You need to be young and fit to consider taking on some of the more extreme mountain bike routes, but anyone who can ride a mountain bike can try riding on untarred roads. Start on easy routes and gradually work your way towards more rugged terrain. Taking on a mountain bike trail that is too difficult can be dangerous as well as demoralising. As with road cycling, you can pick up useful tips if you join a group or club.
The ideal body type Lean but strong and robust. Ideally, you should also be reasonably flexible and supple.
Who should opt for another sport Serious mountain bikers take frequent falls and often get bruised, scraped and dirty, so if you aren’t both mentally and physically tough and resilient, or if you prefer to keep skin and gear intact, this is not your sport. There are plenty of mountain bike trails for more low-key recreational cycling, though, if you are drawn to the activity but not at the extreme level.
Type of exercise needed Hard cycling over rough terrain, requiring strength, stamina and good bike handling skills.
More about the basics The ‘bunny hop’ is a useful technique for mountain bikers to learn, as it allows you to unweight the bike and jump off the ground over obstacles or ditches. It can be done with or without pedals that you clip your cycling shoes into, though many people find it easier to ‘hop’ when their feet are attached to the pedals. Compress your bike and push your weight down, then jump up. Both wheels should lift off of the ground for a moment. Practise ‘hopping’ over small objects (a match box will do) on tar before you try this on a dirt road.