The Complete Guide to Buying, Riding, and Training with Mountain Bikes
Acquiring Your Ride
You can’t have a book about mountain biking unless you have an actual mountain bike with which to ride. So what better way to start this book than to talk about how to choose one? Believe it or not, choosing the best mountain bike for you is one of the hardest steps in this book. There are all sorts of things to consider: where do I buy from? What size do I need? How many gears do I need? Does name brand matter? What’s a good price? Hopefully, I can answer all of these questions and then some for you.
Determine Your Price
Mountain bikes are pretty much like any vehicle; there’s practically no limit to how much you can spend. If you’re a casual enthusiast, you may want a $50 bike from a chain retailer, or if you’re a “hardcore” professional, you could end up spending thousands on a bike. To keep your spending under control, figure out what price range you are willing to pay for your new bike and try only to look at bikes within that price range.
You can save a lot of money from going to a large chain, but I don’t recommend buying a bike from a mass-merchant store such as Wal-Mart or Costco simply because they aren’t as knowledgeable about bikes as an actual bike shop. Support your local bike shop and get a better product and much better service. Your local bike shop will know a lot more about the products their selling, have a better in-store guarantee and be able to help you choose the bike that’s truly right for you.
What Type of Bike do You Need?
Since you’ve got this book I’m assuming you want a mountain bike; these are designed for more rugged terrain and aren’t necessarily for cruising at high speeds on flat streets. Even within the category of mountain bikes, there are a variety of specific bikes designed for several different riding styles and terrain. You will need to figure out what type of riding you will be doing most of the time. Is it smooth trail riding, cross-country racing, all-mountain cruising, or lift-accessed gravity mayhem? Make sure the bikes you look at fit your riding style and not the sales staff.
Cross country mountain bikes
These usually have less than about 4.5 inches of suspension travel. These bikes are built for efficiency, low weight, and self-propelled speed. While they can handle most trails, they do not handle the rough stuff as well as longer travel bikes. So, if you want to win a cross country race, get to the top of the hill first, or if you ride on relatively smooth trails, then these bikes are for you.
Mountain and Trail Bikes
These usually have about 4 to 6 inches of suspension travel. These bikes are built for more aggressive terrain than cross country bikes but are slightly heavier. They aren’t exactly cross-country race bikes, but they are perfect for aggressive trail riding as well as long epic rides. If you are looking for an all-around mountain bike that can take you almost anywhere without busting a lung, these bikes are for you.
These usually have about 6 to 8 inches or more of suspension travel. These bikes are built for abuse. Big drops, jumps, long shuttle rides, and other stunts are where these bikes shine. While most of them are still designed to get you up the hill as well, you will notice the extra weight. If you want to spend most of your time in rough terrain, big drops, jumps, and manmade stunts, and you don’t care how long it takes to get you there, these bikes are for you. These are also great bikes for riding the lifts at your local mountain bike park.
These usually have about 7 to 10 inches of travel. These bikes will suck up almost anything you throw at them, but pedaling up a hill can be quite a challenge. Downhill bikes are designed for high-speed and highly technical downhill racing and little else. If you think you might want to get into downhill racing, get a freeride bike. If you’re really serious about it, a dedicated downhill bike is for you.
Within all of these bikes, there are often styles that are specifically designed for female physiology. Women’s specific mountain bikes are designed to fit a majority of women but cannot be designed to fit all women. You should try to test ride both women’s specific mountain bikes as well as non-women specific bikes and decide for yourself which designs fit your body best. The majority of women-specific designs are designed around an average women’s body. This body standard is smaller, lighter weight, and has a shorter torso and arms than the body standard of the average male that most non-women specific bikes are designed around.
If this average female body standard describes you, then you will most likely find a better fit with a woman’s specific design. Otherwise, if your build differs from this average women’s body standard, and women’s specific design may be a better choice. For some women, it simply boils down to size. There are a few companies now that offer extra small and XX-small size frames; some are women’s specific while others are not. You won’t notice a big difference unless you’re a very petite woman but if you can’t find the bike you’re looking for don’t be embarrassed to look in the kid’s sections; kid’s mountain bikes are every bit as professional as adult’s bikes they’re just designed smaller.
Comfort vs. Efficiency
The next thing you want to determine is if you need a full suspension or a hardtail bike. A full suspension bike has suspension on both ends (sort of like shocks), and a hardtail has none on the back. I always recommend a full suspension mountain bike if you can afford it. Hardtails, without rear suspension, are lighter weight and pedal more efficiently, but full suspension designs offer more comfort and better control. You will want to decide based on your price range, riding style, and terrain.
Full-suspension mountain bikes are much more comfortable, enjoyable, and better controlled when compared to their hardtail counterparts. The tradeoffs of a little extra weight and slightly less efficiency are well worth the added benefits.
Some people will disagree with me on this subject. Hardtails do pedal more efficiently especially when the terrain is smooth. Hardtail mountain bikes are also a bit lighter than full suspension designs and require less maintenance.
A good number of cross-country racers still use hardtails for the above reasons, but most endurance and other types of racers have switched over to full suspension. I should also note that hardtails are also especially popular among the dirt jumping crowd where they pump better from jump to jump.
Unfortunately, full suspension mountain bikes are a bit more expensive than hardtails. If you didn’t afford a full suspension with decent and reliable components, I would recommend buying a good reliable hardtail from a specialty bike shop before going to a mass merchant such as Costco or Wal-Mart for a bike that may fall apart after you ride it for a few days.
Which Components are Right for You?
Because of the seemingly endless combinations of components, you can have on your mountain bike; it’s almost impossible to compare them all side by side. I recommend finding a few components that are most important to you for comparison and making sure the rest fall within some minimums for your price range. I usually start with the fork and then look at the wheels and rear derailleur.
If you’re not very familiar with the individual components that make up a mountain bike, then the primary ones you should at least be concerned with are the breaks and the tires.
Breaks: Disk Breaks & Rim Breaks
The two types of breaks for bicycles are disk brakes (like modern car breaks) and rim breaks. Rim breaks are the most common breaks for bikes; they’re the primary types of breaks on any budget bike and any bike that’s over 20 years old. Disk brakes are more advanced, and they’ve only been used heavily on bikes for about 20 years. Rim breaks work by having a set of pads that presses up against the rim of the bike to stop the wheels. Disk brakes work much like disk breaks in cars: a hydraulic system compresses brake pads against a type of rotor to slow down and stop the bike. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
If you want better, more consistent brake performance in all conditions and don’t care if it weighs a little more or costs a little more, choose disc brakes over rim brakes. If you want the lightest set-up, you can have and are willing to accept small variances in brake performance, or if a low price is really important, choose rim brakes over disc brakes.
Mountain bike rim brakes have gone through several design changes over the years. They started with the original cantilever brakes, went through the dark U-Brake years, and are now known as V-Brakes. V-Brakes work well in most conditions.
Rim brakes have some drawbacks. They require straight un-damaged rims to perform their best. Rim brakes perform poorly in wet or muddy conditions. Over time, Rim brakes can wear right through the side of your rim causing the side of the rim to blow off (I’ve seen this happen, and it’s not pretty.).
Disc brakes have been around for a long time in cars but weren’t seriously used on bikes until the mid to late 90s. There were some issues with some of the earlier models but the disc brakes of today, cable actuated or hydraulic, perform quite well.
The performance of disc brakes is considerably better than rim brakes, especially in wet or muddy conditions. Disc brakes usually require less force to apply and aren’t affected by the condition of your rims or wheels. The biggest downside to disc brakes is the added weight. By the time you add everything in, including front and rear brakes and the added weight of the disc specific hubs, you end up with around 150 to 350 grams additional weight to the whole bike (It doesn’t seem like much weight but remember this is not a street bike; you’ll be riding this up steep hills). This weight number greatly depends on the wheels, rims, hubs, and disc brake system you choose.
Cost is certainly an issue as well. Disk brake systems are usually more expensive compared to rim brakes. Mechanical or cable actuated disc brakes are a closer match but will still cost a little more. Hydraulic disc brake systems can cost significantly more.
To switch from one system to the other, you will in most cases not only have to buy a new set of brakes, but you will have to buy a new wheelset as well. Disc rims usually cannot be used with rim brakes and the standard hubs that are used with rim brake wheels usually, cannot be used with discs. The trend in the industry is certainly towards discs, and the technology is improving every year.
Tires: Tubed and Tubeless
Some people will have absolute success with tubeless tires, and some people will have nothing but trouble. What makes the difference? Well, it can be a lot of factors like different rims, tires, and tubeless tire systems as well as different riding styles and terrain. Overall I do recommend tubeless tires to anyone who wants higher performance and fewer flats but doesn’t mind a little extra installation trouble and maintenance. How much trouble these systems can just depend entirely on the bike that you chose.
So what’s the physical difference between tubeless tires and tubed tires? Well, tubed tires are the traditional tires that many people are used to seeing on bikes. The bike has an outer layer of the tire that everyone sees and inside of that, between the outer layer and the rim, there’s a rubber tube. This tub is soft and pliable and filled with air. Conversely, tubeless tires do not have this tube. Tubeless tires work exactly like the tires on all modern cars; the outer layer fits against the rim and is held onto it by air pressure. Instead of having an inner tube to hold the air, the seal between the outer layer and the rim keeps it in.
In general, tubeless tires weigh less than tubed tires, allow for more traction, and are not susceptible to pinch flats—flats that occur when the tire gets pinched up against the rim. Tubed tires are less expensive, more widely available, easier to install, and easier to repair in the event of a flat.
With the right setup, going to tubeless tires will improve your bike’s performance. This is especially true for riders who have to run higher pressures to prevent pinch flats. I recommend using an internal tire sealant such as Stan’s No-Tubes for a more robust system and fewer flats. I still recommend this even if you have tubeless specific rims and tires.
If you use a tubeless kit to convert your standard tube/tire system into a tubeless tire system, make sure your tire, rim, and kit are compatible. Check the website of the tubeless kit manufacturer for compatibility.
You can use non-tubeless tires if you use an internal sealant but don’t use super-light tires with thin sidewalls. Thicker sidewalls provide better cornering performance and if you ride in terrain with sharp rocks they provide better protection from sidewall cuts and tears. You will still need to carry an extra tube and pump. All tubeless tire systems let you put a tube in if you get a flat, and you can’t get your tire to seal up again.
If you try to lower your tire pressure too much, you will be more likely to damage your rim when you hit rocks, and you may feel the tire roll under during hard cornering. When this gets really bad, you can burp air out and end up with a flat, unsealed tire. Follow the installation instructions carefully and pay attention to every detail. Take the necessary time to get compatible products and install them correctly. A properly installed tubeless tire system is capable of handling any condition and riding style. You can easily race cross-country or downhill with tubeless tires.
From a performance standpoint, tubeless tires are hard to beat. Tubeless tires don’t pinch flat so they let you run lower tire pressures. Lower tire pressure is the best way to improve a tire’s contact with the ground and, with that, comes better bike performance. That being said, tire pressure is one of the most influential adjustments you can make to your bike’s performance.
• Tubeless tire supporters claim that rolling friction is reduced in a tubeless tire. Most people won’t see a noticeable difference either way, but many say there is evidence to support this.
• Using an internal sealant is well worth the little-added weight. Tubeless tires still get flats from thorns and other punctures. It is in most cases more difficult to fix a flat in a tubeless tire than in a standard tire.
• Compatibility is a big issue. Choose the wrong tires or rims and you will end up blowing your tires right off the rim either during installation or on the trail.
• While it is tempting to go with the lightest tires, you can find it is more important to get a tire that will perform well and won’t end up forcing you to put a tube in later. No amount of sealant will plug a good cut or tear in a tire sidewall.
• Don’t expect to lose a huge amount of weight. Some systems are lighter, some heavier, it all depends on the system and the tires used. The real benefits are better performance with lower tire pressures and fewer flats.
Seat Types: More Important Than You’d Think
Your seat must fit your type of riding and your body. The faster you ride, the more likely it is you’ll want a narrow, racing-style seat. This is because a fast-riding position on a bike shifts you forward placing more weight on the hands and feet and reducing a lot of the weight on the seat. Also, as you pedal more vigorously, you spin faster, and you can’t tolerate interference from the sides of the seat.
As you ride more casually, however, such as on a cruiser bike with wide backswept handlebars, most of your weight is planted directly on the seat. Plus you don’t pedal quickly at all. These factors make a wide, heavily padded saddle ideal to support your weight and provide cushioning.
Equally important, most manufacturers offer their popular seat models in both men’s and women’s versions, and there are significant differences.
Because male and female pelvises differ (women’s are wider), it’s usually a good idea for men to start with men’s saddle models and women with women’s (though not always: women sometimes do fine on men’s seats). The men’s is a bit longer and narrower while the women’s is a bit shorter and wider.
Next, the seat must fit your particular anatomy. You can sometimes see how you fit a seat if you sit on it for a while then get off and immediately look closely at the back of the seat top. If a saddle is right for your body, its rear will support your sit bones (the ischial tuberosities – those two protrusions that bug you when you sit on a hard bench). These bones will form dents in certain types of seats. If the seat is correct for your anatomy, the depressions will be centered on the pads of the seat on either side.
While the rear of the seat supports your sit bones, the front (nose) of the seat is designed to help you control the bike with your thighs and support some of the body weight.
The problem with the nose of the bicycle seat is that it bothers many riders, both women and men. This is the part of the seat that’s most likely to compress nerves, irritate, cause chafing, and generally abuse the body. Fortunately, there are plenty of seat models currently available that address the issue with various innovations.
Certain models incorporate a channel centered down the length of the seat. Others use a hole toward the front of the nose. Seats with channels and holes are often called Cutaway seats. Some seats feature soft foam or gel in the nose and soften the base of the seat beneath to reduce the stiffness. These are usually called Gel seats. The important thing to know is that if you find the seat’s nose a problem, there are models designed to remove the intrusion. Try a few until you find the model that works for you.
There are 7 basic types of seats you can look into: Racing Seats, Mountain Bike Seats, Gel Seats, Suspension Seats, Cutaway Seats, Extra Wide Seats, and Leather Seats. Racing seats are great when you’ll be wearing cycling clothing and going fast. Mountain Bike Seats are best for general purpose riding; this is what you’ll likely want to choose for your mountain bike. Gel, Suspension, Cutaway, and Extra Wide seats are made for the sake of comfort. Gel seats have a soft gel covering that molds to your body and can be found in any of the other designs but they do add some weight to your bike. Suspension seats generally look like racing seats but they have a suspension system so that they have more give and can bounce under pressure. Cutaway seats have sections cut out so they introduce less stress to certain pressure points and can alleviate pressure,
Suspension seats generally look like racing seats but they have a suspension system so that they have more give and can bounce under pressure. Cutaway seats have sections cut out so they introduce less stress to certain pressure points and can alleviate pressure, tingling, and numbness. Extra Wide seats are exactly how they sound; they have wider-than-average frames and usually some extra cushion. While they’re very comfortable they can make it difficult to pedal fast. Leather seats are somewhat hard to find; they look nice and can eventually mold to your body but they’re expensive and susceptible to water damage.
If none of the standard types of seats really work for you there are a myriad of alternative designs that incorporate all sorts of strategies to make you comfortable. Some seats are like hammocks and others have two pads for the buttocks, there really are a million varieties. The only caveat to these is that many of them are far from optimized for mountain biking. If none of the 7 basic types of seats work for you then definitely consider sticking to a low-impact biking path.
Mountain Biking Safety
I could write 100 pages on how to be safe while mountain biking and it still might not be completely sufficient. I can’t stress this enough: Safety has to be your number 1 priority while you’re out on the trail (or any time really). Part of the fun involved with mountain biking is the excitement you get from going across rustic trails and being with nature. These beautiful things also pose some serious health risks and every area has its own set of problems to deal with. Hopefully what you’ll get out of this chapter is a unique way of thinking
There are a lot of ways to improve mountain bike safety. Some will argue, including me, that wearing a helmet is the single most important step you can take. However, the second most important step should never be overlooked; you should always ride in control.
Riding in control not only helps prevent crashes, but it also keeps others on the trail safe as well. When you ride out of control, you lose the ability to adjust to the terrain and environment as you pass through it. This can and does lead to dangerous crashes and injury to yourself and others.
Mountain biking is inherently dangerous and we all like to push the limits sometimes, but there is a fine line between pushing the limits safely and pushing them recklessly. Follow these steps to stay safe on the trails and on the right side of the danger line.
• Gear Up
Always wear a helmet and any other appropriate safety equipment for the riding conditions. If you riding in an extremely rugged area I suggest kneepads and if you plan on doing any stunts or going down large hills then a chest plate can prevent some particularly nasty injuries from twisted handlebars.
• Never Ride Beyond Your Abilities
There is no shame in walking sections of the trail you don’t feel confident enough to ride and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.
• Use Appropriate Equipment for the Terrain
Some bikes are better for different situations. Just because you can see tire tracks, doesn’t mean you can ride it with your bike.
• Keep Your Speed In Check
Always keep your speed at a level that will allow you to adjust to any unforeseen obstacles or changes in trail conditions.
• Know The Trail
Never push the limits on a trail you are not familiar with. You need to get to know the trail you are riding at slower speeds before you can ride it like the trails you’re used to.
• Slow Down for Blind Corners
You never know what or who is around a corner when you can’t see past it.
• Stop and Look
Stop and look at sections of the trail that look like they may pose a challenge before you ride them.
• Plan on the Crash
Always look at the consequences of crashing in a particular section or on a particular stunt before trying to ride through it. Sometimes a section can look easy to ride but can have deadly consequences to a crash.
• Start Small, Go Big
Work your way up to obstacles and stunts. Find ways to practice moves in less difficult and dangerous situations or at lower speeds before committing yourself to something more dangerous.
• Play It Smart
If you think what you are doing is not the smartest, you are probably right. Think about what you are doing and trust your instincts.
• Approach animals with caution.
Wild animals are very unpredictable so approach them with caution. Never startle them by shouting or making any loud sound.
• Be aware of your surroundings.
Safety against criminals is something you have to look after. Be wary of suspicious people you see on the trail. Always ride in a group and avoid using the same trail often.
• Avoid riding in the dark
We’ll talk about night safety in a minute but my general rule of thumb is that you should only ride in the dark if you know the area very well and usually if you have a friend. Unless you absolutely need to ride at night I don’t recommend it.
• Plan your ride
Know more or less how long it takes. If riding in the dark is unavoidable, be sure to have reflectors on your bike and on your clothing. Headlights will also be useful.
Have All The Supplies You Need!
To ensure your safety during a ride, you need to be prepared for anything that can happen. This also means that you need to bring some kind of survival kit or first-aid kit that can help you with the first problems you encounter. When riding on trails, it would be good to bring a few essential things that you might need. These may vary with the distance of trail riding you will be doing.
The list for short distance trailing would probably fit in a small CamelBak hydration system with small compartments. However, for long distance Mountain Bike trailing, a daypack would be more appropriate with the amount of stuff you will be bringing. This is why it’s always a good idea to bike with a buddy or two so that you can split the emergency supplies up and not have a bunch of stuff weighing you down.
Short Trips (Under 10 miles)
• Cellular phone
• Pump with repair kit
• Compact multi-tool
• Energy bars or fruits
• Money (Have some cash and a card)
• Identification with medical info
Long Trips (Over 10 miles)
• Map of the trail you will be using
• Cellular or satellite phone
• Compass (GPS, if you have the budget)
• Small flares
• Bicycle headlight and tail light
• Windbreaker or Jacket (depending on the temperature)
• Compact multi-tool set
• Whistle or Horn
• Pump and repair kit
• Allen wrenches
• Chain breaker
• Emergency Money
• Identification with medical info
• First-aid kit
• Food and drink (take extra just in case)
These are the basic things that should be included in your Mountain Biking Survival Kit. Of course, it is up to you if you want to bring more stuff. It really depends on what you think you will need on your trip.
Mountain Bike Night Safety
Many people find biking during the night to be extremely exciting and a bit more thrilling than “regular old day riding.” For others, the night is the only time for them to ride, being busy with things like school and work. Regardless of your reasoning, night time is the prime time to keep your eyes on safety. As I said earlier I really don’t recommend riding at night unless you have to; there are substantially more risks involved with riding a bike at night, especially if you’re biking in an extremely suburban or extremely rural area. In the city you have to worry about cars and people; in the
As I said earlier I really don’t recommend riding at night unless you have to; there are substantially more risks involved with riding a bike at night, especially if you’re biking in an extremely suburban or extremely rural area. In the city you have to worry about cars and people; in the wilderness, you have to worry about large animals and hidden obstacles. Here are a few tips to keep you out of harm’s way during your night mountain biking sessions:
• Avoid riding alone. If you can ride with a friend then it’s really the best way to ride, especially in the wilderness. Having a riding buddy is not only great for safety but it’s usually a lot of fun to have a person to share your mountain biking experience with.
• Invest in a good lighting system. A lighting system is the most important thing in night mountain biking. Lighting systems include headlights (attached to the handlebar), and taillights, and may also include helmet lights. It is advisable, however, to have both a headlight and a helmet light since headlights only let you see where your handlebar is pointed, while helmet lights allow you to see where your head is turned. Taillights are necessary for riders behind you to see where you are going. Get headlights that are lightweight, bright, and can last for a long time. Helmet lights should also be lightweight, but not as bright as your headlight.
• Check the duration of your lighting system. It’s important to know how long those lights are going to last. If they are only going to last for 4 hours, then don’t ride beyond 4 hours. Otherwise, you’ll be left in the darkness.
• Never ride alone. If an accident occurs while riding at night, no one might be able to help you. So always ride in a group, and never stray away from it. It’s also a good thing to carry a warning device such as a whistle or a horn to alert your fellow riders in case of an emergency.
• Familiarize yourself with the trail. Go through the trail a few times during the daytime before riding it at the night. Things will look different once the sun goes down, so it is best to have a good knowledge of the trail so as to prevent confusion. Also, exploring new trails during the night can lead to accidents and even getting lost.
• Slow down. The night makes things harder to see, so it is recommended to step your riding pace down a bit. Take a little more time to examine what’s in front of you, and adjust accordingly. With that said, expect night rides to be a bit longer than daytime rides.
• Wear bright clothing. This will make you more visible in the dark. Neon colors like yellow and orange should do the trick.
• Wear protective eyewear. You can never tell if some bugs or low-hanging branches are about to poke you in the eyes, so you’ll need to protect them all the time. A pair of clear glasses or goggles is what you need.
• Bring a small flashlight along. Flat tires and other bike-related accidents are inevitable. A pocket-sized flashlight will come in handy when taking care of these things. Using it instead of your helmet light will allow you to conserve the latter’s battery life.
• Train, train, and train. Mountain biking is a physically-demanding sport, so make sure you go through the proper training exercises before trying this activity so as to prevent injuries.
These are just some basic safety guidelines for mountain biking during the night. Make sure to follow them each time you and your friends decide to go for a ride after sundown. And as you go along with this activity, you will probably learn new things that are not mentioned here. So the best way to get better at night mountain biking is to do it often. Just remember to stick to these safety tips so that you may live to ride your bike another day.
Mountain Bike Maintenance
Cleaning Your Bike
One of the most important items of maintenance involves taking good care of your bike after riding it by cleaning off any mud, dirt, or debris accumulated during your ride. Sometimes if you are riding in clean and dry conditions the bike can be cleaned easily. More often, however, the bike will require a more time-consuming and tedious cleaning. This is especially true if you have ridden in muddy or wet conditions, through water, in the rain, or in wet creek beds or bog areas. It’s extremely important to clean your bike directly after a ride before it is put away.
First, you can just wipe the bike down with a dry towel. If there’s any dried-on mud you can get it off with a wet towel and then dry it afterward. I like to use Armor All which is an automotive interior dash cleaner and protector. Spray a little on a dry towel and wipe down the frame, crank arms, handlebars, and fork tubes after the bike is cleaned. If your bike was extremely dirty you can clean it with a bucket of soapy water (use automotive soap or buy some specialty bike soap).
It is important to now clean the chain and lube it. Also, it is a good idea to remove any sticks, leaves, or other debris from the inside of the rear gear cluster (the freewheel) with a thin, long tool such as a screwdriver, or some similar tool that is designed to get between the gears and take out debris.
Lubricating the Chain
Keeping your chain lubricated properly will allow the optimum performance from this most important part of your bike. Road bikes only need occasional lubrication after wet weather but mountain bikers generally require more care because of the mud and dirt involved. If your chain is not tended to frequently, eventually you will have either a broken or frozen link. First, turn your bike upside down and rest it on the seat and handlebars. Then grab the chain with a cloth and move the pedals to advance the chain thru the cloth. This removes some surface debris. Repeat this process with lubricant to further clean the chain. Repeat one last time with lubricant to make sure the chain is properly lubricated.
• Clean and lubricate the chain.
• Inflate front and rear tires to the desired pressure.
• Check travel on brake levers, adjust cable at handlebar or at brake if needed. The brake should start to grip about the third pull-on lever. Remember, the LEFT is your front brake. However, if you live in the U.K., the left lever may control the REAR brake, as we are told by one of our viewers overseas!
• Check all exposed Allen heads for tightness, using a multiple-size hex wrench or Alien tool. These can be found on various areas of your bike (fork tubes, chainring bolts, seat, handlebars, mounting bolts, water bottle cages, etc). Use common sense and tighten whatever is loose.
• Pick up the front end and spin the wheel. Make sure the wheel is rotating freely and the rim or tire is not rubbing against the brake pad.
• Pick up the rear end and spin the wheel. Make sure that the wheel doesn’t seem to have a wobble in it, and make sure it spins freely.
• Feel the spoke tension with your fingers on each wheel, or listen to their tone while holding a screwdriver, for example, against the spinning wheel. Any dead spokes should be tightened with the appropriately sized spoke wrench.
• Get on your bike and pedal around your driveway or street before your ride. You should shift gears, pedal, and test the brakes.
• If you ride clipless pedals, check your cleats for tightness and debris, and lube the mechanism in the pedal.
• Check any lights, racks, handlebar bags, seat bags, or other items to make sure they are properly attached to the bike. Remove any trash or unused food from your bags, and check the gear you may be carrying in them.
• Make sure you have the proper tools with you for the ride you are planning. Most riders carry some tools, or at the very least a pump and patch kit. Find out what tools your partner is carrying if you are riding with someone. Make sure at least one of you has the basics.
Fix a Flat Tire on the Trail
Regardless of whether you chose tubed or tubeless tires, your primary method of fixing a flat while on the trail will be by using tubes. If your rimless tire gets a flat it will likely be near-impossible to fix while you’re out on the trail so it’s always good to bring along tubes as they work with both tire types. You may need these tools to fix it: tire irons (or a Quik Stik), patch kit, pump, a backup tube, and sometimes a Presta adapter.
First, check to see if the bead has come off of the rim or if the bead has worn thru to the tube perhaps by rubbing on the brake shoe. Sometimes the bead can stretch and come off in which case you need a new tire. Also, if a tubed bike sits for a while the tires may just go flat and need to be pumped up again. Check the valve stem to make sure that it is tight (use a valve stem tool if you have Schrader stems) and that the air is not leaking here. Here’s the basic procedure:
1- Remove the tire from the bike after turning the bike on its back. Loosen both axle nuts or the quick release lever and disengage the brake cable so that the tire will pull off between the brake pads. For the back wheel, shift the chain onto the smallest sprocket, grab the derailleur body and pull it toward the rear of the bike, and wrestle the wheel free.
2- Remove the tire from the rim using your tire irons (these may be plastic and not really iron). Use the beveled end and work it about a half-inch underneath the bead starting at a point on the wheel opposite the valve stem. Use leverage to pull the tire from the bead and lock the other end of the iron on a spoke. Take a second iron and work it about an inch from the first and push it to push off the bead, or lock it on a spoke and use a third iron. In this fashion, you can work off one side of the bead and remove the tube.
3- It is important to now check the inside of the tire for thorns, glass, metal fragments, etc… When you are sure it is clean, move on to the tube. Pump it up a little and listen carefully for an air leak, or submerge it in water and look for bubbles. The hole, or holes, can be verified by a little saliva that will bubble if placed over the hole.
4- Rough up the area of the tube a little with the sandpaper in the patch kit where the hole is. Apply a glueless patch or apply enough glue to cover the size of the patch. Wait five minutes for the glue to dry and then apply the patch firmly to the tube. If the hole is on a seam, or ridge in the tube, the patch may not hold as well. You may need a new tube. Wait a few minutes for it to bond. Then pump up the tube slightly.
5- Place the tube back in the tire starting at the area of the valve stem. Center it carefully or you will risk damaging the stem and ruining the tube. Work the tube all the way into the tire and then begin to work the bead back onto the rim. You can do most of this by hand and complete the job using the tire irons, but be sure to not pinch the tube in the process. You may have to wrestle a bit to get the last bit of bead onto the rim.
6- Inflate the tire a little bit and then work the bead with your hands to make sure it is even and looks O.K.
7- Use your pump and PUMP IT UP, BABY! Some pumps require a great deal of energy to get decent air pressure. You may need an adapter if you have the Presta system to engage it with the pump. The adapter is usually placed on the stem after the steam valve is turned loose.
8- Replace the tire onto the bike and check the brake cables and alignment of the tire on the dropouts and retighten everything.
9- Go check it out and ride. It may be O.K. or it may still lose air again after a few hours or days. If this happens then you may have pinched a hole in the tube, the patch may have failed, the valve may be loose, you may have had more than one hole or the item that caused the flat may still be in the tire!!!
Using Your Bike for Training
Some people use street bikes for building up their muscles but mountain biking has the distinct advantage of providing a mixture of anaerobic exercise for building muscles and aerobic exercise for burning fat. It can be a lot more intense than street biking and for that reason, it’s a particular favorite for sports enthusiasts and other people who want to train their bodies. In this section, we’ll discover a wide variety of training methods you can use to prepare for your bike ride and to use with your bike. Whether you’re just trying to lose a few pounds or want to strength train for a big race, there’s a training method that will work for you.
Before every Mountain Biking trip, it is imperative to prepare your mind and body. Warming-up exercises are a must before every ride, whether it’s for a casual trip or an intense race, for they do not only prepare the body but also improve mental focus.
Physiologically speaking, warming up makes the muscles more elastic, corollary preventing cramps and overstretching. Moreover, warming up increases blood flow to the muscles and stimulates the energy systems of the body.
The warming-up routine can take around 30 minutes of your time prior to the Mountain Biking ride. In doing the warming-up routine, which involves two phases – general and specific, you can do it either on a stationary trainer or by biking down the road.
The general phase of the warm-up routine entails biking in a relaxed phase with minimal resistance. This will increase your muscle temperature, relax your legs, and direct the flow of blood to the working muscles. This phase, which should be completed between 15-20 minutes, should already involve deep breathing exercises and positive visualization techniques.
Between the general and specific phases, perform simple stretches involving the neck, shoulders, lower back, and the upper body. Do simple stretching exercises that should last between 5-10 minutes.
For the specific phase of the warm-up routine, spin for five minutes until your heart rate reaches below race effort. Do this twice with moderate resistance to avoid muscle fatigue. This phase of the exercise would help significantly in activating your energy systems and metabolic processes.
The length of the warm-up exercises actually depends on the preferences of the mountain biker and the type of the Mountain Biking event. For timed trials and downhill races, for example, participating mountain bikers have to do two minutes of intense exercises, followed by 10 minutes of low-intense ones. The key here is to try varying lengths of the warm-up exercises, as well as different exercise routines to find out what mountain bikers are comfortable with.
General Bike Training
You need fitness to ride a bike, any bike be it road, track, or MTB, the basic fitness is the same, but with obvious specialization for each different discipline of the sport. If you are intending to ride some long distance endurance off-road races, then you will need to spend a lot of time in the saddle, nearly as much time as you intend to race. Most, if not all, mountain bikers train on the road, either on a road bike or on their mountain bike with a set of slick road tires fitted for better handling and comfort.
With on-the-road training you can control the different aspects of your workout; intervals can be measured as can the longer distance rides. Power training can be done either on or off-road, but it is more scientific and controlled on the road, not to mention the safety aspect, if you are making an effort on the boulder or on a loose surface then accidents can happen, this is less likely on the road.
For a mountain bike training plan you can follow a road training program up a point, that point is where bike fitness has to be combined with mountain bike fitness training, but to start with you must concentrate on that general bike training.
You need to build up to doing around about four hour bike rides, with or without stops, this gets you used to being in the saddle for the amount of time you maybe racing for or a good part of it if you are intending to enter enduros. These hours are best done with friends with the same aims and similar fitness, one rider who is stronger and wants to show everyone can ruin the group’s cohesion. Long steady road rides over different terrain are a great way to lose weight and strengthen the whole body and help your bike riding ability. Long rides should be
Speed & Interval Training
Interval training can be undertaken on or off road, but as we have talked about before it’s more controllable on the road. Pick a hill that is rideable on a biggish gear and ride it as hard as you can, this is most easily gauged with a pulse monitor and you should be making efforts at over 85% of maximum, this is a mountain bike strength training. Speed intervals are also very important for mountain bike racing as a fast start or having the ability to jump past another rider is very important.
Speed training is best done on a short stretch of road, sprint as hard as you can to take your pulse up again to over 85%, and do this short interval as often as you can until your pulse will not recover or your speed drops too far that you are not training fast enough when this happens its time to go home.
Training for Strength
Mountain Biking is a great activity that helps develop physical strength and endurance. Aside from being just a form of recreation, this sport is already part of major competitions and tournaments all over the world.
There are many reasons why people go Mountain Biking. Some do it for fun, as a form of exercise, while some are serious mountain bikers who train and practice for competitions. There are two types of riders: recreational riders and competitive riders. A recreational rider is someone who usually rides three times a week at moderate intensity while a competitive rider pursues a race schedule and pushes his or her competitive level to the highest point. No matter what type of rider you are, strength training is very important.
Like in all types of physical activity, you need to train your body to avoid getting injuries and to be able to handle any difficulty. Most riders already follow a program either professionally made for their body’s needs or a program that they have created. There are many benefits of incorporating strength training into your program.
• Strength training helps prevent injuries.
• It is a great way of increasing bike strength and power.
• It is important in hill climbing, time trailing, and sprinting.
• Strength training can prevent and even reverse the loss of muscle mass.
• It can greatly decrease injury potential to your lower back, knee, and shoulder areas.
• You can have better bike control and less chance of ejection after hard landings.
• Your body can recover fast and experience less post-ride muscle soreness.
• Strength training builds power for getting through obstacles.
• Strength training can increase leg strength and help you ride faster and with fewer overuse injuries.
More and more people are realizing the great effects of strength training. Mountain Biking demands more use of your upper body strength due to changes in posture, riding, tempo, and terrain. This is where strength training can be of great help. A good form of strength training is a program that emphasizes weight training. You can do this anywhere and with minimal equipment and supervision. This does not only include push ups or crunches. It also involves challenging exercises and variations as you really need to build up your strength and muscles.
Here are some exercises that you can do as part of your strength training:
- Crunches, Squats, Leg Press, Squats
- Step ups on a platform with weight on shoulders
- Upright rowing
Be careful during training as you can seriously injure yourself if you do not perform the exercises properly. If you are designing your own program, it is important to have specific goals in mind. But before anything else, check with your doctor first to see if you have any medical problems that will prohibit this type of training. Seeking professional advice from fitness and health experts is also a good option. They can assess your current cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, muscle strengths, and weakness prior to beginning a training program. With these things in mind, you can be on your way to improving your race results in no time.
Basic Off-Road Training
If you are lucky you might have a dedicated MTB (Mountain Bike) Circuit in your area. Check your phone book or do an online search (Google works fine) to see if you do. These are the best areas to go to. Otherwise, you need to use a course that you know well with as many different types of terrain as you can find. If you have a circuit with a hard climb this is perfect for interval training as you can make your effort on the hill and rest on the descent, be very careful, as you get tired you can make mistakes and fall. If you are slowing down and getting tired, it’s time to go home.
Fast fire tracks and tricky wooded sections are a must for training yourself for bike handling, one of the best mountain bike training tips you will ever receive is that if you are descending through a forest between trees, don’t ever look straight at any of the trees, if you do this you are bound to crash into it, this is the same for any obstacles that you might come across on a descent.
High Altitude Training
Mountain bike enthusiasts and athletes alike are always looking for new ways to improve performance whether it is from a new training method, a nutritional strategy, or the latest equipment. One method that has been used with success for decades is altitude training. However, there are many misconceptions about altitude training and few people actually know how to correctly implement this type of training.
So what are the physiological effects of altitude training? When exposed to high altitude, less oxygen can be absorbed into the bloodstream, not because there is less oxygen, but because there is a lower barometric pressure driving the oxygen into the circulation. Less oxygen in the bloodstream means less oxygen for your working muscles. This results in a lowered aerobic capacity and ultimately a slower ride. In order to offset the lower oxygen levels in the bloodstream, the body produces more blood cells in an effort to maintain adequate oxygen transfer levels to the tissues.
Because of this well-known adaptation, researchers first theorized that training at altitude would improve exercise performance at sea level because the body would be able to transport greater amounts of oxygen. However, the problem with this concept is that, although red blood cell concentration does increase with chronic altitude exposure, athletes cannot train at the same intensity at elevation as they can at low altitude.
Exercise performance is not affected at altitudes below 4500 feet. However, for every 1000 feet about 4500 feet, performance declines by 3%. Practically speaking, if you can cycle 30 miles in two and one half hours at 4500 feet, it would take you about 2 hours and 50 minutes to cycle this same distance at 8000 feet altitude. Therefore, there is little benefit of traditional altitude training since the negative impact on training intensity counteracts the benefits of more red blood cells.
Further research into altitude training has shown that it can be helpful if executed in a particular way commonly referred to as “live high, train low.” The advantage of this training method is that living high chronically stimulates red blood production and training low allows maximum intensity workouts to be performed. It’s the best of both worlds.
For a mountain biker who is looking to use this technique, living at an elevation of 7,000 to 9,000 feet is ideal since it is sufficiently high to stimulate red blood production but not so high that acute mountain sickness is a great threat. This means living in the western United States since the only states with cities above 7000 feet are Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, California, Utah, Wyoming, and Nevada. For example, hundreds of world class athletes “live high and train low” in Flagstaff, AZ each year because the elevation is 7,000 feet and it takes only a 30-minute drive to get on trails below 4,500 feet in elevation.
Unfortunately, some people do not respond favorably to the “live high, train low” approach. Performance is enhanced in about half of those who use this method, but the other half of people will see no improvement in their sea level performance. To make matters worse, you can’t predict who will respond well and who won’t. One thing is for sure, with this method, altitude training will improve your mountain biking performance at altitude.
There are several things that you can do to improve the acclimatization process and increase your chances that altitude training will work for you. First, eat plenty of iron. Iron deficiency, a problem common in endurance athletes, interferes with red blood cell production. Second, hydrate well. Exposure to altitude dehydrates the body and results in performance declines and muscle tissue is burned for energy. Third, eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables which also offer an abundance of natural vitamins. You can supplement your diet with phytonutrient supplements such as concentrated aloe vera juice. Try to avoid vitamin supplements given the body functions best on natural whole foods.
Altitude exposure lowers antioxidant concentrations in the circulation. These antioxidants must be replenished in the diet since they are important in strengthening the immune system to ward off infection and they hasten recovery time between exercise sessions, and antioxidants simply come from green foods.
In summary, altitude training definitely improves your mountain biking performance at altitude. For performance below 4500 feet in elevation, traditional altitude training has little effect. However, the “live high, train low” works well for some people. Adequate hydration and a nutritious diet will enhance the training effect.
General MTB Training Tips
• Practicing all different kinds of conditions will help you later in races or on rides; the more you know how to handle your bike the better. Mud can have some very different properties from very slippery to sticky and clogging. Wet mud can be impossible to ride on and can be worse than ice and has to be taken carefully, whereas the thick stuff just slows you down and needs lots of strength to push through.
• Rough tracks with boulders and different size stones deserve a lot of respect. If you are climbing out of the saddle on a hill your back wheel will slip. There are different ways of dealing with this; it can be best to either keep your weight over the back wheel as you climb standing up or change down to smaller gear and ride up on the saddle.
• Cornering is an art on a mountain bike. Different terrains and conditions each have a unique effect. If you have a grassy bend on a descent you will slide and fall; this is where you need to keep the bike under control with the brakes and your balance. On a sharp graven bend you can lock up the rear wheel and skid round and if it is really tight you can brake with the front wheel and bounce the rear wheel around.
Mountain Biking Trails
What To Look For
Before we get into actual trail reviews let’s discuss what you should be looking for in a trial to decide if it’s right for you. Depending on the area you live in there are a lot of different possibilities. The first thing you have to do is decide what your purpose is. Are you just looking for some light mountain riding? Be sure to pick a trail that is not overly hilly and has hard smooth tracks. Are you looking for some endurance training? Pick a mostly flat trail with varying levels of traction. If you’re doing strength training you’ll want lots of hills and possibly a softer track that requires more effort to pedal through. Choosing the right trail is imperative because you don’t want to get stuck on a trail that goes beyond your physical limits.
• Firm ground
• Slightly hilly
• Avoid rainy areas
• No tall grass
• Less than 5 miles
• Mixture of Soft and Firm ground
• Very hilly or mountainous
• Tall grass is okay
• Between 5 and 10 miles
• Pick a trail close to a city or medical facility
• Medium to Firm ground
• Flat landscape
• No tall grass
• At least 10 miles
Tricks and Stunts
• Firm ground with traction
• No mud or tall grass
• Very hilly
• Pick a small trail near a city just in case of emergencies
• Medium to firm ground
• Avoid excessively muddy areas
• Avoid tall grass
• Choose a trail that doesn’t have a lot of local wildlife
Now that you have a few guidelines for choosing your own trails we’ll move on to the reviews. Remember these are just some general guidelines based on a few common activities for mountain bikers. Choosing a trail that you feel safe and familiar with is usually your best option.
Resources for Finding Trails
The Internet is the most powerful research tool that you have. You can find all sorts of biking trails across the world simply by searching on the internet. The trail review sites usually give you detailed information about how difficult the trail is, when it’s open and how you can get there. Here are a few great websites that you can use to find the best trails in your area:
Go Out and Ride!
We’ve talked about everything you need to know to get your mountain bike and start having a good time. In the first chapter we talked about where you can buy a mountain bike and what types of things you should watch out for; remember to avoid large chain stores like Costco, Walmart, Target and K-Mart as they are not bike specialists and usually sell inferior products.
In our second chapter, we talked about the ever-important safety issues associated with mountain bike use. Make sure to turn back to that chapter often as safety should always be your top priority. After that we did a little bike maintenance and learned how to clean and lube your bike and then do a pre-trip check to make sure everything was in working order and how to fix a flat once you’re finally on the road.
If you’ve followed the book carefully you’ve discovered a wide variety of training methods you can use to prepare for your bike rides and to do while you’re on your bike. Biking is one of the most physically taxing hobbies you can get into and if you do it regularly it can be a great part of a healthy diet and exercise program.
Now that you have all the information you need and the resources to find great trails, all that’s left for you to do is go out and ride! Have fun, be safe, and never stop!