The simple and slightly tongue-in-cheek answer to that is, “YES”, of course you can if you pedal harder. That goes without saying but there are other practical and even slightly psychological yet, simple mountain bike tweaks you can try out that may not help you break any world records, but they will help pick up some extra speed.
One of the first things to consider is you. How’s your positioning when you’re out on the trail? Could it be improved?
Annoying squeaks and creaks
I had three rides in a row earlier this week and there was a very frustrating “creaking sound” coming from my left foot. No, there’s nothing wrong with my foot but it was so distracting that I kept taking my eyes off the trail to look toward the source of the sound. That of course slowed me down.
The more pressure I put through that pedal on climbs the louder and more annoying the creak became until I reluctantly stopped and examined the clipless pedal. Everything as it should be, I worked my way up to the crank with my multi-tool and couldn’t find a single point that needed attention. I knew this already because I check everything before each ride, yet I did it anyway, things can work loose.
So, I flipped the bike over, spun the pedals with the left crank and went through the gears. Silent, not a creak anywhere until I got back on the bike and the creak returned. This was now beginning to mess with my head and my usual pace was nowhere to be seen. Then I had a bright idea and took my left foot out of the shoe. Pedaling right foot only, all silent. Left foot only, creak, creak, creak.
Stopping for a second time, I left the shoe in the clip and a couple of seconds of examination showed that there was a fraction more play than necessary. The shoe was too easy to move left / right as I turned the pedals and although the hand pressure was nowhere near the same as my body weight, I could hear and feel the creak slightly. All I had to do was tighten the adjusting screw on the pedal and problem solved. Be careful doing this though because too tight and you may not be able to release your foot when necessary.
While I’m on Clipless pedals, I may as well mention that Clipless can give as much as 30% extra power than flat pedals. That’s because they enable the rider to benefit from extra torque on the return stroke. In other words, you can use your foot to pull the pedal back up to the top position before pushing down again.
Clipless do take some getting used to and I don’t mind admitting that I had a couple of very silly crashes because I couldn’t get my feet disconnected quickly enough. The answer is to find a safe space to practice clipping in and out. It doesn’t take long and once you have the skill, it becomes automatic.
Do you check your pressures with a gauge or just give the tires a friendly squeeze?
Pressure impacts the feel of your bike in a big way. Too high and your bike will loose traction, too low can lead to damage and both can lead to speed loss. There are a lot of factors to consider and I’m sorry to say that I don’t have a magical recipe for you and the trails you ride.
A little trial and error will get you where you need to be though. Perfect tyre pressure depends on factors such as the trails you typically ride, rims and tyres, how aggressive you ride . . . If you ride tubeless starting with 1.8 Bar (26 psi) front and 2.0 Bar (29 psi) rear, 2 psi more if you are heavy or run tubes.
Adjust the pressure up and down by 2 psi at a time before each ride and makes notes about ride feel, especially on tough corners, rock gardens, challenging climbs. Eventually you will find the perfect pressure for every type of ride. Speed increases at no cost other than a little research.
Suspension Rebound (Front)
The faster you ride over rough terrain, the harder your suspension needs to work and if it’s not set-up correctly for you it will affect your ride and slow you down.
Set too slow and the rebound won’t recover quickly enough to cope with the next bump and will eventually pack down and run out of travel. Adjusting the suspension to provide more or less damping is not something to fear providing you keep a note of what you’ve done.
I typically set mine on a fast and rocky downhill section that has several sharp “S” turns. If I need faster damping, I remove 2 clicks, test and remove 2 more if it’s not right. If the setup is too fast, I don’t feel in control but slowing the damping down a little, balances it out. It’s another trial and error thing but the benefits of getting it right for you pay great dividends and increase your speed.
Spacers are used on all bikes and are designed to raise the stem to set the handlebar height. If yours aren’t properly set, you may notice that it’s difficult to get your weight in the right place on corners and the bike seems to drift more than you would like. If that’s the case it might be your body / weight positioning, but it could also mean your stem is set too high. Try lowering the stem or removing a spacer and test.
Of course, all things have opposites so setting your stem too low may provoke difficulties getting your weight off the front end too. Experimentation is key and success will help you improve your speed and ultimate safety too.
Brake Only When You Squeeze or Feather The Levers
Flip your bike over on a firm surface and spin the wheels. Can you hear the pads rubbing on the disks? Are your rim brakes catching the rim without you touching the levers?
If your brakes are unintentionally catching, they need adjusting because you are throwing away energy and potential speed.
Shh, What Can You Hear?
There are certain acceptable sounds that you should be able to hear when you’re out on the trail and they should be pleasing. If not, like with my clip, they become distracting and suck away your pace.
The only answer to this is to give your bike the attention it needs by making sure nothing is loose, gears are adjusted, everything is properly lubricated and pre-ride clean.
A quiet bike leads to a happy rider and that leads to inspiration, style and speed.
Comments and Questions
There’s always space here for more ideas and thoughts so, please don’t hesitate to leave your own experiences and ideas in the Comments below. You will always get a response.
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