Mountain Biking in the Rain

There are only a few trails in Texas that stay open when it is raining or wet. Our soil just doesn’t drain well and riding in the mud can create hours of work for trail stewards and landowners. Trail managers like bike clubs and landowners determine when to “open” trails. Sometimes, races are scheduled, rain is in the forecast, and landowners say, “The race is on!” We’ve put together a few tips and tricks to have an awesome time, rain or shine!

Be a good trail steward

  • Ride straight through mud puddles! Riding around them makes the trail wider and can make the trail take longer to dry out.
  • Always check the trail status before you head out to ride. Most trails in Texas are closed when muddy. If in doubt, don’t ride wet or muddy trails.
  • Take extra caution when riding over roots, rocks, and other obstacles on wet trails – they can be surprisingly slick!

Throwback to a muddy 2015 Texas NICA race at Bluff Creek Ranch.

Dress for the Rain

  • Layering: Dress in layers to regulate body temperature and stay comfortable. Start with a moisture-wicking base layer to keep sweat away from the skin, add insulating layers for warmth, and top it off with a waterproof outer shell. WARNING: Most waterproof shells can get STEAMY. Use them for pre-ride and for waiting around in staging, but unless it is cold out, they probably won’t do much good during your race.
  • Eye Protection: Wear clear or tinted cycling glasses to shield your eyes from rain, mud, and debris kicked up from the trail. Visibility can be reduced during rainy conditions, so ensure your vision remains clear throughout the ride. It is a proven fact (by me, Kim) that the moment you remove your glasses, a splat of mud will land in your eyeball. That said, if it is super muddy, you may have to remove your glasses or stop to clean them off.
  • Gloves: Water is slippery! A good pair of gloves and handlebar grips will keep you keep your grip even when it is raining cats and dogs!
  • Shoes: Your feet are going to get wet. And muddy. Sometimes your feet will feel like they are swimming in their shoes. It is a weird feeling. If weather permits, wearing really thin socks can help prevent your shoes/socks from holding a gallon of water. Otherwise… embrace the squish and keep riding!
  • A cycling cap worn under the helmet can keep falling rain off your glasses better than the visor will. 
  • A change of clothes: If you have to ride again soon, or even the next day, don’t count on your clothes or shoes drying out in time. Bring an extra pair so you can at least start dry.

Rainy Day Equipment

  • Fenders!
  • Zip Lock bag for your phone/keys
  • Lube your chain with something designed to shed mud, not dust (mostly what we use here is wax-based for dust). These are typically called ‘Wet” lubes. Squirt’s long-lasting lube or Bontrager wet lube are both good options.  
  • A wider, more aggressive, higher volume front tire (or both tires) isn’t necessary, but can also help.

After a muddy ride

Sometimes riding in the rain and mud is inevitable. There are a few things you can do to help make life easier afterward.

  • Find a bike wash! First things first, get that bike rinsed off! All the sand and dirt just got crammed into the nooks and crannies of your bike and a quick spray right after the ride will get them out while things are still wet and loose. Once it dries, it will be much much harder to get all the little parts clean. Think of your poor bottom bracket!
  • Pack plastic bags/bins: Get out of those cold, yucky layers as soon as you can! Plan to have somewhere to toss your dirty clothes/shoes. A plastic bag works just fine (maybe have a few layers!) but we also love a plastic bin. This allows us to walk our dirty clothes over to the bike wash and rinse them out like we were doing the dishes!
  • Dry out your shoes: It is pretty rare to have 2 pairs of cycling shoes. Your best bet is to pull the insoles out of your shoes and find a ceramic heater to place them in front of in an attempt to dry them out. #protip: putting them over the fire isn’t the best… your shoes will smell smokey for months and your chance of melting something is high…. (Do as I say, not as I do!)

Rainy Day Mountain Bike Skills

We talked with Austin High’s Head Coach, Thad Williams for some tips and tricks for riding in wet/muddy conditions:

  • Maintenance of speed/proper shifting is of utmost importance when riding in slick conditions. Being in too big of a gear will cause slip-outs and too small of a gear won’t maintain momentum to allow you to carry through sticky/slow spots.
    • Coaches – cover shifting this week in practice. The golden rule is ‘be in a gear you can accelerate from’. 
  • Embrace the fact you’re not going to be 100% in control. The bike will move underneath you, keep your arms loose, and elbows supple, and allow the bike to move within reason. Clenching and trying to force a line will end badly.
    • Coaches – cover body-bike separation this week. It’s very important when the bike is being pushed around by slick roots and unseen rocks. You need to be decoupled from your seat if you want to ride conditions like that smoothly.  
  • Line choice is important. Approach slick roots at a 90-degree angle. If you can’t, you must punch or pop it, a 30-60 degree root will take your bike with it. This is important for roots on uphills, flats, and downhills. Athletes need to lift BOTH front and back tires to be 100% unaffected by the obstacle.
    • Coaches – this week include techniques for punching/popping over something curb-high WITHOUT touching the curb. Both front and back tires. If you get the front over but not the back you won’t fall but you’ll still put a foot down. And reminder less experienced riders that it is always okay to walk difficult sections.

Finally….enjoy the gnar!