The 10 Most Useful Mountain Bike Hacks: Tips for Smooth Rides

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Ben Jones

Cycling Techniques, Other


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Mountain biking is an exhilarating sport that combines adventure, fitness, and skill in one adrenaline-pumping package. Whether you’re a seasoned rider or just starting, there’s always room for improvement to get the most out of your rides. Today, we’ll share 10 of the most useful mountain bike hacks and tips we’ve discovered to help you tackle those trails like a pro. Get ready to level up your MTB game in no time!

Tire Pressure Optimization: Unlock Your Bike’s Full Potential

Tire pressure is not only about finding the perfect balance for your ride but also about understanding how it affects your bike’s performance. When you optimize tire pressure, you minimize rolling resistance, maximize grip, and prevent tire damage. For instance, lower tire pressure (up to a certain point) allows for better traction on loose surfaces as more of the tire’s surface area comes into contact with the ground. This increased contact helps in absorbing impacts, providing a smoother ride with less jarring impacts. On the other hand, higher tire pressure is ideal for reducing rolling resistance on hard-packed trails and pavement, making your ride more efficient.

To determine the optimal tire pressure, start by checking the manufacturer’s recommended pressure range printed on the tire sidewall. From there, you can experiment by adjusting the pressure within that range to suit your personal preferences and riding conditions. It’s essential to invest in a good-quality tire pump with a built-in pressure gauge for accurate readings and adjustments. Quick ‘n’ dirty tire checks (i.e. squeezing the sidewall between your fingertips) just aren’t going to cut it when we’re looking at small pressure variations.

Pro Tip: Experiment with tire pressure during test rides to find the sweet spot that provides optimal grip, comfort, and rolling resistance for your specific riding conditions.

Key points:

  • Understand the impact of tire pressure on performance
  • Adjust tire pressure according to terrain and riding style
  • Regularly check tire pressure to maintain optimal performance
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Tubeless Tire Conversion: Say Goodbye to Flats

Converting to a tubeless tire setup may seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools and some patience, you can reap the (huge) benefits of improved traction, puncture resistance, and a smoother ride. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to convert to a tubeless setup:

Step 1: Gather the necessary materials and tools: Before starting, make sure you have the following items on hand:

  • Tubeless-ready rims
  • Tubeless-ready tires
  • Tubeless rim tape
  • Tubeless valve stems
  • Tubeless sealant
  • Tire levers
  • A high-quality tire pump or air compressor
  • A clean cloth or rag
  • Scissors or a utility knife (for trimming rim tape)
  • Soapy water (optional, to help seat the tire bead)

Step 2: Remove the old tires and tubes: Start by deflating your tires and removing them from the rims using tire levers. Be careful not to damage the rim or tire during this process. Once the tires are removed, take out the inner tubes and set them aside.

Step 3: Clean and inspect the rims: Thoroughly clean the rims with a clean cloth or rag, removing any dirt, debris, or old rim tape. Inspect the rims for any damage or imperfections that could interfere with the tubeless setup.

Step 4: Apply tubeless rim tape: Using tubeless rim tape, cover the entire rim bed, making sure to overlap the tape slightly at the valve hole. Press the tape firmly into place, ensuring it adheres smoothly and covers all spoke holes. Trim any excess tape with scissors or a utility knife. A useful tip when fitting the tape is to fit your old inner tubes and tire back on – inflating the tube fully helps to press the new rim tape down into the rim bed evenly. Once done, take off the tire and tube, and get ready to fit the rest of the tubeless setup.

Step 5: Install tubeless valve stems: Puncture a small hole in the rim tape at the valve hole, being careful not to make the hole too large. Insert the tubeless valve stem through the hole and tighten the locknut securely to create an airtight seal.

Step 6: Mount the tubeless-ready tires: With the valve stems installed, it’s time to mount the tubeless-ready tires. Start by fitting one side of the tire bead onto the rim. Make sure the tire’s rotation direction aligns with the rim, as indicated by arrows on the tire sidewall.

Step 7: Add tubeless sealant: Before seating the second tire bead, add the recommended amount of tubeless sealant. You can either pour the sealant directly into the tire or use a syringe to inject it through the valve stem after removing the valve core. Be careful not to spill the sealant as you work.

Step 8: Seat the second tire bead: Once the sealant is inside the tire, carefully work the second tire bead onto the rim, making sure it seats evenly. Be cautious not to pinch the tire or damage the rim during this process.

Step 9: Inflate the tire: With both tire beads seated, inflate the tire using a high-quality tire pump or air compressor. You may need a burst of air to fully seat the tire bead; a tubeless tire inflator or an air compressor with a “blaster” function can help with this. You should hear a series of “pops” or “snaps” as the tire bead seats against the rim. If you’re struggling to seat the tire bead, try using soapy water to lubricate the tire and rim interface.

Step 10: Check for leaks and distribute the sealant: Once the tire is fully inflated, check for any leaks around the valve stem and tire bead. If you find any leaks, adjust the tire or valve stem as needed to create a proper seal. Finally, give the wheel a good spin to distribute the sealant evenly within the inner walls of the tire.

Pro Tip: When inflating a tubeless tire, use a blast of air to help seat the tire bead properly, which can be achieved using a tubeless tire inflator or an air compressor with a “blaster” function.

Key points:

  • Gather necessary tools and materials for the conversion
  • Follow a step-by-step guide for proper installation
  • Choose the right sealant and lube for your riding conditions
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DIY Mudguard: Keep Mud at Bay

Creating a DIY mudguard is not only a cost-effective solution, but it also allows for customization to match your bike’s aesthetics. Plastic detergent or carbonated drinks bottles can be a great raw material for this job. If you’re using a plastic bottle for your mudguard, make sure it’s sturdy and flexible enough to withstand trail debris – but flexible enough to cope with trail vibration.

The mudguard should be wide enough to cover the full width of your tire to provide maximum protection. Additionally, consider adding mud flaps to the bottom of your mudguard for extra coverage.

When securing your mudguard, ensure it’s firmly attached to avoid any rattling or rubbing on the tire during your ride. Depending on your bike’s design, you may need to get creative with your attachment method, using zip ties, velcro straps, or even adhesive-backed foam to ensure a snug fit.

Pro Tip: Use flexible and durable materials like plastic or rubber when creating your DIY mudguard to ensure it can withstand rough trail conditions and flying debris.

Key points:

  • Choose appropriate materials for mudguard construction
  • Follow a DIY guide or tutorial for proper installation
  • Customize and adjust mudguard to fit your bike and personal style
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Brake Lever Positioning: The Key to Comfort and Control

Once you’ve found the ideal angle for your brake levers (my personal preference is 10-20 degrees below horizontal), you can also fine-tune the reach and bite point.

Reach refers to the distance between the brake lever and your handlebars. If your brake levers have a reach adjustment feature, you can easily modify the distance to suit the size of your hands and your personal preferences. A shorter reach is ideal for riders with smaller hands or for those who prefer a more responsive feel to their brakes.

The bite point, or engagement point, is where the brake pads make contact with the rotor. By adjusting the bite point, you can control how far you need to pull the lever before the brakes engage. A closer bite point offers quicker braking response, while a further bite point allows for more modulation.

Pro Tip: Experiment with different lever positions and finger usage during test rides to find the most comfortable and efficient setup for your hands and riding style.

Key points:

  • Position brake levers for optimal reach and comfort
  • Use one or two fingers for braking to maintain control
  • Adjust lever angle to reduce arm pump and fatigue
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Chain Maintenance: Show Your Drivetrain Some Love

Proper chain maintenance is essential for the longevity and performance of your bike’s drivetrain. By keeping your chain clean, well-lubricated, and within its wear limits, you can prevent premature wear on your groupset, ensuring smooth shifting and efficient power transfer. Replacing a worn chain promptly can save you money in the long run too, as it helps prevent wear on other drivetrain components like the cassette and chainrings.

Follow these steps to maintain your chain:

Step 1: Inspect your chain for wear and damage: Regularly check your chain for signs of wear, such as stiff links, excessive side-to-side movement, or elongation. Use a chain wear indicator tool to determine if your chain needs replacement. As a general rule, it’s time to replace your chain when it has stretched by 0.5% or more.

Step 2: Clean your chain: Keeping your chain clean is crucial to prevent the buildup of dirt and grime, which can cause increased wear and friction. To clean your chain, you can use a chain cleaning device or simply remove the chain from your bike and clean it manually. Use a degreaser to remove grease and dirt, then scrub the chain with a brush or toothbrush to get into the hard-to-reach areas. Rinse the chain with water and dry it thoroughly before reapplying lubricant.

Step 3: Apply chain lubricant: Choose a chain lubricant that’s appropriate for your riding conditions. Wet lubes are ideal for rainy or muddy conditions, while dry lubes are better suited for dusty and dry environments. Apply the lube sparingly to the inner parts of the chain links, where most friction occurs. Avoid applying lube to the outer plates, as this can attract dirt and grime.

Step 4: Remove excess lubricant: After applying chain lube, shift through all gears to ensure even distribution of the lubricant – turning the pedals backwards as you do so. Then, use a clean cloth or rag to gently wipe off any excess lube from the outer plates of the chain. Removing excess lube helps prevent dirt from accumulating and keeps your drivetrain running smoothly.

Step 5: Check your chain for proper tension and alignment: A properly tensioned and aligned chain ensures smooth shifting and reduces the risk of chain drop or derailment. To check chain tension, press down on the chain halfway between the front chainring and rear cassette. There should be roughly half an inch of vertical movement. If your chain is too loose or too tight, adjust the tension using the rear derailleur’s B-tension screw or, on some bikes, by moving the rear axle in the dropouts.

Ensure that your chain is properly aligned by visually inspecting the chainrings and cassette. The chain should run straight and not rub against the front derailleur cage or rear derailleur jockey wheels. If necessary, adjust the front and rear derailleurs to achieve proper alignment.

By regularly inspecting, cleaning, and lubricating your chain, you can prolong the life of your drivetrain components and enjoy a smoother, more efficient ride. Remember that proper chain maintenance is an ongoing process of good bike habits and should be integrated into your regular bike maintenance routine.

Pro Tip: After cleaning and lubricating your chain, shift through all gears to ensure even distribution of the lubricant and optimal performance.

Key points:

  • Inspect chain for wear and damage regularly
  • Clean and lubricate chain to prevent buildup and friction
  • Check chain tension and alignment for smooth shifting
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Suspension Setup: Fine-Tune Your Ride

A well-tuned suspension system is critical for maintaining control, comfort, and performance on the trail. By understanding the various components of your suspension and making necessary adjustments, you can optimize your bike’s handling to suit your personal preferences and riding style.

Here’s a guide to help you fine-tune your suspension setup:

Step 1: Understand the components of your suspension system: Your bike’s suspension system comprises several key components, including the fork, rear shock, springs (coil or air), and damping systems (rebound and compression). Familiarize yourself with these components and their functions to make informed adjustments.

Step 2: Set the sag: Sag is the amount of suspension travel used when you’re sitting on the bike in a neutral position. To set the sag, you’ll need to adjust the air pressure (for air-sprung suspension) or preload (for coil-sprung suspension). Start by referring to the manufacturer’s recommendations for your weight and riding style. Then, measure the sag by sitting on your bike and compressing the suspension, either using a friend’s help or a suspension measuring tool. Aim for a sag range of 25-30% of the total suspension travel for most trail riding scenarios.

Step 3: Adjust the compression damping: Compression damping controls the rate at which your suspension compresses under impact. Adjusting compression damping can help you fine-tune your bike’s performance over small bumps, big hits, and everything in between. Locate the compression adjustment knob or dial, often found at the top of your fork and rear shock. Experiment with different settings to find the ideal balance between comfort and control.

Step 4: Fine-tune the preload (for coil-sprung suspension): Preload refers to the initial tension placed on your suspension springs. Increasing preload makes your suspension feel firmer, while decreasing it makes it feel softer. To adjust preload, locate the preload adjustment knob or dial on your fork or rear shock. Turn the knob clockwise to increase preload and counter-clockwise to decrease preload. Adjust preload in small increments and test ride your bike after each adjustment to find the optimal setting.

Step 5: Test ride and make adjustments: Once you’ve made adjustments to sag, compression, and preload, take your bike for a test ride. Pay close attention to how your suspension responds to various types of terrain and make note of any areas that feel too soft, too firm, or unresponsive. Continue to make incremental adjustments (and test riding each time) to your suspension settings until you achieve the desired balance between comfort, control, and performance.

Remember that fine-tuning your suspension is a personal and subjective process. What works for one rider might not work for another. Take the time to experiment with different settings and make adjustments based on your own riding style, preferences, and the specific trail conditions you encounter. With patience and practice, you’ll be able to dial in the perfect suspension setup for your mountain biking adventures.

Pro Tip: After adjusting your suspension settings, take notes on how your bike responds to different types of terrain and continue fine-tuning for optimal performance.

Key points:

  • Understand the components of your suspension system
  • Set sag, preload and compression damping according to preferences
  • Test ride and make incremental adjustments to find the perfect setup
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Pre-Ride Bike Inspection: Safety First

In addition to the points mentioned in the quick checklist, consider checking the following during your pre-ride bike inspection:

  • Headset: Ensure that your headset is properly adjusted, with no play or binding
  • Wheel trueness: Spin your wheels to check for any wobbling or rubbing against the brake pads
  • Wheel hubs: Ensure that your wheel hubs are properly adjusted and have no play or binding
  • Spokes: Check for any loose or broken spokes that could compromise the integrity of your wheels

A comprehensive pre-ride inspection can help you identify potential issues before they become major problems, ultimately improving the longevity of your bike and enhancing your riding experience.

Pro Tip: Create a pre-ride inspection checklist and make it a habit to complete it before every ride, ensuring consistent safety and performance.

Key points:

  • Check tire pressure, brakes, and suspension
  • Inspect bike frame, drivetrain, and wheels
  • Address any issues before heading out on the trail
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Carry a Multi-Tool: Be Prepared

When selecting a multi-tool, consider the specific needs of your bike and your personal preferences (as you should when choosing any bike tools). Some multi-tools offer additional features like a chainring bolt wrench, spoke wrench, or even a bottle opener for post-ride celebrations. It’s essential to familiarize yourself with the functions of your multi-tool and practice using it before you need it on the trail.

In addition to carrying a multi-tool, consider assembling a small first aid kit for any minor injuries you might encounter during your ride. A few essentials like adhesive bandages, antiseptic wipes, and pain relief medication can be a lifesaver in the event of a mishap.

Pro Tip: Choose a multi-tool with bike-specific features, such as a chain breaker, spoke wrench, and Torx keys, to handle a wide range of trailside repairs.

Key points:

  • Select a multi-tool with essential bike repair functions
  • Store multi-tool in a hydration pack or saddlebag for easy access
  • Familiarize yourself with the tool’s functions and how to use them
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Mastering the “Attack Position”: Conquer Technical Terrain

When practicing the “attack position”, focus on keeping your body relaxed and fluid to adapt to the changing terrain easily. Distribute your weight evenly over the bike, with a slight bias towards the rear for better traction – move your weight further and further backwards as the angle of descent increases. Keep your heels down and toes pointed slightly outward to improve stability and control.

Remember that the attack position is not a static pose but a dynamic stance that allows for quick adjustments and reactions to the trail. As you become more comfortable with this position, you’ll find yourself naturally transitioning in and out of it as the terrain dictates.

Pro Tip: Practice the attack position on flat, non-technical terrain to develop proper muscle memory and body positioning before tackling challenging trails.

Key points:

  • Learn the fundamentals of the attack position
  • Maintain proper weight distribution and body movement
  • Use the attack position to improve control and confidence on the trail
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Learn to Bunny Hop: Leap Over Obstacles

As you progress with your bunny hop skills, you can incorporate additional techniques to increase your hop height and control. One such technique is the “J-Hop” or “American Bunny Hop,” which involves lifting both wheels off the ground simultaneously. To execute the J-Hop, preload your suspension by bending your knees and elbows, then explosively extend your arms and legs to launch yourself and the bike upward. Tuck your legs up and pull the bike towards your body to achieve maximum height.

Another advanced technique is the English Bunny Hop” or “Two-Step Bunny Hop.” This technique involves lifting the front wheel first, followed by the rear wheel. The key to mastering the English Bunny Hop is timing and coordination between your arms and legs. By perfecting this technique, you can clear larger obstacles and even hop up onto ledges or other elevated surfaces.

As you progress with your bunny hop skills, consider practicing on progressively larger obstacles to build your confidence and technique. With dedication and practice, you’ll soon find yourself effortlessly soaring over obstacles on the trail.

Pro Tip: Practice on flat ground with a small obstacle, like a stick or a water bottle, to gradually build your bunny hop height and confidence.

Key points:

  • Learn the J-Hop and English Bunny Hop techniques
  • Begin with small obstacles and progress as you gain confidence
  • Use the bunny hop to clear obstacles and improve overall bike handling
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In conclusion, mountain biking is a sport that continually offers new challenges and opportunities for growth. By expanding your knowledge and skills in these 10 areas, you’ll be well-equipped to tackle any trail with confidence and finesse. Remember to start small, practice regularly, be patient with yourself, always prioritize safety, and have fun!

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