Living elevated takes on the full suspension world of mountain biking in this week’s blog. Tom Herzfeld, department head of seasonal sports at the Sport Chalet in West Jordan, Utah, and an extreme mountain biker himself, gives his top tips for beginner to extreme mountain bikers.
Are you a full suspension kind of mountain biker?
When you’re looking for the right tool for your off-road ride, Herzfeld says you want to buy the best bike for your needs. The first step in finding the best bike is deciding what you’ll be using it for. Are you planning on riding the fairly smooth trails around the Salt Lake area, or are you looking for a more intense terrain? Do you need full suspension or are you more of a front-suspension-only kind of
rider? While all mountain bikes are built for off-road terrain and come standard with front shocks and knobby tires that help prevent mud build-up, some posses more intense features for an advanced ride.
If you’re planning on getting into some wild terrain, you may want to look into a bike that includes rear suspension. A full suspension bike will add weight and cost, but it’s definitely worth it if you’re riding in more aggressive or advanced terrain.
Depending on terrain, Herzfeld also recommends checking your saddle height. If your saddle is too low, you’re going to lose a lot of power and eventually wear out your knees. But if you’re riding in steep or nasty terrain, lowering your saddle makes getting off the bike easier and also lowers your center of gravity. He recommends checking your bike for a quick release lever under the saddle. Most mountain bikes come with one and it makes adjusting your saddle simple without the use of tools. You also want to ensure that your saddle is at the proper level for your inseam. You should be able to fully extend your leg at the bottom of the pedal travel in most cases.
Whether you’re a beginner mountain biker or a more advanced rider, Herzfeld has recommendations for you. If you’re new to mountain biking it can be intimidating biking in a place with a lot of extreme riders. He recommends taking it easy. Ride around your neighborhood to get a feel for the bike; don’t feel like you have to take your bike straight to the mountains.
Find some gentle hills or even campground paths if you really want to get the feel of the mountain terrain. You’ll find Corner Canyon in the Draper area a great place to ride and it’s suitable for all levels with its mild grade and fairly wide-open space. It’s nothing too demanding or challenging. You’ll still get a little climb, but you can’t really get lost. Germania Park is another great area and has the distinction of being open year-round. It rarely gets snow, but when it does, it melts fairly quickly. There is no climbing, other than a few brief 20-yard segments. It’s a great place for beginners. Mill Creek Canyon’s Pipeline trail is a great bike trail for advanced beginners and more intermediate riders. If you’re looking for an intense ride, Moab is where the wild things go! Just make sure you get a trail map.
These are the brakes
Herzfeld says the important thing with mountain biking is to get familiar with the brakes. Mountain bikes have an interesting brake system that is really simple to understand, but can become an issue if you don’t know how to use them properly. The left brake is your front brake and the right brake is your rear brake. Here’s a riddle: What brake wouldn’t you grab on a descent? Answer: The left. A front brake on a descent will throw you over your handlebars. Herzfeld says when in doubt, use both, and practice repeating, “right is rear”! If you think you’re going to be committed to the sport, you’re also going to want to buy a bike with disc brakes. Disc brakes, like suspension, are almost becoming standard. Herzfeld sees disc brakes on bikes that are around $400 now, when only a couple of years ago he says you wouldn’t see disc breaks on any mountain bike under $800.
The Tire Controversy
Another important tip when riding a mountain bike: getting to know your tire options! Herzfeld says it can be argued that you don’t need rear suspension with the new trend in mountain bike tires. 29-inch wheels are now available alongside the standard 26-inch wheels. The bigger wheels, in some cases, alleviate the need for rear suspension, because they roll over terrain easier than their smaller counterparts. If you don’t want to spend the extra money and want to avoid the added weight rear suspension adds, look into buying a bike with 29-inch wheels instead of 26. Herzfeld says if you’re really into the sport, the Holy Grail could be buying a bike with full suspension and 29-inch wheels. Again, you need to look at what you’re going to be using the bike for, because 29-inch wheels are never going to be optimal for downhill racing. Not yet at least. If racing is your purpose, you’ll want to stick with smaller wheels, which are stronger and more maneuverable. A
smaller wheel will also be better for really narrow paths with a lot of switchbacks. Even with all the controversy over which wheel is best, Herzfeld thinks a 29-inch wheel is going to give immediate advantages over a 26-inch wheel for most people.
Mountain Bikes are for Mountains
Herzfeld does not recommend buying a mountain bike if you’re planning to ride it on the pavement. Obviously you can, but there are better bikes suited for commuting and general riding around in the neighborhood. Mountain bikes are very specific to nasty off-road trails. In Herzfeld’s words, mountain bikes “just aren’t the best tool for the job” if you’re riding on pavement. Mountain bikes will give you a slower, noisier ride on pavement. A good way to see the efficiency is to look at bike tire psi. Mountain bike tires are inflated to about 30-40 psi, whereas road bikes get inflated up to 110 psi.
If you’re looking for all-terrain bikes, a hybrid may be your best bet, Herzfeld says. They fit a huge variety of riders. If you don’t want to make the commitment to a road bike and don’t need an aggressive off-road tool with knobby tires and full suspension, the hybrid is the best of both worlds. It’s the in-between bike. Hybrids are a lot more comfortable and give you an upright riding position. According to Herzfeld, one of the top reasons people quit biking is due to the back and neck strain. The hybrid offers adjustable angling for the handlebars and a lot of them come standard with front suspension.
Herzfeld says it’s not for jumping off cliffs, but it does provide a filter. It helps with potholes, curbs, or whatever else you might encounter. Some hybrids even come with a little shock absorbing in the seat, which makes it more comfortable. This is a good category to look at if you don’t need all the features of a mountain bike and you don’t want to make the sacrifices for a pure road bike.
Herzfeld says it really just depends on where you’re going and what kind of terrain you’re going to be in. He recommends carrying the same survival gear you take on a long hike. If you’re riding in the city park, you don’t need all that. His biggest tip is figure out what your needs are and go from there.