Don't let the end of summer fool you into hanging up your bike too soon. Fall is a fabulous time to dial in mountain bike technique, and gear. In fact, it's one of the best times for budget-conscious bikers because everything is on sale – and there's still cycling stuff left in stock.
To hone in your search, try breaking down what mountain bike apparel and accessories you really need this season by sheer comfort. Focus on those bike-meets-body pressure points: hands, rear, and feet.
Prioritize purchases by what hurts most in these three areas. If you're lucky, it's nothing. But if you're like most mountain bikers who put in miles, one of these pressure points is probably screaming right about now.
My top picks are grips and gloves to soothe overworked hands; chamois and saddles to take the edge off of scabbed sit bones; and socks and shoes to make pedaling less painful over the long fall haul.
Hands: Gloves and Grips
Mountain bikers struggle with several issues when wrapping dynamic hands around static handlebars, with the addition extra weight and constriction on prolonged downhills. Over time, many off-road cyclists will experience pain, tingling, or complete numbness that could be related to several factors like improper gripping motion, misaligned or misfit handlebars, or cheap and worn grips or gloves.
Moving to the one-fingered grip is one solution worth trying that gives you better braking anyway. Another is getting all the ergonomic elements at the hand pressure point to line up and play well together.
Mountain biking gloves are an incredibly personal purchase. My ride-obsessed husband's glove quiver, for example, is well into double-digits. His hands get cold, so he needs full-fingered gloves nearly year-round.
On the other hand, mine are always hot. I can wear a padded fingerless gloves in temperatures well below the norm, because I sweat through my hands like I sweat through my head. That's just me.
However you like your gloves, get a good pair or two to add a pressure-relieving barrier between your soft tissue and hard bars. Experiment with ergonomic and gender-specific fits. Try the gloves with gel. See which ones don't stink up if you're a profuse sweater. But find a pair that's personalized.
Then move on to grips. There are lots of options here, too, but most component manufacturers have realized a pressure-relieving grip can make magic at this heavily weighted point of contact between the body and the bike.
Ergon is one brand that's been leading this charge. Its next-generation super-fit grip works in to disperse pressure and away from sensitive nerves while shifting rider's wrists into a neutral position to align the big nerves.
There are a number of brands achieving this pressure relief in their own ways. If cost is no consideration, you might like Revolution Suspension Grips' Pro Series. For a basic but solid solution, Wolf Tooth Components Fat Paws are smart choice. Trial until you find what works for you.
Rear End: Chamois and Saddles
In the same way you need a “smart” cushion between your hands and bars, your rear end will thank you for finding the right chamois – the Euro term for the padding in your bike shorts.
Again, it couldn't get any more personal than what rubs against your rear. So you're going to have to do some research – but once you find something that works for your anatomy, you'll want to stock up. Fall is the season to do it, because in high season bike shorts don't come cheap.
As a female rider, my favorite combination is a belly-friendly bib-style cycling short with a professional-grade chammy that's “firm,” not too cushy, with just the right cutouts in the padding. Remember, in bike shorts, like saddles, a big cushion sounds good in theory but does not always pay off in practice.
I use a ROKA bib that crosses over to my triathlon pursuits, and recently tried the 7mesh women's WK2 bib. Instead of a shoulder that pulls down on the back, this bib's straps were ribbon-like — holding up the well-crafted waist while feeling like wings rather than weights.
For mountain biking, I cover this layer with baggies, which is especially nice as rides cool down in the fall. These too must jive with your shorts, bum, and saddle. The Wild Rye Freel and the Specialized Andorra are two overshorts that offer an awesome combination of feminine fit and breathability.
Of course, a good under and over-short must be paired with the right saddle. There are endless variations in women’s mountain bike saddles, but don’t jump in too soon. Getting your sit bones measured is one of the best places to start when saddle shopping. Go to a local bike store or bike-fitting pro and get the distance between those two nobs in your rear – your sit bones – measured. You won't believe the difference it can make to a saddle width that hits these at just the right spot. SQ Lab has a nice explanation of why this body part matters so much in cycling.
There are other things like a saddle's cushion stack and women's-specific cut-outs that can relieve painful pressure and sores, but start with those dear old sit bones. Those will point you in the right direction for picking the right seat.
Feet: Shoes and Socks
Lastly, we get down to that pedaling part: the feet. These often take the brunt of our entire body weight when standing up on a bike, as well as the bumps and bangs of rocks and drops. And when those lower extremities are locked into clipless pedals, well, that opens a whole other can of “ouch.”
As a regular biker, I know that if my feet are in a pinch, my riding quickly goes downhill. My greatest revelation in this area is it doesn't matter how you arrive at comfort or what it looks like: Treat your feet with care.
For me this looks like a whole new combination. Since moving into a zero-drop running shoe with a wider toe box, my stomach now turns at the sight the narrow bike shoes I've for years worn interchangeably for road and mountain biking. I've added and removed inserts to no avail.
Finally, I went for something new, choosing a soft-sided urban commuter shoe. The DZR Jetlag looks rad like a street shoe – even though I wasn't going for that – and gives me more room to breathe without compromising control.
As for mountain bike socks, I'm still sold on something with a little merino wool, especially in the fall.
Smartwool is an obvious choice, but I hear and know good things about Save Our Soles. All SOS does is socks, and they come in a variety of materials including merino wool and “Core-Spun CoolLax.” In the latter, “each yarn is wrapped around a single fiber of lycra” for a snug yet stretchy fit.
When it comes to any pressure point, how we grip, sit, and pedal varies as widely as our bodies. So take these tips for what they are: cautionary tales. Then go have some fun shopping. You might be surprised by how a few gear changes can shift your mountain biking into high gear.
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