Remember, things will go wrong for you in a mountain bike race every now and then. That’s a given.
But it’s your attitude and the decisions you make when they do go wrong, that determine whether you can keep positive and pull yourself out of a difficult situation and soldier on to the end, or make things worse for yourself for the rest of the race, through poor choices and bad attitude.
Here are a couple of examples to show you that the decisions you make under pressure should not only solve your immediate problem, but should also limit or avoid causing you any more problems in the race, too.
Seeing Through the Mud
The first example happened while I was competing in a 4 lap cross country race on a really muddy and slippery course. And this isn’t the sloppy, watery mud that just drips off the bike. This was the sticky mud that flings up in chunks and sticks to everything on your bike, including your derailleurs, chain and gears,
And, because of all that mud I started getting massive chain suck by the third lap. Every time I shifted down to the granny ring my chain just wanted to wrap around my bottom bracket, and all the mud ruled out the two easiest rear gears as well. Not fun on a hilly course.
The chain did get stuck a few times, but it was only minor because I stopped pedaling soon enough before it got really jammed.
This Problem Got Me Thinking
I knew I needed to think of a solution that would help me avoid more chain suck. But at the same time it was tempting to say ‘stuff it’ and keep trying to ride in Granny gear. After all, the hills were steep and I needed easy gears right now!
But I kept calm and patient and thought about ‘the big picture’ – which was getting to the finish without having to stop for a mechanical. I thought about not only how I needed to adapt to the conditions, change my strategy and riding style to get me up these hills, but also what else I needed to do to get to the finish with the least amount of fuss.
So I came up with…
Instead of tempting fate and risking a snapped chain I realised the better option was to make do with the gear selections that worked. Sure the climbs were harder and slower and my legs burned and I lost time on the hills, and initially it may have seemed like the slower option, but I figured that had I kept going for granny I would have caused myself and my bike greater problems.
In the end I made it to the finish without any further chain suck problems, due in large part to keeping the ‘big picture’ in mind. I overcame the immediate problem of chain suck, and also avoided any further mud-induced shifting issues.
Sure, I was slower than normal up the hills, but I’m certain my solution still got me to the finish line quicker than if I had tried to stick in Granny and end up trailside repairing a chain.
As they say, ‘To succeed, first you must finish.’
Question: So how do you pedal like that without the risk?
Answer: Make sure your pedaling motion is smoother than normal.
- With clipless pedals pull up with your feet and around and push down to spread your pedal power through more of the revolution of the cranks each time you’re accelerating or climbing uphill – this will reduce the spike of power that most riders apply on each down stroke of the cranks – in turn reducing stress on your chain.
- Definitely don’t shift gears under load and when climbing, shift to the easier gear you want next, well before you need it.
- Take as much speed / momentum into every hill as possible, to get you as far up the hill as possible before you need to pedal.
- Uphill bursts of pedal power are one big way of asking for a snapped chain – so avoid doing that, too.
- And if the hills are too steep for these harder gears, or you find you can’t pedal a smooth motion, hop off and walk! Better to jog a few metres with the bike, than be sitting on the climb repairing a snapped chain!
Too Fast and You’ll be Slow
Everybody’s done this one! You’re a mountain biker who runs tubes. You get a flat tire during the race, so you pull over to fix the puncture or fit a new tube. And you’re annoyed. And you’re in a hurry.
Other competitors are passing you by and your repair seems to be taking so. Damn. Long. You fix the puncture, or install a new tube and start pumping the tire up. But,
You’re too impatient and too keen to get back in the race to worry about pumping the tire up to the pressure it really needs. You never give it a second thought, but you’ve only put about 15 p.s.i. into the tube. You swing a leg over your bike and rejoin the race.
Then What Happens?
Two minutes down the trail you get another puncture. Why? Because you didn’t spend that extra 30 or 40 seconds pumping your tire up to the appropriate pressure the first time.
Result: Another stop in the race that you didn’t really need to have, which has cost you even more minutes and race positions.
So how can you…
Stop This From Happening to You?
Lock this mountain biking tip in to your memory. Anytime you have a flat tire or a mechanical, during a race or not, take that extra little bit of time to do a thorough repair job.
Keep calm. Think it through. Do it right.
Choose the solution that will get you to the end. It may seem like the slower choice in the heat of the battle when the adrenaline is pumping, but the extra time you take to do a thorough job will be well worth it.
Pump the tire all the way up to the appropriate p.s.i. If you’re repairing the chain, link the chain properly. Did you need to remove a wheel? Secure the quick release properly. Did you have a crash and twist your handlebars? Take the extra half a minute to straighten your bars.
If you don’t spend that extra tiny bit of time there’s a damn good chance your impatience, shortcuts and bad decisions will come back to haunt you real soon. Maybe even just around the next corner!
Calm Pumper – Avoid a snapped valve stem under pressure by following Mountain Bike Racing Tip 12. It could save your next mountain bike race.
C02 for You – Carry a C02 adaptor and at least two C02 cartridges with you for your average 2 hour mountain bike race. Practice inflating a tire using CO2 at home before the race so that, come race day, you’ll recover from a puncture quicker and with far less fuss.
Mountain Bike Racing Tip 14 – The Video