Preparing your gear for riding a mountainbike competition


We went through what a rookie rider should know when lining-up at the starting line of a challenging race and get out of it with fond memories, so it’s time to reach the next point of discussion – what he or she should use.

Foto: Catalina Cirlan, 4Munti 2016, Șaua Strungulița

From the very start, the reader should know this article points at mountain bike marathon races, passing through sometimes demanding landscape and not light rides in forests. The main difference is that in real outdoor conditions weather and a lot of elements can change suddenly and, if in the case of backyard rides calling someone to pick you up when things go wrong is a valid choice, in the other cases you will have to be prepared to fend for yourself. Helping yourself is the most reliable option, but on the other hand having with you all the things you would potentailly need is simply not the answer.

In such circumstances, you will find safety in numbers, so you should try to group up with one or more competitors. This will prevent riding astray and, in the case of an accident or an injury, you will have someone to come to your aid. If this is not possible, having a GPS device that pinpoints your location can prove to be a reliable safety net. Just as much, keeping to the designated route helps. Every once in a while, when the network allows, call the organisers or anyone waiting for you at the finish line and let them know you are ok and riding. Recording your ride on an app like Strava or Endomondo can also be helpful in tracking you down, but never forget to pack your mobile phone with you, and do all you can in order to save its battery because you might have to heavily use the device at one point.

Protective gear is a must have, since crashes can occur very often and injury is an ever-present risk. A strong helmet can get you out of perilous situations. It must be intact, have a safety standard and be properly placed on the head. Any previous damage means it needs a replacement, no matter how high-level it is. In any scenario, the helmet represents a subject of no negiation. A pair of eyeglasses should also rank at the top of importance in terms of gear. For some it already is, as they are wearing them on the basis of a prescription, while for all the rest of the riders, the safety provided means keeping the bugs and sometimes branches out of the eyes. When it starts to rain, the eyes will be shielded from mud and water. There is no further argument needed in their favour than the basic fact that they are crucial in helping you keep your eyes on the track. Also gloves come in handy, not only by providing extra grip on the bars, but by stopping the bruising of your palms in the case of a crash.

What you wear should be in line with the weather outside, with the profile of the ride and with the forecast. Leaving aside freezing and thunderstorm conditions, present day gear can ensure completion in almost any weather conditions.

The apparel you own should be the best you can afford. Any savings in this regard will turn into disfunctionality in another. The focus point of what you wear are the bib short that feature a high-quality chamoise. This makes for a comfortable ride. Also, keep in mind that wearing underwear voids the traits of the shorts that are helpful to you. Climbing up on the torso, we get to the t-shirt, which doesn’t necessarily must be a purpose-fabricated one for cycling, but at least for outdoor activities, made out of technical fabrics. Using a cotton t-shirt will turn out to be a big mistake. As for the perks of a cycling jersey, the back pockets and ventilation features tip the balance greatly in their favour. The comfort of your feet is improved by a good pair of socks, sport-designed ones of course, while the rest of the configuration of the apparel follows closely the outside conditions – the colder it is, the more warmth it should provide.

Along with these pieces of clothing, we can also use, according to the temperature, leg and arm warmers, which have the great advantage of versatility. You can put them on or take them off instantly. A baselayer can become very useful in chilly conditions, since it contributes to keeping warm, but thanks to the properties of the fabric, it provides ventilation and coolness during discomforting heat. As a matter of fact, all the apparel’s value resides in the fabric or fabrics it’s made of.

As you probably noticed by now, during a long mountain ride, temperature will vary a lot, so gear that is easy to pack and unpack, pull on or take off makes the difference. In this category, the vest finds a neat place, becoming a fast source of heat you can rely on.

When it comes to the head, the helmet plays the lead part. However, there are a lot of riders who even in the height of the heat wear something underneath it, like a bandana. Of course, the entire other way around it works just as well, coldness being reduced by a light beanie purposely-fabricated. Cycling caps are a good solution as well, just like a special neckscarf, and by using them you will discover another crucial advantage of theirs, which is absorbing sweat.

Riding a hefty ride is not only about what you are wearing, but also about what you pack with you. A number of apparel pieces are crucial and can make the difference. Top of the list? The rainjacket. Weather shifts swiftly at high altitudes, and a jacket that can withstand violent wind and moderate rain should be a must have in your pack. Modern day jackets can fold so much that you can fit them inside the pocket. Next up is the technical fabric long sleeve jersey, which can be packed just as easy and be just as efficient when need be. A scarf should also occupy room in your essentials, but all these become null if they are touched by moisture or water, so be careful to pack them tightly and sealed.

The footwear should always be in good condition. See that the ratchet system and the cleats work properly and are tightened strongly to the sole. Some rides may imply a lot of push bike, so shoes with a bit more studs and a more flexible sole are recommendable in front of racier models. Even adventure-purpose footwear can be used if you know it fits your feet very good.

Clothes are not everything and you should pack along with you not only garments, but a tool kit as well. The pump reigns supreme in this matter, followed by the inner tube, preferably two, just to be safe. A set of tube patches can turn out very useful, since even the replacement inner tube can get punctured during mounting, riding or even transport. If you didn’t master the skillset for tire mounting yet, a couple of levers will provide precious aid. Next up are the allen keys (the more, the merrier) doubled by a chain press, which well soon prove a wise choice, since chain failure is typical in mountainbiking events. Tools should be covered by all these, still it is wise to have on you small spare parts, like brake pads for disc brakes (these wear out pretty fast), a frame derailleur hanger and some lubricant. Also, household items like ducktape or plastic laces might do the trick in difficult situations. The best part of all this is that besides the pump and the inner tube, the entire batch of items fits in a medium-size saddle bag.

First aid goods are a wise idea, and items like a survival foil, elastic bandage or contention bandage will come in hand if the going gets rough and you need to wait for a rescue crew or even treat an injured person you discovered. Also, take no chances in regard of light – if you are not sure you will make while the sun is still up, carry a torch or a flashlight, as well as powerful bike-specific lights.

Last but not least, you should secure plenty of drink and food. As stated earlier, one or two watter bottles should find room on your bike, according to how much liquid you take in usually. A more comfortable option is represented by the portable water bladder, which is usually integrated in a backpack. Mere water may not provide all the hydration you need, so electrolytes or isotonic drinks can be used instead and, especially during scorching days, are a better option very often. You can also try to pack up with you water and have on you several satchets of isotonic formula. As for food, both fast-absorbing products and more traditional ones, like sandwiches, should find place in your backpack. So, keep sharp and ride for fun!