Top Ten Accessories for Mountain Biking
By Nathan Ray and the Crofton Bike Doctor Team
I’m not a big fan of water bottles or seat bags on mountain bikes. Water bottles end up mud- and dust-covered, and seat bags have a tendency to rattle around on rough terrain. Pack hydration systems from companies such as Camelbak and Hydrobak are a great solution to both of these problems. Camelbak does a great job for mountain bikers with their mid-range Rogue model. It holds 70 ounces of water and has enough storage for all the repair essentials plus some gels or bars. I can also fit a lightweight jacket or long sleeve jersey into the main pocket, allowing more ability to layer for changing conditions.
These are my favorite mountain bike grips. Ourys are a classic because their simple pattern helps them last a long time. They have enough padding to take the sting out of rock gardens, even on my rigid singlespeed, while being compact enough to allow me to grip the bars securely and maintain smooth control. Lock-ons are a big upgrade over standard grips as well: not only do they eliminate “throttle grip” twisting, but they make it easier for me to work on my bike at home, since they can be removed easily to make adjustments or swap parts.
Riding bikes off-road gets them dirty. Clean bikes work better and last longer. Pedro’s Green Fizz is a great spray-on cleaner that allows bikes to be easily cleaned without soap and water. It cuts through grease and mud and then wipes off, making it easy to stay on top of making sure your bike and components stay clean.
Saddles are a matter of personal preference, but they are unquestionably a very important part of bike spec, because the right saddle will make it more comfortable and fun to ride. A mountain bike-specific saddle can often be a good upgrade over the basic stock saddle on many bikes: it will be lighter and more durable for the rigors of off-road riding. Bontrager’s Evoke series works great for me. Its flat profile makes it easy to shift position for climbs and descents, and it holds up well when the bike gets crashed and leaned up against rocks and trees. I ride the RXL, the lightest version, but the mid-level RL (which comes stock on many Trek mountain bikes) is a more value-priced saddle with similar features and shape, but is heavier.
Derailleur adjustments can be hard to dial in on mountain bikes that see a lot of use. With traditional cables and housing, there is a tendency for dust and grime to build up inside the housing and prevent the cable from moving smoothly, keeping the bike’s shifting from working the way it should. Gore’s Sealed Ride-On Cables are a fantastic upgrade for anyone’s mountain, cross or commuter bike, because the sealed, pre-lubricated system keeps the cables moving smoothly inside the housing and the shifting crisp and precise.
Just about all mountain bikers can tell you a story about a time a ride was interrupted by a broken chain. Even if yours is installed correctly, lubricated well and replaced before it gets too worn, chances are your riding partners can’t all say the same. Invest in a compact chain tool to put in that Camelbak to save yourself the walk back to the trailhead. Pedro’s Six Pack works great and also includes a few other useful tools for making adjustments or tightening parts that loosen up: spoke wrenches, 5mm hex and flat-head screwdriver.
Wool socks are great for mountain biking. They manage moisture well and continue to insulate when wet, so for cooler spring and fall rides with stream crossings they are really important. The Blaze socks from Defeet are one great example of a mid-weight, cycling-specific merino wool sock with light cushioning and variable zones for supporting your foot and wicking away moisture. I reach for these when gearing up for cool and cold weather mountain bike rides.
Long-finger gloves can be great for keeping your hands from getting banged up by branches that hang over the trail, and protecting your palms in a fall. The Dirtpaw from Fox is a great value and a good fit. It is ventilated enough to be comfortable even in summer riding and is excellent for cross-country or all-mountain riding. Those doing downhill or freeride should look to something with more protection, but for most of our customers the Dirtpaw is a great blend of protection, comfort and value.
There are a lot of good options for mountain bike tires on the market, and a well-chosen tire that is a good match for the conditions you ride in can be one of the most effective upgrades for any bike. For me, Continental’s Mountain King is a great tire for the mix of grippy dirt and rocks that I usually ride. It is available in 2.2 and 2.4 widths, and they both provide lots of cornering grip and traction in all but really wet conditions. I like running the big 2.4 in front to help smooth out the ride on my rigid 29er, but the 2.2 is a faster-rolling choice for smooth, dry courses. Finding the perfect tire for you can take some experimenting, but the time and expense is definitely worthwhile once you find the right one.
Our go-to lube for mountain bikers, Syn Lube is thick enough to hold up through stream crossings and muddy conditions. It makes a bike’s chain run smoothly and quietly. Choosing lube is a bit like tires, though: the right choice for you is dependent on conditions. Syn Lube works well for me most of the time, but on a really dusty ride it can attract some dirt, so it should be reapplied and wiped down afterwards. If dry and dusty are usually the conditions you ride in, you may be better suited with a thin lube like Pedro’s Go! Lube or one that leaves a waxy coating (the only choice here for us is Boeshield T-9). Try a couple types and figure out what is right for you.