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New Year, New You?

New Year, New You?

The new year is here and it'll soon be the season for regret once again. Regret that you ate too much; drank too much and did far too little exercise over the Xmas period. We understand the feeling, we get racked with the same pangs of guilt each year, usually on the first ride of the new season when we're blowing it out of our backside halfway up the first big hill of the day. Well, fear not, we're here to help. While we don't have lots of advice to turn you into a faster, fitter, thinner, stronger, better you; we do have loads of tips and tricks to help you make every second you spend out on the mud about as much damn fun as is humanly possible. Here are our top tips for the new year.

No easy routes dammit.

This is a classic and will add plenty of spice to any group ride, especially if you can manage to slip to the front of the group as you approach a rough patch en route. Simply put, if you are at the front of the group you are able to dictate a short-term detour for the rest of the group. Just shout NERD, peel off the track and hammer away up/down/through/over/under just about the worst possible bit of terrain that you can find. Everyone else has to follow your no-easy-routes-dammit section and anyone who fails has to perform a suitable forfeit either during or after the ride.

It might not seem like much, but the thoughtful application of NERD during a ride can turn a mundane pootle in the country to a balls-out technical sufferfest that will separate the men from the boys. It's usually a great source of over-the-bars antics depending on the terrain, so ensure everyone has suitable protective gear.

Service that steed.

Unless you are the local bike spanner monkey then the chances are that your bike is in a constant state of disrepair. For some of us that might just be the need to fine tune our gear shifts or bleed those brakes that have been fading all season. Of course, every group ride has one rider with a bike that is constantly failing and always in need of some form of a major overhaul. Dave D from our regular Sunday off-road group ride has a pair of forks on one of his bikes lovingly known as the TSB forks. Every couple of rides they'll let loose the contents of the rebound damping chamber all over his face as he bottoms out after a long drop-off to rousing shouts of 'There she blows' from the rest of the group.

If you treat your bike right and stay on top of the regular, small maintenance tasks then your bike will love you back. It will brake quickly and quietly for you in off camber corners, it will soak up multiple hits without the suspension bogging down or blowing a seal. It will retain its chain and provide you with crisp, precise gear shifts through wet or dry- all you have to do is love it a little. We don't care if you're a regular at your local bike shop parting with green stuff for regular tune ups and tweaks or if you're the guy with every tool any mechanic could need and always willing to wrench on mates bikes. The advice is the same, treat your bike right and it will love you back.

Mix up the miles.

We're all guilty of riding the same routes time and time again, favourite lines and places that we love to ride. While it might put a smile on your face it's not helping your skills development. Pick a new route, ride somewhere you don't know, get off the beaten track and your riding will improve as a result. We're big fans of trail centres and BMX tracks as places for occasional meets. Trail centres can provide a welcome respite from the local trails that you pound each weekend and the built features offer a completely different riding perspective and challenges to natural trails.

A weekend meet at the local BMX track aboard completely inappropriate bikes can be the ideal opportunity to work on your awful technique. I can't jump on flat pedals, I've never been able to do it, I just jump clean off my bike and end up smashing my boys of the top tube or stem as I come down to earth. Riding at the local BMX track hasn't really helped with that but it has provided endless opportunities for hilarity and male bonding with the guys I regularly ride with. We love the local BMX track well, it's the great leveller. Make sure you dress the part though so everyone there knows you're a total kook.

Dress for the conditions.

We're firm believers in the right kit for the conditions. A good helmet with adequate protection over the ears and the back of the head is the foundation of any sensible bike outfit. Dress it up with shinguards if you're riding on flats or planning on being 'so enduro'. If your bike handling lets you down often then we recommend that elbow pads are added into the mix. Match them up with sensible shorts we don't care which, lycra or motocross style, and you are pretty much done. Keep your hands warm with sensible gloves and your eyes protected with a decent pair of sunglasses and you are ready to roll.

Swap bikes.

You know the rule, the ideal number of bikes is N+1, where N=the number of bikes you currently own. Well, what better way to find out what bike you need next than by swapping bikes with your riding buddies. You might think that the 4.0" tyred, fat wheeled monster that Big John insists on bringing with him each weekend is just a joke, but until you ride it you'll never know. Half a lap of a favourite trail aboard a friends bike can give you a whole new perspective on what you might be missing out on. Of course it might just reinforce that you have the perfect bike for you, but we're pretty sure if you mix friends bikes, especially with riding new trails that you'll find there's room in your stable for N+1. After all that XC lap you've been hammering, is just perfect for a carbon 29er with skinny tyres and 100mm forks... Now how will you sell it to the other half?

Tyred and emotional.

We're big fans of tubeless setups, they make great sense for hardcore riding especially downhill. But here's the truth- you're not that fast, you don't ride with super low tyre pressure and using tubeless is holding you back from swapping your tyres to a more suitable set as dictated by conditions. There we've said it, the same is true for us as well, you're not alone. How many times have you rocked up at the start of a ride to find out the trails are muddy as hell yet you've still ridden them with your normal close blocked general issue tyres? How many times have you left your winter tyres on most of the way through the summer because you couldn't be bothered with them puking sealant all over the garage floor when you change them? Guilty as charged? So are we.

Try going back to a simpler time when tyres were specific to each day's conditions, you only need three sets, a winter mud set, a general trail riding set and an XC/fire-road set for when its dusty and dry. If you have to stick to tubeless then think about a second set of wheels, maybe a winter set and summer set, you'll thank yourself for picking the right tyres for the job.

Dig it?

You might be one of those riders who sticks to the 100% natural trails and thinks that any human construction on a route is some sort of abomination. We'd agree with you entirely on public trails that exist entirely on public land. But just off the beaten track, round the corner on privately owned land you'll find all manner of interesting and amazing trail obstacles, mounds, jumps, drops, berms, raised woodwork and the like. These don't appear overnight on the trails, dropped off by some little known relative of the tooth fairy, they are created by hard graft and it's time you got involved. Simply put if you ride built trails then you should pay it back by lending a hand in their creation and management. Your local mtb club will know when the big days are and it's a great way to get involved in the future of your local trails. You don't have to be interested in hucking off the top of 10 foot booters to make it worthwhile, just consider it part of the essential maintenance of your local trails.

Pedal swap.

Are you firmly wedded to clipless pedals? Maybe you're a flat pedal master who thinks flat pedals win medals- maybe you're right. We're taking a bit of inspiration from Gee Atherton here, if he can borrow a pair of flat shoes from a spectator and haul ass down a World Cup track then we think we can spice up a ride by swapping footwear and pedals.

If you normally ride clipless you'll find that flats can help you ride harder in the twisty stuff and commit more into corners than clipless pedals. In muddy conditions, you'll find flats give you more freedom to slide the bike around without fear of coming unclipped. If you normally run flat pedals than swapping to clips can be a real eye opener, you'll be more efficient uphill, you'll accelerate faster, you can't get bounced off through the washboard sections of your local trails and you'll quickly learn how to tackle those corners and line up your bike better to extract maximum tyre grip in all situations.

And of course the flip side is, you'll keep your mates entertained as you'll jump clean off your bike the first time you hit a ramp if you are used to clipless and you'll keep your mates fully entertained by washing your face in mud every single time you go down hard in a wet and slippy corner if you are used to riding flats. It's a win-win, you'll get skilled up they'll get entertained, what's not to love.

Night rides.

With most of the UK being in darkness after 6pm for half of the year, it pays to have a decent set of off-road lights if you intend on doing any riding other than at weekends. You can use them to dazzle cars on your daily commute home from work or you can use them as God intended for scaring the bejeezus out of dog-walkers and setting the forest alight with incandescent glare.

If you're serious about night rides and taking on all terrains then we recommend you look at lights in the 1500-2000+ lumen range. If you are thinking of crazy downhill rides night then maybe even consider a twin light set-up. We favour a nice narrow focus helmet mounted unit that you can look about the trail with and for your handlebars we like a nice wide focus flood that helps with your depth perception and lights up the sides of the trail. 1200 Lumens up top and the same again mounted on your bars will give you all the light you need.

If you're just up for a gentle ride around easy going terrain then a 1200-1500 Lumen light either bar or helmet mounted can be enough to light up the way ahead.

Skills coaching.

We've left this to last as it's frankly a contentious issue. We don't want barely bike literate desk jockeys filling up our local trails, coming a cropper on every corner and having trail access pulled when they sue the landowner for their own stupidity and lack of skill. But the flip side of that is that they have just as much right to ride the trails as the rest of us, and their contribution to overall bike purchasing helps keep the price of parts down for the rest of us.

Joking aside, if there's an area of trail skill and bike handling that eludes you then maybe you should investigate what's on offer from the various MTB Skills Coaches that you'll find on the Interweb. Some of the lads are ex-racers, pro-riders and former child prodigies who've turned their hand to passing on their knowledge and skill to those less equipped to tackle the trails. We include ourselves in this, remember the jumping off flat pedals bit?

If you're rusty, out of shape, forgotten what you knew as a pre-pubescent BMX'er or simply never had the skills to start off with, a couple of MTB skills sessions with a good coach will have you leading your riding mates a merry dance over the hardest part of the trails. Now jump off the front of the group, point off trail and shout 'NERD'...

We'll see you on the trails.

29 December 2015