Every mountain biker knows what it’s like: You start up a steep knoll, only to lose it halfway up. Your bike slides backwards, you slide with it and land in the dirt. Or, something’s blocking the trail and you have to dismount and walk your bike around, rather than bunny hop over it. Or, worse, you’re looking forward to a ride … but, oh no! You’ve got a flat tire!
Not to worry. Troy Michaud—a bike mechanic and former semi-pro mountain biker—has some easy solutions.
First, to power up a near-vertical hill, body position is key. Michaud says, “Get your body over the center of your bike. That’s a little forward of your saddle. Lean forward, but not too far, or you’ll lose rear traction. If you’re too far back, the bike will be too light and bog down. If the terrain is firm, stand up while pedaling for more power.”
If the bike starts to slide, lean more forward. However, should you lose it and have to hop off the bike, quickly squeeze a brake to keep it from rolling backwards.
Bunny-hopping the bike over an obstacle takes practice, which Michaud advises doing in your back yard or a grassy field. “I like to call it a ‘wheelie hop,’ because it starts as if you’re going to do a wheelie. Yank up on the front of the handlebars. Pull the front wheel up, and ‘flick’ the bike forward with your hands while thrusting your hips forward and lightening your feet on the pedals. Pedals should be horizontal and level with each other, but don’t press down on the pedals or your back wheel won’t come up,” he advises.
More of Michaud’s biomechanical tidbits: “Lean on the handlebars to get the back of the bike up. If you don’t have clipless pedals, wrap your foot around the pedal to get the back of the bike up.”
And now, here’s freedom from flats: Learn how easy it is to fix them yourself. You don’t need to buy a new tube each time or pay a bike shop. You can patch a tube in less than 10 minutes (though maybe not the first time you try it).
Michaud says, “A new tube is quicker, because there’s no glue-dry time. But it’s just a matter of taking the wheel off and using a tire lever ($1.99 at most shops) to strip one side of the tire off the rim. It’s a simple task to take a wheel off a bike; it’s either a quick-release or a bolt-on.”
One thing many people forget is that, once you have the tube out of the tire, you should run your fingers inside the tire to see what caused the flat and remove any debris. Pump up the tube and listen for the air coming out, draw a circle around the hole with a marker to make it easier to find, then deflate the tube. Rough up the hole area with a piece of sandpaper (one comes with patch kits, $5 at most shops). Put glue around the hole and on the underside of the patch, give it 30 seconds to dry, then press the patch on and give it a good squeeze. Let it dry for at least five minutes.
He also suggests watching one of the many online videos on fixing bike flats, or asking your shop to let you watch them fix a flat and explain what they’re doing. But, technology has come to patching a tube: you can now get glue-less patches that work almost like stickers. That eliminates another common problem: You’ve got the patch kit, you know how to fix the flat—but, dang it, your ride is on hold because your tube of glue is dried up and solid.