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How to Tackle Mud While Cycling in 8 Steps

By Adam Marsal

Dealing with mud is hard to avoid in the colder parts of the year. Even if you decide to stay away from muddy roads, the trip can eventually end up in you taking a wrong turn and getting dirty all over. Sometimes, ploughing through mud is annoying yet with proper technique and the right equipment, you may well enjoy it as much as riding in the snow. In this article, you can learn some tricks for better bike handling while riding and cleaning afterwards. Professional biker Richard Gasperotti sums up his experience.

Proper tyres do wonders

Treacherous and slippery, mud presents one of the most feared surfaces whatsoever. Since summer tyres would provide you with a grip similar to banana peels, anyone intending to ride in the mud is encouraged to replace them with some more grippy ones. Mud-specific tyres help maintain the grip on slippery spots, which keeps you on the bike. The miracle is hidden in the thick knobby tread patterns that offer you extra support in turns covered by gloopy muck. Should you decide where to put the brand new tyre, consider the front wheel – it’s more important as it decides whether you keep the bike under control or lose traction and end up bailing over the handlebars. Even though a slightly under-inflated tyre might experience a pinch flat, letting a little bit of air out is a trick that increases traction.

Mud cycling
Kids usually enjoy their mud rides. © Milos Stafek

Precise braking skills

Mud riding is a skill that takes a lot of time to learn and includes correct body balance, bike handling and precise braking. Operating brake levers requires a lot of common sense under any circumstances but braking on mud must be as careful as it should be cautious. Try to decelerate to adequate speed before each obstacle or a tricky spot so you can keep the wheels rolling all the way through the muddy section. Hitting a brake lever violently and blocking the wheel can only lead to an uncontrolled skid followed by an inevitable crash. Correct bike handling on mud is even more important than on a dry surface so let’s repeat what we learned in our recent feature.

Mudguards will save your bottom

Most bikers hate mudguards no matter the time of year, which makes them vulnerable to mud stains all over their faces, chests, backs, butts… just about everything. If you prefer to keep your eyes clean, you can strap a tiny mudguard to the down tube of the frame where it will catch most of the dirt sprayed against your face. To prevent your back from getting wet, you can use an even smaller crud catcher cut out of a single piece of plastic that is easy to store in your backpack, ready to get strapped to the seat post the seat whenever you need.

Mud in the tread pattern

Mud ride
No one likes ice cold water funnelled up their backsides, or mud up the back of their jersey making them look like Pepé Le Pew. © Milos Stafek

Dirt firmly stuck in the tyre’s tread pattern is a common result of riding in the mud. The more it sticks to the tyre, the more muck you bring to your garage or, even worse, to your flat. As mud tends to fall off when it dries and loses volume due to water evaporation, you can get rid of it by taking an extra after-ride on a dry road. This way, most of the dirt loosens and falls off in a short time. My favourite trick is turning the bike upside down, letting the wheels spin and threshing the mud from the tread using a heavy stick. The pressure caused by the impact in conjunction with the centrifugal force pushes the mud out of the tread within a few seconds.

How to get over puddles

Anyone attempting to ride through a puddle at a higher speed has presumably learned the lesson as a kid: water will spray out and soak both of your shoes thoroughly. Mainly the ‘rear’ shoe gets an extra shower when entering a puddle with both feet on the pedals. There are several ways to prevent wet shoes. You can either lift the front wheel before approaching the dirty pool or slow down to eliminate the splash. In winter, I also recommend wearing higher ankle boots.

Muddy bike
Still a fan of mud riding? © Milos Stafek

Thinking about clothes

Clear glasses would protect your eyesight without compromising visibility in dark woods. I’d recommend a longer Gore-Tex jacket to stave off wetness. A top layer for skiing or snowboarding will do the job too. When riding in a bike park, disposable painting coveralls from a hobby market next door also work well. If you need to get to the trail by car, you’ll highly appreciate a huge plastic bag to store dirty clothes and shoes to keep the interior unsoiled. The same goes for your bike unless you can take the advantage of transporting it outside on a rack. Moreover, I always have a bag ready in my car with dry spare clothes including a T-shirt, functional underwear, shorts and socks.

Wash your bike with care

Despite this article, I need to admit that I’m not fond of riding in the mud at all. I could point out to bikers who enjoy it more than me. Nevertheless, it is part of mountain biking and so we have to take it as it is. I also feel sorry for the bike and the components that suffer nearly as much as the bikers. I regularly treat the frame with a protective spray agent that provides a thin layer preventing muck from sticking to the surface. Even though it looks like the easiest solution, I do not recommend pressure washing. At any time, there’s a risk of dirt getting rammed down into the bearings and moving parts where it acts as an abrasive. There is a wide range of detergents available to help you remove dirt more effectively.

Keep the trails safe

Turns or jumps made of dirt soften and become fragile during the rain. When hitting the local trail, you may well leave deep ruts that harden while drying, making many trail sections seriously damaged. Therefore, I would like to ask you to carefully treat jumps and other features that took somebody a lot of time and effort to build, and think twice about whether you do more harm than good.