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Updated: May 15

Be ready on the trail You got a new bike and you are ready to hit the trails, but you need to remember that there’s more to riding than just the bike. What if you have a crash? What if you get a flat? What if the chain falls off? What if you encounter a bear? What if the sets while you are out exploring? What if…?

My first advice is don’t ride alone if possible. Having another set of eyes, another set of hands and another brain along are very handy. If you do ride alone, please, please track yourself with an app of some type that will contact a loved one if something does happen. My Garmin watch has an accident detector and notifies contacts in the case of an accident for everything but…you guessed it…mountain biking! Make sure you have a device that works for the activity you are doing and make sure your contact info is current. Carry your phone and make sure it is charged.

What if you crash? Take your time and do a self-assessment. Are you OK? Give yourself a chance to de-escalate and get your heartrate down before getting back on the bike. You should always carry basic first aid supplies with you to be able to close up cuts and support sprained joints. Now assess the bike? Is your bike OK? Bars straight? Saddle straight? Chain on? You should have a set of basic bike tools with you while riding so that you can make simple repairs correctly. Don’t just try to force bars or saddle back straight without loosening the bolts first. Then tighten things back up. If you break a chain, you should have a quick link available so that you can either repair the break or set your bike up singlespeed to get you home if you completely destroyed a derailleur.

What if you get a flat? First off, if you have tubeless tires, did you check your sealant recently? If not, your tires are probably dry and you’ll need to either add sealant or put in a tube. To add sealant, you need a core removal tool. Just remove the core, shake up the sealant and squeeze it in. Then put the core back in and fill your tire with a pump or CO2 cartridge, more on that later. If you have tubes, you’ll just need to change the tube. For this, you’ll have to take your wheel off the bike. Turn your bike upside down so that you can access everything easily. If you have a quick release, you just need to flip the lever to the open position and loosen the nut on the other side until the wheel comes off easily. If you have nuts on your axile, you’ll need to carry an appropriately sized wrench to get the wheel off. Now you’ll need a tire lever and some elbow grease. Grip the tire with fingers on one side and thumbs on the other. Press firmly with your thumbs to “break the bead”. This may take some perseverance to find a weak point you can press in, but don’t give up! You can do this. Once you break the bead in one spot, the rest of the rim will follow easily. Now insert the tire lever between the tire and the rim and run it all the way around the rim until you can insert your fingers and remove the offending flat tube. You do not need to remove the entire tire, just one side so that you can access the tube. Before inserting a new tube, run your fingers carefully around the entire inside of your tire to make sure there is nothing sticking through that will just immediately pop a new tube. If you have a large gash in the sidewall, you will need to place a tire boot or dollar bill over the cut to prevent the new tube from pushing its way through the gash. Now insert the stem of the new tube into the hole in the rim, making sure it is perpendicular to the rim, nice and straight, and work the tube in between the rim and the tire. Once you have the entire tube encased in the tire, you can begin “beading” the tire by making sure the edge of the tire is inside the inside edge of the rim. You will probably need to use the tire lever for the last 6” or so but make sure you are not pinching the new tube between the lever and the tire as you do this. Check that the tire rim is inside the wheel rim all the way around on both sides and inflate the tube with your pump or CO2 cartridge. Now for using the CO2 cartridge…This depends on which type of CO2 head you have. Basically, make sure your valve is open, attach the head to the stem and then screw in the CO2 cartridge. Some of them have a lever to push to dispense the gas and some you have to screw in and then back off to dispense, but either way, you should now have a tire full of air! Now put your wheel back on, loosely tighten your quick release or nuts and turn the bike back over. With the bike upright, make sure the wheel is seated correctly by loosening the quick release/nuts and letting the bike settle naturally. Now tighten everything up and you are good to go!

What if the chain falls off? In general, it’s pretty easy to get a chain back on. Gently pull the derailleur forward to release the tension on the chain and lift the chain back over the teeth on the chainring or cassette. Rotate the pedal forward to get the chain moving and you should be fine! If you have broken a chain, a chain tool can remove the broken link by pushing out the link pin connecting the broken link to the chain and you can use a master link to reconnect the chain. What if the bike is shifting roughly or not at all? Sorry…can’t help you there. It’s time to take your bike into a professional for a tune-up. Tuning a derailleur is an art, a skill and something that takes experience to fix and if you have bent your derailleur hanger, you should rely on a professional to straighten it

What if you encounter a bear or some other threatening animal predator (including the two-legged kind)? I carry bear spray in one of my water bottle cages. Watch the training video provided by whatever company makes your bear spray and periodically practice removing the spray and getting it into ready position. The idea of the spray is to lay down a protective “wall” of spray between you and the animal so that the animal can make the decision to leave. The differences between using bear spray and lethal force (gun) on an animal are that unless you are very experienced using a gun under extreme circumstances, you will probably miss the animal and it will continue to charge. Even if you hit the animal, the momentum of its attack will carry it into you anyway. Also, if it’s a mother guarding cubs/kits, and you shoot it, you are needlessly orphaning them. With bear spray, you are laying down the protective wall of spray and forcing the animal to make a conscious decision to turn and retreat. Innumerable studies have shown that even attacking mother grizzlies make the decision to turn rather than go though the wall of spray. This protects both you and the potentially orphaned offspring. I use a bear bell on my bars that I turn on at dusk and dawn to alert wildlife that I am approaching and prevent attacks stemming from startled predators.

What if I am out later than I expect? If you are starting your ride with any possibility of being out after dark, you should take a bar light with you. Regardless, you should always have a flashlight with working batteries in your pack. There are few situations more frightening than being out in the forest in the dark with no idea where you are. I was out one evening, and was having fun taking sunset pictures when I suddenly realized that sunset meant dark would soon follow. No light with me...I ended up following the white tip of my dog’s tail to get home. No fun and lesson learned! I carry fire starting material and a regular flashlight in my pack as well as a bar light attached to the bars if I feel there is any possibility of getting trapped in the dark. Make sure to carry an extra layer to keep you warm when the sun disappears. Be prepared for what could happen and hope that it never does!

Partial list of things to carry with you: -snacks, water, electrolytes -flashlight, fire starter, windbreaker -bear spray, bear bell -basic bike tool, chain breaker tool, quick link, axil wrench if needed -spare tube, CO2 head and cartridge, tire lever, tire boot, valve core remover, spare sealant -GPS with crash detector, phone -basic first aid materials

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