This is Andy’s take on something that is plaguing mountain biking, bad advice by self appointed experts.
Ok, this may seem a bit harsh, but I’m ready to go to war with ignorant, “industry experts” such as bike shop employees, shop owners, especially “professional bike fitters”, (AND husbands and boyfriends of female students who “…know what’s best for my girl’ ‘cause I’ve been riding for twenty years and use to race!” – I love that one!) that refuse to wake up, educate themselves, and understand what equipment is necessary in order to most effectively ride an MTB — both up and down an incline — in technically challenging terrain and therefore, continue to give riders advice and recommendations on equipment that are just plain wrong.
If you’re a normal-joe, just trying to help out with advice, “well, this is what I use…” or “I heard this works really well…” then, hey, I understand. You’re just trying to help another rider out. (Maybe, throw in a, “I’m no expert, but…” first?). But, it’s the people whose job it is to be an expert on the topic — whom other riders should be able to trust — who are too lazy, close-minded, and/or egotistical (or stocked their shop with the wrong stuff) to figure out what is going on in the bike world (not just right out your front door, on your local trail…got news for you: that’s not ‘the bike world!’) and therefore, not only won’t sell riders what they need in order to ride their bikes more effectively, but bad mouth the equipment and the “True Experts” (ahem…us) that recommend it… those are the ones I’m after!
After every camp I teach, I get emails form students, where the above is the case.
ALMOST every rider that buys a stock MTB, — assuming that their goal is to have the best all-around handling bike (which is the goal of the instruction in our camps – and to be the best all-around rider you can be) — can benefit from wider bars, a shorter stem, and an adjustable height seat post. Control set up, proper tire selection, pedal/shoe combination, a frame with adequate angels… all these things matter, also.
This obviously is not the “bike set-up” portion of a BetterRide Camp, we’re not sitting here discussing things real-time. So, I can’t hit every detail and explanation in this article. However, the following is an email response that I sent to a student that maybe can set a few “experts” straight. If a lot of this stuff is completely foreign to you, get on the ol’ internet and check it out!
Sorry to hear about the “opinions” of your local shop owner. Here’s something to consider with bike set up:
Again, we need to know what the goal of our riding is, and what terrain we want to excel on, and set our bikes up accordingly. If I’m racing the Leadville 100 (100 mi’s of dirt road–nothing too technical), or a typical XC race (not very technical, usually not technical at all), then I’m NOT going to use the bike I currently have, which is set up for aggressive trail riding.
However, if I’m riding fun, technically challenging, “expert level” trails, then my current bike set up is exactly what I want. Most campers come to our camp to learn how to ride the latter, and that’s what we focus on with bike set up. And if you can learn to ride this type of riding, and obtain some skills, it will definitely help everywhere else.
I would say that the closest type of MTB racing to the type of riding that I’m talking about above is “super-d” or “enduro” racing (not ENDURANCE racing–different stuff). These are fairly long, primarily downhill races, but also have climbs, flat pedal-y sections, etc. Sometimes, these are multi-day, multi-stage races where as soon as riders finish a stage they immediately have to climb, on trail, to the top of the next course and get there in an allocated amount of time for the next stage. So: fast difficult, technically challenging downhill descents, and large amounts of climbing, sometimes over a few days. You get to use one bike, and, often, your bike is photographed and marked so that you can’t change (most) of the parts.
The idea is that the winner is an all around mountain biker. Endurance, technical skill, proper equipment (a bike that can handle the descents AND climb back to the top–quickly!) is mandatory! True Mountain Biking!
Sound familiar? This is basically what we teach. My bike at the camp is my super-d race bike with few very minor changes. This is the largest growing type of racing because it involves much of why many people ride MTB: scare the shit out of yourself/handle it/have a blast on the way down, but also be fit enough and able enough to crush your competition on the climb. (The races and courses are also kind of unpredictable, forcing riders to be able to adapt — in the true nature of MTB!)
The reason I bring up this type of racing is because — as I said — it is essentially what we teach, and if you look at all the top riders in this type of discipline, their bikes will almost always be set up almost exactly like mine/what we emphasized in camp: the best all-around handling mountain bike you can put together. And, racing isn’t about fashion or what’s cool (when it really comes down to it). It’s about function. As they say, “the clock doesn’t lie”.
Again, I know super-d racing isn’t the goal for all of us, but being a great all around rider is the focus of the camp so that’s also what we focus on with the bike.
DIRT magazine had a feature on a lot of pro bike set ups for this type of racing a couple months ago. Some of these races: Downeville Classic in California, Oregon Super-d Series, Some of the Mega-avalanche stuff in Europe…
And, like I said in camp, a bike-fitter won’t help you out with this, in fact, they’ll take you in the wrong direction. (ask M— how his bike fitter would do a fit on a downhill bike. Downhilling is a big part of the equation, right?)
Unfortunately, M—, like so many other shop owners or “industry experts”, is a bit behind the times…
In racing, riders use what works. A BetterRide bike is set up to be the best all-around handling bike possible. This type of racing is proof of that set up.
… and, please, don’t tell me that I can’t fit through trees with my wide bars. Take a camp, and we’ll show you how to do that, too.
Gene’s Article on on bar width and stem length: http://betterride.net/?p=486
Gene’s Article on dropper seat posts: http://betterride.net/?p=625
Gene’s Article on tires and tire pressure: http://betterride.net/blog/2010/another-thing-you-can-buy-and-instantly-have-more-bike-control/
“What tire pressure should I run?” I get that question all the time.
If you personally, have ever asked me that question, instead of a quick and concise response, you probably received a long pause, combined with a puzzled and quizzical look. You may have then said to yourself, I asked this guy about tire pressure, not, “What is the meaning of life?”
If only tire pressure were that easy…
But, just like the answer to, ‘what is the meaning of life?’ the answer to, ‘what tire pressure should I run?’ really comes down to a few simple things… but it’s the way that these things mix together, work against each other, cancel each other out, and so-on-and-so-forth that makes it all very interesting, and thus, a real tough question to answer.
What I’ll try to do here, is explain the main factors (I can’t, of course, hit EVERY factor in the space of this article) that become relevant in the search for proper tire pressure and set you on you’re way to figuring out what is best for you. But, just like “the meaning of life”, the final answer most likely comes down to the priorities of the individual…
First, how do we measure tire pressure? “Should I measure my tire pressure with a gauge or by feel?”
Again, kind of asking the wrong question… The answer to this question is … YES!
Use both. Why? Because most small and inexpensive tire gauges (like the kind you and your buddy will most likely carry with you in your Camelback or gear-bag) are not very accurate when measured against one other (one may read 10 psi and another 13 psi on the same tire). However, they are usually pretty consistent with themselves (until the batteries start to go dead). So as long as you use the same gauge, you should have a pretty consistent reading. So why use your hand? Because you’re never going to accidently leave your hand on the tailgate of your friend’s truck or back at the hotel room (hope not, at least…). And, (when) the batteries in the gauge do start to go dead, you’ll know that even though the gauge is reading 38 psi, the tire is really right around 19. Also, when you use a new tire (same or different brand) your hand – gauging by feel – gives you a better idea of how hard you will actually need to hit an obstacle before that obstacle bottoms out on the rim of the wheel (flatting your tire, damaging your rim, or both) then a semi-arbitrary number on a tire gauge. Now, use the gauge to see what pressure your “feel” relates to and you can get more precise and consistent on what pressures you can run with your new tire. Like anything else, this takes a little time and experience, but two gauges are better then one… especially if you can never lose one of them.
Next, all tires are different brand to brand, size to size, different materials, construction, new to old… While 30 psi may be way to much pressure for a 135 lb downhill racer on a 2-ply Downhill tire, 30 psi may be half of what a 220 lb “not so smooth” fella on a super-lite Cross Country race-tire will need. There are a lot of variables in tire construction. There are also a lot of different uses and intentions. For instance, some of my students are endurance racers. Most endurance races are held on courses that are not very technically challenging and have a fairly smooth surface. A fast rolling, low profile, super light tire with a pretty high pressure (for minimal rolling resistance) would be a great choice for the intention of going fast for long periods of time on this type of terrain. If the same rider goes out to Bootleg Canyon (all jagged rock) for a fun weekend with their buddies, I would suggest a tire on the opposite end of the tire-spectrum: a large volume tire with big lugs and with great durability. This tire, when run at low pressures, would give the rider more traction (in this terrain and situation, traction is more important then the low rolling resistance in the endurance race) and give the rider a smoother and faster ride because of its ability to absorb bumps (more on this later). With the first tire, the rider may run something like 42 psi, the second … 27? Big difference…
So now we understand how to check our tire pressure. We understand that there are many different types of tires for many different types of riding. And we understand that a thick, heavy, large volume tire will need less air pressure to support a load then a thin, light, low volume tire supporting the same load (think monster truck vs. Corvette).
So let’s move a little further into the advantages and disadvantages of both low and high tire pressure.
I tell my students that, generally speaking, the lowest tire pressure that you can run without getting a flat will give you the most traction, the most bump compliance, and, thus, the most control (remember the generally speaking part). With low tire pressures, tires spread out on the terrain under load and create a larger contact patch – more traction. Also, the tire will absorb bumps – acting like suspension – and help the rider maintain a smoother momentum path over inconsistencies in the trail (and retain contact with the ground). The disadvantages of low tire pressures (especially if speed is one of your goals) are that on smooth sections of trail (where you don’t need great traction or bump compliance) the tires will have a lot of rolling resistance, and, of course, you stand a greater chance of getting flats by either “rolling” your tire off of the rim, or by bottoming the tire out on the rim on an obstacle, or both (very seldom do you hit an obstacle in perpendicular manner – usually its at an angle – so even riding in a straight line this commonly occurs, especially with tubeless tires run at extremely low pressures.). And, sorry, but tubeless tires aren’t a cure-all for this dilemma. In fact, I see just as many flats these days as I did in the days before tubeless because riders still push the limits of what they can run pressure-wise (as they should). Except these days, they (especially aggressive riders) often destroy their rim in the process and have to walk home. I do like tubeless tire set-ups, but they do have their limits.
The advantages of high tire pressures are low rolling resistance on smooth surfaces and very little chance of getting flats. The disadvantages: less traction because the tire doesn’t spread out on the surface of the trail (smaller contact patch), and once the surface of the trail is not smooth and has inconsistencies such as rocks, roots, off-cambers, etc (like all the fun parts of the trail) the tire – instead of absorbing these obstacles like it will with lower pressures – will now deflect off of the obstacles. Now, instead of maintaining contact with the trail and acting like suspension, helping the mass of the rider and the bike to move along the trail with a smooth momentum path, the tire will bounce and slide off of every obstacle offering a very rough and unpredictable ride.
In fact, regarding the last factor that I just described, a certain tire company did a study that proved that low tire pressures will actually roll faster on on-trail conditions, dispelling the myth that the higher pressures will always roll faster.
So always run low tire pressures, right? Better control and they actually roll faster…
Well, not necessarily. What all of the above doesn’t take into account is rider input. This is where you have to evaluate what type of rider you and what your intentions are on the bike, and factor those into the tire-pressure-equation.
For instance, I can take two 150lb sacks of potatoes, set them on identical bikes, and roll them down identical smooth surfaces (pavement, dirt road, smooth trail, whatever), one with 25 psi in the tires and the other with 50 psi in the tires. The one with the higher pressure will roll faster and further. If I do the same on a rough trail surface, the one with 25 psi will now roll faster and further. But now if I take a 150 lb sack of potatoes and a 150 lb skilled rider – same scenario and both with 25 psi in their tires – and roll the sack down the trail, but the rider is able to miss every bump. … the rider gets there first. Now same thing with the SAME rider, the rider misses every bump so he/she is essentially riding on a smooth surface, once with 25 psi and again with 50 psi. The 50psi run wins it.
Of course, these are hypothetical situations. No rider can miss every bump, and no rider rides exactly like a sack of potatoes. And to take this further with the above scenario, what if the rider is very skilled and instead of not only missing bumps/obstacles, he/she starts to use techniques to actually generate speed and momentum from these “obstacles” by employing techniques such as “bump jumping” and “pumping” (both are advanced levels of riding derived from very basic riding techniques). These techniques often involve fairly harsh contact with terrain features in order to generate momentum – so where my sack of tater’s riding style worked well with 25 psi, now I’m getting flats and destroying equipment because I’m pushing the bike harder.
(And, there’s nothing wrong with riding like a “sack of potatoes”, especially for a beginner rider, as long as you’re an in-balance and relaxed sack of potatoes practicing great line choice and proper vision on the trail. In fact, most riders would benefit greatly by doing this!)
So what tire pressure should you run? Put it this way: I, myself, have two “go to” tire set-ups, and I change them depending on my location, trail conditions, temperature, etc. I often change my tire pressure during the ride (I will drop pressure, I almost never add tire pressure, but there are some great hand pumps out there that do allow you to do this practically and quickly – most hand pumps don’t – and without wasting a CO2). I run enough pressure so that I can attack the trail with out getting flats. Also, the weak spot in my riding isn’t my technical ability; it’s my legs and my lungs. So, I’ll give up a little bit of control and traction (and make up for it with technique and by finding the smooth spots on the trail) and benefit from higher pressures and less rolling resistance. If you’re a rider whose fitness is your strength and technical ability is your weakness, you may want to go in the other direction.
Most beginner riders run too much tire pressure and could benefit by dropping it substantially. As riders advance, they usually will need to up the pressure a bit (adjusting equipment to be ridden harder) and learn how to ride their bike correctly. Not by coincidence, a very similar thing happens with actual suspension, especially in downhilling and motocross (which, in many ways, is quite similar to downhilling).
How do you find out what works for you? Hopefully this info helps out, but go ride a section of trail with 20 psi in your tires. Now go back and ride the same section of trail with 50 psi in your tires. Now ride with the pressure right in the middle. How did each different run feel? Take notes on all of this, especially as you’re learning. Evaluate what type of rider you are and what terrain you plan on riding.
Armed with the above knowledge, again, hopefully your pointed in the right direction. Oh, and learn how to fix flats before you go too crazy with this…
Next article: The Meaning of Life…
Gene’s article on tire pressure http://betterride.net/blog/2010/another-thing-you-can-buy-and-instantly-have-more-bike-control/
I just received this email this morning, it cracked me up!
One Rider’s BetterRide Camp Experience
(or: How I’ve Broken Up With My RideStyle)
By: Anonymous BetterRide Student
Mountain Biking is not just a sport, it’s an art form. Almost anyone can appreciate the beauty of a rider with an appealing RideStyle as they navigate terrain with flow and panache. We can recognize our friends on mountain bikes even when they are too far to see clearly because we know how they move and recognize their RideStyle. My own way of riding a mountain bike was like a place of refuge in my life – time spent there was joyful and relaxing and familiar and fun as hell.
When I signed up for my BetterRide camp (back in 2010), I was really excited to learn to do things I have always struggled with on my bike. I have always ridden bikes with a passion and have put much of the total energy spent in my life into riding like a bat out of hell over the hardest trails I could manage or find. After 19-20 years of this approach to mountain biking, I decided to find out what I hadn’t found out yet. I knew there were gaps in my abilities because I struggled with certain situations (gap jumps, wall rides, high speed rough stuff, manuals and wheelies, etc). I felt like I was already a good rider, as I handled lots of terrain in a way that pleased me (rock gardens, steps, switchbacks, gnarly climbs, etc). I felt that I often had “my own way of riding” that was awesome and was rooted in my RideStyle. I was so excited for the BetterRide Camp to fill in some gaps and add some abilities to my RideStyle, and teach me things I could do differently when presented with situations I currently struggled with on my bike.
That’s not what happened.
Gene taught me the core skills of mountain biking. I didn’t need to do things differently only on certain terrain, I needed to change the way I ride my bike EVERYWHERE, ALL THE TIME! Yikes. My body was in the wrong place, I was looking in the wrong place (the wrong way), I was approaching corners the wrong way (I thought I was great at cornering before the camp). It took me some time to get through the Five Stages of Grieving after my camp, but it had to happen. Sorry RideStyle, it’s not me, it’s YOU. We’re through!
It started with Denial (it always does). “I’m great at switchbacks and corners” “I’m fast downhills compared to some people” “I’m a good rider, dammit!” “What I do works most of the time, I don’t wreck much, even Gene acknowledged that I am a strong mountain biker, I don’t have to completely change the way I ride!”
Denial always ends with the beginning of Anger. In this case it was spread out as the realization slipped into my brain bit by bit. Anger when I crashed INTO a wall ride instead of riding it. Anger when I sprained my hand wrecking over a gap jump (due to poor body position and vision). Anger when I could not perform the simple drills Gene teaches in camp as well as a beginner. Anger when I realized I spent 20 years of riding building habits that kept me from doing what I wanted to on the bike.
Once Denial is over, and Anger starts to subside, we get to Bargaining. This stage took a long time for me. “OK, Gene was right. I need to lower my chest and spread my elbows. He’s right about the shorter stem. But my vision is OK. I can remember what he taught us without doing the drills. My way of doing switchbacks is cool, and it works a lot of the time. I need to keep some of my RideStyle or I’ll just be a mountain biking robot out there copying Gene’s RideStyle. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. Just because what I do is different doesn’t mean it’s wrong. If I change a few of the things I learned in camp, and keep some of my old Style, I’ll be better and still have my RideStyle (that I have invested 20 years in) intact! Great Plan!
Because it doesn’t work that way. After the Bargaining comes Depression. Once Gene breaks it down to science for you, your brain will know you are trying to fool it. “You know you can do better. If you were looking in the right place, you would have ripped that wall ride! Why did you chicken out on that jump? Why did you wash out on that switchback and get passed?” You know your relationship with your RideStyle has to end. The longer you drag it out the uglier the breakup has to be. It was sad, but I had to move my RideStyle’s shit out of my house and change the locks! (That means you, long stem, narrow bars, and hard tires, poor vision habits, body position habits, etc) The only way to get them out of here was to do the drills Gene taught me. They are like an eviction service for your bad habits. So now it’s Acceptance. That’s the part where I do my drills, take care of myself and enjoy a new way of riding my bike. The best part is, I’m getting to know a new RideStyle now! I think I love her. And I know it can last forever!
Ride Better Today
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