Here at New Moon, we encourage all kinds of safe bicycling. We’ve even had a unicycle in here at one point, although I’m not sure that falls into the “safe” category.
Anyway, if you’ve been stuck in a rut and new for you might mean a road ride instead of your usual, backwoods mountain bike trail, or a trip onto the gravel frontier for a once die-hard roadie, or whatever ride is on your calendar, we’ve gathered together a few of the most helpful, common sense tips we have for mountain, road, and gravel riding. Take a look—these helpful hints may even help your current situation! Remember, this is by no means a comprehensive “how-to” for the various disciplines of cycling – that would be a book, but it’s what we here at New Moon find particularly helpful for our clients as they explore a new facet of the world on a bike.
Most bikers have a pretty good idea of what mountain biking is, but to zero in a bit Wikipedia describes mountain biking is “the sport of riding bicycles off-road, often over rough terrain, using specially designed mountain bikes…” OK, that’s pretty open-ended, so let’s just agree we’re talking about big/knobby tires and flat handlebars. Cool? We’ll cover drop-bar off-road later. Here in the Hayward/Cable area, we know our mountain biking—our local CAMBA trails consistently rank as one of the top trail systems in the U.S. Great features, flow, and beautiful scenery are hallmarks of our amazing network. If you want to get the most out of your own mountain biking, a few of this tips will have you shredding the trails with the best.
As with all cycling, safety is pretty important when you head out to the trail. We all need to be wearing a helmet, no matter where we are biking. Yes, we have to talk about helmet use. Helmet detractors might offer that mountain bikers often ride more slowly than road riders, and there are no cars to hit us on the trails. Well, if a pavement is going to hurt your head, what kind of damage will a sharp rock do to that noggin after you do a flip over your handlebars on a downhill? Other riders can plow into you with a lot of force. And, I do know several riders who have had close encounters with wildlife up here, including deer and bear. I, for one, do not want a hoof to the forehead while I’m trying to get unclipped from my pedals. Anyway, enough about helmets—they are a given. With mountain biking, you may want to go the extra mile with your safety gear. Optics are a really good idea—clear if your trails are mainly wooded. Your helmet and glasses can save your eyes from unexpected branches and dust and rocks from the trail. You may even want to consider hip, knee, and elbow pads. These have been pretty standard with downhill, but are starting to become more popular for regular mountain biking as well.
Also important with all types of cycling, make sure your bike is in in top working order—maintain a safe bike by checking your gears, tire pressure, chain, and seals. This is something New Moon or your local bike shop can help out with if you aren’t comfortable doing these checks on your own. New Moon also offers several clinics on bike maintenance so you can get up to speed and wrench like a pro on your own bike.
Next, be honest about your skill level and find terrain to match. If you are exploring trails that are unfamiliar to you, ask around. Read about the trails and talk to locals. Trail associations, like CAMBA, will have a lot of information online. And, don’t be afraid to ask your local bike shop for advice. Trails have different features, soil types, climbing, and character. So you may be comfortable with an intermediate level ride back home, but the intermediate trail you’re about to tackle on vacation might be totally out of your league depending on the features. Learn the nuances of the trail, learn the traffic, and ride within your limits.
Finally, maps and apps. Some trails have apps that will help you keep track of where you are, but you can also download or buy maps in order to plan your ride. Many trail maps, like CAMBA’s—available here at New Moon—are waterproof, but if you have printed out your own, make sure to store in a waterproof bag for protection. You can also use GPS trackers. Also for safety, let someone know what trails you plan to ride on and how long you intend on being out there. Always carry your cell phone, but realize coverage may be spotty in the woods.
When we think of road biking, we think of the grand races of Europe, the flashy peloton, and sleek machines. Because of our beautiful lakes, forests, and roads, we have plenty of amazing road riding around our area. There are tons of great routes to try, and if you’d like to hook up with a group, New Moon’s Tuesday Night Ride is up and running and rolls out from the shop at 5:40pm (on Tuesdays, obviously).
Arguably, the top priority when you are riding on the road is making sure you are seen. Hi viz clothing, usually bright yellow, pink, or orange, is good, but add to that some reflective hits on your jersey, shorts, jacket, or even your helmet. You don’t want to blend in with the pavement. Even better, add a flashing light under your seat to get everyone’s attention. The newest generation of tail lights offer remarkable visibility—often beyond a half mile for the better ones in addition to variable flashing patterns to catch motorists attention. Many recharge conveniently via USB cable. Just plud into your computer or phone charger! Get a tail light. They work, period.
Use good road sense when you are out there. Obey rules of the road—cars and pedestrians always have right-of-way. Unfortunately, cyclists need to assume that drivers are not aware of your rights as a cyclist or are even aware that you are there. Ride in survival mode. We all know horror stories about riders who have been buzzed, harassed, or pushed off the road by vehicles who are either not paying attention or have an axe to grind. Make drivers aware of your intentions by signaling and by making eye contact.
Pedal a bit faster in a lower gear than you feel comfortable with. A high, regular cadence in a lower gear is very efficient, better for your knees, and more ergonomically correct than smashing a huge gear the whole ride.
Another important part of road riding is comfort. You may be riding for 100 miles at a time (lucky?), so your body is prone to overuse issues. Make sure to vary your position on the bike. There are 3 fundamental hand positions on a road bike, and they reference the handlebars—tops, controls, and drops. Get used to using all the positions, and if you’re not using them all, find out why. Can you reach all three comfortably? If not, a bike fitting and cockpit reset may be in order. Bike fitting can usually be taken care of at your local shop. Here at New Moon, both Chris and Joel are trained and certified in BG FIT (Fit Integration Technology), a service that goes beyond the usual bike “sizing.” A bike fitting at New Moon analyzes your body’s unique attributes, pedal stroke, and body position. Using the data gained during this assessment, Chris or Joel optimizes your bicycle and equipment to match your biomechanical profile. Bike fitting can solve a plethora of issues, you may be amazed at how relaxed, fresh, and pain-free you are after your bike is tailored to your body.
Gravel Biking is a relatively new category in the cycling world. Gravel bikes borrow from traditional road bikes but handle bigger tires. Longer wheelbases and lower bottom brackets add stability and taller front ends allow for more upright positions, Until purpose-built gravel bikes—sometimes also called adventure bikes, all-road, or all-terrain bikes—were available, all types of bikes were used on gravel paths or forest roads. Road bikes work, but tend to be more aggressive with little room for wider tires, cyclocross bikes are too rigid and responsive for the soft terrain, and mountain bikes are often too heavy for long distances.
If you’re new to this type of riding, learn your gravel routes. These roads can be hard-packed or 2 feet deep of sugar sand, so it’s important to know what you are getting into and to gear up your bike appropriately. Search out experienced, local riders, because they probably have it already figured out.
Next, consider a bigger tire than you might assume. Lower tire pressure and higher tire volume almost always means increased comfort and stability. And, be prepared to vary your tire pressure throughout the ride depending on the road surface.
If you are finding that riding on gravel is too bouncy or unnerving, try slowing down—your pedaling. A fast cadence can exacerbate bounce, so choose a harder gear, slow your cadence, and shift your weight further back on the saddle. This is the strategy our favorite road racers employ going over the cobbles of France! It smooths out the bumps and creates a more comfortable, even ride.
Most important when riding gravel is to stay present. Pay attention and choose your best line. You have a lot of choices as the road is wider than single track. Stay vigilant for hidden dangers —subtle potholes, wet soft spots, loose sand, old metal or wood from the road’s initial grading. Gravel is NOT forgiving when you crash, so your gravel ride is not the time to daydream. Enjoy the road; enjoy the ride.
At New Moon, we carry mountain, road, and gravel bikes, as well as hybrid, commuter, and pedal assist ebikes. Let us help you try a different type of ride. We can sell you something new, fix up one of your current fleet, or rent you a bike to try before you buy. And, as always, you can count on our staff to help you plan your ride whether that means picking out the perfect shorts, planning your route, or advising you on the closest restaurant to the trailhead. Stop in this summer!