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12 (Not So) Stupid Mountain Biking Questions

When you first start riding (or any time, really) you may have some questions that seem, well, stupid. To borrow a quote from Mark Twain “He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever.” To spare you the five minutes of foolery, we’ve answered 12 common questions that you may have never otherwise asked.

Q: Do I wear underwear under my shammy/chamois?

A: Nope – go commando! (Meaning, don’t wear underwear under your chamois, definitely DO wear shorts or pants while riding).

Chamois are specifically designed to be worn next to the skin.  Wearing underwear may result in unwanted chaffing and may prevent the pad from absorbing sweat as it’s intended to do.  (Psst if you are wondering what we are talking about – a shammy / chamois is a padded short or padded undies… if you want to go there)

Q: When should I use my dropper post?

A: As a general rule of thumb, you should use your dropper post anytime you are going downhill.   When you start getting comfortable with a dropper post, you may have to consciously remember to drop the seat and it will feel a bit excessive.  It won’t take long for it to become second nature and you’ll realize how helpful it is to raise and lower your seat with the changing terrain throughout your ride. 

Q: What should I wear when I’m mountain biking?

A: Well, that’s a loaded question…but we are here to help. First, ALWAYS wear a helmet. ALWAYS.

As for other items, there are a lot of different schools of thoughts on what you “should” wear mountain biking.  At the end of the day, you should wear what you feel most comfortable in.  Some people wear chamois and MTB specific shorts and jerseys, some people wear jorts (jean shorts) and a cut off tee. Some people wear leggings, some people wear unitards (yes, yes they do). Some people wear protective pads and some people don’t. It really depends on what type of terrain you’re riding and what you feel best (and most safe) in. After all, when you look good, you feel good and when you feel good, you ride better. #facts

ProTip: If you’re riding loose, rocky terrain or on a trail with obstacles that may throw you from the bike, it would behoove you to wear clothes… specifically long sleeves, in the event you find yourself in a pile of rubble. This will protect your skin.

Q: Where should I store my bike?

A:  If you are asking your partner, they may tell you that bikes belong in the house, preferably hanging on display in the dining room or safely tucked into the bed (room). However, from a more utilitarian perspective, your bike should be stored in a dry space protected from the weather (usually a garage).

ProTip: If you have a dropper post, store your bike with the seat up

Q: Do people really ride with fanny packs? 

A:  Fanny packs are BACK baby! Not only are they officially cool (were they ever not cool though?), they’re practical for storing essentials and they take the weight off your shoulders while riding!

If you’re going for a short ride (and have a water bottle/tools on your bike) you may only need a small fanny pack; to carry your phone and a snack. If your’e going for a longer ride and your pack is also your water supply, extra clothing, food and tool storage – you’ll want to invest in a larger hip pack with the ability to store all of the items you may need on your ride.

Q: Do I really need to be able to get off the bike on both sides?

A:  Yes, yes, yes!  Being able to dismount your bike on both the left and right side will allow you to select the safest option when you’re on variable terrain.  You always want to get off your bike on the uphill side (downhill dismount = yard sale) so an ambidextrous dismount is a must!  

Q: Who has the right of way on the trail?

Bekah answers mountain bike questions from students
Photo: Colin Meagher

A: Generally speaking, the official rules of a public multi-use trail are: hikers, runners and horses have the right of way before mountain bikers enter the mix. However, some trails favor directional traffic, are mountain biker only or are managed by a private land manager. On these trails the rules will likely be different. It’s always best to read the signs (or ask questions) before you ride.

ProTip: Among cyclists, the uphill person or rider has the right of way. Not on a hill? All parties should yield and a good rule of thumb is to simply slow down and be courteous to others when you pass.

Q: What is rebound and what does it do?

A: Rebound, simply put, is the speed at which the suspension returns to its full length after the suspension has been compressed to go over an obstacle. A well adjusted suspension should allow the wheel to remain in contact with an obstacle during compression and rebound should not be noticed.

ProTip: If you feel like your suspension is throwing you around, it likely needs a full adjustment. See also: Suspension Setup, 4 easy steps.

Q: When should I shift?

A: The goal of having gears is to keep your pedals moving at an even cadence (speed), while each pedal stroke gives you the most bang for your buck. Gears create leverage and shifting applies that to speed or power, but not both. Efficiency is the name of the game. That being said, you shift to keep your speed and efficiency on the bike.

Uphill: If you’re going uphill, and you want to stay seated, you’re going to need to shift into an easier gear (like a mullet, that means small ring in front big ring in the rear, if your bike is set up with a 1x drive train focus on the party in the back). If you don’t shift, you’ll find that your leg muscles fatigue faster, and there’s more strain on your knees because it takes more effort to push the pedals (and your weight and the weight of your bike) uphill with each pedal stroke. Of course, you’ll also want to keep moving at a pace and speed that allows you to keep your balance, so it’s about finding the gear that allows you to keep moving with the least effort and strain on your muscles, while still moving at a sustained pace. If you stop on a hill, it’s harder (but not impossible) to start again without spinning your tires (losing traction).

Downhill: When you’re going downhill; gravity, the weight of your body and the weight of your bike will help carry you down with ease. You’ll want to shift into a HARDER gear (the smaller ring in the back) so that each pedal stroke gives you more power and momentum forward. If you’re not feeling any resistance, and your legs are just spinning, then you’re not adding to your speed. You’re just moving your legs in circles for no reason in particular.

Variable Terrain: Most rides aren’t just uphill or just downhill, they’re an undulating combo of the two. This means you’ll be shifting quite a bit as you transition from uphill (easier gear) to downhill (harder gear), in an effort to maximize the efficiency of each pedal stroke and keep your legs from burning.

Q: Are my tires too low?

A: You’ll want to check your tire pressure before every ride. Tire pressure depends on your weight as a rider and the type of terrain you will encounter on your ride. If the pressure is too low, you’ll risk flats or damage to your rims or tire roll, all of which decrease stability. Too much air and you’ll be riding on rocks like Fred Flintstone.

Ideally, you want your tire to deform (squish) ever-so-slightly to maintain contact with obstacles; corners, rocks, roots, or the foot of your buddy who stopped for no particular reason.

ProTip: Tire pressure is dependent on the weight of the rider (mostly), but also on the type of terrain and the rider’s style/preference of riding. The “average male” (6′ tall, 185lbs) typically sets tire pressure between 25-30 psi. Females run a bit lower (as they tend to weigh less), typically between 22-26 psi.

Q: Why are pedals that you clip into called clipless?

A: Clipless, originally referred to a strap and cage that went over the toe on a flat pedal (we see you 1984!). The cage and strap combination are called “toe clips” and allowed for increased efficiency by securing the foot to the pedal. This was done to increase contact when pedaling. The introduction of the current systems meant one could accomplish the same foot to pedal connection without toe clips, hence the name ‘clipless,’ even though they ‘clip’ in like a ski binding. Make sense?? We’ll let you decide, but that’s why they are named the way they are named.

Q: What is better clipless or flats?

A: Similar to asking “which ice cream flavor is best”? … the answer is the same for all things opinion – whichever ever you prefer is best. With techniques like clawing & wedging, you can maintain all the grip you need with flats. Don’t believe us, watch a downhill race. Many of the racers are on flats and their feet are in full contact with the pedal at all times. That being said, many people ride clipless pedals (where your feet are actually attached to the pedals with cleats) to maintain contact easier. However, having your feet attached to the pedals also allows you to “cheat” by allowing you to easily forget about the importance of your feet.

ProTip: If you’re just starting out, it’s best to learn on flat pedals. That way you learn all the proper foot techniques and you can bail easily if you find yourself between a rock and a hard place (literally). Eventually, you may transition to clipless pedals, but that’s purely preference.

Long Story Short – There are no stupid questions

We ALL have questions, even the pros. Part of being a successful mountain biker is asking questions and listening to the answers.

Have more questions? Drop a comment with your question below and we’ll answer them for you.

12 Thoughts on “12 (Not So) Stupid Mountain Biking Questions

  1. As with a helmet, always wear eye protection, even if just clear lenses. Branches and cacti are everywhere and you don’t want to lose an eye just because you weren’t planning to wreck.

  2. Jennifer Disser on January 12, 2021 at 10:29 pm said:

    The answer about clipless above is a little off. The cage and strap combination are called “toe clips” and allowed for increased efficiency by securing the foot to the pedal. The introduction of the current systems meant one could accomplish the same foot to pedal connection without toe clips, hence the name ‘clipless’. Since I’ve been a cyclist since about 1984, I still have a pair of toe clips in my garage.

    • Thanks Jennifer. It’s definitely hard to explain that in writing without having a conversation. We’ll integrate your well written description into the article so that people are (hopefully) LESS confused. Appreciate the feedback!

      -Ninja Team

  3. Kevin Hawkins on January 21, 2021 at 9:21 pm said:

    For us geriatrics, one of our MTB group ( 80 year old) fell 3-4 metres into a rocky creek bed after his front wheel slipped out from under him on a wet section of the trail. He was wearing a day pack on his back which contained rolled up rain jacket, heavy wool jersey, first aid kit, PLB etc. A retired medical practitioner was riding directly behind the victim. He said later that the small backpack took the main impact and saved the rider from more serious injuries. As it was the rider suffered two broken ribs and two cracked vertebra.
    I for one now carry a small day pack, mainly containing crumpled up rain jacket, crumpled up hi-vis jacket. a 20-25mm thick compressed polystyrene kneeling pad the same dimensions as my pack, first aid kit, safety goggles etc. etc. This pack has paid for itself on one occasion, when I was riding uphill on a narrow rough track, tree roots, loose gravel,small rocks etc. I had a solid left pedal strike and was thrown off my mtb to my right onto the downhill side. I rolled several times until I rolled into a pine tree trunk, and was extremely lucky the pack took the main impact. No damage to my back, but I ended up getting treatment at the A&E Department for a large hematoma to the right calf.
    I am old enough (74) to accept I am not bullet-proof, so am not too proud to wear my day pack at all times.
    Incidentally, all us geriatrics are on e-mtbs.

  4. Kyle Maul on January 21, 2021 at 11:59 pm said:

    Fanny packs on short rides can be handy. There are so many other options that shift that weight directly to the bike frame rather than to the rider’s frame, though. Much kinder to a rider’s kidneys in rough terrain, too.

    • Hi Kyle! Thank you for the feedback. Fanny packs certainly have their place for riding. If it’s a long ride, we’d definitely recommend taking ALL the essentials. First aid kit, extra clothing, food etc… typically, ALL of the things won’t fit in a fanny pack (and if they do, you’re correct, it is quite hard on the kidneys). We’re not recommending that all people ride with a fanny pack only, simply that for a short jaunt, fanny packs are still useful and will suffice for most things.

  5. Kenneth Thomas Coutant on January 25, 2021 at 2:02 pm said:

    If you are riding with a pack make sure all the pointy objects (multitool etc) are safely stowed. I believe I remember reading about a poor guy that landed on his back and the tool severed his spinal cord.

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