What to bring
- A hydration pack or water bottle- Journeys often last over 2 or 3 hours so it’s a good idea to have water with you. Not drinking enough water on long rides can effect your abilities and slow you down. By not drinking enough water when you’re cycling, the chances of you crashing into a tree or falling off of your bike are much higher. It’s always super important to stay hydrated when you want to be on top of your game. I find water bottle cages very handy because they keep you from having to carry extra things in your bag and they take the weight off your shoulders. Or if you find taking your hand off the handlebars tricky, there are hydration packs available. Hydration packs look like small rucksacks that you carry on your back. Some contain storage space for you to be able to carry all you need on your back.
- Food- If you are going out for a few hours it’s always good to have something with you that you can eat while you’re on your bike. Things like cereal bars, bananas or granola bars are great to have with you as they are small and easy to fit in your bag.
- A rucksack- Rucksacks are great for holding everything you need. There are really great rucksacks out there that are super lightweight and can hold all your equipment.
- Puncture repair kit- Repair kits are definitely a must when it comes to putting your mountain bike pack together. They are super handy if you ever get a puncture in one of your tyres. Even if you bring spare tubes, it’s always nice to have a backup in case you get more than one puncture.
- Tubes- Tubes are usually not too expensive so it’s well worth bringing a spare tube or two if you know how to fix them properly. If you are really not mechanically minded there are still some other options. One option is to exchange your tubes for self sealing tubes. These tubes are lined with a gel which seals the hole in the tube as soon as it develops. They are heavier than normal tubes. You can also get sealants which come in a canister and inflate the tube or tyre as they seal it. Ask your local bike shop for more information
- A pump- There is a great range in pumps available now that are only about 8 inches long and clip onto a bracket which attaches to your water bottle cage on the frame, or you can just throw them into a rucksack. These are ideal as they are light, small and can inflate tyres to a reasonably high pressure
Tools- Tyre levers- You may or may not need tyre levers depending on the types of tyres that you are using. Some mountain bike tyres are a very loose fit and will not necessitate the use of levers. Others require three levers two thumbs and a knee! So it is advisable to bring some with you. Allen Keys- It’s a good idea to bring some allen keys with you when you cycle you will probably only need 3 or 4 different sizes but they are invaluable if you need to adjust something along the way. Link Extractor- It is also handy to have a link extractor with you. These cost about €15 and give you the ability to repair broken chains. Generally chains break if they are not well matched to your chainset and sprockets. However if they are old or if you have a tendency to use gears that put undue stress on the chain, It will eventually snap. An example of a gear that would put undue stress on the chain would be when the chain was on the largest ring of the chainset and the largest sprocket on the cassette. On some chains it is possible to fit a clip on link. Others require a specific pin which is pushed into position using a link extractor tool.
What to wear
Jerseys are a snug fit and don’t flap all over the place in the wind. They also have a zip front which you can open if you are too warm. Most have pockets in the back which can be used to carry essentials such as food that you can nibble away on as you cycle along. The main thing is to wear something that is not going to snag in anything and that allows plenty of movement. Comfort, warmth and breathe-ability are the qualities that you are looking for.
Cycling jerseys are specifically designed for the purpose. There is every conceivable option with cycling jerseys, some come with vents to keep you cool others come with thermal lining. Some even incorporate organic coconut shells to absorb odor! They are also sewn in such a way as to match the contours of the body for better fit. Proper cycling gear just makes the trip much more enjoyable.
Trousers and Shorts
Tracksuits really are not the best thing to wear on a bike. Firstly they get blown around in the wind and are generally too warm. They also have a tendency to catch in the chainset. They catch and bunch around the saddle area and make it generally uncomfortable. A better option, if you don’t want to reveal your legs is to use cycling tights. Tights come padded and unpadded. You can get fleece lined, and other engineered fabric tights or plain lycra ones, depending on whether you are riding in the winter or summer. Tights are warm, allow plenty of movement and don’t catch in anything. They also come with bibs if you prefer. These are straps which come up around the shoulder to keep them perfectly in place.If you really want to show off your pins don’t be tempted to use a pair of football shorts. First of all, I don’t like football, but there are better reasons than that. Football shorts are too short for cycling in, and your legs will end up rubbing off the saddle until they are raw. Instead try to use cycling shorts or mountain bike shorts, that cover at least an inch or two below the saddle. Cycling shorts are tighter fitting and usually are bibbed. Whereas mountain bike shorts are a bit more casual looking and generally have pockets. Or you can wear the mountain bike shorts over the cycling shorts or tights.
There are lots of thermal base layers available that can be worn underneath your cycling gear. They are well worth investing in because they really do keep you toastie warm in the winter. They are also cheeper than wearing two or three layers of jerseys and t-shirts. and do a better job at keeping you warm. You can get arm warmers, knee warmers, leg warmers, long johns, the list goes on. Generally thermal shirts an shorts are about half the price of cycling jerseys and shorts and seem to be twice as warm.
A wind proof Jacket is an absolute must if you are on the side of a mountain. Cycling jackets usually come in some type of wind protective material they are snug fitting so they don’t flap around in the wind and yet they allow movement and they really keep in the heat. They also have pockets at the back to carry essentials. Mostly these jackets are not waterproof so you may need to carry an additional waterproof jacket that you can put on in the event of rain. The main purpose of the cycling jacket is to keep you warm whilst still allowing the skin to breath.
Gloves and Glasses
It is a good idea to wear gloves when you are mountain biking. There are a few reasons for this. They keep your hands warm, they give better grip, they offer protection in a crash. Mountain biking involves the upper body much more than road cycling and your hand grip is brought very much into play during descents and technical manouvers. So gloves do help you to maintain control of the bike. There are essentially two types full fingered and fingerless. Some come with armour to protect the hands from branches etc. I would also recommend glasses when you are on the bike. Mainly because they help protect your eyes from trail dirt and fly’s. I find when I don’t use glasses I tend to get eye infections. They can also help reduce the effect of hay fever if you are a sufferer. Glasses come with a variety of lenses usually clear, yellow and tinted. The yellow lenses help to enhance visibility in dull conditions.
Runners are really not the best thing for cycling in. The reason is that the sole is too flexible and it offers no support when you are standing on the pedals. They are just not designed for cycling. Long term use of runners on a bike usually leads to foot cramp. A good pair of cycling shoes really is a must have if you are going to cover any distance. Many of them have straps to keep shoe laces out of the way. They are also water repellant so your feet keep dry and therefore warmer. The sole is a hard plastic which does not flex much thereby giving the foot lots of support when pedaling. This also translates to give more power and more efficiency. Cycling shoes can come with or without cleats. A cleat is a block which is usually made of metal that clips into a specific type of pedal. Some shoes come with a section of the sole which is removable to enable a cleat to be fitted at a later date. For beginners I would recommend that flat pedals are used until you are more used to mountain biking.
The single most important thing to get right in mountain biking is your helmet. If you mountain bike you will fall off the bike. There is no question about it. Now it may be that you just fall to the side very slowly and end up in a bush,in a fit of giggles, or you may be traveling at speed, loose control and hit a tree. Both scenarios may result in a bang to the head. Bicycle helmets come in three types, Open face, Full face and Open face with chin guard. If you intend to do a lot of downhill then you need to seriously consider a full face helmet or one with a chin guard. Cross country is better suited to open face helmets due to ventilation problems that you get with a full face helmet. Full face helmets tend to be a lot heavier and warmer than open face helmets.
Purchasing a Helmet
First thing to check when you pick up a helmet to buy is that it conforms to reputable international standards. Since Ireland is in the EU we are governed by the European Standards. However, unlike the European Standard, the American Standard specifically tests for downhill suitability.
European Helmet Standards- The european standard which governs recreational cycling is EN1078. Ireland is bound by law to implement this standard. It covers recreational cycling and skateboarding. American Helmet Standards- The American standard is set out by ASTM (American Standard for Testing and Materials) They have two catagories for bicycle helmets. One is similar to EN1078 and governs the suitability for bicycle helmets for rollerskating and recreational cycling. This is ASTM F1447-06. The other standard recognises the requirement for additional protection for the face and chin, when the helmet is being used for down-hill mountain biking. This standard is ASTM F1952-00. Perhaps Europe will follow the lead by the Americans in this regard in the near future. Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute.
For more information on helmet fit and advice please visit the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. This is an excellent site and well worth a visit. I have not detailed fitting instructions because the safety institute covers this section and is updated regularly. Be sure to check out the photo’s section detailing crashes!
If downhill is your thing then you should use full body armour. It is possible to get individual elbow, shin, knee, and back protectors but there are also full armoured suits available which give additional rib and shoulder protection. Not only will they help to protect you if you do crash but they will also help to give you more confidence on the bike. You tend to crash less if you ride confidently. There is the additional advantage of course that they make you look like the Terminator, unless you go for the coloured trousers on the right. I couldn’t see Arnie in them.