Mud glorious mud

Stage two of this year’s ABSA Cape Epic was a mudfest of note! James Thornhill-Fisher heard a rider say: “Man today is going to be an expensive day.” But if you follow these guidelines in future it need not be.

If you are going to be doing a ride/race that is notorious for mud, my opinion is that you invest in proper mud tyres. They cut through and disperse the mud so your tyres don’t clog up. They also slip and slide less. Your clothes and everything else will be covered in mud but you will be riding while the rest are wallowing and walking.

Mud is one of the most difficult terrain types, especially when combined with hills, rocks, logs or roots. It’s best to avoid any sudden or quick movements when riding in mud and as in sand, use momentum as your friend. You may also want to lower your tyre pressure to increase traction.

 Absa Cape Epic 2014 Stage 2 Robertson

Serious mud can accumulate on your bike and add three to four kilos to your wheels in no time, as well as preventing your wheels from rolling and turning properly. With heavy mud accumulation, your front tire may tend to skid and slide without rotating at all! To combat this I sometimes use “Spray and Cook” on the bike frame and tyres to stop the mud sticking, but this only works for a short while.

If you have time to stop, use a stick to remove built-up mud from the tyres, frame and brakes. If there is a river nearby, it will be worth giving your bike a quick wash down. I did this a few times on stage two of this year’s Epic and it saved me lots of Rands because my gears and brakes were free to work properly, for a while at least, after the wash.

Steady pedal pressure and strength are also required to ease the burden on your components. Focus on pedalling smoothly – this is vital in mud. You need to use a gear that lets you spin the pedals at about 70-80 rpm, making sure you apply the power as evenly as possible right through the pedal stroke. If you go for the big push at the front of each stroke, you’ll just make the back wheel lose traction and spin. Then as you go through the middle of the pedal stroke, the bike will stall where there’s little power. Gear selection is crucial and anticipating those gear changes will save you a fortune and a lot of heartache. I’ll have to discuss gear selection and correct shifting in a future issue, but if you need a quick answer go to and click on the MTB Academy tab.

Try to avoid the brakes if you can. Approach any obstacles as close to a 90 degree angle as possible and keep your weight centred between the wheels. Ride light, balanced, centred, and ready for the bike to start to slide out. There will be times when your bike will slide out from under you, and it is a question of how fast you can recover as to whether or not you will fall. Going uphill, you may wish to select a slightly higher gear and do not stand up. Build up momentum before going into these uphill sections.

Another problem is that shifting may be difficult, as mud may coat the drive train. It may be beneficial to use the middle, and not the small, chainring to prevent chain suck. Lube your drivetrain as often as possible. This prevents it from drying and causing shifting problems and also reduces the “grinding paste” effect.

James Thornhill-Fisher

If it’s not a race consider not even riding on a muddy trail, as you may do some serious trail damage in addition to the damage to your bike. It is also a good idea to give your bike a thorough cleaning before the mud dries and cakes up on your bike. When riding in muddy conditions spray your pedals with a liberal coat of lube. This will save you from getting stuck in the pedals when you need to escape in a hurry. (Actually just do it regularly as most people forget that pedals need some lube too now and again to keep working properly.)

I did all of the above and made it through the day, and the whole Epic for that matter, with only lubing my chain (lots) and having my bike cleaned after every stage. I never even needed my tyres pumped.

James Thornhill-Fisher, the MTB Guru, has over 25 years of cycling and mountain biking experience. He’s ridden over 60 000km in the last five years, leading numerous Cape Epic trial rides along the way. Check out his website for upcoming training camps and workshops:

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