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From Must Haves – To – Good to Know: Gear Essentials for any MTB Stage rider

From Must Haves – To – Good to Know: Gear Essentials for any MTB Stage rider

Either new to mountain biking, or thinking of upgrading your bike? The thought of buying expensive equipment can be a daunting prospect. It doesn’t have to break the bank though, as long as you know what the gear essentials are.

Gear Essentials
Sabie Xperience 2022 – Sabie Xperience 2022

Google any aspect of apparel basics and gear essentials and you’re bound to find hundreds of in-depth articles about the right in-sole for your cleats. We’ve condensed the advice with links for further reading to help you prepare for your next (or first) MTB Stage Race.

First things first – The bike.

There are many factors to consider when choosing the right bike – the frame, suspension, and tire size, to name a few, which will all be influenced by:

  • Your budget
  • The type of riding you want to do
  • Your level of experience

There are many articles that go into the nitty-gritty details, but we’ll sum up a few important aspects to consider. Starting with top 3 components of your Bike:

1. SUSPENSION

As a gear essential you start with you suspension of your bike as the structure used to shield you from the bumps on uneven terrain.

Mountain bikes have two types of suspension, hardtail and full suspension.

  • Hardtail bikes have suspension forks on the front wheels only. They’re generally lighter bikes and a good choice if you ride mostly smooth trails, need a low maintenance bike, and have a tight budget.
  • Full suspension bikes have suspension forks on both wheels. They’re on the pricier side of the scale and are a good option for riders who enjoy faster, more technical terrain.

2. THE FRAME

There are four main options for bike frames – aluminum, titanium, steel, and carbon fibre.

Aluminum

They’re lighter than steel, are durable and less prone to rust, have less slack on a ride and therefore allow for more speed on smoother rides, and are more affordable than most other materials.

Aluminum frames are a good option if you’re starting out, don’t know the type of terrain you prefer (or are leaning towards smoother trails), or have a tight budget.

Titanium

Titanium bikes are lightweight, corrosion-resistant, have a smooth ride-feel, and are stronger than aluminum. They’re also very durable and can survive rough terrain better than most.

The only downside to all this durability and ride quality? The cost. They’re expensive but worth it if you’re a serious rider with a serious budget.

Carbon fibre

Carbon fibre mountain bikes offer a lot in the way of a lightweight bike with a focus on ride quality and comfort – they’re built for speed and strength.

They’re made of a combination of carbon fibres and resin, the latter being susceptible to wear and tear after a while. They have great shock absorption so are a good choice for technical rides.

These bikes come with a hefty price tag and are a good option if you’re a serious mountain biker with your eyes on the prize.

3. WHEEL SIZES

Tyres are all about durability, weight, traction, and brake control. They come in three main sizes that are also dependent on the type of riding you do and the terrain you’re in – 26”, 27.5”, and 29” (note that wheel size is the diameter).

The size of your bike frame will generally determine the best-sized tyre, so bear that in mind.

  • In a nutshell, 26” tyres are good for tighter movements and smoother terrain. Think trick bikes, jumping, freeriding, and kids’ bikes.
  • 27.5” tyres (closer to 27”) are a popular choice for most riders thanks to their versatility. They’re the best choice for a smaller bike and are good at maneuvering over obstacles and speeding down slopes. 
  • 29” tyres are great for stability, traction, and a smoother ride over obstacles and tight corners. They’re heavier than their counterparts and are a good choice for big bike frames. 29ers, as they’re affectionately called, are great for beginners and pros for a variety of races and trails.

Just remember, a bigger wheel means more ground cover, more grip, and less acceleration.

Gear Essentials
Gear Essentials
Gear Essentials

The outfit

If you’re new to the scene you might be wondering what you would even wear to a party like this? There are a few basic clothing items that you could purchase to help you look the part:

1. Shorts

Not all superheroes wear capes and not all mountain bikers wear tight unforgiving shorts that leave nothing to the imagination.

There is a wide variety to choose from to make you feel comfortable and give you the protection and range of motion that you need.

Always opt for a mesh/chamois inner layer with a reinforced crotch to add an extra layer between you and discomfort in places you never imagined. You’ll thank us later.

Some riders choose to only wear the chamois layer or full-body liner underneath their vest, but baggier riding shorts are making more of an appearance as an outer layer. The choice is totally up to you.

When buying your shorts, consider:

  • Water-repellent technology to wick sweat away
  • Padding in the crotch
  • Pockets and storage space
  • Length (over the knee might restrict your movements)
  • Cooling and anti-tear fabric
  • Adjustability for size and comfort
  • The fly (majority says stick to zippers if you can and to avoid Velcro at all costs)

Lastly, choose whatever is going to make you feel comfortable.

2. Jerseys/Vests

Mountain biking jerseys need the same consideration as shorts, with a few added necessities thrown in.

They can be tight and form-fitting or loose and slightly baggier.

MTB jerseys and vests are made with tough, breathable fabric, with most being heat and moisture resistant.

The type of fabric you choose and the features available all impact the price of the garment, but don’t stress because there are many affordable options to choose from.

If you’re new to the sport, or you’re just riding for fun, consider any options that suit your budget and style.

Shirts range from vests to long sleeves and every length in between. Look for something with a breathable fabric and a longer hem at the back to prevent it from riding up.

Bibs are a great choice for recreational riders and seasoned pros. They’re padded and made of light breathable fabric that keeps moisture off the skin, they have straps that keep the shorts in place and prevent your midriff from being exposed during a ride, they’re also more comfortable because they don’t have tight waistbands around your midsection. Just throw your jersey on over it (and a pair of looser shorts if you want) and you’re ready to go.

One of the cons of wearing a bib is the extra fabric. It can make your ride a hotter experience than normal, although in winter that can be a plus. The shoulder straps could also become an irritation, especially for women who have bra straps to contend with as well.

3. Gloves

Your gloves can either be half-finger or full-fingered, depending on your preference and riding style.

Gloves should be padded and offer protection against the elements and the inevitable instance of the ground meeting your knuckles.

Improvements in design and technology mean gloves now come with odor resistant and breathable material, as well as touch screen capabilities, so you can use your phone without having to remove them.

Gloves protect your hands from chafing, weather, accidents, as well as prevent a slippery grip due to sweat.

If you’re a recreational rider or just starting, buying a good pair of gloves will make all the difference to your riding experience.

4. Shoes

Clipless vs Flats

Mountain biking and road cycling shoes come in two main categories: clipless and flats.

We won’t beat around the bush, proper shoes can be pricey, but worth it! As they say, the shoes maketh the man. As we say, proper riding shoes preventeth the blisters.

Clipless shoes are named after the fact that the pedals on the bike don’t have a toe clip and strap as they used to in the past. So, the fact that you do clip into your pedal might make the name seem a bit confusing.

Clipless shoes come with cleats that are recessed into the shoe, so they’re comfortable to walk in as well.

The benefit of cleats is more control and more power in your pedal. When your foot is ‘attached’ to the pedal you’re using the upward pulling motion as well as the downward force to gain momentum.

Cleats might seem scary at first, the fear of not being able to dislodge your foot from the pedal while you see your life flash before your eyes is a vision, we’ve all had at some point. But with practice, you can learn to attach and detach your shoes with ease.

Flats are shoes that have no cleats and don’t clip into the pedal. They’re a good option if you haven’t found your footing yet, so to speak.

If you’re riding cross-country or stage races we’d recommend going for a sturdy, robust shoe with a thicker sole that can take a beating on the tracks, although most shoes can be worn across all mountain biking disciplines.

MTB

Last but not least – The Helmets

Helmets are a no-brainer for your brainer..

As you’ve probably guessed by now, the type of helmet you choose will depend on the riding you want to do.

Most (if not all) helmets come with standard features and functions that involve fit, form, ventilation, and weight. These days you’d be spoiled for choice when it comes to fancy features.

You can expect to find two main types of bicycle helmets, namely a full face and a half-shell.

  • Full face helmets look like this:
Gear Essentials

They’re the preferred choice for riders who need maximum protection in Enduro and BMX races and sometimes dangerous downhills.

  • Half-shell helmets are great for general cross-country and trail races.

The best way to find the right sized helmet is to measure the circumference of your head, horizontally just above your eyebrows. That will give you a good indication of the size to go for when using the size guide (find a great one here for everything).

All helmets come with adjustable chin straps as well as a fit adjuster at the back of the helmet to secure it nicely to your noggin.

They’re designed to allow airflow over your head to prevent heat exhaustion and most good quality helmets come standard with anti-concussion technology.

Well folks, there you have it! A summarized version of what to look for in your gear essentials when you don’t know what you’re looking for.

The options really are endless when it comes to kitting out for a race. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or don’t know where to start, use what you have and build your kit piece by piece.

Having fun on a ride is directly influenced by how you feel – the right accessories can have a huge impact on your race-day confidence.

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