The best few months of riding are upon us: fall! The heat from summer has finally broken and leaves are changing color – it’s truly a great time to be in the woods on a mountain bike. But fall and winter in the southeast and other parts of the country brings changes to the trails. Dry hard packed trails become covered in leaves and pine straw and low spots become damp and seem to stay that way. Here are a few things you can do to your bike to make it better suited to the trail conditions of fall and winter.

Leaves make the trails slippery. Proper tires can help a lot.


I like using lightweight, low profile, fast rolling tires in the summer. But, those types of tires don’t work so well in the fall and winter so I like to switch to tires with larger knobs with more space between them, which does two things. The big knobs dig into wet dirt and pierce through the leaves to find something solid to hold on to, giving me more traction for climbing, braking, and cornering. The wide spacing between the knobs allows the tire to shed mud better, so it doesn’t get packed in and turn the tire into a slick.

The old Continental Mountain King is the best tire I’ve ever used for fall riding in the southeast. The big triangular knobs punch right through the leaves and grab hold of the firm earth below. It’s slow rolling, but the grip is outstanding. Unfortunately Continental has changed the design on the Mountain King… I’m not sure how well the new version works in the leaves.

Keep the Mud Out

Fall and winter bring rain and snow, which leads to mud, which can work its way into your shifter cables, leaving them stiff and unresponsive. One of the best things you can do to your bike to keep it running smoothly is to start using full length housings on all your shift cables – that way there’s no exposed cable and nowhere for mud to get into the system. Some bikes are designed to be run this way – they have cable guides, not cable stops. I wish every bike was built this way. If yours isn’t designed for full length housing, just use zip ties. It’s not the prettiest set up, but it’ll keep your shifting smooth and maintenance free all season.

My old bike wasn’t designed for full length housing, but I ran it that way anyway. Photo: azdrawdy

There are also a few totally sealed cable systems designed to work with bikes not made for full length housing. Gore’s RideOn and Nokon systems are two examples. They use a one piece liner that runs inside the housing from the shifter all the way to the derailleur. So even if you have cable stops, and sections with no housing, the liner is still there to keep the cable covered and mud free. These systems look much better installed than my zip-tie method, and weigh a little less, but they’re also much much more expensive.

Sealed cables means you can do stuff like this as much as you want without messing up your shifting.

A Lube For Every Season?

Chain lube is another place you may want to make adjustments along with the seasons. Many people switch to a heavy wet lube for the fall and winter months. Thick chain lubes do a really good job of staying on the chain for a long time regardless of the trail conditions – but they also attract dirt and grime. Be sure to wipe the chain down regularly to remove the excess lube and dirt. It’s been my experience that certain wax based lubes, like Squirt (which I’m using all the time now) still work well in the wetter months of the year. However, since the lube falls off the chain when it gets dirty you have to reapply it more often.

Wet lubes tend to stay on the chain even in really crappy conditions. Just be sure to wipe all that gunk off after the ride to minimize wear and tear on your drivetrain.

Your Tips

What do you do to your bike to prepare it for the colder, wetter months of the year? Tell us in the comments section below.

# Comments

  • element22

    Great stuff there….Gore cables are a must, the Nokon’s I am not sold on. A bit to much fuss and too convinced on the non comprehensiveness of them. Keeping lights handy would be a good tip…And maybe a link or two…Far too often have I scene dead branches on the ground which get caught in the drive line.

  • eastwood

    Blaze orange… although not an adjustment for the bike, a must have for the rider. It’s hunting season!

  • chrispaulcx

    I prefer to use a teflon dry lube year around. Just wipe it off, and then re-apply for every single ride. You know your chain is always lubed, and it never gets all gummy cause the teflon stuff does not stick like the wetlubes do. Only cause where it isn’t the best is for a long ride with lots of rain and muck but that’s about it.

  • trek7k

    Good call on strapping a light on just in case – it’s getting dark early these days! Powerlinks are a great idea too as leaf litter and branches start to pile up.

    Does anyone change out grips to accommodate thicker riding gloves?

  • mtbgreg1

    My one tip would be to wash your bike right after you get done riding… every time it needs it. My bike almost always seems to come away from winter rides covered in nast, even when the trails are relatively dry.

  • dozzerboy

    The Maxxis ignitors I’m using look a lot like your tires. Sometimes when I ride through my lawn, the knobs will bite through the leaf and it will get stuck. 😆

    They shed the wet very well too.

  • dozzerboy

    Also, bring an extra pair of clothes, shoes, and socks for your ride home! You will inevitably find a nice puddle to fall into.

  • rcraft6826

    definitely some great tips I really like using the continental mountain kings on my all mountain as well!

  • GTDave

    heavy grease for all headset hubs and bb, I fit a 2 inch piece of inner tube round my seatpost to keep water out of my frame and a neoprene headset cover also. Zip lock bags for wallet, phone etc, those re-usable hand warmers are great also… I have a couple for my pack, and a few more for my vehicle. This may sound OTT but we carry a foil emergency blanket just in case… mid winter does get ccccoold here in the UK

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