I was hoping you could help me with my hill-climbing technique. I’m fairly strong and don’t have any problems powering up hills in the dry, but I’ve been really struggling in the greasy mud that’s filled my local trails this spring. There must be a knack to it as I often end up pushing where other riders are able to ride up. Can you offer me some tips?
Sam Wentworth, Essex

Firstly, check you are kitting your bike out with the right rubber. Tyre tread pattern will make a huge difference to the grip you can get in these conditions. If you are still running the same tyres that worked in the dry summer months this won’t be helping your cause. On a rear tyre, for grip you need nobbles that run perpendicular to the trail, as you need them to dig in. Look out also for deeper nobbles that will help with grip and clearing mud.
Line selection is critical if you are to make it up the steep climbs. Look far enough ahead that you have time to select the smoothest line up. This might not be the most direct but if you maintain grip, and can ride it, it will be the quickest. Look for grass, rock or dry bracken that will give you more grip, and try not to follow the line everyone else has taken as it will be worn and slippy. Carry as much speed as you can into the start of the climb, select the right gear beforehand, and keep pedalling.
Even though the climb may be steep and the temptation strong to throw your weight forward over the front wheel, you need to keep your weight back over the rear wheel to provide it with traction. There is a fine balance to be struck between putting enough weight on the handlebars to keep the front wheel down, and keeping enough weight over your real wheel to give it grip.
If you are used to attacking steep hills out the saddle in the summer, re-think your technique and ride slippy climbs seated.

On a recent trip to my local freeride park I failed to land a jump and landed heavily on my side. There was no serious damage but I’ve been left with a massive bruise on my thigh. Is there anything I can do to get rid of it? My leg feels stiff and the bruise is still tender.
Mike Smith-Wood

The quicker you can treat a bruise the better. If you can slap some ice on it within the first 15 minutes of the impact there is a good chance you will be able to reduce the size and discomfort of the bruise that develops. It’s a good idea to keep some icepacks in the freezer for these occasions, but failing that, a bag of peas wrapped in a tea towel is just as good. Even a cold can of drink rolled over the injury will help if that’s the best you have to hand. Don’t apply ice directly to the skin; use a cloth for protection. Apply the ice until your skin feels cold to the touch. For a large area such as your thigh this may be around 10 minutes. If your skin starts to look red remove the ice.
You shouldn’t directly massage a bruise but you can gently massage around it to help increase blood flow to it and away from it. You can start doing this 24 to 48 hours after the injury, once the initial pain and swelling has settled down.
The natural remedy arnica is great for reducing bruising fast. You can buy arnica cream to rub into the bruise, but a homeopathic tablet version can also be taken internally. Arnica is available from most health
food shops.

My friends and I are planning to do a Merida mountain bike marathon event and want to try the 100-kilometre full distance. We do long rides on a Sunday of four to five hours but the distances aren’t anywhere near 100km by the time we’ve factored in some stops for navigation and food. What can we do on the day to help us survive the distance?
Rob Stone, N Yorks

If you are determined to do the full distance — instead of tackling one of the shorter options for your first attempt — then you are going to have to take really good care of yourself on the day and work on your preparation leading up to it.
See if you can follow a route that takes you somewhere closer to 100km on one of your Sunday rides, so you can get a feel for the distance and build your endurance. For a 100km event you can be looking at times between four hours for the fastest riders, through to eight or more for the slowest. This is a long day in the saddle, so don’t under estimate how hard it will be, especially as the course will be demanding, both in terms of gradients to climb and technical sections to clear.
Make sure you go into the event well rested so you are fresh on the day. If you have a long way to travel, try to get to the event the day before so you have some time to relax. Most importantly make sure you get a good meal the night before. In the days leading up to the event pay particular attention to your nutrition. Eat plenty of carbohydrate, drink plenty of fluids, and stay off the beer! Even if the morning of the event feels a bit rushed and you may be nervous, make sure you have a good breakfast at least a couple of hours before the start. Porridge, muesli, baked beans on toast or scrambled eggs are all a good way to set yourself up for the day.
During the ride, make sure you are drinking around 500ml per hour of a good sports drink that includes carbohydrates for energy and electrolytes to balance your hydration, as you lose more than just water through sweating. Hydration packs are an excellent way to make sure that you are able to carry enough fluid to keep you going for the duration. They also double up as a good way to carry a few essential spares and some proper food. A cheese or jam sandwich, or a banana, will provide a balanced snack. It is best not to rely purely on sweet foods and energy bars — save these for the latter stages. Try to eat on the hour, every hour, even if you don’t feel like you need it. The same goes for fluid, keep it going in regularly. If you wait until you feel hungry or thirsty, chances are it’s too late and you will suffer. Pace yourself sensibly. It’s a long day out so don’t push yourself beyond your limits early on; keep something back and hopefully you will finish strong.