5 MTB FUNdamentals for your new Mountain Bike
A lot of new riders are gravitating to the Ibis Aluminum Frames, the Ibis Ripmo AF and Ripley AF. So what are some of the tips and tricks to help you have the most fun on trail? Funny you should ask…
Here are some of the top 5 things that help new MTB riders get the most out of their bikes.
Pedals: Flats vs. Clipless
Sport level bikes don’t include pedals. That’s because unlike your beach cruiser rider preference makes a big difference in setup.
Flat pedals, also called platform pedals, are fairly self explanatory. Available in a variety of shapes and sizes riders can pick a pedal size somewhat relative to their foot size. Flat pedals also are available in a wide range of colors to accent your build.
The upside to flat pedals is you don’t clip in or out. The downside, you don’t clip in or out, so riders need to be a bit wary of keeping weight on the pedals so they don’t spin into your shins.
Personally, I ride flat pedals because I feel they’re easier on my lower back these days. It did take a bit to get used to putting more effort into keeping my feet firmly planted at first, and you can’t “cheat” on bunny hops to get over obstacles. When cornering I keep my pedals at a bit of an angle to keep weight on them compared to clipless pedals which helps keep you firmly on the bike.
Clipless pedals, somewhat ironically named, you clip in to. There’s a story there but the long and short is they’re called clipless. Cleats on your shoes engage the pedals when you step “into” the pedal and disengage when you rotate your heel outward (rotating from the ball of your foot near the cleat).
Clipless pedals are technically going to be “more efficient” as you can “pull” up and drive “over” while pedaling (opposite to the down power stroke). How much more efficient is up for debate – the more efficient “circles” you pedal the more efficient they are. It’s good practice to pedal efficient “circles” in flats too.
Stepping in and clipping out can be intimidating to new riders. Let’s put it this way: it quickly becomes second nature. I’ve had full speed get-offs where I have no idea how my brain knew to rotate my ankles out of the pedals as I ran down trail trying not to actually hit the ground (cartoon style). However, it’s also likely that at least once in your riding you will think you clipped one foot out, when you clicked the other out, lean the wrong way and fall. Usually in front of people. Murphy’s law…
My advice to clients, you don’t want to be “thinking” about your pedals very much. If you’re intimidated of clipless start with flats. You’ll know when you’re ready to try the other. In fact, before I went full time to flats I kept a composite pair around to ride now and then to keep me from developing too many bad habits in clipless.
Suspension: Design & Setup
Without getting too far into it: suspension design makes a huge difference in a bike’s personality and performance. Well designed suspension is confident and predictable through the entirety of it’s travel. The Ripley AF and Ripmo AF both feature DW (Dave Weagle) suspension. Its efficient, confident and predictable. Ibis’ designers created bikes that have a good balance of material stiffness minimizing lateral flex without being tooth rattling stiff. (as a side note, there was a brand a couple years ago that had so much lateral flex that the suspension would tend to “lock” mid travel, creating an instant infinite spring rate flinging riders all over. You could see it on EWS riders… it was nuts)
Learn about suspension setup basics on the following tabs.
Each tab has a video with the basics of Air Spring / PSI, Volume Spacers, Compression, Rebound (or watch it all in one place with the final tab).
Each tab also has a text section with a bit more in-depth look at the typical MTB suspension settings and how they intertwine.
PSI / Spring Rate
MTB suspension must accommodate a wide range of rider weight. To achieve this nearly all forks and rear shocks use an adjustable air spring.
By varying air pressure riders set a desired sag, or percentage of travel that the bike “sits into” under neutral loading.
Modifying this sag percentage will change small bump compliance as well as bottom out characteristics.
Learning how to Pre-Charge your suspension pump will help you make finite adjustments to sag.
Typically 15% sag is for a firm setup and 20% sag is considered plush.
Air Spring Fine Tuning Control(s): Volume Spacers & Compression
Air springs ramp rate, sometimes called Spring Rate, is based on how air compresses in the containment cylinder. As the air is compressed the PSI increases according to the decreasing volume of the containment. This is done via non-compressible volume spacers in the air chamber.
Hydraulic damping assists air spring providing support in mid-stroke and bottom out.
Opposing Control: Rebound.
Higher spring rate will drive the suspension back to neutral with more force than a lower spring rate. To keep the bike from skipping across trail rebound damping is utilized.
**on the Ripmo AF’s DVO Onyx fork much of this adjustment is done by the OTT or Off the Top negative air spring adjuster. However, Volume Spacing is used on most forks and nearly all air shocks.
As suspension compresses (travel reduces) a piston moves closer to the end of a sealed container. By decreasing the volume of the container the PSI pushing back on the piston is increased.
By adding or removing non-compressible volume spacers riders modify the air spring’s ramp rate which directly changes the amount of support and bottom out feel of the fork or shock.
By removing volume spacers a rider increases the available volume in the suspension. The larger volume compresses less per mm of travel resulting in a lower PSI per mm of travel. This creates less support and is utilizes more travel.
Adding volume spacers decreases the available volume. With less air volume the PSI per mm of travel increases providing more support and greater resistance to bottom out.
Opposing Control: Rebound.
Rebound may need to be adjusted for volume tuning depending on how drastic of a PSI change is being tuned in or out of the suspension.
“Helping” Control: Compression.
Compression provides additional support and bottom out resistance.
Compression controls provide damping to slow suspension travel as a load is applied and the suspension is compressed. (easy one right?)
When riders have found sag and volume spacing preferences compression controls provide minute adjustments to dial in performance. Adding compression provides more support allowing the suspension to ride taller in its travel which is important when dialing in a bike’s personality in corners, etc.
With too little compression a bike will sit deep in the travel. This compromises cornering and braking force resistance. Headtube angle, bottom bracket height, front to rear weight bias, etc are modified as a bike goes through its travel. Maintaining control of the use of travel is paramount for good performance.
Since compression hydraulically slows the suspension’s use of travel it therefor lowers the air spring’s PSI. Properly setting compression controls will help ease the load on the rebound system by controlling the air spring’s push back onto the rebound circuit.
Too much compression will cause a bike to feel harsh and not use appropriate amounts of travel.
Generally, compression settings are fine tuned after sag and volume spacing have riders “in the ballpark.”
Low speed compression controls mid-stroke as well as support in cornering and against brake dive.
High speed compression helps with bottom out and high shaft speed inputs.
3 positions switches are a type of compression circuit with Open the most plush, Mid providing some additional support and Firm for climbing. If you climb in firm remember to put it back to plush for the downhill or you’re in for a potentially rough ride.
Rebound damping controls a suspension’s shaft speed returning to a neutral position. Or, how fast the air spring pushes back as the load changes.
More rebound damping slows the suspension by decreasing the amount of fluid allowed to pass through the hydraulic design.
Less rebound damping allows the suspension to return faster with less hydraulic restriction on the damper.
Rebound setting is based on weight, ground speed, terrain and aggression. Setting the rebound properly means finding the right frequency or feel for your riding.
If your rebound is too fast, or doesn’t have enough clicks of rebound, the bike will tend to skip and suffer poor small bump compliance.
When the rebound is too slow, or you have too many clicks of rebound, the suspension may “pack up” creating a harsh ride as each bump uses progressively more travel forcing the suspension deeper into the travel, which will have higher spring rates.
Opposing: Air Spring PSI / Spring Rate.
“Helping” Control: Low & High Speed Rebound.
Some suspension is designed with 2 rebound circuits. The High Speed Rebound circuit is designed to provide additional control resisting increased PSI late in suspension travel.
Typically High Speed Rebound settings are used as the Low Speed Rebound controls edge towards closed. Example: you might not use any clicks of High Speed Rebound until you reach “X” clicks on the low speed.
Suspension is designed to be setup with a certain amount of SAG depending on riding style. Most rear shocks are between 25-33% sag. So, when you’re balanced on the bike it will sit 25 to 33% into the travel. This allows the suspension to have droop for more control when the trail “falls” away while also helping with small bump compliance.
Too much sag will create a sloppy ride that lacks support and tends to bury itself into terrain. Too little sag and the bike will lack grip and abuse the rider over every small bump on trail.
Shocks also have a variety of ways to adjust rebound, compression and volume tuning. If you’re new to the sport having a good resource to work with will help you take the surprises out of setup for your skillset and terrain.
Rebound and compression dampers control how fast the wheel returns to extension (rebound) and how fast the suspension will compress (compression). Oversimplified, imagine plates moving through a liquid in a tube. The plate with the bigger holes will allow more fluid to go from one side to the other more quickly (less rebound or less compression) reducing the size of the holes will slow the plate’s ability to transfer the fluid (more rebound or more compression control).
Rebound settings will depend on the air spring’s pressure. More pressure will result in more rebound clicks to control the higher spring rate.
As your riding improves you will tend to speed up your bike’s suspension, by lowering the amount of rebound damping, to allow the bike to more quickly reset for the next terrain feature.
The Ripley AF features FOX Performance DPS rear shock and a FOX Performance GRIP fork.
FOX Float Performance DPS
Air Spring & Volume Spacers
The Ibis Ripley uses a 190 x 45mm shock, spec’d with the Fox Float Factory DPS.
SAG is adjusted by PSI – typically trail riding styles gravitate to 25-30% sag. This would measure about 13mm for a plush setup and 11mm for a more firm setup.
Volume spacing provides fine tuning options to support the air spring.
By changing to a larger volume spacer, thus reducing the volume, you increase the air spring’s ramp rate for improved bottom out support and pop.
Conversely smaller volume spacers produces a more linear feel as the air has more volume during shock compression per mm of travel.
Do not install more or larger volume spacers than the FOX advises. Installing more than the maximum volume spacers will result in product damage and potential for injuries, etc.
FOX FLOAT Performance DPS Rebound Controls
The DPS provides a rebound control with 11 clicks of adjustment.
Heavier riders will use more rebound control than lighter riders to slow the air spring’s return to neutral.
As your ground speeds increase it is common to allow your bike to rebound more quickly to prepare for the next terrain feature and avoid suspension packing from slow rebound setup.
FOX Float Performance DPS Compression Controls
The Fox Float Performance DPS shock provides the blue 3 position switch which adjusts from Firm, Mid and Open. Also known as a “climb switch” the use of this is dependent on rider style, preference and terrain.
FOX Float 34 Performance Series GRIP Fork
Ibis Ripley Fork Travel Options
130mm Ibis Ripley
The Ripley is spec’d with a 130mm FOX 34. This provides the bike with it’s stock 66.5 degree headtube angle and 335mm bottom bracket height.
Riders looking for a little more aggressive setup may investigate the 140mm option.
140mm Ibis Ripley
Perhaps more than the additional 9% of travel the 10mm adds are the geometry modifications. Raising the front of the Ripley will slacken the headtube, increase the trail measurement and slightly lift the bottom bracket.
These are popular shifts for riders pushing the Ripley into bigger trails, attacking the steepest, burliest terrain.
Wondering which is right for you? Chat with our team today and we’ll help you define which riders benefit from which travel setup.
Air Spring & Volume Spacers
The FOX 34 provides riders a range of setup options using air spring as well as volume spacers.
Suggested sag is 15% for a firm feel and 20% for a plush fork. On the stock 130mm setup 15% equals 20mm or about 0.8 inch of sag. 20% will use 26mm or about 1″ of sag.
Riders who choose the 140mm option will find the sag settings quite close to the 160. 15% is 21mm while 20% is 28mm. (as mentioned in the previous tab the additional travel is more about the geometry change than “more” travel).
The 130mm FOX 34 is factory spec’d with 2 volume spacers (bike manufacturers may or may not change this). The 130mm fork can carry a maximum of 5 volume spacers.
At 140mm the factory spec is 1 volume spacers with a maximum of 5.
Do not install more volume spacers than the FOX advises. Installing more than the maximum volume spacers will result in product damage and potential for injuries, etc.
FOX 34 GRIP Rebound Controls
The GRIP damper provides 10 clicks of low speed rebound located at the red knob on the bottom of the fork lowers.
FOX GRIP Compression Controls
The Performance GRIP offers a 3 position on-the-fly adjuster for Open, Mid and Firm.
FOX also offers micro-adjust detents between the settings.
The Ripmo AF features the DVO Topaz T3 rear shock and DVO Onyx D1 fork.
DVO Topaz T3
Air Spring & Volume Spacers
The Ibis Ripmo AF uses a 210 x 55mm shock.
SAG is adjusted by PSI – typically Enduro riding styles gravitate to 25-30% sag. This would measure about 17mm for a plush setup.
Volume spacing provides fine tuning options to support the air spring.
By adding volume spacers, thus reducing the volume, you increase the air spring’s ramp rate for improved bottom out support and pop.
Conversely removing volume spacers produces a more linear feel as the air has more volume during shock compression per mm of travel.
Do not install more volume spacers than the DVO advises. Installing more than the maximum volume spacers will result in product damage and potential for injuries, etc.
DVO Topaz T3 Rebound Controls
The Topaz T3 has 22 clicks of rebound adjustment.
The Topaz T3 features an Open, Mid and Firm switch for on the fly adjustment.
Support modifications can also be made by adjusting the rubber bladder from 200 psi (lighter riders) to 200 PSI (heavier riders)
DVO Onyx D1
For the 160mm travel Onyx SC D1 suggested sag is 15% for a firm feel and 20% for a plush fork. On the stock 160mm setup 15% equals 24mm or about 1 inch of sag. 20% will use 32mm or about 1.3″ of sag.
The DVO Onyx SC D1 fork offers a wide range of tuning capacity with 22 clicks of rebound.
DVO Onyx SC D1 Compression Controls
The DVO Onyx SC D1 provides Low and High speed compression controls to fine tune support.
The Low Speed Compression, seen above, features 6 clicks of adjustability.
High Speed Compression is adjusted by spinning the above dial in full rotations. Don’t feel for detents. There are 5 rotations of High Speed Compression adjustment on the Onyx SC D1.
Tires: Size, Patterns and Pressure
If you’ve jumped around on BikeCo.com you see we’re heavily tied with Maxxis MTB tires. There’s a reason for this. We all buy our own tires, and Maxxis makes the best performing and longest lasting offerings.
Choosing the right Size & Tread Pattern makes a big difference in your bikes’ personality. Ibis’ aluminum bikes are spec’d with fairly aggressive tires. There’s a reason for this: nothing is worse than putting your new bike into a corner and having it slide out. Hard on the rider, hard on the psyche. So generally, you’ll see more aggressive tires to ensure plenty of grip.
Learn more about Maxxis MTB Tires in the video below:
Conversely, if you’re looking for the very fastest climbing you probably want something lighter, with less lug that will accelerate more quickly.
A lot of riders may find a slightly faster rear tire than the front provides a nice balance. With modern rim width most tires are in the 2.3-2.5 range these days. Stay even, or slightly wider in the front for a balanced feel.
There are many different types of sidewalls as well. Chat with your sales team about how different sidewall technology is applied based on rider weight, terrain, personality, etc. Heavier sidewalls tend to be much more resistant to cuts or punctures and offer additional damping for improved small bump compliance. The cost is well, they’re heavier.
Tire pressure is important. A lot of your bike’s small bump compliance will come down to how much PSI you run.
Tires will slowly lose pressure, so it’s good to check them before each ride. Depending on your weight, the sidewall technology, tire size, rim width, ground speed, etc, etc you might run from the mid teens to over 30 PSI. Most trail riders will find the lower end of the 20psi range appropriate.
You can look at the sidewall of your tire to gauge your PSI. If you’re seeing singular slash “/ / /” marks spaced across the sidewall you’re getting a good amount of tire compliance. If you see x marks, “XXX”, you should come up a couple PSI.
You want to balance small bump feel, cornering support and keeping your rims off rocks to fine tune your tire pressure.
If you’re the rider who tends to go a bit aggressive off the bat a more aggressive sidewall technology or even a rim insert like the CushCore Pro or XC on the rear tire will help keep the wheel round and true longer.
Still want to know more about tires? Check out more data on MTB sidewall and compound technology here.
So, mountain biking is a dynamic sport in a wide range of conditions. One of the real eye openers to me when I started riding was that in steep stuff you’re not going to be able to come to a full stop. Not a big deal really, but just pointing it out hahaha…
MTB brakes are designed balancing weight and performance. More bikes are spec’d with 4 piston brakes from trail and enduro riding while xc / trail bikes tend to have 2 piston brakes.
4 piston brakes provide more power most notably as they increase the contact surface area with larger pads than 2 piston brakes.
Rotor size also modifies performance. Larger rotors have more leverage as well as greater circumference, or more metal, to better resist heat saturation.
There are a couple enemies to brake performance: overheating (particularly chronic overheating) and contamination.
You’re going to occasionally overheat your rotors. You’ll typically hear them get noisier, you’ll feel power loss (don’t touch them while you’re riding – you’ll end up branded for a long long time) and you’ll see them darken by the end of the ride. This all equates to less friction coefficient and less efficient brakes. Don’t stress though there are ways to resurface the rotors after a big day in the steeps. What you don’t want to do is just stress them over and over and over and wonder why you’re having to replace them more often. If you’re constantly cooking rotors look at larger diameter or more heat resistant models.
Rotor and pad contamination is more a pain to deal with. MTB brake pads are extremely susceptible to contamination. Don’t use spray lubes, don’t use non-approved cleaners near them, don’t handle them excessively, obviously keep grease away from them… Contaminated pads tend to sound like a goose honk and lack power. You can typically salvage the rotors but often will have to replace the pads. Be aware of what gets near your rotors and pads. Personally I only wash my bike with water and Muc-Off to avoid any strange contamination issues.
You can check out the home mechanic section on BikeCo.com for how-to service writeups, blogs and videos. Or learn more and shop the best brakes, rotors & brake accessories in MTB here.
The final thing about brakes is how to best use them, which leads us into our fifth Fundamental.
Top 10 MTB Riding Skills to Improve Your Riding
(So here we have a list of the top ten MTB riding skills, inside a list of 5 MTB FUNdamentals to give new MTB riders more fun on the trail – quite the SEO coup right here eh?)
Let’s start with brake techniques
Three seconds on, three seconds off. This helps keep you from overheating brakes. I was sure I had this mastered but our racers would get behind me and count when I started riding. Letting the brakes cool rather makes a big difference ensuring the power is there when you want it. When you get on the brakes get on them good, then let them go. Keeping them “kinda” engaged won’t slow you down and will heat up the rotors and pads reducing their efficiency.
Brake where it matters! (obviously don’t shoot off a cliff saying “but Nate said!!”) Like we mentioned before MTB brakes aren’t able to pull you to a stop in every condition. If you’re riding down a steep chute it’s probably best to check up before you roll in, slow down to speed you can handle, let the bike accelerate down the chute and get on the brakes before the inevitable turn at the bottom. As your skills improve you’ll more easily see where you can pull a handful of brakes to slow down and let the bike work in the other terrain. Slow down BEFORE the corner, don’t grab a handful of brake IN the corner (it will stand the bike up and you’ll quit turning!)
Get confident with 1 finger braking. Hydraulic brakes are plenty strong. 1 finger will give you all of the hydraulic power available while keeping more fingers on the grips for better control. Find a not scary steep section and feel how easy it is to lock up the brakes with one finger. Then work into being comfortable riding with 1 finger braking and the rest on the grips.
This fourth one is one of my all time, keep you on the bike, in the sport tips: ride at 70 or 80% of your skillset. That leaves a chunk of talent left for the unexpected. If you ride at 100% of your skill level you are going to crash. A lot. And it hurts after a while. I would speculate that very few of our pro racers ever go a true 100% since slow is smooth and smooth is fast…
Keep your head up! By the time your front wheel is encountering something it’s pretty well too late to do much about it other than maybe pull up or push down. If you drop your eyesight into your front wheel track you’re going to miss the next obstacle or turn setup and just really be a passenger on the bike. These bikes are really capable, don’t get super stiff and let the bike help you through the small and medium hiccups.
Use your knees and elbows as suspension. Going back to the “don’t ride stiff” or “dead sailor”. You weigh more than the bike, so keeping your body moving as clean as possible will help the bike ride better and you enjoy the trails more. Learn to pump the trail, get light where you need to, suck the bike up over obstacles.
Don’t sit down on descents. Keep your weight on your pedals, rather than your saddle. This helps keep the center of gravity much lower and your bike is less likely to become an inverted pendulum trying to fling you all over.
Practice proper footwork. Learning to keep your outside foot down in corners will give you much better ground clearance to lean the bike into a turn as well as providing you the proper weighted position. Inside foot up, outside foot down. Turning left, right foot down. Turning right, left foot down.
Your bike should be setup for you! Personal preference is something I’m not going to argue too much about, buuuuuut, when I see 5’8” riders with 810mm bars and at 6’1” tall with a 76” wingspan I’m running 785mm (advice I got years ago from some of our tall racers) I wonder you know? Too narrow of bars will be nervous and twitchy. Too wide and you’re going to lose your “power position” and not be able to correct small mistakes as easily. Think about pushup position. You don’t want to be too far either direction from where you have the ability to make power.
Practice makes perfect, but don’t try so hard you overwhelm yourself. I often will find 1 thing to focus or work on even today when I ride. Like, today I’m going to have proper footwork through every corner and not stay in the 3-9 position being lazy for example. If I go riding with someone newer to the sport I try to offer maybe 1 bit of advice per ride. Adding too much can be overwhelming (believe me I have EWS pros offer me all kinds of advice and it’s good – but – at some point it’s like ya, not gonna be able to clear that huge section hahaha).
Hopefully this tips make you more confident in your riding and able to better understand your setup.
If you’re in the market for a complete bike, suspension upgrade, Pro Tune suspension, brake or wheel upgrades or any riding accessories make sure to check out BikeCo.com and chat with our sales team!