The Mountain Biker’s Motto
Being prepared while out on the mountain bike trail is an absolute must. While looking after your fellow biker is a central part of the ethos of mountain biking, presuming on the kindness of others is regarded as bad form. You should aim to be self-sufficient, and to this end we present a list of the essential mountain bike gear that you need to take on every ride.
A great rule of thumb is to pack mountain biking equipment relevant to how away from help you plan to be. There are a few important considerations you should also make regardless of the skill level of mountain biking that you plan to partake in.
1: Personal Protective Equipment
The first consideration is protective equipment in the shape of a standards-approved mountain bike helmet, full-finger gloves, and glasses. While we take issue with helmets being compulsory in Australia and New Zealand, mountain biking a risk activity and an appropriate helmet and gloves should be worn at all times. These help prevent small slips and tumbles from becoming something much more serious.
I like the Flux helmet and Sidewinder gloves from Fox. The Flux helmet provides extended coverage at the rear of the head, is well ventilated and is reasonably light, saving neck fatigue. It also fits the shape of my noggin nicely and comes with a set of replacement pads for free.
There is a wide selection available and any standards-compliant helmet of this style would be appropriate for most cross-country and trail riding. For Enduro, Downhill and Freeride gravity disciplines a full-face helmet with jaw protection becomes mandatory at UCI events, and a Leatt neck brace should be considered for additional peace of mind.
Everyone’s heads are different shapes, so rather than taking my recommendation as gospel I suggest buying in-store. This will allow you to try on different brands and see which is most comfortable for you.
The Sidewinder gloves fit the shape of my hand well, and are light and well ventilated enough for year-round use. Full fingers protect my fingertips in an off and the light Clarino™ palm improves the security of your grip on the bars and controls. This is especially important in hot conditions when perspiration can make things very slippery indeed, which would likely be a serious problem on rough terrain. These gloves remove that risk entirely.
Again, gloves are an individual thing so try on different brands and models and buy in store to ensure they are a match for the shape of your hand.
Eye protection and vision
Glasses protect your eyes from tree branches and insects as well as the drying effect of wind and slipstream. There is a wide variety of cycling specific eyewear available, including aftermarket lens manufacturers who provide prescription lenses.
I am currently riding with some prescription Shamir Attitude III photochromic lenses fitted to Oakley Flak 2.0 frames. The lenses respond quickly to ambient light conditions, adjusting between fully clear for night riding to mid-grey for bright sunshine. They cope well with the highly variable light conditions in forest singletrack and allow me to see the detail much better, especially at night under lights. They’ve taken a few hits from tree branches but so far remain unscratched.
2: Tool Kit Essentials
Despite the best preparation, it is inevitable at some stage that you’ll get a puncture, bend or break something on a ride. If you want to avoid a long and uncomfortable walk, the second necessity is to have a mountain bike specific tool kit. There are many options available and as a minimum you should have the following:
For short rides
1. Tyre levers x 3
2. Spare tube appropriate for your wheel and tyre size
For longer rides.
Where walking out might present a serious challenge, from experience you should add:
5. Spare chain quick-links
6. Your multi-tool should include a chain breaker
7. Small bottle of chain lube is wise
8. Spare derailleur hanger is a must
9. Extra spare tube, and tyre patch kit. IMPORTANT: Make sure the patch glue is still fluid.
10. CO2 chuck and gas bombs for faster reinflation on group rides
11. Lightweight electronic pressure gauge
12. Tyre boot in case of torn sidewall (not shown – a gel wrapper or polymer bank note will also suffice)
13. Swiss army knife or (preferably) a Leatherman. For non-Aussies, a Leatherman is like a Swiss army knife, but built into a pair of pliers)
14. Strong tape and cable ties
15. Referee’s whistle for summoning help is highly recommended and only weighs a few grams
With perhaps the exception of the inner tubes and pump can be clipped or taped on the bike. The rest should fit into a small satchel the size of a thick wallet and be easily contained in a jersey pocket.
3: Fuel and Hydrate Your Ride
A quick braap
Paying attention to fluid intake is essential. Dehydrated and out of energy is not a fun place to be. A secure frame frame bottle mount and specialised drink bottle (also known as a “bidon”) allows you to drink when needed as you ride without having to stop and unscrew a cap.
For trail rides longer than an hour I highly recommend a hydration backpack. Made famous by Camelbak, it serves as a backpack for carrying your toolkit and first aid kit, and carries a water bladder connected to drinking tube with a bite valve on the end. The tube and valve enables you to easily drink while riding with no spillage. They come in a variety of sizes from 1.5 litres of drinking water and up. My go-to pack is the M.U.L.E with a 3 litre bladder.
If you use carbohydrate and electrolyte mixes in your drink to fuel your ride, I recommend keeping that mix separate in drink bottles, and using the bladder for plain water, or plain water and electrolyte mixes only.
Carbohydrates feed bacteria growth. Once it starts in your bladder and drink tube it is next to impossible to properly clean. For longer self-supported rides I pack a couple of pre-filled bottles. These fit comfortably in the Camelbak M.U.L.E, and I swap with the one mounted on the bike as it is consumed.
As a bonus, your Camelbak will serve as a handy spine protector should you take a tumble.
4: First Aid Kit
The fourth consideration, for anyone planning on being active outdoors regardless of mountain biking or not, should be to have a well stocked first aid kit. Purchase a biker or hiker specific first aid kit that is purposefully designed to fit nicely in a small pack. Some fit under the seat or even in saddlebags. A well stocked first aid kit will contain antiseptic, pain reliever, tensor bandages, band-aids, silver foil emergency blanket or bag, and tweezers.
Despite the frequent appearance of slithery fanged things in the Australian bush, the occurrence of actual bites is thankfully quite rare. Most people know to leave snakes alone and give them plenty of room. Nevertheless you should make sure you are familiar with the Australian snakebite first aid protocol, which can be found here: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/snake-bites
5: Fully charged mobile phone
Do not do this – buy a separate GPS bike computer instead. Smartphone GPS systems suck battery charge really quickly regardless of whether the screen is active or not. The day you or a ride buddy have an off and need to call for help will be the day you ran out of battery on your phone on a long ride. Why? One word: fatigue.
Secondly, placing your phone on the bars where it is almost guaranteed to get smashed in a crash never seemed like a smart idea to me. Better to have it safely buried in your Camelbak, preferably wrapped in your rain shell. Mobile phones are an essential piece of emergency equipment.
GPS bike computers are pretty rugged little gadgets and will handle abuse much better while giving you the information you want to see, such as distance covered, time of day, and navigation prompts.
Why do I need this all this essential mountain bike gear?
All these pieces of equipment are designed to be light weight and easily stored in your Camelbak. Don’t take the risk of travelling far from help without them. Things do go wrong out on the trail and it’s a matter of when, not if. Being prepared with the above essential mountain bike gear makes dealing with them routine and unremarkable. They can save you having to make *that* phone call to your significant other to come and get you.
Naturally, if it is an actual snake bite or other medical emergency, get medical help straight away.
Is this information helpful? Have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments below.