful and takes less time to pump up tires. It’s a really good idea to get into the practice of topping up your tires with a floor pump before every ride. You should have a general idea of how much PSI you run in both front and rear tires. For example, right now I run 19 PSI in my front tire and 24 PSI in the rear. How much PSI you run will depend on what tires you have, what terrain you’re riding in, and how much you weigh.
There are a ton of different floor pumps out there, but I really like the Lezyne Sport Drive Floor Pump. It’s reliable and easy to use.
Hand pumps are less efficient than floor pumps but small and lightweight enough to carry with you on rides. Some hand pumps are equipped with a CO2 adaptor which allows you to inflate tires quickly, but you really only want to use them if you get a flat on the trail because replacing the cartridges gets expensive. The Lezyne Pressure Drive hand pump is a great choice and it is also compatible with CO2 cartridges.
8. Chain Lube
Just like you should pump up your tires before every ride, it’s also a good idea to get into the habit of cleaning and lubing your chain after every couple of rides. Chains get dirty and they lose lubrication, so you need to reapply oil to keep your drivetrain running smoothly and efficiently. If you’re hearing a grating or squealing noise, it’s probably because your chain is dry AF.
There are a ton of lube options out there, some are great, some not so much. Two of our favorite chain lubes are Rock n Roll Gold, which is a great all-around riding, and Rock n Roll Extreme which can be used for wet, muddy conditions, or super dry conditions.
When you lube your chain, do it slowly so that you get oil on each link and let it sit for a few minutes before running the chain through a dry rag to remove the excess. You don’t want the lube to contaminated your rotors or brake pads.
9. A good Multi-Tool
The single most useful and essential piece of mountain bike gear is a good multi-tool. There are a ton of options for multi-tools. Some have 30 tools and others only have 5. I recommend getting a multi-tool that includes at least a variety of hex wrenches (Allen keys), a chain breaker, and a T25 Torx tool. These three sets of tools can accomplish almost every fix or adjustment you need to do.
The Crank Brothers M-19 is a great multi-tool option because it’s rust-resistant, relatively lightweight, and includes all the essential trailside tools.
10. Tire Plugs
Tire plugs are also an absolute essential mountain bike gear must-have. Most bikes these days are tubeless, meaning they have tire sealant inside the tire rather than tubes. When there’s a puncture, the sealant (usually and hopefully) seals up the hole and you won’t even notice as you continue on your ride.
But sometimes the puncture or tear is more than the sealant can handle and you get a flat. When that happens, you either need to fix the flat with a spare tube or plug up the hole with tire plugs. (Sometimes adding a little extra sealant if you have some on you will help seal small punctures as well).
Amazingly, these little tire plugs hold incredibly well and you can actually ride with them for the life of your tire. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve flatted and plugged up my tire with tire plugs and then continued to ride for months with the plug still in.
There are lots of options for mountain bike tire plugs, but I like this Genuine Innovations Tubeless Tackle Kit because it also has a core valve tightener and extra space to carry spare valves. It’s a bit heavy but worth it!
To use tire plugs, thread a single strip between the insertion tool prongs (sharp jabber thing) and then insert both the jabber and tire plug into the puncture. Twist and slowly remove the insertion tool. The tire plug should remain stuck in the tire and plug up the hole. It’s a good idea to then slowly spin the wheel around so that the sealant inside can help seal up the hole.
As I mentioned in the intro, there are plenty more mountain bike gear items, tools, clothing options, bikes, etc… to keep your head whirling for days. But these ten are what you need to get you going as you embark on the best decision of your life: mountain biking.
What are your mountain bike essentails? Did I miss something that you’d add to this list? Let us know in the comments below!