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Muddy fun -- Kyle Pennell rips through the big bog on the power line road near the top of the Lower Ridge Trail. (Photo by Daniel Sandberg) 

Finally, the truth can be told...
Mystic Secrets of the Mud Masters

IF YOU RIDE on Galbraith Mt., sooner or later (actually sooner, like today), you're going to have to learn how to deal with mud. Here are some Mystic Secrets of the Mud Masters.

Trails -- Generally speaking, the best trails to ride on Galbraith Mt. during the muddy season(s) are trails with a little slope, such as the Ridge Trail, Bob's Trail, the Candy Trails and several of the Arsenio trails. Purple Heart, Kung Fu Theater, 911, Crazy 8s, Dan's Trail, El Pollo Elastico can be fairly good, but most of the south side is awful (e.g., Chutes and Ladders, Evil Twin, Lost Giants). One positive exception on the South Side is the Bunny Trail, which retains much of its sweet character year 'round.

Riding techniques -- Mud and its companion and ally -- slime -- makes everything a little more challenging. The most common mistake riders make when confronted with a huge mud puddle like the one on the Lower Intestine pictured at RIGHT, is to try to steer around the edge of it. The best line, which is to say the line with the hardest trail surface and best traction, is often (but not always!) the line right through the middle of the puddle. (Riding around the margin also widens the trail tremendously, which increases its impact on the surrounding woods.)

Otherwise, all the standard techniques for dicey situations apply -- keep your weight centered for maximum control, use a light touch on the power and the brakes, and learn to anticipate the unexpected. This is especially true if you're airing it out -- depending on where you land, your bike may or may not behave at all the way you expect.

Equipment -- Tires are always an important consideration in mud, but all you really need to know is two words: "sticky rubber." All the European tire makers (Michelin, Hutchinson, Continental) make good sticky rubber tires. It also helps if the knobs are fairly widely spaced.

Speaking of which, here's a tire tip: some people spray Pam (the vegetable oil for your frying pan) on their tires to keep the mud from sticking between the knobs. (Do NOT get the Pam on your brakes, though.) You won't need to do this with tires with many tires, but it can help if you're running tires with tightly spaced knobs like Specialized Rocksters.

The size of the tires is a matter of personal preference. Some people like 'em thin, some people like 'em fat. Kent DeVries at Jack's Bicycle likes to go wide (up to 2.5), while Galbraith legend Scott Fleanor likes to go thin (down to 1.5) in the back. One thing to watch, though -- if you choose a wide tire, make sure you've got enough clearance between your tire and your chain stays, or you'll clog up with mud.

Sealed cable systems are also popular in the winter because they keep the mud from screwing up your shifting and braking. There are several systems that attempt to do this, but my experience is that they fail sooner or later. The best way to seal your cables is to have the cable bosses drilled out and run continuous cable housing all the way from the shifter to the derailleur.

Another big issue during the mud season is lube. A lot of people on Galbraith Mt. swear by ProLink. Another majority opinion: avoid wax based lubes like White Lightening.

Clothes -- You're probably going to get wet, but you don't have to be cold. What to wear to stay warm? Many people were tights under their riding shorts, although the kind of tights is quite varied. Something like Sugoi Bosui stretch tights (featuring windproof material on front and breathable Lycra in the back) are excellent but pricey. I personally wear Patagonia Capilene light weight long underwear under my riding shorts in the cold. Works like a charm.

Some people who are particularly prone to cold feet like to wear breathable, waterproof socks. Speaking of which, here's a sock tip: if you get waterproof socks, be sure to buy a second pair of riding shoes that are one size larger than you normal shoes so you can wear Sealskins over your regular riding socks without cutting off the blood to your feet.

Long-fingered gloves, a tight fitting, jersey-stlye skull cap to wear under the helmet, a fleece vest and a light outer jacket are also a part of many riders' winter / cold weather gear.

Maintenance -- You know what they say about an ounce of prevention. Well, when it comes to riding in the mud on Galbraith, it'll not only save you money, it can make the difference between riding home and pushing your bike home. 

The first thing you want to do is clean and wax your bike. This will keep the gunk from sticking to the frame and eliminate a lot of problems down the trail. Some people use Lemon Pledge for this; other swear by natural carnuba wax (it really doesn't matter what brand). 

You should also clean your bike after every muddy ride with the hose, but remember -- don't spray the water directly at the bearing and seals. If your bike isn't too muddy (or if the mud dries before you get a chance to clean it), it's better to clean it with a rag, rather than hosing it.

The single most important thing to clean on your bike is the drive train. Wipe off and oil your chain with ProLink or a similar oil twice after every ride: once right after you wash it, and then the next day before you ride again.

You will probably need to "floss" between your gears with a rag and/or brush, and clean the pulley wheels on your derailleur too. After a really muddy ride, you may want to use a brush (an old toothbrush works great; just make sure it isn't your husband/wife's toothbrush) to clean between the links of your chain. 

If your bike has V-brakes, it's also very important to clean the rims on your wheels, as they can get encrusted with a lot of crud. Bikes with disc brakes don't need as much attention in this regard.

Finally, if you're riding in mud and hosing your bike a lot, don't forget to put a drop of oil on the pivot points of your pedals every few rides. Happy trails!

 -- Mongo

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Vert Quest, excerpts from Mongo's World Record Journal by Bruce Brown "Mountain In The Clouds" by Bruce Brown