Rule #6: Plan Ahead

Know your equipment, your ability and the area in which you are riding and prepare accordingly says Meurant Botha. You should strive to be self-sufficient whenever you go for a ride.

Being self-sufficient means keeping your equipment in good repair and carrying the necessary supplies for changes in weather or other unforeseen circumstances. Also always wear a helmet and other appropriate safety gear.

The final in my series of discussions on the Rules of the Trail, focusses on the requirement of trail users to take a certain amount of responsibility in ensuring that they are prepared to complete an off-road bicycle excursion. This rule was adopted from the hiking fraternity where backcountry outings could easily place the trail user in serious danger, whether trapped in adverse weather, or injured far from the trailhead and/or assistance.

In South Africa, mountain bikers rarely travel in remote areas but one should also consider the fact that an hour’s ride into a forest or nature area could easily place you 20km from the trailhead. Any breakdown or injury could mean that you are a four to five hour hike from civilisation.

Similarly, when you are participating in an event, any breakdown might leave you anywhere between ten and fifteen kilometres from the next water-point, and depending on the event it could be as far as 25km on the Epic and even further on the Freedom Challenge.

Equipment and repairs

As anyone will tell you it is useless packing a camelbak full of spares if you cannot use them. Google ‘basic toolkit for trail MTB’ and you’ll get some great articles on what to carry on a ride.

But also make sure that you can:

  1. Install a tube
  2. Patch a tube
  3. Apply lubricant to a chain
  4. Fix a broken chain
  5. Realign a disc brake caliper
  6. Repair or replace a loose or broken spoke
  7. Adjust a rear derailleur and replace a broken hanger
  8. Adjust a front derailleur
  9. Insert a gator into a tire

      10. Plug a bleeding wound…

There is always plenty of debate on the right spares to carry and there is no single answer, with some erring heavily on the side of caution while others throw caution to the wind. If you ensure that your bike is in trail-ready condition before you set out, odds are that you wouldn’t need to carry a professional toolkit to get you home.

Here’s a great list on what to consider when planning a ride according to your likely needs:

  1. Thirst
  2. Hunger
  3. Sun or Rain depending on location/climate
  4. Tyres


To resolve these issues you need water, food, a jacket /sunscreen and tube, patches, tyre levers and a pump. Add some money and an emergency kit and you should be good to go. Personally I’d add a chain link and/or chain breaker and multitool for comfort too.

It’s also a good idea to ensure that your medical aid covers mountain biking, as well as emergency evacuation and to carry these details on you when out riding. And to be extra safe notify someone when you go for a ride.

More and more riders are planning long rides by browsing Google Earth. It seems that if a road or path is visible on the computer, then it is free and fair to attempt by bicycle. Many farmers are surprised to find riders where they never ever bothered to place ‘no entry’ signs and this is causing havoc, resulting in farms closing legal access routes on a weekly basis. Part of planning a ride is the responsibility to obtain the relevant permits and permissions. The ‘I didn’t know’ defence has now run its course and it is a matter of time before we can expect the first riders being prosecuted for trespassing. Companies have fired employees for lesser transgressions, so don’t get yourself blacklisted.

A final word on safety: it is an unfortunate fact that bike-jacking is a real threat and happens on a weekly basis in South Africa. Riding in groups is the smart thing to do and research your routes to avoid crime hotspots. Group riding of course offers benefits beyond safety with collective tools, expertise and skills decreasing the odds of an expensive rescue, worried relatives or a cold night spent out in the sticks.

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