Heads up! Mountain biking requires consideration when it comes to a bikes, equipment and apparel. Keeping up to date on all the options is a full-time occupation, far beyond the point of ridiculousness. The truth about mountain bikes…
As long as you’re working with a quality piece of equipment, and it’s set up right–it doesn’t much matter if your bike is the latest and greatest. Even a bike that’s 15-20 years old can be top notch, super effective F-U-N MACHINE!
Hot Tip: If you’re new to mountain biking, or your resources and/or budget are limited, it’s a good idea to focus on the essentials!
With the following information we have attempted to outline the “need to haves” that are specific to the type of mountain bike fun we will be having on Portland Metro Composite…
The majority of the mountain biking that we will do on this team falls into the “cross-country” category (which is sometimes abbreviated as “XC”). For most riders a “hardtail” mountain bike will be the bike of choice. Hardtail is the name given to a solid/rigid bike frame that has a suspension fork between the bike frame and the front wheel…
…as opposed to a full-suspension mountain bike where there is also suspension built into the frame, that is activated by the rear wheel.
Mountain bikes are now configured with a variety of wheel sizes. Hardtails can be found featuring 26 inch, 27 inch and 29 inch wheels. All will work fine. The thing to focus on for our purposes is that an ideal bike is relatively lightweight and has a typical mountain bike gear range so it is capable of pedaling up hills with relative pedaling ease.
Please Note: Front suspension forks are not essential. Fully rigid bikes–without any suspension can be used successfully. And on the other side of the spectrum, full-suspension bikes are fine too…especially if they are designed for the cross-country style of riding we’ll be doing on this team.
Also Note: If you’re shopping for a bike we can help make reccomendations.
Otherwise, bringing your bike to a team meeting or practice and asking for our coaches for feedback may be the best way for us to help you determine if the bike you have will be suitable for use this season.
Once you have determined that your bike is suitable, it may be advisable to take your bike into a local bike shop for a tuneup service.
Otherwise, coaches may be able to help with this managing little adjustments here and there, upon request before or after practices.
At various points in the season the coaches will manage team bike inspections where we will focus on…
- The bike being an appropriate size match for the rider.
- Ensuring the bike has good working brakes.
- Ensuring the bike has good mountain bike tires, with suitable traction.
- Ensuing wheels are sturdy and reliable.
- Ensuring the bike has reasonably smooth shifting and a serviceable chain.
Pedals – While some riders may be used to and or inclined to ride what are referred to as “clipless pedals,” and it is OK to continue using this equipment if desired, NICA recommends interscholastic rider train and race on traditional platform pedals as long as possible. The reason is, learning how to ride on a good grippy set of platform pedals can promote more successful technique in the long run, and is also nice because they do not require cycling specific footwear. Here’s what a pair of good grippy platform pedals looks like (notice the spikes that lock into your shoes)…
Water bottle cages and water bottles – Especially because we will be practicing in the summer and racing in the early fall–when it is still reasonably warm in the Pacific Northwest–outfitting your bike with water bottle cages and water bottles is highly advisable. Most bikes will have at least one position for mounting a water bottle and many of the hardtail variety described above will have two positions. It is recommended to mount as many bottle cages and bottles on your bike as you can accommodate.
Hydration packs – A hydration packs such as those made by companies like Camelbak may be a good idea for riders whose bikes have limited water carrying capacity on their bikes. There are a variety of sizes of these packs, but for our purposes the slimmer and lighter weight packs will be more desirable than the heavier duty (more “backpacky”) styles designed for longer days and more rigorous trail and back country riding.
Note: kid size hydration packs may provide a suitable option and hydration bladders and hoses are also available for purchase separately (sometimes cheaply) and maybe fitted into other bags or backpacks that a rider has in their possession already.
Seat bags – While it is not required, extra credit is given to any rider with a seat bag or saddle pouch containing a spare inner tube in the size and variety specific to their bike wheels.
Bonus points for riders who also include a plastic tire lever…
Note: Coaches will have inflation devices on their person as well as bicycle multi tools, and will be able to assist riders with flat tires, when they occur, but it is important for every rider to take steps in being prepared for their own flat tires while learning how to manage them.
Bell – A bicycle bell is a “nice to have” on a mountain bike since it can be used to let another ride know you are passing and/or it can be used to signal down trail before coming around blind corners.
Helmet – The most important piece of bicycling apparel is certainly your helmet!
Helmets should be reasonably new. Helmets should fit properly (comfortably and snugly) and should be positioned (with straps adjusted) to provide good coverage over the riders forehead area.
Mountain bike helmets–as opposed to road bike or bicycle commuting helmets–typically provide a bit more coverage and often include a visor. Any bicycle helmet is acceptable however, provided it is in good condition and is a good fit on the riders head.
Riding glasses – A pair of suitable athletic sunglasses can be a really good idea when mountain biking. They are not required but are a “nice to have” that can help protect the riders eyes from dust and debris which might get kicked up from other riders tires out on the trail. It is also a good idea to wear glasses with UV protection when spending long days out in the sun.
Gloves – Arguably the most critical piece of bicycling apparel for mountain biking. A good mountain biking glove is typically full fingered and typically has some type of padding in the palm of the hand to help absorb shock and vibration and to help the riders hands remain comfortably on the handle bar.
Riding shorts – The two styles of riding shorts common to the type of mountain biking we will be doing on this team are the tight fitting “Lycra”variety, typically including a chamois/pad in the crotch area and/or a pair of snug, but not tight, “baggy” riding shorts. It is often a good idea to still incorporate a tight fitting lycra variety with a chamois pad, even when wearing baggy shorts over them.
Note: Board short style swim trunks are often great alternative riding shorts as they are usually snug to the leg and they are usually the appropriate polyester material.
Shirt/jersey – Traditional cycling jerseys are not required although they may be handy for riders who are interested in benefiting from the pockets that are typically included on the back of these garments. A good alternative to a traditional cycling jersey is any polyester type athletic shirt. A running shirt or an old soccer jersey for example.
Extra layers – Extra layers including accessories such as arm and knee warmers may be useful to riders later in our season when the weather starts to cool down. Long-sleeve tops and jackets are also nice to have, but again should be of a polyester fabric variety suitable for athletic use. Nike Dry-Fit type material…which can be easy to acquire around Portland.
Note: Old rain jackets are also nice to have if and when the weather turns wet. Even it they don’t shed water as well as they used to…they can provide a layer of insulation and wind protection that will keep a wet rider warm so long as they keep moving.
Socks – Cycling socks come in many varieties, but for mountain biking the best socks are typically something mid-length in the wool and/or polyester variety. These fabrics will keep a riders feet warm if they get wet and socks in the right length will protect their lower shins and calves from scrapes.
Caps – Thin cycling caps and/or thin beanie hats are nice to have when the weather starts to cool off. They must be thin in order to fit underneath a riders helmet comfortably, and the extra layers of fabric go along way in maintaining a riders temperature in colder weather.