4 Things to Check Before You Hit the Bike Park this Season

Early season practicing
Early season practicing

For some people gravity riding is a seasonal thing, and with time, you can forget thingsr. Before setting out on your first run this year, there are a few key things you can do to save yourself from a mishap or early end of the season.

Unlike riding XC or something a similar, riding DH places you in harm’s way more often that not. Hurtling down a steep slope whizzing by massive trees and sniper rocks is a recipe for some serious pain! But preparing yourself physically, mentally, and keeping your gear in tip top shape, makes all the difference.

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Bike

DH rigs tend to get the snot beaten out of them–gear wears out much faster than you think. Unlike their nimble little brothers and sister XC / Trail bikes, DH rigs need frequent servicing.

Suspension is one item that regularly gets neglected. No matter what someone tells you, you need to follow the manufacturer’s recommended service intervals–Fox, RockShox, Manitou, Marzocchi, you name it. All have intervals in which fork fluid, fork seals, and internals all have to be replaced or serviced. If you’re not sure when your fork or rear shock was last serviced, then it has already been too long. If you’re not mechanically inclined, have a reputable bike shop do the service for you. Usual turn around is a day or two (when not busy). Otherwise, contact your fork brand, and they can direct you to the closest service center that they know of. Look for scoring, leaky seals, gurgling sounds, or feel for inconsistent movement when you press down on the bars or seat.

Removing the rear shock you can quickly check the smoothness of suspension travel
Removing the rear shock you can quickly check the smoothness of suspension travel

Regarding your frame, give it a proper once-over and cleaning. Remove the crank arms and wheels. Take a close look at the rear triangle for wear and excessive abrasion. Check all the pivot points for cracking and the pivots themselves for free movement. A sticky pivot means that you’re in need of service (lubing the bearings or outright replacement). Stress areas like the bottom bracket and head tube should have no cracks whatsoever. Any crack in these areas, and you’ll need to contact the bike manufacturer for possible warranty or a pro deal of some sort.

Check the rest of the bike: truing the wheels, torquing all the bolts, and consider a new set of grips (replacing those nasty worn out things dangling off your bars). During this time of the year I tend to treat the bike with a fresh set of cables–both the cables and housings get swapped out. Finally, the drivetrain: I put on a new chain and possibly a cassette, the chainrings are inspected, and the shifter pods are cleaned and lubed.

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Brakes are another often-neglected component. Do yourself a big favor and completely service them. Cycle the pistons, freeing them up, bleed the brakes, and swap out pads as necessary. DOT fluid is hygroscopic and does absorb water. So swapping them with fresh fluid increases the boiling point. With mineral oil, you’re swapping out the oil because of the possibility of water pooling in the caliper. Either way, a flush is a good thing. Measure your rotor’s thickness, making sure it has not worn beyond factor limits.

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Equipment

Armor is key for those unfortunate encounters with foliage. Trees and raspberry bushes are not fun objects to hit whilst sailing downhill. They hurt. Any hardwood tree over 3.5″ in diameter has the potential to snap bones (believe me here), causing an end to the season. Make sure to choose the right armor, or make sure that what you have is adequate for what you think your season will entail.

If you’re planning to step up and start hitting the seriously rocky or steep runs, you may need hard armor. The great thing about hard armor is the added coverage compared to similar softer armor. The hard points tend to spread the impact more over 3DF/3D0-type materials. Skidding along rocks is another good reason for hard point armor. If you’re not getting into the harder stuff or you have a good track record at staying relatively safe and have excellent bike skills, then a mix of hard and soft armor may be all you need.

\With your existing gear, give it a good cleaning following manufacturer recommendations. Follow that up by some good anti-bacteria spray (think: hockey bag stink avoidance).

Check out the surface of your lid for cracks, flakes of paint and soft spots...All indicate a new lid is in order
Check out the surface of your lid for cracks, flakes of paint and soft spots…All indicate a new lid is in order

I personally take the entire liner out of my helmet and give it a good cleaning. I also inspect my lid for any cracks or impacts. If I did have a bad fall the previous year, more than likely I’ll my lid. You just cannot be sure that the foam hasn’t been crushed. If you did have a bad accident, almost all manufacturers have a crash replacement policy that discounts your next purchase. With goggles, I usually order a new lens. I almost always find scratches, no matter how hard I try to avoid things.

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Since only two parts of your body are almost always in contact with your bike, you could consider these your lifeline of sorts. Gloves especially tend to take a beating. Since I do a lot of product reviews for Singletracks, I tend to get a few pairs of gloves every season to review. But when I do find a glove that I really love I also go out and get an extra set or two at my local LBS. Finding a glove you really love makes all the difference in how you ride. Having that perfect interface between body and machine enhances the symbiotic connection and relaxes your grip for less fatigue.

The same can be said for shoes. A comfortable shoe with good upper support and ankle protection improves the connection between your shoes and pedals. Take a look at your own shoes: are they ripping, or showing signs of stitching coming apart? Or has the sole started to totally come apart due to the spikes of your pedals?

Mountain Creek base shot
Mountain Creek base shot

Trips and Passes

Depending on where you live, you could be blessed with all kinds of lift access destinations… or not. In my case, I have a few close spots that can be accessed within a few hours of driving. Granted they’re not Whistler or Mt. Washington, but they will do. Purchasing a season pass makes sense in my case. Just four visits and the pass is paid for! After that it’s just gravy. Purchasing a pass also does two other things that you may have not considered.

1. You save time and money, not having to wait in line to purchase a day pass or go over the Park’s waver again.

2. A healthy season pass holder base gives the resort a good money base to plan for maintenance, additional features, or expanding runs.

We’ve posted many top ten lists of where to ride or go here on Singletracks. Perhaps planning well in advanced, looking up flight costs or lodging availability, is a wise idea before things get booked up. With a few events in Canada and the US you may want to catch a World cup event while you’re riding. Talk about inspiration!

Yourself!

Fun and games aside, downing two Monsters before your ride is not the best way to get the energy that you need. They may taste great and give you that tingling nose sensation that says “F-YEAH, SEND IT!” But that is just liquid courage (or stupidity depending on your point of view), and not sensible. Eating and exercising right is key. Having the right balance of vitamins and minerals in you well in advanced of the season is key. The body takes time to absorb and use all that goodness. Calcium just doesn’t automatically build bone, for example, but over time it will help strengthen them. Vitamin K helps with the absorption of Calcium and the additions of Phosphorous, Zinc, and Copper all assist in bone maintenance and development. As you get older, eating right is more critical as the tendency of bone and muscular injuries increase. So avoid that deep fried turdunken covered in frosting with that extra large Coke.

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As far as your fitness, some strength training and working on flexibility goes a very long way. Because DH rigs are a bit heavier and you do have to muscle around and over many obstacles, work done on your arms and core goes a long way to maintaining body position over your bike. Squats help a bunch as well. I always compare riding a DH rig to riding a horse: you’re in nearly the same body position.

Getting your mind in the game is the other aspect of riding DH. Things do come at you a whole lot faster.

Just like that little clip… if you’re not ready for it, you’re in a world of pain. Spend some time going over how to bail again, or just try and recall the speeds that you were traveling at last year. Little things will help that feeling of losing control or stiffening up. You also have to remember how to relax on the bike.

All these tips will help get you back in the game and hopefully have a successful year on the slopes!

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