13 Important Things You Should Carry on Long MTB Rides!

My mountain bike  hydration pack is full on long rides, not just with water. In addition to the usual multi tool, spare tube, first aid kit, jacket and patch kit these items can make a ride ending mishap a minor inconvenience.

 

Items in my "tool kit" pocket

1. A head lamp (w/fresh batteries), when someone is injured or you have a mechanical darkness can come fast. A head lamp was one thing sorry missed when a friend got severely injured last year. Having a light would of helped us care for him and signal help when they finally arrived around 10 pm (he wrecked around 5 pm).

2. Your cell phone! Just because you friend is carrying his doesn’t mean you don’t need yours. Where our friend wrecked AT&T phones had no reception but Verizon did (my Verizon however was in my car). Having my phone would of gotten help there hours earlier.

3. Food, three tasty, calorie pack Tram Bars and a GU with caffeine to get me home! Spending the night outdoors and/or carrying a friend back is exhausting, some extra food can really help.

4. A shock pump, if your shock or fork runs out of air this can make getting home a lot more fun.

5. A lighter! It was fall when our friend was injured and having a lighter allowed us to start a fire. This kept all of us warm and helped the rescue team find us.

6. Duct tape! If duct tape can’t fix it it ain’t broke! From helping boot a mountain bike tire to taping a broken frame together (to limb it home) duct tape can be a big help. (Notice I wrapped a bunch around my tire pump)

7. Money! Money can buy you a tube, bribe someone for a ride, buy food and a dollar bill can be used to “boot” a small slice in your tire sidewall.

8. A Fedex or Priority Mail envelope. Ever notice how tough these are?! Great for booting a big slice in a sidewall or combining with duct tape to hold something together.

9. A real chain breaker instead of the one on your multi-tool. Much easier to use and a much better success rate.

10. A leather-man tool! From holding loose bolts to sawing your arm off (see the movie 128 hours) nothing beats a leather-man.

11. Chain lube, stream crossings, rain and mud can make your bike unrideable. A small bottle of chain lube can save you.

12. A derailleur hanger for your current bike (that old derailleur hanger won’t help you).

13. A cloth for cleaning your glasses or chain

This is by no means everything you may need. Always bring more water and clothing than you think you will need on long mtb rides.

The Ideal Confidence Inspiring Mountain Bike!

I just received a great question from a newsletter subscriber: “Hi Gene, I’ve been following your blog posts and emails. After recently moving and having to sell my old hardtail, I am now in the market for a new mountain bike. I would like to get one that would be ideal for improving my skills. I don’t care much about performance at this point. I know from you that wider tires, shorter stem, wider bars and an adjustable seat post, all improve confidence and control, and I’ll make sure I get all of these. But since I am not dealing with an existing bike that I’m riding — since I’m in the situation where I can pick any kind of mountain bike — which characteristics would you recommend? E.g. large vs short wheelbase; what kind of suspension and how much travel; type of breaks; size of frame (go smaller, go bigger), etc. Thanks! Alon

A lot of this really depends on the goal/s of the rider and Alon gave me his goal/s: “…ideal for improving my skills. I don’t care much about performance at this point.”.  So we will go from there.

Unless you are a cross country racer and/or really care about being as absolutely fast as you can on climbs I feel most riders would greatly benefit from a 5 or 6″ travel “all-mountain bike”.  They tend weigh a little more than a 3-4″ travel bike but have a lot of features that make them more fun and confidence inspiring.  The number thing they have is a slacker head angle (which means the front wheel is further in front of you).  There is a tired out standard of 70 and 69.5 degree head angles on “cross country” bikes. These angles make descending terrifying compared to the slacker (68.5 to 67 degree) head angles on “all-mountain” bikes. The steeper head angles do help on really steep climbs though so you must weigh how often you do really steep climbs and if you want to have a bike that climbs those climbs a little better but descends scarier (steep head angle bike) or a bike that causes you to worry about body position a little more on a steep climb but is confidence inspiring on the descents.  Yeti is one of the few companies that make 4-5″ travel bikes with 68.5 or slacker head angles.

As far frame size my head coach Andy (who is 5’6″ a great technical climber and pro downhill racer) likes to ride bikes on the big side.  He likes the longer wheel base of medium because it makes the bike a little more stable and predictable.  He also likes the longer top tube allowing him to run a 40mm stem for greatly control. He feels this worth giving up the ideal amount of stand over height for. His weapon of choice, a medium Yeti 575.  I too like longer top tube bikes and being 6’3″ that means I ride a large or XL depending on the company (some XL’s are just a little too long for me, more fitting for 6’4″ and up).  The bike I ride most is my Specialized Enduro SL set in the low bottom bracket/slack head angle position. The low bottom bracket keeps my center of mass lower (making the bike corner better) and I love the 67 degree head angle (with an adjustable fork I can slacker the head angle and drop the bars two inches for steep climbs).

As for suspension design, most companies make great full suspension bikes now and there is definitely not one way to go.  As long as you do your research in general the more you spend (within each company) the more you will get (the shocks themselves will be better). Spend enough to get at least rebound adjustment on both front and rear suspension.  As for brakes you definitely want hydraulic disc brakes.

I hate to but a price on this because nearly all bike store bought bike are pretty darn good these days but if look at $2,000 msrp bikes and up you will get a lot of nice features such as good components and quality shocks and forks

Well that sums up what I am looking for in a 26″ mountain bike.  The two main things are a slack head angle (67-68.5 degrees) and a longer top tube (over 24 inches for a large).

Another option is definitely a 29er. I love 29ers and feel that they are a great bike for many riders.  Since this is about confidence inspiring bikes first I will mention where 29ers really shine, going over obstacles! Their taller tires just plain roll over things easier. The only real down fall (confidence inspiring wise) is many 29ers have steep head angles to keep their wheel base short (this is slowly changing at some companies) which has made many of my students say that they were intimidated on steep descents.

The pro’s of 29ers: They get over obstacles easier, they hold their momentum well, they have better traction do to a larger contact patch, they plain ride smoother and with less effort

The con’s of 29ers: Their big gyroscopes (wheels) make going from tight left to right turn slower and more difficult, their longer wheel base makes tight switchbacks more difficult, they are a bit more cumbersome, especially in the air, they don’t fit shorter riders well (they make them to fit short riders but the handle bars end up way to high for good body position), they are bit slower to accelerate.

In short for riders who really enjoy cornering and jumping 29ers are not the best choice (yet). For most other riders, especially riders that really enjoy long rides and want to make getting over “step up” type obstacles easier, 29ers are great.

The 4th Thing You Can Buy That Will Instanty Improve How your Bike Handles!

Well it sounds like quite a few of you have gone out and gotten shorter stems, wider bars and bigger tires so here is the 4th thing you can buy.  Go out and get an adjustable height seat post like the Gravity Dropper.  I have had a Gravity dropper for around 10 years now and can’t imagine riding without one.  Descending with your seat at full height for proper leg extension when pedaling is not safe, provides much less control and is out right scary. By dropping your seat 3-5″ you are able to lower your hips, have more shock absorption, separate  from the bike easier and have way more control descending. Being able to lower and then raise your seat at the flick of a switch is one of the best inventions ever for mountain biking.

I personally like the Gravity Dropper post as not only were they the first, their product is the simplest making it very dependable.  It is simply powered by a coil spring instead of air like most other models.  Specialized, Crank Brothers and KS all make nice adjustable height posts too but I have seen and heard of (many of my friends are bike mechanics) the air posts blowing out and using air pressure.

No matter which post you decide on this will be one of the coolest parts purchases you ever make for you bike.  Look for my article on the absolute number one purchase you can make to improve your bike handling coming soon.

Just found this emails in response to my July 2007 newsletter:

Hey Gene!

Thanks for another great article. I love getting those from you. They really stimulate the mental side of the sport.

Anyway, Sheri got me my gravity dropper seatpost from you and I absolutely love it! Between your training camp and the seatpost I have been able to ride stuff that has been frustrating me the last couple of years.

Jack Boltz

Just wanted to let you know that the Gravity Dropper is fantastic!  What a cool invention.  It helps immensely.  I used it too many time to count on my trip to Steamboat last week.

Thanks again for the Gravity Dropper!
Karen

Another Thing You can Buy and Instantly Have More Bike Control!

Last month we talked about the control you get from a short stem and wide bar combination and hopefully you have experimented with that set up.  Now for another great bike handling increase, tires! Get ye some wide tires (2.2-2.5) and run lower pressure (20-32 pounds of pressure depending on body weight and tire type.  For instance on my xc bike I run 30 pounds of pressure and weigh 188 pounds.  On my downhill bike with downhill tires (which are much thicker, stronger and heavier) I run as little as 22 pounds depending on the track.

What is the right pressure for you?  Experiment!  Find the lowest pressure you can run without pinch flatting (if you run tubes) rolling the tire or dinging your rims (if you run tubeless).  For lighter riders this will be somewhere between 18-24 pounds and for bigger riders some where between 25-38 pounds.

Why a bigger tire and less pressure?  More traction and shock absorption.  Instead of deflecting off small rocks and roots your tire will simply compress and roll over the rock or root.

There is a big misconception in mountain biking that the more tire pressure you run and the narrower your tire the faster you will roll.  Well, that simply isn’t true and here is a link to a study that proves this:

http://www.bernhansen.com/Tester/Dekktrykk,%20bredde%20og%20knastens%20innvirkning%20-%20schwalbe.pdf

Reading this study shows that wider tires (given the same tread pattern) roll faster/easier than narrow tires and less pressure also rolls faster/easier offroad! So much less rolling resistance it makes up for the added weight of wider tires.

Now for tread design.  What tread is best for me? First figure out your goal.  Is traction and control my number one goal? or is it rolling resistance because I have a technically easy but long ride (like the Leadville 100).  If control is my goal I want to use a more aggressive tread pattern (larger knobs) if low rolling resistance is my goal I want to use a semi-slick or short, tightly space knobs.

Then think about the typical conditions you ride in, in Colorado we tend to have hard packed trails that when dry get a layer of dust on them.  On the East coast and Pacific NW they have softer soil and mud is more common. On hard conditions big blockly knobs of medium height that don’t flex a lot work best.  In loamy to muddy conditions slightly taller knobs with more space between each knob dig into the earth and shed mud better.  Most tire manufacturers will explain on there website what each tread pattern is designed to do so do a little research.

Tires also come with different rubber hardness.  In general the softer the tire the better traction at a cost off wearing out faster and rolling slower. The harder the rubber the faster it will roll, the longer it will last but the less control you will have.  Each tire manufacturer has different names for their tire compounds so do a little research to find the ones best for you.

Your tires are your contact with the ground so spend some time choosing the best tire for you. Lastly be weary of internet reviews as often the reviewer is not qualified to review the tire.  Example: “I hate this tire, it slides out in the corners too much”, well, does the reviewer know how to corner correctly? Does he have the right tire pressure?

Create your best ride yet,

Gene