Mountain biking is a popular sport, practiced on trails or completely off-road; riders go over rough terrain, through forests, fields and back country roads. It's a sport that calls for both fitness and self-sufficiency skills, as well as an ability to navigate difficult trails.
Mountain bikes are specially designed or modified to maneuver the rocks, roots and tree stumps typically encountered during a ride. Beginners should start out with slow rides on easy trails, since you'll encounter smaller hills and more easily maneuverable terrain. Once you've mastered easy trails, you can progress to downhill mountain biking, or trails designated for intermediate riders.
Clothing and bicycle accessories made specifically for mountain biking improve your performance and make the sport more enjoyable. These products are designed for safety and help keep you dry and comfortable during your ride. Popular products include helmets, shorts and pants, shirts, socks, shoes and gloves. A helmet is your most important accessory. It should fit snugly but comfortably, have a sun visor and plenty of vents to keep your head cool. Shoes come either with or without cleats, and gloves should have thick padding on the palms to protect your hands in case of a fall. A hydration pack is also highly recommended, since you'll need plenty of clean, cool water while you ride.
Trail ratings have been standardized by the International Mountain Biking Association. The difficulty levels of the world's mountain biking trails ranges from easiest to extremely difficult. As your skill level improves, you can progress to more extreme activities like freeriding. This takes a special, heavier bike with a specially engineered suspension and shocks. Freeride biking involves performing advanced stunts such as maneuvering large drops off of cliffs and jumps, or racing vertically down the side of a mountain.
Seek out cycling professionals or experienced mountain bike enthusiasts for mountain biking tips. If at all possible, get an experienced mountain biker to accompany you on your first rides. Also, be sure to attain a reasonable degree of physical fitness before attempting to mountain bike. You may want to consider renting a bike for initial excursions before investing in your own; bike shops often rent bicycles and can recommend some easy local trails for your first ride.