If you’re hitting the mud in an XC mountain bike race, it’s bound to be tons of fun… but the mud can also slow you down and knock you out of the race if you’re not prepared.

Here are five tips to keep running smoothly in the mud:

1. Block the mud.

The first option that comes to mind is installing fenders on your bike, which will block mud from coating your entire body.

Unfortunately, fenders add weight to the bike, so you need to use them sparingly. To save weight for an XC race, just use a little front fender to keep mud off your face (and out of your eyes.) Typically, pro XC racers stick with a small downtube fender, if they use fenders at all.

Mud on your back is not really an issue (so you can skip the rear fender,) but you do need to be able to see…

2. Non-stick yourself.

Even with fenders blocking some mud, mud is still going to cling to virtually every surface of your bicycle. It will also cling to the fenders themselves.

What you can do is take Pam cooking spray (it prevents food from sticking to pans) and spray it on your frame, fenders, pedals, and tires. This will usually lessen the mud build-up.

It’s worth a shot, because less mud equals more riding. And if you encounter a hike-a-bike in the race (quite common on muddy days,) a bike not coated in 20 pounds of mud will be much lighter for you to carry.

3. Mud tires.

Tire choice is always a top priority, but even more so when there is very little traction to be had. If you have the time and money to carry a range of tires for all conditions, you definitely want some meaty tires in your arsenal.

You may also want some extra-skinny tires, too. See, there are two schools of thought when it comes to mud tires.

The first says you want the big, fat, meaty tires that will give you traction in thick mud, without getting bogged down. This is the “conventional wisdom” approach, but many experienced racers do not follow it.

The second says to choose skinny tires (~ 1.75,) especially in soupy mud, because they will slice through the mud and find something to grip beneath the slick surface. They also provide more clearance between the tire and fork, making it easier for mud to fall through instead of build up.

If you opt for a narrow tire, you may go with a Panaracer Fire Mud or Maxxis Medusa. Both are lightweight, narrow, 1.8″ tires with widely-spaced tall knobs.

There’s also a third school of thought, and it says that the traction you get in the mud is going to be so bad that selecting some specific mud tires won’t make a difference.

Basically the point is that, if it’s sooo sloppy you wouldn’t run your regular lightweight XC tire, you’d probably finish faster by running your bike through the worst sections than by installing mud-specific tires and trying to ride everything.

Bottom line: get some narrow mud tires if you expect to do lots of races in the mud, but don’t expect miracles.

4. Thick chain lube.

To keep those mud tires rolling, you need the chain to be moving, too. The best way to do that is to use a thick chain lube that stays put, even when wet and coated in mud.

My personal favorite is Dumonde Tech lube. Just look at the picture in my review and you’ll see how nice the chain looks despite the bike being coated in mud.

Another cool thing is that Dumonde Tech won’t wash off with plain water, so you could rinse your drivetrain in-race and the lube will still be there for the next lap.

5. Lock down your grips.

One bike part that should not be rotating is the grips. Many grips will rotate around the bar if they get wet enough (a condition known as “throttle grip,”) so you want to lock them down tight.

Two of my favorite grips, Oury and Ergon, are available with a built-in clamp that will lock the grip to the bar. That’s the best method for keeping grips in place.

If you don’t have lock-on grips and don’t want to spend extra money for them, you could try tying the grips to the bar using wire or cable ties and/or using a little spray adhesive when installing them.

Bonus tip! Practice in the mud.

If you think there’s a chance you’ll be doing a muddy mountain bike race (if you race enough, there’s a 100% chance you’ll end up racing in the mud,) you should go out and practice riding your bike in the mud.

Riding in the mud requires a lot of handling skill, and you can only get that skill from practicing in the mud. You are shortchanging yourself if you only ride on dry trails on sunny days, and you’re kidding yourself if you think just switching to mud tires will make it easy to ride in the mud.

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2 Comments
  1. question one (i ride a mountain bike w/knobby tires): what is the trick to riding in the sand … i just seem to bog down … deserts of Utah or beaches of northern Michigan . i see racers in the sand . i assume it is possible :/
    question two . regarding practicing in the mud … i assume it will be like riding in winter with patches of ice – once i got used to it – no problem … but it is considered bad etiquette to ride on muddy trails … it would be nice it the sponsors of cyclocross races would leave the courses open for a few days after events for people to practice !
    thanks
    i like your advice – thank you for that too .

  2. @Jeff

    1. I’ll work on a full article about sand.

    2. You should be able to find some muddy dirt roads or something you can ride where you won’t be tearing up singletrack.

    If that fails, enter as many muddy races as possible!

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