For many brave souls around the world, there's no better way to spend an afternoon (or morning or night for that matter) than attacking rock-strewn trails, climbing forbidding mountainsides and sending themselves screaming down steep debris-covered hills on nothing more than a mountain bike and a prayer.
Mountain biking is a great form of exercise that increases both strength and endurance, and it can be incredibly fun on top of that. Riders are able to commune with nature (sometimes chin-to-rock, at high speed), escape the hassles of everyday life and explore hard-to-reach areas that are well off the beaten path. In fact, mountain bikers don't even need a path; they just need an idea of where they'd like to make one.
But to enjoy the challenging sport of mountain biking, you'll need a few extra things other than a bike, balance and a touch of bravery. Mountain biking is an extreme sport, but that doesn't mean you have to suffer every single bump and jostle of it. Science, necessity and straight-up tinkering have yielded several advancements and additions to the sport, many of which no mountain biker should ride without. Of course, you could go without the extras, but you probably wouldn't choose to do so twice. After trying them out, accessories that increase comfort, performance and safety may become necessities for you.
There is some risk involved when careening around the woods on two human-powered wheels. You can hurt parts of yourself that you didn't even know came along for the ride. You can get lost, caught in the dark or run out of water. You can spend the day trying to repair or replace a series of busted tire tubes, or become despondent upon realizing you started your ride without the necessary equipment to do so.
Let's face it: If you were the sort who thought things all the way through, you probably wouldn't be putting yourself at risk of going airborne over your handlebars by knowingly speeding down a secluded path littered with rocks, roots and low-hanging tree limbs. But worry not, we're going to learn about some accessories that can protect you, boost your fun and take your mountain biking experience to the next level.
First, we'll discuss accessories relating to something there is no risk of having too much of while hurtling down a mountain on a bicycle: comfort.
Mountain Bike Comfort Accessories
You don't have to be a professional downhill racer to know that a little riding can lead to a lot of bicycle-seat soreness. Mountain bikers who go for shorter rides may be no worse for wear, but for those who are going on long-distance rides, the discomfort caused by too much time in the saddle can be nearly unbearable. Also, the inevitable presence of sweat and friction is going to lead to some major chafing. The answer: cycling shorts (or, for winter riding, padded tights). Cycling shorts have pads in the crotch area that greatly alleviate the discomfort of riding and help prevent chafing. Men's and women's shorts have different padding designs, so be sure to choose gender-appropriate apparel.
Instead of stopping to access a backpack each time a rider wants to grab a single bottle of water (or taking hands off handlebars to access water from the frame-mounted water cage holds one bottle at a time), a mountain biker's water needs can be better met on the fly by using a hydration backpack that allows the rider to wear a specially designed pack with a large water-bag insert. This can be worn over or under a shirt. Hydration packs generally carry 3 liters (about 3 quarts) of water at a time. A tube with a drinking nozzle that winds its way from the back of the pack over the shoulder and down the front of the shoulder strap makes it possible to re-hydrate without needing to divert your hands, which have important matters of their own to tend to on the handlebars.
Finally, comfort comes in the form of peace-of-mind when you utilize a GPS satellite navigational system in your mountain-biking gear. GPS systems come in a variety of forms (wristwatches, smart phones and bicycle-mounted systems) and are more reliable than a long trail of bread crumbs when your extreme ride has left you extremely lost.
Next: Nothing prevents tires from going flat, unless of course your tire incorporates modern materials normally used for stopping bullets.
Mountain Bike Performance Accessories
Whether you're just getting started on a mountain bike or you're well accustomed to grinding up earth, navigating narrow passes and performing double-jumps, these mountain bike performance accessories can greatly increase the quality of your riding.
There are plenty of options when it comes to mountain biking shoes, but spending a little extra on high-performance shoes with carbon fiber soles will provide for better heel-hold on the pedal, increased support and more efficient pedaling.
Riding over debris, rocks and especially broken glass is standard-issue mountain biking, and it leads to plenty of punctured tubes. When you get tired of replacing your flat tube for the thousandth time, you may want to upgrade your tire, which protects the tube, with a Kevlar tire. Kevlar, a synthetic fiber that is five times stronger than steel, can be used to provide your tire with an armor-like sub-tread. Riding over shards of glass and craggy rocks with a Kevlar tire won't result in the frequent blowouts that occur with regular tires. Some riders report going a year or more without any flats, meaning these more expensive tires will pay for themselves down the road as you have to replace fewer tubes. But best of all, when you face a daunting stretch of jagged terrain, you'll be able to push forward with the confidence that your tubes will live to see another day.
If you don't have Kevlar tires, you better get your hands on a trail repair kit. When you bust a flat, this essential accessory will come in handy quite often as you use some of the kit's standard components -- spare tube, pump, patching kit and a multi-functional tire tool.
Fenders cover the tops of the wheels and keep water and mud from splashing, spraying, soaking and blinding you as you disobey your mother's lifelong demands by playing in mud puddles
While not the most exciting accessory, you can't forget to re-energize yourself during your ride by packing along some energy bars. On average, a 145-pound rider can burn upwards of 560 calories per hour of hard riding, so you'll need to reintroduce nutrients and calories to your body to maintain peak performance capabilities.
Now that we're comfortable and performing at high speeds on poorly marked trails, we should learn a little about some of the safety accessories featured on the next page.
Mountain Bike Safety Accessories
You shouldn't go mountain biking before obtaining some or all of the following safety accessories:
Bike helmets. Head injuries sustained from mountain biking can result in permanent brain damage, making helmets an essential safety accessory. Ideally, your bike helmet will be a certified, snug-fitting helmet. Some helmets are pre-fit, while others have adjustable settings and straps.
Helmets are very lightweight and surprisingly sturdy. Most helmets run from $75-$125, though high-end helmets are more expensive. There are two types of mountain bike helmet: open face and closed face.
Open-face helmets cover only the top of the head, with the lower edge generally resting just above the ear. They have numerous openings or vents in the helmet surface to allow the air to dry your sweaty head. The inner liner is made of Expanded Polystyrene, a lightweight material that can absorb shock well. The liner is often reinforced with nylon, steel mesh or other materials, and then covered in a plastic shell.
Closed-face helmets protect the rider's full face from the top of the head to below the chin. These helmets have pull-down visors or eye shields, but can limit peripheral vision and range of motion.
Your hands are tough and useful, but not so much when it comes to planting them at high speed in the rocky, craggy ground. Mountain bike gloves generally range in price from $20-$50 and are loaded with protective padding. Each finger generally has its own padding, with extra for the thumbs.
Your head's got a helmet, your hands have gloves, but after those surfaces strike the ground, you're going to roll and when you do, you'll be glad you're wearing arm pads and leg pads. A variety of different pads are available to protect your knees, elbows, shins and forearms.
You might also want to invest in upper and lower body protection. An assortment of padded pants and "armored" shirts will help protect you during nasty spills on the trail. These garments come with many options for padding placement, type of padding (soft foam or hard shell) and options for shirts with or without padded sleeves.
In case you're still riding when the sun goes down (by accident or by design), a variety of bike lights are available. These allow you not only to see where you're going, but also to be seen by other hikers, bikers, ATVs and cars. These LED bike lights are powered by small battery packs that attach to the frame of the bike.
Mountain bike accessories add plenty of fun, comfort and safety to your riding experience. For lots more information about mountain bike accessories and mountain biking in general, please see the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Bartlett, Jim. "Mountain Bike Protective Gear Guide." (Dec. 22, 2009)http://wrcc-in.org/resources/Wabash_Mountain_Bike_article%5B1%5D.htm
- Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. "How Bicycle Helmets are made." (Dec. 22, 2009)http://www.bhsi.org/howmade.htm
- Bike Magazine. "Accessories." (Dec. 22, 2009)http://www.bikemag.com/gear/accessories/
- Donaldson, Doug. Bicycling Magazine's Guide to Bike Touring: Everything You Need to Know to Travel Anywhere on a Bike. Rodale, 2005. ISBN 1579548628, 9781579548629.http://books.google.com/books?id=xyQhru7JJTUC&dq=mountain+bike+accessories&source=gbs_navlinks_s
- Liberty Bicycles. "Essential Accessories for Road and Off-Road Biking." (Dec. 22, 2009)http://libertybikes.com/articles/accessories-increase-your-riding-fun-pg50.htm
- Van der Plas, Rob. Mountain Bike Maintenance: Repairing and maintaining the off-road bicycle. MBI Publishing Company, 1994. ISBN 0933201656, 9780933201651.http://books.google.com/books?id=A7l-GdYX5RgC&dq=mountain+bike+accessories&source=gbs_navlinks_s
- Weiss, Chris. "Mountain Bike Safety Gear." Trails.com. (Dec. 22, 2009)http://www.trails.com/list_1509_mountain-bike-safety-gear.html
- XSportsProtective.com. "How to Choose a Mountain Bike Helmet." (Dec. 22, 2009)http://www.xsportsprotective.com/mountain-bike-helmets.html