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Mud Skills- Alan Dorrington's Guide to the Brown Stuff

It comes earlier in the season some years compared to others but (if you live in the UK's maritime climate) it always comes at some point during the winter. The Belgians call it a 'modder' or even 'supermodder' if really bad - here we tend to call it a mudbath. And a good mudbath is what makes 'cross so special for the keen crosser…

If you have two or even three bikes, a pit helper with a petrol jetwash and an endless supply of water, then you can pretty much ride out a proper modder, so to speak. Change bikes every half lap and you are unlikely to grind to a halt. All very well, but many of us are riding on a single bike without a crack team of pit helpers.

Really bad mud affects your riding in three main ways. Here is how to deal with it:

Commitment

You have to commit to mud. If you try and ride it half-heartedly you will most likely bog down. Approaching a muddy section, keep your speed up and hit it hard - you are going to slow anyway, so try and preserve your momentum as best you can.

Weight distribution should be rearward on the bike - it helps with grip for the rear tyre and also stops the front tyre from digging in so much. If you can, ride the tops of the handlebars to help this shifting of weight rearwards. Measure and smooth your pedalling to give out even power, albeit at a high level as traction is more consistent when your pedalling is more consistent.

Go for a bigger gear than you would on a smoother surface and keep relaxed, letting the bike go where it wants to and allowing your body to go with it. The bigger gear helps with the even but strong pedal stroke you need, and digs the rear wheel in further. Don't turn suddenly or you'll be closer to the mud than you really want.

Keeping the mud off

Whilst mud may be what makes 'cross races fun, it is also something to avoid getting on your bike as much as possible. Look at the muddy sections of the course that, whilst you know you can ride them, are possibly best run instead. This way you will throw less mud onto your frame, coat your tyres less and generally keep the level of clogging down. Whilst the Planet X XLS and On One Pickenflicks have fantastic mud clearance and will keep running longer than most 'cross frames, they do have their limits and will clog eventually when things are really bad. So help your bike and yourself keep moving by picking it up (off the ground) and running the worst bits - you'll find it is worth it even if at times it can feel like a cross-country running race with optional bike. Which leads me to the next tip…

Preserving your rear derailleur

When your bike is getting really clogged and mud is all over the drivetrain, then at times you may be risking a broken rear derailleur. And when I say broken, I mean destroyed and not fit for even the parts bin. This is a bit of an occupational hazard for the crosser wanting to race on one bike in all conditions but you can improve your chances of avoiding it if you follow a few tips.

Firstly make sure your jockey wheels are well lubricated - if they are sticking or grind to a halt they will interfere with the running of the chain and place strain on the mech at a time when it is already overloaded. Often short and medium cage rear mechs are less vulnerable than a long cage mechs.

All the Planet X/On One 'cross bikes come with short/medium cage mechs in this respect and they avoid dragging close to the mud when you really sink in.

The second thing you can do to help is to alter your riding style. Pedal smoothly, without big surges in power or effort. This means less strain on your drivetrain and less chance of ripping that rear mech off as it binds suddenly. Be mechanically sympathetic where you can.

Just because you can ride a section, doesn't mean you should. The course might be all rideable but make sure you run a few sections to save the bike and use your free arm to clear mud at the same time. Once it gets really bad, only change gear if you have to. If you change down before a corner or obstacle, make the change early so that you have time to put a couple of easy pedal strokes in.

Some people dread the mud, and it's certainly a pain to clean everything off afterwards. But with a bit of thought, and some specific techniques you should be able to really enjoy the next supermodder when it comes.

22 December 2014