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A Beginners Guide to Mountain Biking in Vail, Colorado

If you’re looking for the – literal – ride of your life, look no further than Vail. Mountain biking in Vail happens whether you’re up on the mountain or down on the valley floor, since every ride comes with spectacular mountain views.

This applies on flat and paved terrain, heading uphill on a rocky trail, cruising along on single track or zooming downhill on a dirt road. You also have the unique option of taking your bike up the mountain on a gondola, and then riding it downhill with ease.

Told you it would be the ride of your life.

Here you’ll find a lineup of beginner mountain biking basic skills and tips to make the most of your cycling adventure in Vail and get you out of your comfort zone.

The Bike: What to Ride

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Although you’re welcome to bring your own bike to Vail, you certainly don’t have to. Dare we say the area has more bike rental options than coffee shops? And placing an order for a bike is just as easy (even if you do miss out on having your name written on a cup).

Full-day and half-day rentals are available, with pick-up locations based on what you’re looking for.

And guess what? Most bike rentals automatically come with helmets, with adult and children’s sizes available.

Mountain Bike Types

Downhill Mountain Bike

If zooming down the mountain is your goal, then the downhill bike is what you’d like. Downhill bikes are designed for bike parks and downhill mountain bikingtrails (wee!). They are full-suspension mountain bikes with a heavy weight, so do not plan to go uphill, hence the name. Go standard, premium or get a demo bike with the latest and greatest features.

Trail Bike

Pedaling up the mountain is a different kind of ride than zooming down it, and the upward ride is easily handled by a trail bike. This is a lightweight, full suspension bike – a must for comfort over lumpy, bumpy, rocky trails.

Cross Country Bike

If you want to climb the mountain, this is the bike for you. Cross country bikes are lightweight and made for technical terrain. For a XC bike, it’s all about the length of the ride, while being efficient and comfortable. Compared to the trail bike, the XC bike has thinner tires for a faster uphill battle, while the trail bike has thicker tires made for rougher terrain.

All-Mountain/ Enduro Bike

All-Mountain bikes can be ridden all over the mountain, whether you want intense uphill rides or a fast descent downhill. These bikes are built for easygoing comfort, longer rides, and smooth cruising (if you want).

E-Bike

Electric-powered bikes deliver a layer of ease to the ride with a pedal assist feature. You can adjust the power based on how much assistance you want while riding. You’ll find trail e-bikes and path e-bikes available.

Kids Bikes, Tag-Alongs, Trailers

Yes, the kiddos can definitely come along for the ride. Kids’ trail bikes and path bikes are on the list of options, as are tag-alongs and trailers.

For the record, tag-alongs are one-wheeled attachments that fit on the back of an adult bike. They let you pull your child along for the ride. Biking in Vail can be a family affair – although we’d steer clear of the downward mountain zooms with a tag-along or trailer in tow.

Not sure which type of bike to pick? You can always peruse the list of bike rental businesses in Vail, so you can call or pay one a visit to get recommendations and suggestions.

The Gear: What to Bring

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Did someone say snacks? Unless you’re just riding to the corner and back, you want to bring along a biking pack or small backpack stocked with essentials. These include:

  • Lots of water
  • Easy-to-eat snacks, like nuts, granola or power bars
  • Sun protection, such as sunscreen and sunglasses
  • Cell phone, for taking lots of hero pics!
  • Area map of where you’re heading
  • Rain poncho, just in case

Two More Tips:

  • Helmets: Vail bike rentals typically come with a helmet, but double check with the bike shop to make sure you don’t have to bring your own.
  • Protective Gear: The serious mountain biker heading for rough terrain may want to bring along elbow pads or other protective gear.

The Outfit: What to Wear

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You know those Tour de France-type outfits you always see people wearing while bicycling? You now have the perfect excuse to get one. Bike clothing wasn’t invented just to look good. It’s actually designed to bring the most comfort and protection to the rider.

Even if you don’t invest in apparel designed specifically for biking, you want to dress the part. Opt for lightweight clothing in lighter colors. Lightweight materials let the air flow through to release heat. Lighter colors reflect sunlight, while darker colors absorb it.

If you do want to go for a full-fledged biking outfit, you want to keep an eye out for certain characteristics.

Bike Shorts: Two main features of bike shorts are stretchy fabric and a padded crotch liner. The stretchy fabric lets you move with ease. Lycra is your friend. The padded liner brings comfort while reducing friction and moisture. Many shorts come with removable liners.

The more rugged the terrain, the longer and thicker your bike shorts should be. If you’re planning on flying down the mountain, for instance, go for thicker, longer shorts that offer more protection.

Bike tights or leggings are another option if shorts are too, well, short. Some tights and leggings also feature stretchy fabric and padded liners.

Bike Shirts: Officially known as bike jerseys, bike shirts are equipped with all kinds of snazzy features to help you look and stay cool. These can include:

  • Moisture-wicking fabric
  • Back pockets for stashing small items
  • Front zippers that can be opened for cooling down
  • Collars you can turn up to block your neck from the sun

Bike Socks: Skip the fuzzy wool, for sure. Opt for socks made from nylon or polyester, both of which help prevent blisters and excess moisture.

Bike Gloves: Sweaty palms can make for slippery handlebars. Choose a pair of fingerless gloves for summer riding along smooth terrain. You may want gloves with fingers for more protection if biking on mountain trails.

Bike Shoes: Unless you’re planning on hitting the Tour de France after your Vail ride, you don’t need to get special bike shoes – although you do want to keep two main factors in mind with the shoes you choose.

  • Do they fit well with the pedal? Opt for shoes that stay stable on the pedal without slipping around.
  • Can you walk in them? If you’re mountain biking, don’t forget you could be hoofing it if you need to walk your bike for any reason. In that case, choose shoes with good traction for the trails.

One more tip is to dress in layers. Since summer temperatures in Vail vacillate from the mid-70s in the day to the 40s at night, you may want to bring along a hoodie, jacket or thicker, long-sleeved shirt if you’re out early or late.

Where to Ride

Now that you’re all geared up and ready to go, it’s time to give you somewhere to go ride. Vail offers a plethora of biking options to suit any mood, skill level, and amount of sweat you want to exude.

Watch for bicycle dismount zones in Vail and Lionshead villages and help us keep our pedestrian streets safe for all to enjoy.

Flat and Paved

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Flat and paved riding is best for beginner mountain bikers, families with younger kids, slow and easy romantic rides, and smooth cruising to take in the sights. Road riding is a great start to your (possible) future mountain biking career.

The Gore Creek Recreation Trail tops the list in the easy riding category. The paved trail stretches for more than 15 miles, giving you gentle rolling hills and easy-peasy flats all the way from East Vail to West Vail and beyond. This is the perfect beginner trail for newer riders to take your learning at a comfortable pace.

While you won’t be going up the mountain, you’ll still get spectacular mountain views as part of the surrounding scenery. Pick a section of the trail that calls your name, get your bike, and go!

Non-Flat and Paved

If you want to keep the pavement but ditch the easy-peasy, you can go for an off-road route through breathtaking mountain scenery.

The Vail Pass Bike Path ranks as difficult when you’re riding up it, and intermediate when riding down it. This 14-mile bike path runs along Interstate 70, connecting Vail to Copper and giving you an elevation gain of 1,500 feet with spectacular rewarding views at the summit.

Non-Flat and Non-Paved

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Now we’re heading into bona fide mountain biking territory. You have oodles of bike trail options that range from pretty easy to “Whoa, Nellie!”

Mountain biking newbies may want to take it easy, while the advanced riders can go steep and on rocky terrain. Popular bike trails include:

Easy Trail

  • Avanti Lane
  • Lucy’s Loop
  • Golden Gate

Intermediate Trail

  • Lion Down
  • Big Mamba
  • Side Kick

Advanced Trail

  • Hank’s Hideaway
  • Grand Traverse
  • Mane Lane

Downhill Only

Wouldn’t it be great if you could pick a bike trail option that lets you go downhill only? Well, in Vail you can. You have two ways to go for a downhill-only ride.

Shuttle Service: Some bike rental shops will shuttle you and your bike up the mountains, treating you to a guided ride down. Yes!

Gondola Ride: You can also take your bike on a gondola ride up Vail Mountain – double yes! – for the downhill ride you’ll remember with glee.

Quick Vail Mountain Biking Tips

  • Bike uphill in a lower gear, going slower to conserve enough energy to make it all the way to the top.
  • Head downhill while keeping your body relaxed. Pedal a bit so your legs don’t stiffen up after a steep climb. Crouch your body to go faster, sit erect and tall to slow it down. Leave enough room between you and the biker in front of you to account for swerving or quick stops if needed.
  • Single track trails refer to mountain trails wide enough for a single bike. If you’re a new rider with no experience on them, you may want to start with an easier, wider trail.

Now that you have the rundown on the best way to start mountain biking in Vail, it’s time to schedule your trip and get riding. Simply select the type of bike and trail that are best suited to your skills and mood of the day. Then pedal away into big-time fun mountain bike ride!