Fall is prime mountain biking (MTB) season. It’s a fun way to enjoy the beautiful changing leaves and the crisp air. Before you hit the trails, make sure you have the right gear and apparel to make your ride safe and comfortable.
The most important safety investment is a helmet. While any helmet is better than no helmet, this is one area you don’t want to skimp on.
Mountain biking helmets usually have an adjustable visor and cover more of the back of your head than standard road helmets. The visor is not really to keep the sun out of your eyes. It offers some protection to your face if you are riding through brush or in the event of a crash.
Full-face mountain bike helmets offer additional protection with an integrated guard over the mouth and jaw area. This is useful if you plan to ride in areas with a lot of head-level branches and hazards or plan to hit the downhill tracks at high speeds.
A relatively new feature to consider in a helmet is MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System). This technology allows the helmet liner to move on impact, absorbing some of the rotational force that could contribute to a concussion or brain injury. Many helmets on the market now are MIPS equipped.
Proper Helmet Fit
Use a mirror, friend, or phone camera to make sure your helmet is level on your head with just one or two finger-widths between your eyebrows and the helmet.
Next, adjust the sliders under your ears. They should sit under and just in front of your earlobes.
The buckle should be centered under your chin. Adjust the straps until it buckles snugly but comfortably.
Next, make sure your helmet cannot move back more than two fingers above your eyebrows or too far forward over your eyes. If there is too much movement, adjust the front and back straps until the movement is eliminated. This may take a few tries.
To check your fit, put it on and shake your head “yes” and “no”. Your helmet should not move front to back or side to side. If there is more than an inch of movement in any direction, adjust the straps or try a new size.
No matter what kind of cycling you enjoy, eye protection is important! Keeping dirt, bugs, and debris out of your eyes will protect you from scratches on your corneas, irritation from dust and dirt, and other eye trauma. Additionally, if you have something fly into your eye while you are cycling, you may lose control of your bike and crash, causing other injuries.
Sunglasses are a great eye protection option for mountain bikers. With many price points and lens choices, sunglasses are versatile and you can easily find the fit and features that are right for you.
Make sure your sunglasses are shatter resistant so you aren’t at risk of being injured by your own eyewear in the event of an accident. The Wiley X Saint sunglasses offer high velocity impact protection and interchangeable lenses for different light conditions.
Another popular option for mountain biking eyewear are goggles. Similar to ski/snowboard goggles, they offer full protection of your eyes. Many mountain bike helmets are compatible with goggle straps as well. Goggles are most popular among downhill mountain bikers but they are gaining a broader following because they offer more protection to your eyes and face.
Cycling gloves primarily offer protection from the friction between your hands and the bars that may cause blisters or chafing. They also keep your hands warm in cool weather, and, in the event of a fall, prevent cuts and abrasions. It is very unpleasant to nurse the palms of your hands back from a crash.
Choose cycling gloves made from durable material that have texture and padding on the palm area. This will improve your grip on the handlebars and reduce hand fatigue on long rides. Gloves should fit snugly so they don’t interfere with your grip.
Fingerless gloves are breathable and ideal for warm climates. They give the most “feel” of the breaks and shifters.
Full finger gloves come in thin, lightweight styles for warm weather and lined, weatherproofed options for colder riding conditions.
Padded Pants or Shorts
An investment that will make your longer mountain biking adventures far more enjoyable is padded shorts, pants, or bike underwear.
This padding is not as important for mountain bikers as for road cyclists because you sit more upright on a mountain bike and you are usually shifting your riding position more frequently. However, padded shorts, pants, or underwear help alleviate discomfort from vibrations and rough riding conditions.
Padded mountain biking shorts or pants are usually loose fitting and made of durable, stretchy, moisture wicking fabric that can stave off cuts and scrapes along the trail. Or, if you prefer, there are tighter fitting, more traditional cycling shorts that offer compression muscle support.
Some MTB padded shorts offer removable hip pads as well. This protects your hips from bruising and abrasions if you slide out of a turn.
Another option is bike underwear, which fits like regular underwear but has protective padding built in. Bike underwear can be worn under your regular shorts or pants.
Any of these options will make your ride more comfortable. It’s really a matter of personal preference. But no matter what you choose, leave the regular underwear out of the equation. Cycling shorts and padding are designed to be worn alone. If you wear regular underwear with your padded shorts you will likely experience unpleasant chafing.
It’s always best to prepare for the worst. If you are out on the trails and have a serious accident, there are a number of phone apps and sensors that will alert your emergency contacts.
The RoadID app turns your phone into a real-time GPS tracking and safety tool. It tracks your bike ride, run, or hike in real-time (as long as you have cell signal) and lets your selected friends or family know where you are. The optional “stationary alert” will notify your emergency contacts if you stop moving for more than the set amount of time.
The RoadID app also turns your Lock Screen into an emergency contact page, providing First Responders with any important medical and contact information even if your phone is locked.
Another option is the ICEdot Crash Sensor. It is a yellow Bluetooth transmitter that attaches to your bike helmet. Download the app to your phone and, in the event of a crash, the sensor will send an SOS to your emergency contacts with your location. The ICEdot can also provide First Responders with vital medical information.
These are “worst case scenario” must-haves that we hope you will never need, but are invaluable in the event of an emergency.
Mountain Biking Shoes
When choosing mountain biking shoes, you should first consider what kind of pedal system you want. There are a myriad of pedal systems and shoe options. These are not necessary for safe and enjoyable riding, but a pedal and shoe system that attaches your shoe to the pedal will improve your pedal efficiency and bike handling.
Many mountain biking shoes are designed for comfortable walking. This is especially useful if you would like to explore side trails on foot or if your bike has a mechanical and you need to walk it out to the trail head.
If you are newer to mountain biking you might also find yourself scrambling over obstacles more frequently. Having comfortable shoes with sturdy grip will make this easier and more enjoyable.
If you are headed out for more than an hour, you will want a sturdy pack to carry your bike repair tools, snack, first aid kit, and a few extra layers of clothing.
Most mountain bikers prefer to carry their water in a backpack hydration system, like a CamelBak, instead of water bottles mounted on your bike. Mounted bottles have a tendency to bounce and rattle out and you will find yourself chasing loose water bottles down the trail.
The CamelBak Skyline Hydration Pack is a great option for mountain biking adventures. It isdesigned to cinch comfortably with the water reservoir in the small of your back. It has ample ventilation and plenty of storage to keep your essentials organized.
With these basic mountain biking investments you will enjoy hours of safe and comfortable adventures on the trail.