Late evening light, dusty berms, warm temperatures and cold post-ride beverages. These are a few of our favorite things, and they’re all about to be back in our lives. A long winter’s hibernation is mercifully coming to an end, so it’s time to get excited about the return of mountain bike season.
Dialed Bike Setups
Your mountain bike has been sitting neglected in a garage while you were off having a winter fling with snowsports. Without a little preseason maintenance, your spurned companion won’t deliver the fast-rolling, crisp-shifting, bump-eating performance you remember. Tim Carson is a legendary East Coast bike mechanic who splits his time between running his Pennsylvania-based mobile bike shop and challenging for pro-category podium spots at enduro events. He shared a few quick tips to help get your ride dusted off and ready for the season.
Fill Your Tires:
“The number one thing I’d remind everyone to do is to put new sealant in their tires—if they’re running tubeless,” said Carson. “If your bike’s been sitting still for a couple months, the tire sealant will dry up. The tire will usually hold air when you pump it up, but if you hit the trail without topping off your sealant, even the smallest puncture will cause a flat.”
Maintain the Drivetrain:
“Lubing your chain is the easiest thing you can do to increase the longevity of your drivetrain,” said Carson, referring to the mechanisms that propel a bike. “You should do it before every ride, starting with the first one of the year. Beyond that, replacing cable housing will do wonders for shifting performance. The housing is what usually wears out, not the cable itself. It’s an affordable, easy replacement that will spare you sticky shifting and heavy pressure at the lever.”
“It’s a good idea to go over every bolt on your stem and handlebars to make sure they’re snug before you start riding,” said Carson. “It’s something a mechanic will do every time they look over a bike, and it only takes a couple minutes. On carbon components you should always use a torque wrench, but on aluminum components just make sure they’re snug without being overly tight. A good rule of thumb is the bigger the Allen bolt, the more force you can put into tightening it.”
Perfect trails don’t appear out of thin air. Your favorite summer dirt ribbons get eroded, frozen and generally abused by the elements each winter, and it takes a community effort of service, knowledge and, most of all, patience to get them back to their ideal state. Kenosha County Trails Coordinator J.T. Robinson heads the effort to build and maintain some of Wisconsin’s best bike trails. He dropped some suggestions for early season ethics to ensure the trails are ready for a full season of shredding.
Don’t Rush It:
“Everyone is excited to get back on singletrack, but if you’re leaving a rut in the trail, it’s not ready yet,” said Robinson. “Giving the trails a little more time to dry out is a far better alternative to leaving lasting damage.”
Keep Singletrack Single:
“Once the trails are ready to ride, you’re still likely to encounter puddles and isolated spots of mud, especially on shaded sections of trail during the early season,” said Robinson. “Stick to the established trail and help preserve existing singletrack by riding right through the middle of those puddles or patches of mud. Riding around widens the trail and creates damage that’s much more difficult to fix than a single rut in the center of the trail.”
Share the Love:
“Spreading ethics and advocacy helps build the community, and we want all trail users to promote good ethics both with their friends and with others,” said Robinson. “If you see people using trails inappropriately, share your knowledge with them, but in a way that promotes stewardship, not enforcement. Make people feel like you’re inviting them to be a part of a community of better trail users instead of putting them on the defensive about making a mistake.”
Be Aware of Early Season Conditions:
“Take it slow and be extra cautious during your first ride on a trail,” said Robinson. “If trails have recently opened, you’re more likely to encounter a downed limb or a loose rock that trail crews haven’t had the chance to clear yet. And if you do encounter a major obstacle, it never hurts to call up your local trail organization and inform them of the hazard in a helpful way.”
Jumping in full steam ahead after a long layoff is a great way to invite disaster. Before you hit the trail, spend just a few minutes reviewing and learning some foundational skills with these tips from former World Cup XC Racer Erica Tingey. Tingey’s spent the last few seasons coaching mountain bikers in Park City, Utah, at the Women in the Mountains bike clinics, and these are a few of her favorite universal riding tips.
Find Your Center:
“It’s easy to lose the feel of your fore-aft balance, but you can relearn it quickly,” said Tingey. “Keep your weight centered low and over the bottom bracket, which I describe as feeling heavy feet and light hands. Find a mellow incline and practice shifting your weight a little further forward for uphills and a little lower and further back for downhills, before going full throttle on the trail.”
Separate Your Bike and Body:
“To be loose and fluid, your bike and body need to move separately,” said Tingey. “It’s common, early in the season, for people to ride rigidly. Practice some figure eights in the parking lot where you focus on leaning your bike, but not your body, to turn. Extend your inside arm and bend your outside arm alternating each turn to relearn what it feels like to let your bike work independently.”
“It’s always important to look farther down the trail than you think you need to, but it’s especially vital early in the season when everything feels like it’s happening very fast,” said Tingey. “A good way to train your eyes is by simply riding off a curb in the parking lot and looking past it the whole time. Don’t look down at what your wheel is doing. Look ahead to where you want to go.”
Trying New Things
Step outside your comfort zone this season to challenge yourself, learn something new and build fresh connections in the bike community.
Sign Up for a Trail Volunteer Day:
“Taking some ownership of the trails you get to ride is rewarding,” said Robinson. “It will increase your knowledge of why trails are built a certain way and help you understand what trail types and features appeal to you.”
Go it Alone:
“Whether you’re signing up for a clinic, a festival or even a race, try showing up by yourself,”
said Tingey. “Ninety-nine percent of the mountain bike community is amazing, welcoming and kind, and if you show up to an event alone, I guarantee you will find new friends to ride with, free of judgment.”
Learn Some Basic Bike Maintenance:
“Confidently being able to perform some basic bike maintenance is empowering, and it’ll help you get back on the trails faster,” said Carson. “It’s great if you can sign up for a class, but you can also learn a lot just by watching some videos on YouTube.”