How to mountain bike in mud

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Pros don't mind riding in mud, because they don't have to wash the bikes (Photo: Red Bull content pool)
Pros don't mind riding in mud, because they don't have to wash the bikes (Photo: Red Bull content pool)
  • Muddy trails can easily be ruined by you
  • And they can ruin your bike, too
  • There is a cheap fix, to make your winter riding, a lot more fun

Winter means mud. And for mountain bikers, that means fun. Or does it?

South Africa has mild winters, compared to most other mountain biking destinations, such as the Alps, Canada or New Zealand. That said, winter cold fronts make landfall here and driving rain creates muddy trails.

What is the best approach, to riding your mountain bike in winter? The first principle is to think of trail sustainability. Those handbuilt sections of singletrack, especially corners and climbs, are at their most vulnerable when soaked.

Mathias Flueckiger
Even the best, come unstuck, when trying to ride trails, that are too muddy (Photo: Red Bull content pool)

Don't ride on rainy days

A riding group, at the wrong time, can do a lot of trail damage, especially when ruts are baked into a state of near permanence, by a few days of sun.

The responsible thing is to be cautious and stay on gravel roads, and off singletrack, until landowners or trail builders have removed the hazard tape. Or given the go-ahead to ride.

But what about your bike? Mountain bikes can ride over rocks and land huge jumps, without strain, but they are vulnerable to mud, as it creates abrasion risk.

The drivetrain (cassette, chain chainring) and suspension components are most exposed. Riding in very muddy conditions will shorten the mechanical lifecycle of some rather expensive bits on your bike.

Mathias Flueckiger
Mathias Flueckiger is one of the world's best mountain bikers and even he uses a small front fender, on very muddy rides (Photo: Red Bull content pool)

Don't power wash your entire bike

Always wash your bike meticulously after a particularly muddy ride. Take time and wash your bike slowly and methodically, instead of trying to power-wash it quickly and doing damage.

Do not use a high-pressure washer everywhere, especially around suspension components or the bottom bracket.

All you will achieve is to clean surface mud, but also drive smaller bits of sediment deeper into mechanical components, where they can cause the most damage.

Mathias Flueckiger
This is the little bit of gear, that makes all the difference in winter, the humble clip-on front fender (Photo: Red Bull content pool)

Get a cheap fender

Is there an accessory that can make your muddy rides easier? Of course, there is: the humble fender.

At the recent Les Gets UCI mountain bike World Cup in France, even the most weight obsessed XCO riders, had fenders on their front forks.

Mountain bike tyres have large tread blocks, to give you grip in muddy conditions. These tread blocks also fling a lot of mud upwards, as the tyre rolls. The result is a downtube caked with mud (which adds weight to your bike) and the risk of mud flinging from below, into your eye.

Cheap and easy to fit, the fender deflects most of this mud stream and makes for a much better deep winter riding experience.

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