Posts

Are You Safe on Your Mountain Bike?

BetterRide Head Coach Andy Winohradsky discusses protective gear for mountain biking:

Summertime is in full swing and that means its downhilling season!  Even if you’re a not full DH racer, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve at least entertained the idea of going to a resort; renting, borrowing (or buying…he he), a DH bike, and having a day of chairlift accessed good times.  If not, I highly encourage you to do so.
However, there can be a little trepidation with the whole downhilling thing, and rightly so.  Downhilling can be dangerous (just like regular trail riding), but there are a few things we can do to minimize those dangers.  First and foremost: wear protective gear.
Lately, I’ve gotten a few questions from riders fairly new to the downhilling game about what gear to wear, how much, “do I really need a full-face helmet …”, etc.
So I’ll try to shed some light on the whole body armor thing, but let me first say that all this gear is made for a reason, and WHEN you crash, you’ll be glad you had it on (or wish you did!).
… And, yes, you do NEEEED a full-face helmet!
Here’s an email from a Betterride student after, I believe, his first day of DH:

…That said, managed to time some rollers perfectly wrongly and slammed into the front
face on one after a jump.  Ended up about 20ft from the impact point.  Could get up
and continue but pretty badly scratched on the shoulder, back, arm, with impact
bruises on ribs (front and back somehow).

Interestingly, from the state of the (previously very new looking) camelback it took
a lot of the sting out of the fall.

Very very glad I was wearing something on my back (the camelback), along with elbow
and knees(which were without a scratch)

Was wearing a full face helmet (thank god).

It was a lot of fun, and managed to walk away with some good stories and wounds for
my 5 year old to look at but wanted to say to this group that if you are thinking
about doing it wear as much protection as you can get.
Many of the people doing it were wearing full armor, as well as Leatt neck braces.
Sadly some people were doing it very poorly protected, with some idiot boyfriends
taking girls up with their walmart hardtails with no elbow or knee protection.  They
were going down very slowly but it was still dumb.

Given my sore neck last night and today I can tell I had some whip lash from the fall.

I have now bought a full face helmet, neck brace and full armor.  Even if I only do
it occasionally then I want to be much better protected than I was.

Pretty typical story:  had a great time AND took a pretty good fall that reminded him of the serious nature of riding bikes down mountains.  Sounded pretty happy that he had the camelback on, huh?
I don’t want to spoil anybody’s good time, but … you will crash!  Think about this: if you go downhilling, you are going to push it a bit!   So, sooner or later, you will fall!  It just makes sense to have the gear on when this happens.

I had a little tumble the other day on my XC bike.  I was descending, pushing pretty hard and caught my front brake lever on a large branch that was obscured by smaller branches that by themselves, wouldn’t have posed any problems.   The hidden big branch, however, locked up my front wheel at the perfectly wrong time, giving me an instant front-end washout, to catch, to high-side!  As I was flying through the air, I remember thinking (its amazing how much actually goes through your mind as you’re eating it), “at least this isn’t happening on a fast part of the trail…”  I also saw where I was going to land and thought, “well, I should be alright, but this is gonna suck!”

That last statement was accurate.

So … a fairly slow speed crash (nothing compared to downhilling speeds)
and a week later I still have a numb and swollen elbow, both knees
scratched up and sore, a pretty sore shoulder, and maybe re-broke my
broken toe that I keep re-braking.  Fortunately, I was able to keep my
face and head off of the ground.

If I had body armor on, I would have been fine.

Now, I’m not going to wear full body armor when I’m riding XC (which isn’t necessarily a good idea), but my point is that the mechanics of a crash 4 or 5 times the speed of my rather slow one – which is probable when DH’ing – would have almost certainly meant a real injury – not just scrapes and bruises – without the proper protection.

Here’s my gear list when I get on a DH bike

  1. Full-face helmet.  DO NOT go DH’ing without  one.  There are various arguments and theories about what type of construction/certifications are the most protective, but … use a good one.  A quality helmet will have a shell that has a quality chin-bar/mouth guard, not a cheap plastic one that, literally, can be broken with your hands.  I use a full motocross, D.O.T. certified helmet when I race and ride hard.  In the photo, I have my Bell Moto 9 (moto helmet) and a Troy Lee Designs D2 (bicycle specific).

    Andy's DH and Moto Helmet

 

  1. Knee pads.  Use something with a least a little bit of plastic to protect your knees and dissipate the impact of a sharp object.  I prefer quite a bit of plastic around my knees.  In the photo, there’s a 661, Kyle Strait kneepad that is great for pedaling efficiency and very comfortable.  I use these for super-d racing.  The other one is made by Fly Racing and is hinged so that your knee is never exposed to danger.  Notice all the plastic surrounding the knee with the Fly (and the deep gouges and scratches).  Which one would you rather have on in a crash?

    Andy's mtb knee pads

 

  1. Upper body armor.  Remember the “…very, very glad I was wearing something on my back …” part of the email?  Many downhillers don’t wear any type of upper body armor, which doesn’t make much sense.  If your trying to make a living at sport and every hundredth of a second counts … well, it still doesn’t make much sense.  My body armor is fairly minimal, but it does offer spine protection and chest protection via pretty burly plastic.  Once I’m riding, I can’t tell I have it on.  I can’t really understand why those pro-racer kids – out there battling for 20th place in a local race – can’t be bothered with a two pound piece of equipment that very possibly could save their life.

    Mountain Bike Body Armor

 

  1. Goggles, not sunglasses.  They stay in place, keep dust out of your eyes, and offer WAY MORE protection.

More of Andy's mountain bike gear

  1. Elbow pads.  Mine are, again, quite minimal, without any padding.  So a crash will hurt, but the idea is that the plastic will dissipate the force of a sharp object on impact.

 

  1. Gloves.  I use the thinnest, single layer palms I can find so I can really feel the bike, but I always use them.  One time I was on the chairlift with a buddy of mine while practicing at a race and we were talking about gloves.  He was saying how he couldn’t be bothered with them anymore and that they didn’t really help protect you anyway.  I begged to differ.  On that run, he crashed and ended up “de-gloving” the skin off the palm of his hand (like you’d peel the skin off of a hunk of chicken).  Didn’t cut himself or hit a sharp object, just broke his fall at a pretty good clip and viola, no hand-skin!  He didn’t get to race that day.

 

  1. Shoes.  My 5.10 Minnars are a DH specific shoe with some good padding and reinforcement in key areas.  I wish I had these on when I smacked my foot into the ground during my little crash last week.  They also have a lot of rubber on the sole (unlike a lot of MTB shoes).  This means more traction on pedals, and if necessary, the ground.  (See article on shoes and pedals on this site for more in-depth info)

    The best MTB Shoes!

So there you have it.  I’ve been DH’ing for a long time and I really wouldn’t feel comfortable riding with any less gear then the stuff I listed above.  Have fun, be safe!

Of course learning the in balance and in control mountain bike techniques we teach in our camps would also go a long way to keep you safe. Less falls equal less injuries!

BetterRide MTB Head Coach Andy Get’s Tech on Clipless Pedals & Shoes

Recently, on this site, I’ve been writing about pedals – both “flat” or “platform” pedals (BMX style), and “clipless” pedals (which, oddly enough, are the kind your shoe actually clips into).

I’ve explained some of the technical points of FLAT pedals and shoes, and how to get the most out of this type of set-up. I’ve gone over some of the not-so-obvious advantages and disadvantages of each type of pedal and shoe combination. Now I’ll talk about the technical side of CLIPLESS pedals, a few different types of pedal and shoe combinations within the clipless genre, and a couple tricks to get the best performance out of your clipless shoe/pedal interface.

Again, and as I stated previously, there is no “better” choice when it comes to clipless vs flat pedals. Both have advantages and disadvantages with more overlap then most riders are aware of (especially if that rider has never taken the time to learn to ride the other system). If you learn to ride both types of pedal systems, it will benefit you greatly! (Look to previous posts for further explanations of this.)

So, we have MAINLY two different types of clipless pedals. The first has spring loaded bars that spread apart when under pressure from the cleat on the bottom of our shoe, and then the cleat snaps in between these bars. The bars then hold the cleat in place, and we’re “clipped-in”. Some pedal companies that use this system are Time and Crank Brothers. Some benefits of this system over the other is that its great for clearing mud and debris, therefore it functions well even in nasty weather conditions. It also takes up a bit less space (then the other system) and, thus, provides more ground clearance from obstacles on the trail. I believe this system also holds the title as the lightest system available. Some of the disadvantages of this system (depending on who you talk to) is that the bars can bend fairly easily when they come into contact with rocks, etc, on the trail. When this happens, its difficult to get into and out of the pedal, and chances are, its time for some new pedals. Another disadvantage is these pedals are either non-adjustable as far as spring tension is concerned, or have limited adjustability (I’m almost positive on this point – I may be wrong). Most riders that ride this system don’t mind the limited adjustability, saying that it feels just right anyway, and swear by it. As always, try them out before you by a pair. I’ve ridden this set-up in the past, and really enjoyed it.

CrankBros EggBeater pedal

 

The other type of system is essentially a Shimano SPD system. In my experience, I feel that they have more adjustability in spring tension and a different “feel” in terms of “float” (how far you can twist your foot before the cleat disengages with the pedal) and entry. Shimano also has different cleats: single release and multi-release as well as at least one wild-card cleat that was designed for a very limited type of pedal and is nearly impossible to use with any of their other pedals. I’m not exactly positive what Shimano’s story is on their cleat/pedal recommendations, so all I’ll say on the subject is do your research and try before you buy. But, obviously, they’re a great set-up when you get it right. The SPD’s can get finicky in a hurry in bad weather conditions. Any little bit of mud or debris can ball up the system pretty quickly and make it nearly impossible to get into and out of the pedals. To help alleviate this, start out with a clean pedal. Pay special attention to cleaning those babies out when you wash your bike. Also, the correct amount and type of lubricant will do wonders for SPD pedal performance: a very light, “dry” lubricant is great in dry and dusty conditions, and use something heavier when its wet (removing it, of course, before your next ride in the dust). Riders and mechanics have been know to spray their pedals and cleats with silicone spray (along with the rest of the bike – keep it off the brakes and brake pads!!!), when they know they will encounter wet conditions to help the systems shed the mud.

Shimano 424 w_platform pedal

At one end of the spectrum of clipless pedals, we have a pedal that has very little material and is extremely light in weight, such as the Crank Brothers Eggbeater shown in the photo. When this type of pedal is used with an extremely stiff and light – nearly XC specific – shoe, it makes for an extremely light and efficient shoe/pedal combination. If I were to race an XC race that wasn’t technically difficult; where power, light weight, and efficiency were way more important then bike handling skills (say, Leadville 100), I would prefer this type of set-up.

I ride with a DH-type clipless set-up, however. The difference in the pedals is that the DH set-up has a platform that surrounds the pedal (see photo), and the DH oriented shoe – though, quite a bit heavier (and more protective) – flexes substantially more then the XC set-up. This allows the shoe to flex enough to come into contact with the platform – while still being clipped-in – allowing for added pedal pressure and leverage to control the bicycle. PEDAL PRESSURE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING WHEN IT COMES TO APPLING POWER, BALANCE, AND CONTROL TO THE BIKE. I actually wear-out the soles of my shoes on the inside and outside of the cleat where my shoe flexes and the sole contacts the pedal platform.

5.10 Shoes, Minnaar Rubber Sole

Another great thing about the DH set-up is the large amount of rubber on the sole of the shoe compared to the XC’s hard plastic. This is great because things don’t always go as planned when riding in technically challenging conditions and every once in a while, we have to clip out, put a foot down, and then still have to ride the bike – whether we want to or not! (maybe down a steep, rocky drop) – without having the time to clip back in. With the flexible DH shoe and its rubber-y sole, combined with the large plastic platform of the pedal, I still have pretty good control with my foot on the pedal even if I’m not clipped-in (though, I would very much prefer to be …). Try this with the hard plastic-on-metal of the XC set-up, and you may as well be on a skating rink!

Great for xc racing but not much else

Also, often, we may have to suddenly clip-out and put a foot down on whatever is immediately available, say, a rock or a log – and, often, we only have one chance and not much time to do this right! If we miss our footing – say our shoe can’t get traction because its sole is made of hard plastic – which doesn’t stick very well to slick rocks or wood – we may end up tumbling down the mountain! That’s one more good reason to have some rubber on the bottom of your shoe!

 

And, sometimes riding mountain bikes requires not only riding the bike – but carrying the bike! Sometimes up rocky cliffs – for hundreds of feet! Or through dense forests … or rivers … in the dark! (Ever had a ride like that?!?)

Having a good rubber sole on your MTB shoes on “rides” like that is also nice.

So if your priority is power and efficiency, go with a light stiff shoe and a light, minimal, pedal. If you’re riding in gnarlier conditions, you may want something that gives you as much control and peace of mind as possible – even when your not clipped in – such as the DH-type set-up.

(The subject of cleat placement is often associated with the cause or prevention of pain or injury due to repetitious pedaling. I’m not a specialist in this area, so I’ll say: if it hurts, investigate why, change if necessary, use your brain … don’t change your cleat angle, injure yourself with an over-use/wrong cleat angle injury and then blame the guy who told you to do so on the website … ). Common sense …

Anyway – disclaimers aside – as far as you cleats are concerned, the angle that you mount you cleat on your shoe at determines how much you have to twist your foot to get it to disengage from the pedal. Play around with different angles and see what works for you. I prefer an angle that gets me out pretty quick, with a minimal twist. The fore and aft of the cleat on the shoe is also adjustable. There’s a standard formula for this if you’re riding on the road or maybe long XC rides or endurance races. This may become very important in these type of events in order to prevent injury because of the extended time in the saddle and high amounts of pedal reps. With more technical riding this becomes less of an issue because riders are moving around a lot more on their bicycles (not remaining in the same position and pedaling over extended periods of time). I’ve known some of the top DH’ers in the world to actually cut sections out of their shoes so they can move the cleat farther back (toward the heal) in order to be able to absorb the larger impacts with more of a squat (weight-lifting squat) as opposed to having to use more ankle. I was a little skeptical of this, however, when I jacked up my ankle pretty bad earlier this year, this cleat placement (way back) was the only way I could ride the bike (and teach camps!)

Once you find your preferred cleat position, LOCK-TITE your cleat bolts (use BLUE lock-tite, medium strength. DON’T use red, high strength, or you’ll never get the bolt off, ever again!). As you can imagine, a loose and twisting cleat – making it impossible to disengage from the pedal – at the wrong time could spell disaster! Also, keep an extra cleat bolt in your Camelback … you never know …

A couple more things: trimming the rubber or plastic on the bottom of your shoe with a carpenters knife (or whatever) is a great way to get more clearance for the cleat and easier entry and exit from the clip. This will also minimize the chances of debris collecting next to the cleat and the sole of the shoe.

And, stay away from the “clipless on one side and flat on the other side” pedals unless they live on your commuter or bar-bike. Fumbling around on the trail for the correct side of the pedal to clip into is inefficient and dangerous … so is riding the clip side with regular (non-clip) shoes. One or the other please – you won’t see any tops riders riding these pedals!!!

Happy pedaling!

Lower Pressure is Good! Another Interesting Study On Bike Tire Pressure.

One of our students just emailed me this link to a study on the effects of tire pressure and energy output from the rider. While this is a study on road tires they have an interesting section on rough surfaces that can be applied to mountain bikes.  They use the word “suspension” to explain how the body must absorb shock if you have high tire pressure which robs you of a great deal of power (or causes you to use a great deal more power to maintain the same speed when using higher tire pressure).  As we explain in our camps lower pressure tires absorb shock better (the tire simply flexes instead of having to go up and over the bump (making your entire body weight go up and over the bump when seated and pedaling) giving you a smoother and more efficient ride.   My original post on this is here:

http://betterride.net/blog/2010/another-thing-you-can-buy-and-instantly-have-more-bike-control/

The new study (courtesy of Mark Shaw) is here:

http://janheine.wordpress.com/2010/10/18/science-and-bicycles-1-tires-and-pressure/

More Praise for Andy and the BetterRide Core Skills Progression!

Hi Gene,

Thank you for creating what has been one of the best learning experiences of our lives.  We traveled all the way from Australia to attend your camp in Golden, Colorado and it was worth every penny! Andy was a fantastic teacher with great personal skills. He has our highest commendation for creating a safe, exciting and fun environment for learning.

It is refreshing to find someone who understands their field well enough to be able to deconstruct difficult and often hard to pinpoint concepts. This is a rare talent. We appreciate all of the careful thought that you and Andy have put into creating the mountain bike skills curriculum. The content was well-organized into different sections, and logically progressed from foundational skills (like body position and braking) to more difficult skills (like cornering). It is obvious that you have spent a lot of time not only thinking about how to mountain bike, but also how to teach it to others.

Learning these mountain biking skills has truly made us “betterriders”.  Thank you for the opportunity to attend your camp and we look forward to attending a core skills camp #2 !

Sincerely,
Tracy and Matt from Canberra, Australia