Rain, rain, rain. Some love it, some hate it, but however you feel about muddy ground, learning to ride it well will boost your bike handling skills.
Getting your bike set up for slippery, muddy, wet conditions will give you a head start, and we spoke to Trek Factory Racing DH mechanic Joe Krejbich to get his top recommendations for making your mountain bike ready for the wet.
As Rachel Atherton‘s former mechanic, Krejbich helps to ensure his riders’ bike have the optimum setup for all the terrain and conditions faced throughout the year; from dry and dusty to sloppy and wet.
While most of us are guilty of just getting on our bikes and pedalling, riders and mechanics at World Cup-level will often tune suspension and tyre pressure between each run, let alone each course.
We might not go that far for our weekend rides, but setting your bike up to suit the conditions will give you better traction and handling in the mud, and it’s not difficult to do.
1. Give your bike a pre-ride check
Before you do anything else take a few minutes to ensure that your bike is in good nick, safe and ready to ride. The last thing you want to be doing on a mucky wet trail is fiddling with bolts or risking losing something essential in a muddy puddle miles from the end of your ride.
Krejbich suggests a simple, quick bike check. “Check the axles are tight, check the bolts, ensure the spokes aren’t loose and that the wheels are true,” he says.
Caption: Riding in the mud can be a whole load of fun, but it’s best to get prepared with a few top tips to make the most of it. Andy Lloyd
2. Drop your tyre pressure
“The first thing you’ve got to look at is tyre pressure,” says Krejbich. “Generally, people drop two or three PSI. A lower tyre pressure allows it to get more grip. Yes, you sacrifice quite a bit of rolling speed, but if the ground is boggy and wet anyway then grip is what you want.”
If you’re carrying a pump with you, you can adjust your tyre pressure on the trail to work out what’s best for the conditions you’re riding.
Likewise, if you’re racing, take time during practice runs to adjust the pressure to give you the optimum pay-off between rolling resistance and traction.
3. Consider a mud tyre
Most bikes come specced with decent tyres these days, and there are plenty of decent all-round tyres that provide good traction in mildly muddy conditions without having to go for a full-on mud tyre. For days when it’s wet but not raining hard, these will often do, though see point 2 on dropping your tyre pressure.
However, if it’s a full-on mud fest and the trail more closely resembles chocolate mousse or slurry, then a mud tyre will help you get traction and minimise those skids, slides and crashes.
Get some mudguards — a fistful of brown gloop in the face isn’t going to help anyone’s riding performance. Colin Hawkins / Getty
4. Adjust your suspension
So many riders are guilty of setting their suspension up once and leaving it, or only checking it a couple of times a year. But there are many factors that will affect how well your suspension performs, including how much weight you are carrying, the conditions, and even the temperature.
First things first, double check you’ve got the right pressure to start with — and our guide on how to set up your suspension will give you a hand here — then tweak it to suit the conditions.
“If you run the front end too soft and you hit a boggy hole, your front wheel will dive and you’ll go over the bars,” says Krejbich, and he recommends firming up the front suspension a little to compensate. “That’ll stop the forks from diving,” he explains.
The shock can also be adjusted to make riding slick and steep sections more manageable. “You may want to go softer on the back as that helps with traction. It also helps with steeper sections as the bike will sit in the suspension a bit more and you won’t be pitched too far over the front.”
5. Add mudguards
We’re popping this one on the list for two reasons. Firstly, riding with a face-full of mud isn’t going to help your bike handling; it’s hard to steer if your goggles are covered in crud and you can’t see the trail. Yes, tear-offs can help but why not minimise the flying mud in the first place?
Secondly, if you’re planning on riding for any length of time, you’ll help reduce the amount of gloopy, gritty stuff that makes its way down the back of your jacket and shorts.
There are so many options to choose from nowadays, no matter what tyre width or suspension set up you have, and a huge range or prices. So really there’s no excuse… unless you actually like grit in your eyes?
Clean you bike regular to preserve your components. Alex Evans
Pro set-up vs. regular rider
Inevitably, if you’re riding at the highest level there will be a few additional changes that are made to adapt the bike for the rigours of riding difficult competition tracks. Krejbich says top-level riders often require their suspension setup to be a lot further.
Tyre choice is another important point of difference. While weight is important when racing, it’s important to balance that with grip and puncture protection, Krejbich says.
Last but not least — don’t forget to clean your bike!
Riding in mud can be great, but the damage it can do to your pride and joy ain’t funny. Grit gets into the moving parts and grinds them away, so cleaning your bike regularly, and especially after muddy rides, is crucial.
Happily, it doesn’t have to take you very long. Just follow our 7 steps to a clean, sparkly bike in no time at all.