If you are a gravity-focused rider, opening day of your local bike park is like Christmas morning. The 8 month or longer wait is finally over and you can't wait to rip some laps with your friends. This year, opening day is extra special. As the chair lifts start spinning, many other aspects of the world are re-opening. Riding the bike park is a glimpse of normality which we all crave after a full year of Coronavirus lockdown. Since it's been awhile since you last rode in the park, we wanted to give you some tips on how you can make yourself and your bike more prepared for long days of descending.
Riding at a bike park can be more dangerous than riding at your local trails. Bike park trails are steeper, rockier, and looser than what you typically experience at home. These features make the trails more fun but also make them more difficult. In recent years, the amount of protection riders wear has diminished as many of us ride up the hill to earn our descent. Wearing a full-face helmet on a trail ride is uncomfortable and usually very hot, so it makes since that open-face helmets have gained popularity. At a bike park you are using a chairlift to get to the top of the mountain, so why not wear your full-face helmet and all your protective gear.
Your helmet will always be the most important piece of protective gear. Even when riding on a easy trail, it’s still critical to protect your head. At a bike park, the difficultly of riding is increased so it's a good idea to up your protective gear as well, including kee pads and elbow pads. We also highly recommend that anyone riding at a bike park should wear a full-face helmet. Full face helmets may be heavier and hotter than standard helmets, but the increased protection they provide is well worth the trade-off. Many companies are also creating a new wave of lightweight highly-ventilated Enduro full-face helmets. These helmets share many of the same safety certifications as a full-face helmet, but weigh significantly less. To finish it off, select a nice pair of tinted goggles to protect your eyes from the sun and dust.
You may also want to upgrade your riding kit before you hit the bike park this summer. Everyone knows you have to look good to ride good. In the world of park riding, long sleeve jerseys and knee pads are your friend. It may be hot, but long sleeves keep the sun off and provide better protection if you crash. Gloves are also key. Gloves keep your hands glued to the grips when your hands become sweaty and also reduce hand fatigue. Another great item to have is a hydration pack. A hydration pack has space to store spare tubes and tools and also provides you with constant water. Just because you aren't pedaling to the top of the mountain, it doesn’t mean you don’t need water.
Your bike can take quite a beating at a bike park. When you combine gnarly terrain with the constant descending that a chairlift provides, your bike rarely leaves the bike park in as good of shape as it arrives. Now most of us don’t have a downhill bike dedicated to bike park riding in the summer, so we take our everyday mountain bike to the park instead. Luckily for us, modern mountain bikes are built quite tough, but there are still multiple add-ons and upgrades you can buy for you bike to help it survive the carnage the bike park ensues.
There are many items you can add to your bike to make it more suitable for the park. Two easy upgrades include frame protection and a fork fender. The fender prevents small rocks from being tossed up by your front wheel and frame protection protects your bike from loose rocks that still make it up to your frame. Another great upgrade for park riding are tire inserts. In order to achieve proper traction, mountain bikers run low tire pressures. Unfortunately, this low pressure makes it easy to dent your rims when you ride over rocky terrain. A tire insert protects your rims from dents while running low tire pressure. The inserts also provide additional vibration dampening which creates an overall smoother ride.
There are several upgrades that will help your bike survive a long day at the bike park. To start with, nothing provides you with proper control like a powerful set of brakes. If your current brakes aren’t incredible, it might be a good idea to upgrade them before shredding the park. Ideally you want a 4-piston brake. A 4-piston brake provides more powerful braking performance than a 2-piston brake. Another great upgrade are thicker tires. By thickness, I’m referring to the sidewall thickness. Tires with downhill rated sidewalls won’t get destroyed by sharp rocks at the bike park. A final upgrade you should consider is a longer dropper post. If you run a dropper post and still have some room to spare, running a longer post will allow your saddle to get further out of the way giving you more control and confidence on steep trails.
Most bike parks are located up in the mountains, away from big cities. This isolation provides us with an escape from city life, but it usually requires a couple hour drive. If you have ever tried to fit a bike within the passenger area of a car, you know how difficult and frustrating it can be. Installing a bike rack or tailgate pad on your vehicle is a much safer and easier way to transport your bike. It's also makes carpooling with your riding buddies much easier. There are multiple types of racks and pads you can use depending on which type of vehicle you have.
The easiest way to transport your bike using a truck is with a tailgate pad. A tailgate pad installs easily and protects your tailgate from getting scratched by your bike. Tailgate pads are also a great way to transport multiple bikes. You can typically fit up to 6 bikes on a tailgate pad. If you rather not hang your bikes off the end of your truck, you can also look at in-bed mounted racks. These small racks mount directly into your truck bed and hold your bike in place like a traditional bike rack.
Depending on which type of car you have, you may need a hitch rack or a roof rack. Many people favor hitch racks for a couple reasons. A hitch rack is better for your vehicle's fuel economy and it stays safely tucked behind the profile of your vehicle. Roof racks are great for cars that don’t have a hitch, but bikes on the roof create more drag and you have to be careful not to drive under any low bridges. Besides clearance and drag issues, a roof rack is still a great way to transport your bike.
Once your day at the bike park is over, it’s important to check over your bike to make sure everything is still in proper mechanical order. After consecutive hours of rough riding, it’s time to make sure all your bolts are tight and wheels are straight before your next ride. There are also certain spare parts and tools you should bring to the bike park in case anything happens mid-day. It’s always a bummer to call the day early because of a mechanical issue. Finally, once you get home, it’s a good idea to give your bike a proper cleaning. A clean bike is a happy bike. A bike that is degreased and lubed up properly will last longer and perform better.
It’s a good idea to bring spare parts to the bike park that wear down from extensive use. To start with, always bring some spare tubes and the tools required to change a flat tire. A floor pump is the easiest way to inflate a tube, but hand pumps and CO2 cannisters get the job done as well. Regardless if you run tubeless or not, having a spare tube is crucial to keep your bike rolling till the last lift. Other components that can give out mid-day include tires, brake pads, derailleur hangers, and chains. If one of your tires gets slashed by a rock, a spare tire will save the day, even if it’s old and worn out. If your brake pads wear down to the metal while riding, it’s important to replace them to avoid damaging your disc rotor and brake caliber. It’s also a good idea to have an extra derailleur hanger incase the one on your bike breaks or bends. Finally, a snapped chain isn’t too common of an occurrence, but if it does happen, a spare master-link will keep the ride alive.
When it comes down to cleaning your bike, degreasers and cleaners are both equally important. The degreaser will dissolve the dirty, gritty grease off of your components and the cleaners will restore those components to like-new condition. Cleaning brushes can make this process much easier. If you want to take your cleaning to the next level, also purchase a chain cleaner. Consistently using a chain cleaner extends both the life of your chain and your drivetrain. The next step is re-applying lubricants and grease to all the appropriate areas. Make sure you don't spill any lube or grease on your brake rotors or brake pads. Doing so will contaminate your brakes, diminishing their braking performance.