Things I wished I had known earlier…
It occured to me as I was talking to a few friends of mine that over the last few years of riding bikes and also getting into racing, I’ve learned quite a lot about bikes, riding them properly, exercise, racing and otherwise having a blast on 2 wheels. There are quite a few things that I would have been better off if I had known about them when I got started, or at least before I stared getting “more serious” about biking. They would have saved some rides, prevented injuries, and saved me some money, so I figured I should share them (in no particular order) and hopefully provide some advice to others. As always, I’m open to comments or additions, or arguments, so if you have any please feel free to share below.
1) If you are ANY sort of mechanically inclined, learn how to work on your own bicycle. You don’t have to do the things that require very special tools, but spend $250 on basic bike specific tools, a cheap repair stand, open youtube and get cracking. If you have to get your headset pressed in, destroyed one of your shifters, or need a wheel dished, absolutely take your bike into the LBS, support them, and get some work done, but for things such as cleaning/lubing, derailleur adjustments, simple wheel/rotor truing, re-cabling, part swapping/upgrading and basic fork/shock maintenance, you’ll be able to get by a youtube video. Not only will you save money in the long term, but almost more importantly, you’ll know what to do when you are 20 miles away from the car and you can’t get your bike to stop ghost shifting.
You don’t have to be a full mechanic, but learning the simple stuff will go a long way
2) When you go on “epic” rides, carry spares and a basic first aid kit. I know that inside we are all weight weenies and we want the lightest setup possible, but if you are going out for a big day on the bike, especially if you are riding with a group, it’s going to pay off to have some very simple spares. Things you wouldn’t normally think about carrying, but they can absolutely save you or your buddies day. I’m not talking about the basics like a tube and pump, but here some of the items I now take with me and boy have they helped:
- - Extra derailleur hanger
- - Derailleur cable (it weighs almost nothing and can save you or a friend’s day)
- - 2 SRAM quick links (carry one extra, they weigh nothing)
- - One extra bolt of each kind (3,4,5mm, cleat bolt, stem bolt, seat post bolt, etc)
- - Leatherman Freestyle (pliers + knife)
- - Electrical tape, Duct tape, White Athletic Tape (2-3 ft of each wrapped around my pump)
- - Along with your regular tire pump, carry a shock pump, especially if you ride a full suspension bike
If it’s an epic ride, carry your spares, it will be worth it!
3) Get a basic bike fit and cross train. Especially when you up your mileage and start riding more than a couple of times a week, make sure that you aren’t going to cause yourself any injuries. If you have the money and desire, a Professional Fit like 55 Nine Performance is absolutely awesome, but if you don’t, at least spend a few minutes measuring yourself and make sure your seat and bars are close to being in the correct spot. Competitive Cyclist has a great free fit calculator that is easy to use. Also, don’t just bike. Make sure you prepare your body for mountain biking, especially for longer rides. There are great exercises you can do to make sure that you are using all of your leg muscles (I’ve detailed them in the past here) and also, core work is very important. Again, you can spend some money and do structured programs that are intended for people that at more serious, but you can just hit some squats, lunges, push ups, planks, and pull ups on a regular basis and you’ll be much better off than not doing anything.
4) Ride TO the trail. I know that this will really depend on how far away you live from the trail and how much riding you want to get in, but this has been a big eye opener for me in the last few months. I’ve been struggling to get enough ride time in for training purposes and was crying the blues about spending time in the car to go mountain biking. Then I realized that I’ve got trails 15 miles from my door. Add into that 10-12 miles or riding on the trail itself, and I just rocked out a great 40-45 mile 3-4 hour day and I was able to leave from my front door. No wasted time! Just grab a blinkie to throw on the back of your bike, and enjoy not only getting more exercise, but also doing some “rambling” while you are out and about. Hit a few pieces of dirt, go down that stair case, jump off some of those curbs on the way. It’s way more awesome than sitting on traffic on the way to the trail.
5) I really struggle with this one, as I have a BAD case of “shiny new thing” syndrome, but be happy with the bike that you have and ride the hell out of it. When stuff breaks, upgrade. The bike companies are in the business of making you want that new part. But don’t waste your time and money upgrading that 1×10 setup to 1×11. Sure it’s going to be nice and shiny, but as much as you think you will, you won’t get that much money out of your used part on the open market. And that 1×10 works awesome, and it’s going to continue being awesome. Just wait until it’s time to replace those worn out parts and then, yup, then go blow your hard earned money on that shiny new smelling 1×11, oh I want it!!!!
This Turner is now 4 years old, but still a BLAST to ride!
14 Must Have Items for Every Ride
The following list contains items that you must have with you during every ride. Many riders find it unnecessary to carry all of these items on their local rides, but I have found that it is these rides where I end up needing most of the items on this list the most.
- Hydration Pack – There are several companies on the market that offer hydration packs. The most common is probably CamelBak. They have a ton of options, so make sure you pick the one that best suits your needs. I use a Dakine Nomad because of its unique ability to carry full face and conventional helmets. A hydration pack serves two very important purposes. 1) It carries your water. Most packs these days range around 70 oz to 100 oz with the 100 oz models being most popular because of their versatility. If you are planning on doing any mountain rides, opt for the 100 oz. 2) It carries all of the items that I am about to list.
- Spare Tube – There is nothing worse than being on the side of the trail with a flat tire and a long way to walk. Bring a spare tube with you on every ride. Even if you are running UST tires, a spare tube will get you home when you blow a sidewall.
- Tire Levers – Changing out a flat is much easier with the aid of some good tire levers. I have used Park Tools levers for years, but recently switched to the Maxxis brand. They are stronger than the Park’s.
- CO2 Cartridge – A CO2 cartridge will make filling up an empty tire/tube much faster on the side of the trail.
- Mini-Pump – You can pick these pumps up at any local bike shop or retail outlet. They are light and small enough to fit in your pack and some even offer a pressure gauge as an option. I would recommend buying one that has the pressure gauge so that you can be absolutely sure that your tire is pumped up correctly.
- SRAM PowerLink - A SRAM PowerLink is a single connecting link that SRAM provides with almost all of their new chains to connect one end to the other. This item could possibly be one of the most important things to carry while riding. If you break a chain on the trail, this is going to be your best friend. It allows you to remove the bad link with your multi-tool and then reconnect the chain without having to press in the pins. You can find these at almost any LBS on a red card for 4-5 dollars.
- Nutrition – While you ride, you are burning a lot of calories. You need to replenish these calories and nutrients during the ride. I use the Cliff Shot Bloks for short rides. They are light enough where they are not heavy on your stomach, but they include the necessary electrolytes to keep me going. Another good alternative are gels. This goo contains similar substances as the bars/bloks, but in a gel form. Many also include caffeine. On longer rides, I normally bring a peanut butter and honey sandwich.
- Spare Derailleur Hanger - Every recent bike in memory has the feature of a replaceable derailleur hanger. In the event that your rear derailleur hits a rock or other foreign object, the hanger is normally the first to give. These hangers bolt in to the rear triangle of your frame and can be easily replaced on the side of the trail. Carrying on of these will save your ride. You can have your LBS order you an extra or go by derailleurhanger.com and order one up.
- ID Card – Yes, that little card that allows you to drive on public roads may also save your life. If you get in a serious wreck on the trail, people need to know who you are and where you live. This information is also vital for hospital personnel. A company called RoadID also makes a wrist band that contains all of your necessary information.
- Multi-Tool - This “do-it-all” tool has almost everything you need for a trail side repair in a convenient and small package. I use the Multi-19 Tool from Crank Brothers. Be sure to pick up one that fits your needs, but I would recommend that it has a chain tool built in.
- Shock Pump – Most of today’s suspensions (rear and front) use air shocks. I carry a shock pump with me on the ride to make adjustments as needed. This may be considered optional by most riders, but I bring it on all rides.
- First Aid Kit – This one is pretty self explanatory. It is not if…it’s when you or someone you are riding with wrecks, it is good to have a small first aid kit available to clean everything up.
- Toilet Paper/Paper Towel – This multi-use item can be a life saver during a trail side restroom break, but it can also be used to wipe off anything. It is always a great idea to have a couple extra in your pack.
- Electrolyte Pills – Companies like Hammer Nutrition make electrolyte pills that can help prevent cramping and fatigue. These all natural pills are great on long rides to try to keep your legs fresh.
That is my comprehensive list. I consider everything on this list a must bring to make sure my rides go off without a hitch. It looks like a lot on paper, but the overall weight really isn’t a lot once you get loaded up.
One thing to remember…
You are going to run into riders on the trail that do not have the equipment necessary to make their repairs. As a mountain biker, we need to pay it forward by offering up a tube, tool or PowerLink to get the rider going again. When they offer to pay you for the help, tell them to carry one next time and give it to another rider if needed. This pay it forward attitude has saved countless rides over the years, and we need to do our part to make sure that everyone enjoys the sport as much as possible. It is pretty simple…treat others as you wish to be treated and as always…enjoy the ride.