Much of the world is entering a cold, dark time of the year, with rain falling and trails not seeing much in the way of sunlight. You can sit at home with your arms crossed and a pout on your face, or you can make the most of the conditions and get out there. The first step is to know if it's okay to ride your trails in wet conditions, and if it isn't you don't have to feel bad about that pouty face. There are a few pointers that can help your cause if it is acceptable to head to the hills, though, and we're going to run through some of the more basic mud riding tips to help you make the most of your time out there. If you could only give riders one tip for riding in mud, what would it be?
There are all sorts of tricks one can employ to make riding in slippery conditions either
easier or faster, but the absolute best piece of advice has more to do with mindset and
riding style than changing any single piece of equipment on either your bike or yourself.
We're talking about relaxing your body and letting the bike move more under you than you
might otherwise be used to, an approach that is certainly one of the harder skills to learn,
as it can feel counter-intuitive to how you are used to reacting when your bike loses traction.
The thing is, though, that riding in really slick conditions often means that your bike never
really has proper traction to begin with, and therefore fighting to find it will cause you to be
constantly trying to correct slides right from the get go. That's a surefire way to see yourself
hit the deck, which will only exacerbate your problems. Instead, use a lighter grip on the
handlebar and, for lack of a better way to put it, think about letting your bike dance underneath
you. You can train your brain by sessioning one slippery corner in particular to discover what it
feels like to slide through a bend, picking up speed incrementally until you're comfortable with
your bike slithering across the width of the trail without panic.
The gap between a World Cup racer and a mere mortal is magnified ten fold when things get slippery, and they are kings at trusting their bikes in the mud
Have you been on clipless pedals for as long as you can remember? If so, installing a set of I got it, practice make perfect, but I want to spend some money. Is there any upgrade that makes an instantaneous difference?
platform pedals can boost your confidence thanks to the ability to easily drop a foot if you
feel like you need to catch yourself, and then you can re-install your clips (with the release
tension lowered to start) once you feel like you've got it down. It's funny how many of us
don't blink an eye at a $6,000 mountain bike, yet spending an hour or so practicing one
particular skill can feel like a waste of time... after all, that's an hour that could be used to charge
singletrack. The thing is, that hour you spend working on this skill will make a bigger difference
in your riding, and therefore your enjoyment, than any single component will ever be able to.
You bet. When it comes to paying-and-playing, installing a set of true soft conditions tires
will make your life a lot easier. Your standard mountain bike tire has been designed to
perform well in a variety of conditions, from hardpack to soft dirt, which means that it is
all about compromises. However, that's not necessarily a bad thing as the very large
majority of riders can't be bothered to swap their tires depending on what sort of shape
their trails are in, especially when goopy tubeless sealant and troublesome bead fitting
is involved. When things get really messy is when a tire that has been designed with
low rolling resistance and all around riding in mind will begin to suffer and show that
sometimes what's needed is a more specific tool. A proper mud or soft conditions tire will
generally use a slightly smaller volume to cut down through the mud and a tread pattern that
is far more spaced out compared to an all around tire. That open design has been chosen
for two reasons: it allows its lugs, which are usually taller as well, to penetrate deeper into
the mud and dirt, and it also means that the spinning tire will be more likely to throw mud
off (known as ''shedding'') as you ride. That last point can make a huge difference in performance.
A proper mud tire is all about penetration, with a skinnier casing and taller lugs that are meant to be able to pierce through the slop.
Tire pressures can also vary sightly to what you are used to using with regular tires, but
not in the direction that you might be expecting. While one usually drops a few PSI when
using a regular tire in slick conditions, the smaller volume of a true mud tire will likely mean
that you'll need to run a few more PSI than usual to keep it from either flatting (if you are
using tubes) or folding over on the rim. Remember that rocks that you might usually go around
or jump over could now be hidden under brown slime, which is another reason to run a few
more PSI with smaller volume mud tires. This will of course depend on the tire and conditions,
but don't be surprised if you find yourself running more air pressure than usual. The downside
to most mud/soft condition tires is how they perform in the dry or on woodwork, since their taller
knobs sometimes making for vague and expected performance, which is why we'll often peel
them off our rims as soon as the trails show signs of drying up.
Is there anything less expensive than a new set of tires that can help me enjoy riding in the mud?
Goggles for a clear view, a set of mud tires installed, and a homemade fender up front - all the ingredients needed to stay upright.
There are all sorts of add-ons for both you and your bike that will make your life easier when
the rain falls, with one of the most essential being a front fender. Now, before you
groan and roll your eyes, we're not talking about the fenders on your dad's commuter
bike, but smart and compact versions that mount on your fork and work wonders at
keeping crap out of your eyes. You like your eyes, don't you? There are a bunch of
different versions on the market these days - some attach to your fork lowers
and extend front to back, and others are either Velcro'd or zip-tied to the fork's
arch and crown to keep debris from being flung up by your front tire. Either method works
well, and they are usually inexpensive and easy to install and remove. Racers might
want to think about using ''moto-foam'' stuffed into recesses on their bike to keep mud
from building up, a trick that might seem a bit excessive but one that begins to make
more sense when you think that your bike can easily collect more than a few pounds of
mud when things get really bad. Where the hell does one get moto-foam from? Head
down to your local pet shop and ask for fish tank foam, an inexpensive route that will
accomplish the same thing. Again, this is more for the serious racers out there but at
just a few bucks, it certainly doesn't hurt to try. Other hop-ups include sintered brake
pads, 3M stick-on frame protection in high-wear areas, and even something as simple
as a thicker lube intended for wet weather will go a long way to keeping your bike
running smoother for longer
Dressing for the conditions can make the difference between hating life and having the
time of your life when its cold and muddy as well, but many articles on the subject have
put a bigger emphasis on clothing than protection. Just remember that you are far more
likely to get spanked when it's slippery out, so it makes sense to dress for the crash,
not the ride. That might mean some slim knee pads, or at least a set of knee warmers
to keep the pieces of your knees together after you smash them, and a set of gloves with
more padding on both the tops and bottoms compared to what you might wear in the
summer. Elbow pads? If it's something that means you'll ride more relaxed, and therefore
smoother and in more control, then go for it. Eye protection can be even more important,
and a set of glasses is the bare minimum when the mud is flying all around you. We've
even been known to wear goggles on certain cross-country loops that save all the
descending for the second half of the ride - why not let yourself have the most fun possible
instead of stopping to pick dirt out of your eyes?
Thanks for the tips, but isn't riding in the mud bad for the trails?
It's okay to tear a race course to bits on a muddy day, but the same likely isn't true for your local trails. Ask first, then ride with grace.
True, riding in the mud can certainly cause some damage, but there are places where you'd
get just a few dozen rides in each year if you only rode in dry weather. Of course, there
are also locations where riding in the mud will leave a rut behind you that could take a year
to disappear. Your best bet is to assess the conditions and make a few inquiries with the
locals about whether it is acceptable to ride in the rain. It might not be the best idea to poach
your local desert singletrack on one of the few wet days that the area might have, and
doing so could earn you some bad karma that will come back to haunt you. Ever wondered
why you're the only one in the group to keep getting flat tires? Trust us, it's been proven
that a*sholes go through more tubes than nice guys.