Looking to join the world of mountain biking and confused by what gear you need? Or have you just purchased your first mountain bike and are looking for advice on how to get the most out of your new found hobby?
Whilst the number of mountain bike accessories on offer can be overwhelming, never fear, with insight from Ash Swann of Yarra Valley Cycles from Lillydale (Victoria), we’ll cut the wheat from the chaff and detail our picks of the best mountain bike accessories to get you started.
A helmet is arguably the most important safety accessory you can acquire before you hit the trail. Mountain bike helmets offer greater coverage over the occipital and temporal regions than a traditional road bike helmet, and in the case of downhill mountain biking, a full face helmet provides extra protection for the face, chin and mouth.
Full face “convertible” helmets are a growing trend with trail and enduro rider that allows the removal of the chin guard for climbing or less challenging trails. "Steeper, more technical riding locations demand more protection and performance," suggests Ash, who also recommends a helmet fitted with MIPS technology for increased safety. Mountain bike helmets are often designed to provide better ventilation at lower average speeds, which mean fewer but larger vents.
Mountain bikers will typically favour a visor (aka, peak) at the front of the helmet to provide some protection from the sun and glare, as well as serving to deflect overhanging foliage.
Another unique feature of some mountain bike helmets is the provision for lights or a GoPro to be attached. The Fox Flux shown here presents as a perfect example of an all-around MTB helmet, with MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System), an integrated peak, space for mounting action cameras, good coverage around the sides and back of the helmet with ample ventilation on top.
For more information on selecting the right helmet to suit your needs, check out our Ultimate Bicycle Helmet Buyer’s Guide.
Shoes and Pedals
According to Ash, "the most important part of your riding kit is your footwear." As one of three contact points you'll have with your bike, shoes are exceptionally important to bike control and performance. Mountain bike shoes are designed to be rugged, hard wearing and stiff to improve power transfer.
Mountain bike riding can be done with flat pedals or clip in pedals, the choice is up to the rider. Mountain bike pedals differ to road cycling pedals in that they can be clipped into on both sides, are designed to shed mud and offer a smaller cleat for easier walking.
Most cross-country riders will opt for lightweight clip-less (aka SPD) pedals. This allows the rider to more effectively use the pedal stroke to put down the power and use the pulling motion to tackle steep climbs and tricky trail features. Trail riders and downhillers will use a similar mechanism except with the addition of a cage around the pedal, providing a better platform and making the pedal easy to find again after getting a foot out!
On the flipside, there is the option to use flat pedals - which are wide and strong to provide a solid platform. Flat pedals are typically fitted with pins to help your shoe grip the pedal.
Match your shoe choice to your pedal choice. Both flat soled and cleat specific MTB shoes exist, with the former offering greater foot protection, a stiffer sole and specifically-designed tread when compared to a normal sneaker or skate shoe.
Once you’ve decided on your pedal type, then consider the type of riding you’ll be doing. High-performance cross country shoes are built light and stiff but aren’t great to walk in. While gravity shoes offer plenty of foot protection against rocks but can be heavy and overly restrictive for extended pedaling. If you’re just after a trail shoe, look for something with a grippy tread, a mid-weight and a reasonably stiff sole.
For more information on selecting the right footwear to suit your riding preference, have a read of our Ultimate Guide to Bicycle Shoes.
The defining difference between mountain bikers and roadies? Baggies vs Lycra.
Mountain bike clothing adds more comfort to your riding. There is more to MTB clothing than the casual look reveals: it’s breathable, flexible so you can move around the bike, often reinforced, and made of a tougher material to prevent ripping should you come off.
When considering mountain bike shorts, look for something with at least one zip pocket, a sturdy fastening system and of a decent length so as not to ride up when pedaling. Many shorts will come with a removable chamois inner short, allowing you to choose whether to have the extra padding. Alternatively, it is popular to wear normal road cycling knicks or bib shorts underneath the baggy mountain bike shorts.
For jerseys, look for something that’s breathable, has space for additional padding (should you chose to wear it) and is suited to the climate that you intend on riding in. Many mountain bike jerseys look like T-shirts, but are longer in length, feature cleverly placed seams (not under the shoulders where your pack will rub you raw) and made from wicking fabric.
Pads and Body Armor
As the trails progress and you push your limits, it is wise to pad up with some protective body armor. A pair of flexible knee pads is always a good place to start, from there you can look at combined knee and shin protection, elbow pads and even back protection if you choose.
Mountain bike knee and elbow pads will come in a variety of sizes, make sure they are snug but flexible so you can pedal and ride comfortably. Many brands will simply be elasticized, otherwise, velcro straps or even BOA wires will help you secure them comfortably. Elbow pads are designed in a similar fashion.
Pads with hard plastic exteriors are designed to slide on impact and are great for adrenaline-based mountain biking. While softer pads are better for general trail riding, and allow easier pedaling and better ventilation.
Mountain bike gloves will usually be full finger length, offering more protection against foliage, scrapes and falls with increased protection across the top of the hand and knuckles. Typically speaking, mountain bike gloves are light on padding so as to offer greater handlebar control and feedback.
When you’re on the lookout for your next set of gloves, beyond ensuring the fit is spot on, there are some things to take into consideration. These include the amount of grip on the palm surface of the glove, ensuring the knuckle protection is robust enough for your riding discipline of choice, and whether the gloves are suited to the temperature that you’re likely to ride in, after all, there’s nothing worse than overly cold, or hot hands out on the trail!
The importance of trusty and functional eyewear on the bike is not to be overlooked. Not only do sunglasses shield you from the sun's harmful rays, they provide impact protection and prevent debris from entering your eyes. As Ash explains, "it's even more important now with Aussie single track commonly featuring Swordgrass that can cause issues."
Mountain bike specific eyewear is comprised of both sunglasses, and goggles and are a step up from your standard fashion sunglasses. Designed to curve around your head, fit with a helmet and provide extra impact protection – the latter certainly worth considering when traveling through the scrub at high speed with an exposed face. And according to Ash, recent trends in lightweight enduro helmets means you no longer "look ridiculous wearing goggles."
Additionally, many brands will have premium options for polarization (an extra glare-reducing layer) or photochromic )transitional) lenses. The latter aids in visibility when riding shaded trails, responding to the light in accordance with the conditions for optimal clarity and vision of trail features, debris or dangers that may be present.
A cycling computer will one-up a ride-recording smartphone app as they will withstand most weather conditions, can fit neatly onto your bicycle’s cockpit and are at little risk of damage. The battery life will also long outlast a phone. Not only do these devices record basic things like ride speed, distance and time, they are compatible with Bluetooth devices such as heart rate monitors and powermeters.
The GPS function allows you to look back on your ride in detail and see things like total distance elevation gain, as well as a map of where you went! Many advanced computers will also allow you to upload a route to the computer if you are wanting to follow a specific ride or map out your own. Some even allow real-time mapping and tracking.
In addition to mud, mountain bikes have to endure all sorts of punishment out on the trail, be it deflecting rocks, sticks and stray debris or chain slap from going full speed on technical trails. Mountain bike-specific frame protection like the Lizard Skins chainstay protector pictured above will give your pride and joy the added protection needed. Mountain bike frame protection is a popular pick for ensuring your frame's paint stays as fresh as the day you got it.
A minimalistic front mudguard is also a popular option these days. Typically positioned under the crown or on the downtube, these fenders stay out of the way of your suspension and sit at a perfect position to keep your vision clear. Popular options include the widely-copied Marsh guard which is favored due to it robust, minimal and lightweight design.
Hydration solutions might not spring to mind straight away when mountain biking comes to mind, however, ride for over 30 minutes and you'll soon find them essential. It’s worth noting that not all mountain bike frames will have a provision for a bottle cage, and so even for a short ride, a hydration pack may be the best solution to staying on top of your hydration out on the trail.
One bidon or a smaller hydration bladder is likely enough for those doing rides under an hour and a half or so, however, you'll likely want to look into something with a little more volume if you’re on your bike for anything longer.
When selecting a bidon (cycling speak for a bottle), make sure it has enough capacity (amount of fluid it can carry) for your needs, a secure safety cap to prevent spillage, removable top to easily clean and refill, and that it fits your bike. For those choosing to forego a bidon in favor of a hydration pack, ensuring it has enough capacity to suit your hydration and riding needs, as well as space for any spares you may need on a longer ride, will be invaluable.
Current trends are seeing hip packs come back in favour with mountain bikers. While the storage and water capacity is less than what a hydration pack offers, a good hip pack will offer a less intrusive fit and enough fluid for a few hours of riding.
Saddle bag & storage
Storage on your bike isn't as exciting as a new kit or pair of shoes but is an essential piece of equipment that you'll be glad to have if you run into trouble.
- Related Reading: Tools and Spares: What to Pack On Your Next Ride
Saddle bags or Saddle wraps are your two best options for storing your spares when you hit the trail. It’s worth noting that those using a dropper seatpost will most likely have to make use of a saddle wrap due to the way they don't wrap around the post itself.
Basic spares to pack in your saddle bag or saddle wrap of choice can include tire levers, tubes, and either a CO2 inflator or mini pump. Those using tubeless tires should look into a tire plug kit, such as Dynaplug read CyclingTips review of Dynaplugs. Multi-tools also come in handy to fix things like a slipping seatpost, rubbing brakes or crooked handlebars, and typically include a variety of Allen key sizes and screwdriver heads (flat and Phillips), not to mention countless other small tools depending on what your bike requires.
Owning a suitable tire floor pump, preferably one that is tubeless tire compatible, is an important part of being a mountain biker. A good floor pump will feature both Presta and Schrader valve attachments, have an integrated tank for building the pressure required to seat tubeless tires, and will easily pump up your tires to the required pressure.
If you’re unfortunate enough to suffer a flat out on the trail, either a mini pump or CO2 cartridges will be needed to get you going again.
Not quite up to date on the basics? Check out our simple guide to how to pump up a bike tire for more information.
The list of potential maintenance items is long and can grow exponentially. If you're not keen on doing any of your own maintenance and would rather let your local bike shop handle that, then all you really need is a bottle of chain lube and some rags. If you're keen to make a few adjustments yourself then there are a few items to consider adding to your maintenance kit;
Chain lube, which is a lubricant that is either "wet" or "dry", applied directly to the chain to ensure crisp shifting and longevity of your bike's drivetrain. Wet lube is more viscous and longer lasting than dry lube and is primarily used in poor weather conditions. Dry lube conversely is less viscous and requires more frequent applications, although it'll typically remain cleaner and collect less debris from the trail. Whichever you decide on, be sure to wipe off any excess that would otherwise attract dirt and grime.
Bike specific degreaser will aid in keeping your drivetrain performing at its efficient best by removing the build-up around your chain, cassette and derailleur jockey wheels. Not only does this build up contribute to premature wear of your bikes delicate components, it’s detrimental to your performance on the bike, robbing precious watts through reduced efficiency. In addition to keeping your drivetrain clean, be sure to keep the seals around your suspension free of debris, you don't need degreaser for this task, just a clean rag.
A complete set of allen or hex keys should be enough to get into almost every bolt on your bike. This will enable you to change brake pads, adjust your saddle and cockpit, change pedals and countless other things. Most feature a long arm for additional leverage and some even come with an ergonomic handle. Look for a set that ranges from 1.5-10mm to cover most needs.
A workstand is a great investment for any budding DIY cycling mechanic, however, it also makes cleaning and general maintenance tasks much easier. Before you buy you should compare bike stands to understand what to look out for.
The best way to ensure your bolts are correctly tightened and to avoid damaging your frame and parts is with a torque wrench. The tool allows you to set a specific amount of torque, which will prevent over tightening that could otherwise lead to damage. This is especially important if you have a carbon frame or carbon components.
Looking for something other than what is listed here? Browse the wide range of cycling accessories available from leading retailers right here, at BikeExchange