An Expert Guide to Mountain Bike AccessoriesPublished on 05/13/2023 · 10 min readHelmets, hydration packs, gloves, tools - what kind of accessories do you actually need for mountain biking? Cycling expert Zaal Rottunda has some recommendations.
The mountain bike industry has seen some drastic changes in technological standards and design changes, all of which have contributed to the growing market of mountain bike upgrades and accessories. From titanium water mount bolts, to tubeless tire inserts, to padded clothing - the number of accessories available to us can be overwhelming. While there are plenty of reasons you might benefit from any number of small accoutrements available to you, there are some upgrades and accessories that have enough utility to edge out others, and border on “necessity.” If you don’t see your favorite add-on or upgrade listed, don’t be discouraged. This is merely an attempt to identify those items which the majority of riders can benefit from.
Perhaps the most important of accessory options is additional protection, both to the rider and the bike. I’m going to assume that we all understand the necessity and the benefits of riding with a helmet, so I’ll save you the lecture of why helmets are necessary and instead touch on some of the additional benefits available for certain helmets. In addition to helmet upgrades, we’re going to discuss an accessory category that has grown from being relegated to only downhill riding to being adopted by several other disciplines of riding: body armor.
Additional Helmet Tech
Over the past few years, the cycling world has seen a takeover of helmet safety by the MIPS technology, which was the first design of its kind to deliver proven anti-concussion safety in each helmet. MIPS (Multi-Directional Impact Protection Service) gives riders protection against concussions by allowing inner rotation of the helmet to spread impact across the skull instead of one centralized impact zone. While there are other helmet technologies that offer similar benefits, MIPS is most widely used across different brands and perhaps the most recognizable right now.
Body Protective Gear
Although most protective gear worn by riders was downhill-specific for many years, recently the industry has seen more and more riders from all disciplines adopt wearing protective gear on rides. Perhaps the most common form of additional protection that applies for several different styles is knee/elbow sleeves. The ideal knee or elbow sleeve will offer riders padded protection while maintaining a breathable and snug fit that won’t require adjustment mid-ride. To ensure you get the right size, I’d recommend measuring your leg diameter directly above and below your knee/elbow, or try them on in store before you buy!
It’s not just for the pros, and it’s not just for the glare reduction during daytime. Glasses and goggles give every rider much-needed shielding from debris during their ride. Despite whether you’re riding downhill, cross-country, or enduro, glasses might be one of the most beneficial of all mountain biking accessories. While goggles typically offer more coverage and can in turn be more cumbersome, certain companies offer riding glasses that give exceptional face and eye coverage with large shield-style lenses. I strongly encourage everyone to consider riding with glasses or goggles, not only for the additional style points, but an eye injury can harm more than your riding ability.
Perhaps the most easily appreciated upgrade for riders, new riding clothes have a range of effects on riding performance and enjoyment depending on the items you upgrade. When thinking of cycling clothing, most people have a tendency to imagine skin-tight leotard-like outfits that hug the body, which are somewhat representative of cross-country mountain bike racing kits. However the majority of mountain bikers ride with somewhat more casual, loose-fitting attire that may look like casual streetwear, but is designed to give riders extra ventilation and comfort over everyday clothes.
I couldn’t decide on a Number One clothing necessity that trumped all other competition, but it came down to a close tie between shoes and padded chamois short liners. The padded short liners really are a lifesaver on longer riders, or for anyone who is uncomfortable while seated on their bike due to perineal pressure. While shoes don’t offer as much noticeable comfort perhaps as padded short liners do, their impact on performance is undeniable and for many riders is the difference between their current riding and the next level.
Without further ado, here is the breakdown of best clothing accessories.
While they can make an immediate impact on rider comfort by offering a better platform to pedal on, the crown benefit of a good pair of shoes is the performance boost gained. A good pair of cycling shoes often give a superior grip to platform pedals, improved sole stiffness for clip-in shoes, or a combination of the two. While shopping for sizes can prove difficult in part due to the tricky landscape of sizing discrepancies between EU and US sizing from company to company, don’t be discouraged! Your new set of shoes will undoubtedly have you controlling the bike with greater confidence and crushing your old riding limitations. Platform pedal riders are going to want to focus on sole tread design and compound - the stickier the sole the greater the traction but shorter the life, and vice versa for hard soles. For clip-in pedal riders, the best option available is typically a high-quality carbon-fiber-sole-based shoe with plenty of easy-to-adjust fit options.
1. Cycling Shorts/Padded Liners
Tied for first place in our clothing shootout is a good pair of padded shorts or short liners. Regardless of the style of riding being done, you’ll usually find that all mountain bike shorts have a padded liner, either built in or removable, which offers a great deal of relief to the rider from being in the saddle for long stretches of time. The style of riding typically dictates the style of short as downhill shorts are made with heavier materials to protect against crashes, whereas cross-country shorts resemble road biking apparel in their focus on lightweight breathability. Chances are padded shorts aren’t news to you, but if you are new to the experience, I’m sure you’ll never go back.
Gloves are a bit more of a personal preference as I know plenty of riders that prefer the direct contact with their grips. But because of their ability to shield your hands from getting torn to shreds, we’re going to bump them into the spot of second most important clothing accessory. Whether they are padded, full-fingered, fitted, or what have you, having some surface on your hands is going to save your skin quite literally in a crash. I always recommend getting gloves with some padding on the palms of the gloves, as well as full fingered to ensure your hands have maximum comfort and protection.
Another simple clothing addition that makes a huge impact on your comfort during a ride is a quality mountain bike jersey. While some jerseys may look like a simple t-shirt, mountain bike jerseys are often built to be much more lightweight and breathable, often tailored to fit riders in their riding posture better than non fitted attire.
Hydration packs are an excellent option for those riders who are limited in their water bottle storage and want options for carrying water and other gear. The backpack-style hydration pack ruled supreme until the emergence of the hydration hip packs, which minimized the package of a backpack for shorter rides or lighter loads.
The oldest and most widely used style of hydration packs, the backpack-style allows riders to maximize their gear storage, and sometimes offers extra protection. Not only does the backpack-style cover more surface area, but they are sometimes outfitted with additional safety padding designed to protect vital areas like the rider's spine during a crash. This increase in coverage comes at a price, however, as this style of pack will have a bit more insulation on the rider compared to a hip pack.
Hip Pack/Fanny Packs
A newer arrival onto the wearable hydration scene, hip packs and fanny packs offer riders a way to carry their gear as well as their water without being overburdened by a large backpack. While not offering as much cargo capacity or coverage area as backpack style hydration packs, hip packs still offer riders storage and hydration options that are ideal for any riders looking to minimize their load on the bike.
Although they may not be the most fun item to shop for or make the greatest noticeable difference in your ride, tools and maintenance gear for your ride are essential. While there are many tools that may be needed to keep your bike running, there are some that are more universally usable and take priority for what you should bring along for every ride.
There may be no greater inconvenience on a ride than breaking a link in your chain and not having the ability or equipment to fix it. Many chains can be easily fixed with a spare link that is sold by itself and often has an easy-to-fasten design that doesn’t require a tool to install, but for the more egregious breaks and malfunctions a chain tool will be needed to punch out old links or trim a new chain to length.
Allen Key Set
This will be perhaps the most used of all your tools, but perhaps less often on the ride itself as hopefully your bike is checked and tightened before the ride. An allen key set (sizes 3-8 suggested) is a great tool to have with you as virtually every cycling company uses allen screws for their bikes, whether for suspension linkage or component fastening.
Flat Tire Kit
With the invention and increased usage of tubeless tire systems, the standard for tire repair kits has changed in effort to cater to the specific needs of each tire system. If you run tubeless tires with sealant, your best bet is going to be carrying an extra tube, tire levers, and a high volume pump or CO2 canisters to quickly seat the bead of the tire. A great bike hack to keep on you is a small tube of super glue and either a pill bottle of sawdust or concrete powder. If you get a bad tear on the sidewall or tread of your tubeless tire that the sealant can't fix, simply apply some super glue to the torn area and sprinkle some of the sawdust/concrete over the glue. The bond formed by the glue should give an airtight patch that will allow you to get moving again. If you are running tubes in your tires, you’ll want to carry the same equipment as you would with tubeless tires, only with the addition of a patch kit for your tube and some sort of insert to put between the tube and tire should your tire sidewall tear. (Sometimes even a dollar bill works as an insert).
Mountain biking is like many other sports in that there are an infinite combinations of gear set ups you can have, which means a seemingly endless catalog of accessories available to each rider. Depending on the riding style and areas you are interested in, there are some accessories like cycling computers, bike lights, and cargo racks that prove to be invaluable in your ride, although you’ll still undoubtedly need the above mentioned items to avoid having a miserable or undesirably short ride.
One main thing to remember is that accessories are there to make our rides a little bit better, but that doesn’t mean we need to hinge our enjoyment of the ride on whether or not we have the latest and greatest kit or gadget on our ride. Much like many things in life, gearing up for a ride is done best with a minimalist approach so that you’re only riding with what you need to have fun, so be honest with yourself with evaluating your purchases and don’t buy things you’ve never had a need for before. Hopefully this gives you an insight into what essentials you want to have in your bag, and from here filling in the holes of your gear set up should be much easier. Happy trails!