Distilled for Your Convenience: 15+ Years Worth of Acquired Wisdom

09.28.2009 | 12:01 pm

I have been an avid cyclist for a long time now. Like, fifteen years. And since I’ve been saying “I’ve been an avid cyclist for fifteen years” for about three years, it’s possible I’ve been riding even longer than fifteen years.

I’ll get back to you once I’ve done the math.

Anyway, during my long and increasingly illustrious cycling career, I have learned many, many important things about riding. Things I wish I had known much earlier. Things you may not know. Enough things to fill a book.

As long as it’s a really short book. Or if I’m allowed to use lots of illustrations and a big font.

OK, the fact is there are three things I have learned that I think are worth sharing. It’s entirely possible that my three hard-earned epiphanies may do someone some good.

Not probable, perhaps, but you must admit: it’s possible.

Soften Up

I remember making a decision about air pressure before the Leadville 100 five or six years ago. “I do not want to get a flat coming down the Powerline descent,” I thought to myself, “so I’d better inflate my tires to 50psi instead of the usual 45.”

My head spins now, even thinking about that. 50psi.

Fifty pounds per square inch.

No wonder I was the worst, most squirrelly downhiller that ever lived.

Nowadays, I have big wheels — 29″ instead of the 26″ variety — and I ride with a Stans NoTube setup.

And I ride with my tires at 20 – 22psi. Maybe 25 if I’m racing.

There is nothing — nothing! — that has affected my riding (and especially downhilling) so dramatically as this change. I corner better. Even fully rigid, I bounce around less. I just feel like I am in much better control.

And I’m pretty sure I flat less, too.

Now, I’m pretty sure that not everyone has had this low-pressure epiphany. A couple weeks ago I started a ride with someone who was inflating his tires to 40psi.

“I am about to make you a much better rider,” I said, and let half the air out of his tires. And this guy — for the first time in his life — suddenly found that he loved descending Mud Springs and Tibble, trails he had no affection for at all previously.

“That was so great,” he said when we hit the bottom of the trail. “I felt like I had so much more control.”

And for a moment, I knew exactly what it felt like to be Obi-Wan. Or Mr. Miyagi.

Slower Is Not Safer

The next big thing that — up until last year, really — slowed me down on the downhills was the certainty that going slow is safer. That when I got to a nasty downhill field of loose softball-sized boulders and deep dirt the consistency of talcum powder (those of you who have ridden the section right after Julie Andrews Meadow on the Timpooneke trail know exactly what I’m talking about), the best policy is to inch my way down, treating each rock as an individual obstacle to be evaluated and (if at all possible) circumvented.

And then my front wheel would inevitable jam against a rock and I would endo.

Then, a couple years ago, I begged Dan to give me some tips on downhilling. And he told me, among other things, to let go of my brakes. “When you go fast and crash, it doesn’t hurt a lot more than when you go slow and crash,” he said. “And when you go slow, you’re going to crash more often.”

Dan was right. When your wheels are rolling fast, they go over stuff they get stuck on when you’re going slow. When your wheels are spinning fast, they want to stay upright. And when you’re going fast, you don’t have as much time to fret.

Perhaps the strongest case in point of this fact is this (incredibly awesome) picture of me.


If I hadn’t grabbed a handful of brake, if I had just sailed the move the way everyone else in the group had, probably all my weight wouldn’t have gone onto that tire, making it explode and then slamming me into the ground.

Today I could ride that move easily. If I were to try it. Which I’m not. Because I don’t believe I will ever be able to get this image out of my head.

No Camelbak for Me, Thanks

I used to wear a Camelbak for every single ride. Even rides that lasted just a couple hours. But here’s the thing: if you’re wearing a Camelbak, standing climbing is a pain. And if you’re wearing a Camelbak, you’re top-heavy. And if you’re wearing a Camelbak, your back stays all sweaty.

And don’t start in about mesh this and wicking that. A big heavy backpack makes your back sweat.

But that’s not the real reason to not use a Camelbak. The real reason to not use a Camelbak is because — if you’re going to be out for less than four hours — bottles are generally all you need. And they’re right there on your bike.

Although — not very ironically, but maybe a little — the very best bottles do in fact seem to be…Camelbaks.

Yeah, I expect to get some disagreement on this piece of advice — a backpack holds a lot of food and gear, and a lot of bikes don’t have room on the frame for two bottle cages.

But this is my distilled wisdom. And I ride a singlespeed most of the time, and am standing up when I climb. Which means a Camelbak feels like it’s trying to wrestle me to the ground as I row my bike up the mountain. But with bottles, I forget they’re even there ’til I need them.

So. There you go. Fifteen years of wisdom. All in a nice one-sitting read.

That’s sad, really.


  1. Comment by Jessica @ How Sweet It Is | 09.28.2009 | 12:10 pm

    Great tips. What a kick-ass picture. That’s awesome.

  2. Comment by Clydesteve | 09.28.2009 | 12:11 pm

    Yes, being too hard is my problem.

  3. Comment by Brandy | 09.28.2009 | 12:16 pm

    But Fatty, I only have one bottle holder, and it is hot here in California.


    That tire psi advice is SO true.

  4. Comment by dug | 09.28.2009 | 12:19 pm

    thank you obi wan. you were my only hope.

  5. Comment by Carl | 09.28.2009 | 12:26 pm

    It’s funny you just blogged about tire psi. My bike shop just gave me a business card that Michelin is giving out saying that most people are running too much air in their tires. Especially non-fatties like Fatty.

  6. Comment by Kevin M | 09.28.2009 | 12:28 pm

    Great tips but what if i do resemble a fat cyclist right now. Can i get by with riding at 35 to 40 psi until i get lighter?

    Try 27 first and if that doesn’t work for you, go to 30. Then 35 if you have to. But I don’t think you’ll have to. – FC

  7. Comment by James | 09.28.2009 | 12:32 pm

    You forgot one…

    Using the front brake will not cause you to crash. I see so many novice mtn bikers skidding out of control because they are scared of the front brake.

  8. Comment by Lyndon | 09.28.2009 | 12:32 pm

    That is the greatest mountain bike photograph I have ever seen – congratulations to whoever was behind the camera.

    Just think though, without all that weight in your camelbak you may not have crashed so spectacularly, depriving the world of the joy such a photo brings.

  9. Comment by MattC | 09.28.2009 | 12:47 pm

    Totally agree w/ low tire pressure (thats why tubeless tires are the BOMB!!!) Honestly, so far I’ve never flatted (JINX???)…but I too run Stans No Tubes milky white goo in them, and see tiny little white blobs all over the tread where it has sealed holes.

    But no camelback?? Not gonna happen. I ride alone, alot. Mostly even. Up to 3L of water on a long ride. And, I can fix most anything on my bike…including patching a hole in my tubeless tires and (hopefully) get it re-seated on the rim and inflated (2 cylinders CO2 and a pump). And a tube if that fails. Chain break tool: used it. Multi-tool: used it a LOT. First aid kit? Used it (on others). Never yet had to spend the night out (hopefully never do) but I could survive if it wasn’t too cold. Space blanket, water tablets, whistle, pepper spray (would pepper spray make a Mt lion leave you alone?) I guess if you ride with other people like ME, you can get away with carrying so little.

    And thats an awesome photo of impending doom…it gives me the willies thinking about it..(how far was your fall off that rock? hard to tell by the photo..but that you are alive says it wasn’t as bad as it looks).

    And learned the speed thing as a dirt biking teenager…get in trouble, roll on some throttle and it has a very good chance of getting you thru the bad spots. It’s your friend, right up until it isn’t.

  10. Comment by KanyonKris | 09.28.2009 | 12:49 pm

    You only have 3 because your definition of wisdom is too narrow. Consider:

    - Don’t plan a really long ride you’ve never done in the desert in the middle of summer.

    - A highly technical trail should NOT be your first ride with clipless pedals.

    - What NOT to eat/drink on a long ride.

    - If only I had packed a ??? I wouldn’t have walked my bike those X miles.

    - When ??? says this is his favorite trail, prepare to suffer.

    I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg – you know, like the one that sank the Titanic.

  11. Comment by Wirehead | 09.28.2009 | 12:50 pm

    I had the “low pressure” epiphany recently. Largely because every time I’d pump to the maximum sidewall pressure (80psi… I’ve got skinny tires) I’d get a flat the second I went offroad… and often times even on-road.

    I was starting along that road when I wiped out on a gravel downhill because the bike was getting squirley. Also at 80psi.

    I’ve got three of what’s technically known as “big ass bottles”. I went to the store with my bottle cages and figured out exactly how much water I could carry. So it’s a 1L Laken bottle, a 800 mL Klean Kanteen, and a 1L Sigg bottle that I keep strapped to my trunk bag.

    Which means that I’ve got a camelback’s level of water carrying capacity without having so much bacne that I look like a toad.

  12. Comment by getinlost | 09.28.2009 | 12:50 pm

    This is all great advice. For a mountain biker. Oh great Obi Wan Fatty what is thy sage advice for those of the road persuasion. Inflate or not so much.

  13. Comment by bikemike | 09.28.2009 | 1:07 pm

    the camelbak bottles just got much better with the intro of the Podium Ice Jacket…keeps drinks colder two times longer than the Chill Jacket. saw ‘em at Interbike. will be great here in Florida when the summer wind chill gets up to about 110 degrees cenepede.

  14. Comment by sarah | 09.28.2009 | 1:18 pm

    my life has recently been changed by psi awareness too!

  15. Comment by chtrich | 09.28.2009 | 1:19 pm

    I clearly need to learn the low psi lesson….will try it out next ride.

  16. Comment by Anonymous | 09.28.2009 | 1:19 pm

    Lessons well learned. It took me a few years on a bike to come to the same realization.

  17. Comment by Dan O | 09.28.2009 | 1:21 pm

    Agree 100% with you on the camel back, once I figured out all of my friends were carrying the same thing, I let them carry it instead of me.

  18. Comment by Kim | 09.28.2009 | 1:46 pm

    Was whoever took that picture at exactly the right second just really lucky? Or were they sure you were going to do something self-destructive from past experience.

  19. Comment by josh | 09.28.2009 | 1:47 pm

    I don’t find the need to use my camel-back for caring extra water but it does help for those time I do endo by creating a cushion between my back and the rocks

  20. Comment by Jeff Sebolt | 09.28.2009 | 1:56 pm

    Awesome post… getinlost… try a tubeless setup on the road as well. Amazing. I’m running the Dura Ace tubeless wheelset with Hutchinson tubeless tires and a bit o’ Stans in the wheel. Used to ride clinchers at 110 to 115 psi and am running 90 to 95 psi on the tubeless and they are faster and more comfy. Best invention since the tailwind.

  21. Comment by axel in texas | 09.28.2009 | 2:00 pm

    is it just me who could never get Stan’s to work? I gave up because it wouldn’t seal between tire and rim. Now I am condemned to high PSI or pinch flats (and sometimes both). And I have to carry my camelbak backpack to keep all the tools and tubes and such…

  22. Comment by rich | 09.28.2009 | 2:01 pm

    Good advice – I too ride SS rigid and learned quickly that the lower pressure made it more comfortable and hooked up better when standing and climbing.
    Like others have said though, I ride alone fairly frequently and won’t do without the camelbak

  23. Comment by DC | 09.28.2009 | 2:12 pm

    After rag dolling countless times as a youth on a dirt bike, your first and second tips were already well ingrained. that picture, however, made this whole visit worth it.
    Because your face is hidden, I think there are a whole bunch of us larger guys who would like to buy a copy, ” Well, after the crash I had to wheelie the rest of the ride, about 60 miles as I recall, and tha’s why you never see me do a wheelie around here…”

  24. Comment by Andrew | 09.28.2009 | 2:27 pm

    i was mocked over the wknd for running 60 psi. i dont really have a point just thought id mention it.

  25. Comment by MTB W | 09.28.2009 | 2:34 pm

    Oh wise one, you have enlighted us all. Wax on/wax off. Many friends beg to differ on higher psi (40-45), claiming low psi causes pinch flats. I am in your camp on that one, though, and run about 35-40. Pinch flats are a rarity, seemingly regardless of psi. Lower psi does give you better control but I’ve never tested the limits. Will try to bring it down to 30-35 and see how it goes.

    I disagree on the camelback, tho. But I think it’s mostly personal feel – I “need” to bring gus/cliff bars, tools, rain jacket, pump, tubes, etc. Besides, I feel like it is a lifesaver, despite the sweaty feel (which ain’t all bad – helps you lose weight, right?). In a crash, the camelback will protect your back and neck. When my wife crashed, I partially credit the camelback in saving her life. It cushioned a lot of the blow when she landed on her back and broke a vertabrea in her neck. It also made it so her head didn’t snap back as far, preventing a far worse injury. See, it’s really safety equipment!

  26. Comment by Mike | 09.28.2009 | 2:42 pm

    Who is the man in that picture? It cannot be you. He is pudgy looking, riding a 26 inch geared bike with V-brakes, is wearing a lame jersey, non bib shorts?, has a camelbak, water bottle, and a seat bag. Next time you ride that trail, nail that section, and have a photo taken. I would like to see the 2 side by side.

  27. Comment by Phil | 09.28.2009 | 2:43 pm

    I was expecting tips on running your own home gin still; that’s what I get for watching M*A*S*H I suppose.

  28. Comment by Christine | 09.28.2009 | 2:58 pm

    That is a fantastic photo. Props to the photographer. Thanks for the tire pressure advice. I’ve just started taking up cyclocross, and my friends keep trying to convince me that lower pressure = better. You’ve helped their case…

  29. Comment by Jengel | 09.28.2009 | 3:16 pm

    I ride exclusively on the road and paved trails on a commuter/urban/hybrid bike. The maximum pressure for the tires is 85 psi and at my weight (205), unless I’ve got the tires up near 80 psi, my back tire looks like I’ve already flatted. Does your psi theory apply to non-mountain bike scenarios? And if so, should I not worry about pinch flats and go with the lower psi?

  30. Comment by SurlyCommuter | 09.28.2009 | 3:30 pm

    Fatty – in the Pacific Northwest if your using bottles on your MTB your eating lots and lots of mud. Not good eats – gotta keep the camelback for muck-free trail refreshment.

  31. Comment by theRunt | 09.28.2009 | 3:37 pm

    Dea Abby,
    Ok, I’m ready for an epiphany, but am a little nervous. I’ve been running 45-50 lbs. I always feared a lower psi would lead to pinch flats and make climbing less efficient. Are my fears groundless? Do I need to go tubeless to really run a low psi? Do I need to take my 240lbs of rider into account? Please help.
    Overinflated in Cali

  32. Comment by Kathleen@ForgingAhead | 09.28.2009 | 3:50 pm

    Not sad at all…rather beautifully succinct. And actionable. Two things I love. Now, if only I was into MTB.

    20psi? My road bike tires are 120psi :-)

    I’m a big fan of water bottles. And a bigger fan of the bento box solution for carrying boatloads of food. I’m a big snacker on my rides.

    Great post!

  33. Comment by did | 09.28.2009 | 4:00 pm

    Yeah, low PSI. I discovered riding on the frozen Lake Michigan beach in winter – let air out until it looks like I’m riding on the rims. The sidewalls wrinkle.

    Speed, yeah, did a back to back experiment on that this weekend. First lap, followed some more skilled folks through an S curve, did great. Second lap solo, chickened out and braked, ate dirt, and my neck is still sore.

    But my water bottle ended up all covered with gunk, so I’m somewhat wavery on that front.

  34. Comment by Jen | 09.28.2009 | 5:01 pm

    Learned my lesson about going too slow the hard way. It’s just so hard to keep my hands off the brakes when I get nervous!!

  35. Comment by AngieG | 09.28.2009 | 5:39 pm

    With all that Boy Scout equipment your carrying, how on earth did you dent your top tube? You don’t have a dent remover kit in your Camelback?
    Great Post Fatty. The picture is awesome. How was the after photo, did it looke anything like Leadville?
    I also agree with Kathleen, minimalism is underrated!

  36. Comment by Hoggy | 09.28.2009 | 5:44 pm

    thanks for the heads up Fatty…but what about the road riders amongst any words of wisdom for us and please dont say get a mountain bike

  37. Comment by Philly Jen | 09.28.2009 | 7:01 pm

    The difference between where you live and where I live: * You are near “Julie Andrews Meadow”
    * I am near “Judy Garland Park”
    Which means we probably have more or less equal odds of seeing men with shaved legs going by in skintight outfits.

    (And Wirehead, wouldn’t that condition be called “Camelbacne”?)

  38. Comment by Roo | 09.28.2009 | 7:17 pm

    I wish you were there to give me that obi-wan tire pressure advice the day I was convinced I needed to pump my tires up to 150 for a duathlon. I’m pretty sure I looked like a cork bobbing on the water.

    Awesome picture!

  39. Comment by Earl | 09.28.2009 | 7:22 pm

    Howdy fatty, haven’t written in a little while. Hope all’s well at home and that things are moving along ok. Previous emails and posts have been requesting that we set up a Fat Cyclist team here in Nice, southern France, and I still maintain this vigil. I will get the aussie pros I know over here on board for some event, so let’s get it off the ground and do a special gust ride over here. Also would seriously like you to look into doing mo-vember http://www.movember.com/ , basically an awareness campaign against male prostate cancer, and more or less a really cool excuse to grow a mo for the month of November. Mate, it’s just gotta be done! Look into it, and hopefully I’ll receive my fatcyclist jersey right in the middle of the month whilst I’m pushing out a bushier top lip than when I was 14yrs old and thinking it’s gotta be shaved….
    Cheers again for the perpetual inspiration and smile that is bought to ones dial!

  40. Comment by Born 4Lycra | 09.28.2009 | 9:34 pm

    Any excuse to roll out THE picture. But the advice is obviously well earned. A number of people have mentioned the unknown photographer and I can’t recollect if you have named him/her previously but it is time to hand out the props.
    I’m with the roadies where is the advice for us Mr Obi Miyagi.
    It really is a great pic I seem to remember photos of the aftermath.

  41. Comment by David Richardson | 09.28.2009 | 9:49 pm

    To ride in the cool CO weather. Here in AZ a camelback is required, you just can not carry enough water with 2 cages.

  42. Comment by Mike Roadie | 09.29.2009 | 4:44 am

    I bought a Camelbak-esque contraption before RAGBRAI. I figured that 5 hours through cornfields in the summer with two bottles wouldn’t cut it. I dragged it in my duffel through every town and never broke it out once.

    A total waste of $60…..


  43. Comment by Andrew | 09.29.2009 | 9:10 am

    I’m afraid I’m too fat (225lbs) to run 20-25psi.At that pressure my tires get all soggy. The tire grips, but the wheel pushes and warps the tire on every corner.

    I’ve been running at 40psi, maybe I’ll give 30-35 a try.

    Good idea on the Camelbak. I have two cages—time to start using them.

  44. Comment by Scotty | 09.29.2009 | 11:00 am

    That right there is some great advice. A must read for all Cyclist. And that pic makes me scared.

  45. Comment by fwcpc | 09.29.2009 | 11:13 am

    Key phrase in the wheel taco picture – “all my weight”

  46. Comment by Dave L | 09.29.2009 | 11:27 am

    An iconic pic of THE Fat Cyclist, one of my favorites.

  47. Comment by B.cerues | 09.29.2009 | 11:40 am

    I too have recently had the psi epiphany. I thought 40 was where it was at until I took a clinic with the girls that I ride with and they deflated my giant 29er tires. Now going downhill and cornering is easier than ever. My husband quietly made the switch, not wanting to be told how to bike by a bunch of girls (even though these girls race and ride things more difficult than my husband could dream of doing). I am also in agreement with taking technical downhills faster, and have learned the hardway too. I wish I could go without my camel back, beacuse of the back sweat and top heavy factor. I have the problem of usually riding behind someone and getting dirt all over water bottles. Which may be good for cleaning my teeth, but grit is not my favorite flavor. Plus for a girl, I sweat like a pig, and anything more than an 1 or so ride I will drain a bottle easily. But the camel back makes me sweat more. It’s a catch 22. What I need is a pack dog to run along side and carry multiple bottles, or even a camel back.

  48. Comment by Dan O | 09.29.2009 | 12:45 pm

    Nice picture. Could be a travel ad for Moab or somewhere similar….

    Being the ancient mountain biker (since ‘84), discovered the low psi trick years ago. I usually run 25 – 30 psi. I’ve done the same thing with newbie riders. “Here, let me fix your bike?” “Wahh?” Pssss….

    Try the lower psi trick on the road as well. Bump it down to 90 psi instead of 100-120 psi. You’ll go the same speed and discover what comfort means. Hey, maybe I don’t need a carbon frame after all…

    Being old school, I’d rather lick mud off water bottles, then use a Camelback. I did buy one for my 10 year old son and it does work well.

    Now I make him carry the camera, tools and Clif Bars. Heh, heh….

  49. Comment by GJ Jackie | 09.29.2009 | 1:41 pm

    Most of the time I can easily suck down a water bottle in 20 minutes, so they don’t work for me. Camelback’s the only way to go when you MTB ride alone. Anyone out there interested in a job as my personal bottle-holding, gear-packing domestique?

  50. Comment by Powerful Pete | 09.29.2009 | 3:24 pm

    Two water bottles are more than enough. Stop and have an espresso at a bar every so often and have the barman refill ‘em. That’s all ya need. ;-)

  51. Comment by Ken Trarian | 09.30.2009 | 11:58 am

    2 bottles is barely enough for 2 hours on a hot day, plus mud and who knows what all over the bottles, yuck. No espresso bars on 19th Sideroad. I like my camelbak.

    Also I don’t lug tools around so other people don’t have to, and I don’t lend them to minimalist moochers.

  52. Comment by Kristine | 10.1.2009 | 3:46 pm

    “Slower Is Not Safer”… Excellent.

    Reminds me of some sage advice my father gave me when I was young. It was in reference to dirt bike (motorcycle) riding, but I have found the concept to apply to mtb riding and, at times, life in general: “Kristine, sometimes you just have to give it gas and hang on!”

  53. Pingback by The Fat Cyclist Gives Me An Idea About Flat Tires « The NorLa Blog | 10.3.2009 | 3:20 pm

    [...] good for the road, and, so I used to think, it must also be good for the trail. Turns out, as the Fat Cyclist informed me, maybe not so [...]


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