Sunday, March 5, 2017

Get Accessorized- A Guide for New Off-Road Riders

Congratulations! If you're reading this, chances are you made a goal this year to start riding off-road. That is super awesome!

You might already identify as a bike rider, but then again, you might be completely new to #bikelife. This guide is based on personal opinion due to my own experiences as a new mountain biker. You might already have some of the accessories/items listed or you might not.
During my first years as a mountain biker, I quickly learned about accessories that could help me have the best experience possible out on the trails.

This is especially important if you are a new rider taking the exciting plunge of purchasing your first mountain bike. When you have a budget in mind, it is typically only the bike- not accessories that go along with the experience.

Sure, you can go riding in yoga tights and a tank top, but have you thought about how you will hydrate yourself? Does the bike come with pedals and if so- are they truly off-road appropriate? Have you thought about how you'll protect your hands or head if you crash? (Which will happen!)

With this guide, you'll get a run-down of items that will help you have the best, safest, and most enjoyable experience on two wheels. You might not purchase all of these items right off the bat, but investing in a few key things will definitely aid you in your cycling journey!

Remember, this is a guide based on opinion and personal experience- use it how it best works for you!

1. A helmet.
If you are going to venture into the world of off-road riding (mtb/gravel) I highly recommend that you invest in a good helmet. If it's been years since you've worn a helmet, note that they have changed a lot! Some manufacturers have made it so you do not have to worry about adjusting the straps by your ears. Some helmets are at a price point where you can find a size that better fits your head vs. a general "one size fits most" (size ranges typically start when you're in the $70 price range on up.)

If you are joining group rides put on by a local bike shop and are renting a bike, you will likely have a helmet included if you do not provide your own. My opinion is- if you plan on getting into off-road riding seriously, take the time to invest in your own helmet.

You will notice many folks wearing a wide array of helmets. You might find folks wearing road-style helmets with cycling caps, especially if they participate in long-distance riding or also ride roads. You might see folks wearing more Enduro-style helmets, too. Regardless of what you see other folks wear, take time to work with a LBS and find what helmet will make you feel safe and comfortable.

It's good to note- even if you can wear a road-style helmet while mountain biking, note it will not have as much back-of-the-skull protection like a true MTB or Enduro-style helmet would provide. When mountain biking, there is a higher chance of you falling backwards off your bike, which is why those helmets come down further on the base of your skull.

2. Hydration.
You will need water at some point while riding and there are a couple ways to ensure you have hydration with you. One way is a water bottle cage- but depending on the trail system and your confidence in riding, you may find yourself stopping to drink vs. just riding along and drinking.

Some bikes might not have availability of having a water bottle cage installed (for example, my Trek Cali Carbon SLX is a women's specific frame with a low-sloped top tube which doesn't allow for a cage install.) You then have two common options, one being you put a water bottle in a jersey pocket (which means you wear a jersey, which might not be what you want to do) or you go the hydration pack route. Camelbak is a popular brand as well as Osprey- both make unisex and women's specific packs and packs in various sizes.

Using a hydration pack is extremely handy because you drink from a hose that is close to you and you won't have to stop riding while drinking. The hoses are a bite-valve style, which is nice because you won't slobber water all over yourself. The other benefit with a hydration pack is the ability to easily bring items with you in case of emergency, snacks, or other items like a lightweight rain coat.

Hydration is important and necessary- especially on hot days. Finding the method that will guarantee your water intake is important. If you are a newer rider or simply dislike reaching down or back for a water bottle- get a hydration pack. It's worth the investment.

2. Hydration pack/gear pack.
This is an accessory that I feel is a good thing to invest in, especially if you end up wanting to travel to out-of-town trails, etc. Depending on the size of pack you may only have room for a snack, some money, water, and possibly a packable wind jacket/rain coat.
It wouldn't be a poor decision to invest in a hydration pack that allows you to carry either a hand pump or a couple CO2 cartridge, tire levers, a spare tube, patch kit, missing link for your chain, a multi-tool, snacks, packable jacket of some kind, money/insurance card, possibly a first-aid kit or at least bandages, and your cell phone.
Think of it this way. If you go camping you bring essentials with you to ensure you are going to have a safe and enjoyable experience. If you live within minutes of the trails, you know that you can probably squeak by without a lot of "gear" along. If you are traveling hours away, the last thing you want to do is blow up your riding vacation by getting a flat tire you can't fix. You might waste your whole trip because of one mechanical- having the tools and items with you and not knowing how to use them is better than not having them at all.

If you're in a bind and another rider is around who knows how to fix something- you'll have cash to pay them for their work on helping you get back up and rolling again. You also save them money because you have your own tube. Being prepared is a good thing and can save a lot of heartache.

The downside of packs is you can easily treat it like you're taking the kitchen sink with you and that will add more weight on your back. Work on taking only the necessities you'll need for the ride you're going on.

3. Gloves.
For mountain biking we usually recommend folks to invest in lightweight, full-finger gloves. In Decorah our trails are tight (trees close together) and it isn't uncommon to clip one with a knuckle.
Had I not been wearing gloves, I would've been scraped up a LOT worse!
Full finger gloves will help keep your digits protected by the inevitable. If you're gravel riding, you can get by with fingerless gloves if you choose- but I prefer full finger for sun protection and in case I were to wipe out on a road. I'd have more protection against being rashed up with full finger vs. fingerless.

Often, this is one accessory new mountain bikers put off until they find out "dang, I needed those." I recommend to you that if you want to ride off-road...get them the day you get your bike. Nothing is more frustrated like an injury that could've been minimized if one had been more prepared.

Gloves also help you keep a better grip on the bike when it's hot- your hands get sweaty. Sweaty hands mean you can loose your grip easily, but gloved hands keep a grip much better. Do yourself a solid- get some gloves. Even if you're wearing fingerless gloves while mountain biking you'll at least be safer (with keeping a grip on hot days or if you get caught in rain) than if you didn't have them.

4. Get quality pedals.
You have two scenarios. The price point of your bike allows you to take it home with inexpensive metal or plastic pedals.
The other scenario is that your bike is at a price point where you have to purchase pedals.
Either situation, especially if you are a new rider getting into the sport, you'll want to purchase good quality pedals that have a nice base and pedal pins to keep your foot attached.

Your friends may all be riding clipped in, but we feel that you're better off riding a season or two on flats to get familiar with the trails and handling skills. If you venture into clipping in too soon, you'll psych yourself out more than if you were on flats. Clips also don't teach you handling skills- get the basics down first and then make your move if you wish.

Flat pedals with great traction pins will keep your foot attached, especially if you use a skate-style shoe like Five Ten Freeriders or Five Ten Freerider Contact shoes. Yes, if you flip a pedal up into your shin, you will probably bleed. In time that will happen less, you'll get over it, and you'll appreciate not having your foot pop off willynilly.

Not all pedals are the same, your LBS may have options and they can explain them to you. There is a stark difference between the $25 flat, grippy pedal vs. the $55+ flat, grippy pedal.
Pedals are equipment and nice equipment is worth the investment for the experience.

5. Padded shorts/Baggy shorts.
Mountain bike saddles are not going to be super plush, and depending on your area or how you are using the bike, you might find sitting for long periods of time makes for an uncomfortable ride.
Like with folks getting into road biking or recreational riding- it's recommended to get a pair of padded shorts/padded liner shorts. It will provide you with a barrier between you and the seat, which will aid in your comfort.

Baggy shorts are a great investment as well, some come with a built-in liner, some come with a removable liner, and others are liner-free. If it's a liner free or removable liner short, you'll be able to wear them multiple times over padded shorts before you need to wash them. If it's a short with a built-in liner, you'll need to wash it after every ride. Remember, NO underwear should be worn with padded shorts!
When starting out with mountain biking, you will fall- it's common knowledge. Baggy shorts are typically longer and provide you with more upper leg coverage. They are durable and will protect your undershorts and skin much better than if you were to simply wear leggings or lycra shorts out on the trails.
You might see folks riding in lycra- and they have typically had multiple seasons under their belt and have more than one or two pairs of shorts. They are fully aware that there is the possibility they could ruin a pair of shorts with a bad fall- but with experience, falls happen far less.

Folks choosing to ride in lycra aren't looking for style points- it's more about keeping things tidy. Some shorts can be very baggy which end up catching on your seat- lycra is not going to be baggy thus will not hang up if you're moving around on the bike.

6. Repair Items.
Tube, tire levers, CO2/mini pump, patch kit, multi-tool w/ chain tool, missing link for your chain, chain lube.

Be prepared. Simple as that. Have items you may need but hope to never need. It's so simple to keep things on hand, and the time that you don't have them will be the time you need them. Nothing is worse than being on a ride or in a race and having a mechanical you can't fix. Especially if you're hours away from home or the nearest LBS.

You never know when you might be someone's trail side savior because of your own preparedness!

7. Storage.
There are a great many ways to take essentials like snacks, a multi-tool, and other items with you. Some riders use jersey pockets while others might use a hydration pack, but what if you're out for a shorter ride or you get tired of taking things out of your pockets?
Get a pack of some sort, be seat pack, small frame bag, or a top-tube bag. This will help keep items off of you, eliminate the "taking everything out/putting back in" and keep those essentials in place at all times. Having something on your bike with your spare tube/tire levers/CO2 will ensure you never leave home without them!

8. Other items.
If you want to ride 3 out of 4 seasons, you will need to invest in some cooler weather apparel items. You might already have things that will work in your closet if you already are involved with another outdoor activity- like running.

Wicking tops are going to be ideal for rides and you may already have some that will work for you if you are a runner or take a spin class/work out at a gym. Keep in mind, if you are wearing a wicking tank top for rides, be sure to apply sunscreen!

Wind jackets are handy as well as a softshell jacket that has ventilation and invest in a pair of knee warmers or buy one pair of knicker tights without padding (so you can get multiple wears out of them between washing.)

Getting a wool base layer or two is a smart idea, especially for spring and fall rides- you can layer any other long-sleeved athletic top. If layering, it's ideal to have a pack that can fit at least one layer in if you need to shed a jersey/jacket.

Skull cap or a headband that covers your ears will definitely help during cooler months. Lightweight sun sleeves are a good investment for hotter months- especially if you're doing longer gravel rides.

Get a good pair of shoes, especially if you are riding flat pedals. A skate-style shoe works fine, but I would recommend checking out Five Ten or other comparable products. You don't want to destroy your $120 pair of nice running shoes on super grippy traction pins. Get a shoe designed to work with your pedal of choice.
Lastly, sometimes it's fun to have a way to keep track of your mileage and averages. If you would rather not invest in a GPS unit or use an app on your phone, consider a Specialized Speedzone Wireless computer. I've used one on about all of my bikes- it keeps me from obsessing over calories and other number-oriented things. I like to keep technology out of my rides as much as possible, however, it's entirely personal preference.

9. Lights.
Maybe you don't plan to ride at night, but if you are caught on your bike during evening hours or early daytime hours without a headlight- you could get a ticket (at least in Decorah!) Invest in some sort of headlight and taillight- you can get ones that are combo daytime/nighttime to add visibility and safety during daytime hours, especially if riding gravels or roads. A great, multi-purpose investment!
Also, if you have friends that partake in night riding, you might find yourself wishing to join them. Having a higher lumen rechargeable light will allow you the possibility of doing so (think 750-850). You might want to invest in a helmet-mounted light to use with a handlebar light if you don't want to break open the wallet for a high-powered rechargeable $200-$400 headlight.

10. Sunglasses
Everyone likely has a pair of sunglasses, but one thing is for certain- you don't always need the
darkest of lenses for riding in the woods.
Invest in a pair of glasses that have lighter lenses, like brown or rose, which will help cut light but keep things more visible for you and your mountain bike rides. I like the option of having a pair of sunglasses with interchangeable lenses so you can swap them as needed. I bought two pairs and have one set up with light lenses and the other with dark. Dark ones are for my gravel rides while the light ones are for off-road/commuting.

Getting a pair of glasses with clear lenses have their purpose, too! I found them to be especially handy commuting during the winter months. Especially on nights when it was snowing and thus, blowing snow into my eyes. Using them during rainy days is also helpful!

That would be my list of 10 essential accessories/gear items for new riders to consider. Granted, you may not purchase all of these items at once- and that is completely understandable!

I would take a look at what you might already have that would work and then pick 2-4 additional items from this starter list that you feel would enhance your experience. Think of your goals, the riding you plan to do right away, and the riding you hope to do. Pick something that will benefit you now and something that will benefit you in the future and go from there!

Congratulations on your #bikelife journey, smile and ride!

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