Every year when fall rolls around, I get excited about riding. The colder temperatures, dryer weather, and stunning scenery usually bide well for quality workouts on the trail. There is also the added benefit of some lingering summer fitness that allows me to squeeze in some quality rides before the incoming winter. Each fall, I notice my surprise at how different riding is versus any other time of year. The demands of fall riding are quite specific. Here are my essentials for fall riding and what to pay attention to if you want to avoid injuring yourself or your bike.
Fall foliage is the enemy
The two things I always try to remember when I get on my bike in autumn is that I have two new enemies on the trail: foliage and myself. Leaf litter can be a widowmaker of sorts when riding. It takes a certain amount of tact and balance to stay upright on a shifting carpet of leaves and needles. Riding with more tree litter on the trails is just plain dangerous.
First, you can’t see the trail, especially in certain weeks where the trail intersects a high population of hardwoods. Second, the dryer temperatures make leaves and needles more slippery to ride through. Finally, once the dampness of winter sets in, leaves usually start their annual decomposition. That’s when the trails become a bit tackier. Before the colder temperatures, however, riding can more resemble an exercise in skating than proper flow.
Getting ready for the challenges that autumn brings
To prepare for the challenges of autumn, I usually do a couple of things to get my mind and bike right.
- First, I get new tires if I need them (I love these WTB Rangers). The grip is essential in dry conditions, and usually, summer riding has worn a significant amount of tread off. So, I try to anti-up and get at least one new tire. It’s unnecessary to change your tread pattern for fall riding, but a new set of fresh rubber is always nice on dryer terrain.
- Second, I bleed my brakes, have them serviced, and put on new brake pads. Braking while riding in fall weather is an exercise in the steady application of power. It’s never a good idea to hit the brakes hard while riding. Doing so in the fall can lead to a 10-yard skid or an endo off the side of a switchback. New brakes and a gentler squeeze will give you more control over dryer conditions and get you ready for the brake-destroying riding that is mountain biking in the wet winter.
Another problem to solve for fall weather is how to dress. The humidity rinses out of the air in the fall. As a result, the temperatures range from 40 on a cold fall morning to 85-90 on an unseasonably warm fall afternoon. Layering is essential in these conditions, but you don’t want to bulk up. I usually ride in bibs, and the most I’ll add in the fall are knee and arm warmers and a vest. There’s no need to bulk up with more clothing during this season since you’ll find yourself overheating quickly. I also steer away from any foot covering for fall weather. Even on frigid mornings, try to remember if you get your feet wet, they will probably dry out quickly as you continue to ride and temperatures rise.
Stay in control
My final piece of advice for fall riding is to remember to always stay in control of your bike and enjoy yourself. Most mountain bike races and rides have ended for the year. Fall is a season to enjoy yourself and reap the well-earned benefits of summer training. The key is to work on flow on the trail and tack on as much mileage as possible while the light lasts. And sure, the fall presents a few more enemies on the trail. But remember, it brings an even more significant number of reasons to get out and go.
Matt Chisholm is a data analyst and freelance writer who studies the environmental history of the Southern Smoky Mountain region of North Carolina. He was a contributor to Lost in Transition: Removing, Resettling, and Renewing Appalachia and the 2016 edition of the Journal of East Tennessee History, for which he won the 2017 McClung Award. When not writing, Matt enjoys road and mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and drinking beer around Concord, NC where he lives with his wife, daughter, and twin boys.
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