If you've been riding mountain bikes since the previous century, there are still things to learn about dirty biking. What have you learned this year?
If you’ve been riding mountain bikes since the previous century, there are still things to learn about dirty biking. What have you learned this year?
Here’s my personal rundown of various things that have only just dawned on me in 2019, despite having ridden mountain bikes since the early nineties…
1. Waterproof shorts don’t work, riding trousers do
I dread to think how much money I’ve spent on waterproof shorts over the years. And how often I’ve ended up subsequently chilled to the marrow on wet rides. Even if waterproof shorts keep you dry for a ride or two (or for the first few puddles of a ride) eventually you’re left with a stonecold flappy plastic bag feeling around your pelvis and thighs. Waterproof short should work, but they don’t. Riding trousers on the other hand (foot?) shouldn’t work, but they do.
2. Keep away from the front brake (more)
From trail centres to insanely steep slippery off-pista tracks, I’ve only fairly recently realised to stay away from the front brake. Not entirely. Sometimes you drop have to haul down your velocity. But for keeping the flow going on – on either twisty singletrack on super steep sketch – I’ve begun to deathgrip the front brake (ie. all fingers clamped around the grip, not covering the brake lever blade) and to only use the rear brake. My proper off-road to Damascus moment for 2019. Thanks to Martn Maes for the inspiration.
3. Check your jockey wheels
Does your drivetrain feel rough? Check your jockey wheels first. It might be due to my local soil type, or my propensity to over-lube my chain, but my jockey wheels are frequently clagged up in black plasticene-type material. A couple of satisfying minutes cleaning it off with a mini screwdriver and an old toothbrush and the drivetrain feels like new again. Ish.
4. WD40 is not the Devil
If, like me, you’re not the greatest at post-ride bike maintenance then WD40 can be a lifesaver. I do usually manage to hose down the bike after the ride, so to stop the chain then turning rusty orange overnight, I tie a plastic bag around the rear disc rotor and give the chain a swift WD40-ing. Make sure you get the can with the built-in Smart Straw though, otherwise it does just go everywhere.
5. Reduce the rebound
Suspension set up is a personal thing. Sure, there are certain parameters that you should stay within, but a lot of suspension tweaking varies from person to person and from trail to trail. This year I’ve started to turn all the rebound down to its minimum setting and it’s been great. So much smoother on the rough and rooty stuff. No doubt, if you’re faster or heavier than me, you’ll probably be better served with a couple of clicks of rebound. But basically, fiddle with your rebound. Don’t just do the old riding-off-a-kerb oscillation test and leave it. It’s free to tweak.
6. Rear shock lock-out is a good thing
This is heavily related to the rebound thing above (less rebound can lead to excessive bobbing when climbing) but I’ve definitely changed my tune when it comes to compression levers on rear shocks. Why should a mountain bike be a set-and-forget machine? we change gear all the time to suit the terrain. We make our seatposts go up and down at will. But for some reason some riders still pout at lockouts, climb switches or compression levers on rear shocks. The ability to have a firmer feeling bike that sits higher in its travel for the climbs and then have a more supple bike that rides deeper in its stroke for the descents, at the flick of little blue switch? Yes please!
7. Inner tubes are fine sometimes
I’ve admitted tubeless defeat to certain tyres this year. Mainly stiff walled mud tyres that simply won’t seal, or keep pressure. I’ve dug out some inner tubes and bunged them in instead. It’s been fine. There’s only so many times I can re-inflate an Airshot before I die. Sometimes you just have to get on with your life.
8. World Cup Downhill racing is amazing
Having a couple of racers dominating racing is fine but one thing we’ve learned from 2019 is that it is loads better to have half a dozen riders being capable of taking the win at any one round of the World Cup.
9. Roll your handlebars forwards a bit
To end with, here’s another bike set-up tip I’ve acquired in 2019. I think it was something that Chris Porter mentioned somewhere: try having your handlebars set with the rising section slightly forward of vertical. It looks wrong – and gawky – but the proof is in the riding. The higher arc it puts your hands in when turning feels amazing. Especially on steeper descents.
Are you an old dog?
What new tricks have you learned this year?