Ride Mud Like An Expert

There’s no reason to let a mud puddle on your route sink your spirits, if you follow these tips.

Molly Hurford |

When the roads get thick with mud, cyclists are apt to ditch their ride plans for the trainer—but with a little finesse and strategy, you can make these conditions work for you. Whether you’re riding through slick, greasy mud on your road bike or hitting some deep puddles on your mountain bike, we have some tips to help you get through faster – and without looking like a Swamp Thing by the end.

1. Switch Your Route

If you’re faced with an impassable sea of mud on a road ride, Google Maps or another GPS-based mapping system can help you reroute. But if you’re on a mountain bike and find your trail system muddy, you’ve got some thinking to do: Riding muddy single- and doubletrack can ruin your favourite trails for everyone. Avoid ethical dilemmas like this by planning ahead.

“It’s tough when you get to the trail and you’re ready to ride and have to turn around,” says IMBA Communications Director Mark Eller. “So before you head to the trails, check on the conditions – you can even call parks to check on the status of the trails.” If things sound rough, consider riding the road and skipping mud altogether.RELATED: Ride Wet Descents Like A Boss

2. Chill Out

Don’t oversteer – let the bike move under you. “Stay relaxed on descents and practice getting comfortable with the bike drifting a little without reacting and tensing up,” says Sue Grandjean, a former pro mountain biker who represents the US in the World Mountain Bike Orienteering Championships. “When you tense up, you tend to lose balance and have to put your foot down.”

3. Can Running with Your Bike Speed You Up?

“Sometimes, if the mud is super thick and peanut-buttery, you might be better off running instead of riding through the mud,” says pro mountain biker Georgia Gould, whose mud skills helped her earn second place at the 2016 Cyclocross National Championships. Running might keep your bike cleaner (and your rear derailleur firmly in place), and you won’t run the risk of bogging down and having to bail midway through. So if you know a super-deep section of mud is coming up, assess the risk/reward of riding versus the run. You’ll also save your components such as bearings from getting contaminated.

4. Don’t Over-Brake

If you opt to face a mud pit on your bike instead of carrying it, keep your hands off the brakes. The worst thing you can do is stall out mid-pit and find yourself ankle-deep in mud. Let your speed carry you through the pit. “You’re going to feel out of control, but don’t fight it – embrace the sketchiness,” says Gould.

5. Keep Your Speed Constant

Trying to speed up or slow down in mud is super hard, and will cause you to spin out. Avoid this by trying to keep your speed smooth, avoiding as many slow-downs or hard accelerations as possible. “When pedaling, try to keep a steady, smooth pressure on the pedals and you should be able to keep your tyre traction,” adds Grandjean.

6. Plan Ahead in the Corners

Whatever you do, avoid braking in the corners; do any speed-scrubbing before you enter the corner to avoid sliding out. That’s good advice when cornering on a bike in any conditions, but it’s especially useful for mud: You get much worse traction when the road moves with you.

7. Look for the Unridden Line

If you’re in a group-riding or race scenario, there are going to be lots of people fording the same muddy paths. “Don’t get sucked into following the most ridden line,” Gould says. “There’s often a good line right outside of that line, and there’s more traction where it’s less ridden.” The ‘fastest’ line changes throughout the race or ride when it’s muddy, she adds, so you don’t want to assume that the line people are taking is the best. You’re looking for traction wherever you can get it, which might mean going for a rocky section you’d normally avoid.

RELATED: A Step-by-Step Guide to Cleaning Your Bike

8. Dial Your Tyres

It’s important to adjust your tyre pressure to fit road conditions. In mud, that means running a lower tyre pressure: You’re already riding at slower speeds to avoid sliding out or crashing, but lower pressures will give you even better traction in tough corners. Also, there are many mud-specific tyres out there; if you find yourself riding mud a lot, consider swapping your less-knobby tyre for something hardier.

9. Choose Your Puddles Selectively

If you have the chance to pre-ride a section of a race course, or you know a trail really well, puddles can be your friends. It’s natural to try to avoid water, but puddles are often surrounded by soft mud, so pointing your bike straight through the water might provide the best line. “A lot of times, on a mountain bike course, the puddle actually usually has the hardest surface under the water. But then again, there might be some weird holes or rocks, so if you don’t know what’s in the puddle, it’s safer to go around,” says Gould.

READ MORE ON: Skills training programmes workouts

Copyright © 2024 Hearst