10 Mountain Bike Road Trip Tips to Avoid Disaster

Van parked in dispersed camp spot with rear doors open and mountain bike hanging off back

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Who doesn’t love a good road trip? Especially a road trip with a handful of amazing mountain bike destinations in mind. Whether you’re heading to the red slickrock of Moab or the loamy trails of the PNW, a mountain bike road trip is the ultimate way to adventure.

But while road trips are fun, epic disasters on the go are not and it’s all too easy to run into unforeseen obstacles.

So before you hit the road, be sure to run through this mountain bike road trip checklist to make sure you have everything you need and your bikes are in great working order.

1. Pack the spare parts!

Don’t think you’ll need that extra derailleur hangar? You won’t until you do.

It’s a good idea to pack as many spare parts as you can. Like a whole bike’s-worth of spare parts. Who knows, you might get back to your campsite and realize that a cap on your grips has popped off. Just swap them out for a fresh pair from your spare parts bin and you’re good to go in the morning! No time-wasting trip to the bike shop needed.

Here is a list of spare parts that are really helpful to have on a mountain bike road trip:

  1. Extra set of wheels (I’ve cracked my rims on road trips)
  2. One or two tires
  3. Spare tubes
  4. Extra derailleur hanger (these are specific to your bike)
  5. Set or two of brake pads
  6. Chain and extra master link
  7. Tubeless tire kit
  8. Spare pair of favorite grips
  9. Spare pedals (and cleats if riding clipless)
cracked carbon mountain bike rim
Cracked rims happen!

2. Build a good road trip tool kit

You have all your spare parts, but do you have the tools to install them if something breaks? A good tool kit is essential when you’re out on the road and potentially miles away from a bike shop.

A few essentials in my road trip tool kit are:

  1. Allen/hex wrench set (2-12mm): basically needed for all maintenance and repair
  2. 3-way Torx wrench: useful for disc rotor bolts (T25), chainring bolts (T30), and hydraulic brake work (T10)
  3. Chain tool: to replace chain if it breaks (most multi-tools have this)
  4. Tire levers: to replace tires
  5. Patch kit or bacon strips: to plug a leaking tire and/or tube
  6. Chain lube: keep the drivetrain running smoothly and quietly
  7. Bike grease: for swapping pedals or replacing/cleaning parts
  8. Brake bleed kit: for when your brakes get squishy because you’re smashing all those long descents
  9. Floor pump: preferably with an air compressor tank in case you need to put a new tire on
  10. Bottle of Stans tubeless sealant and injector: if sealant is running low or you need to replace a tire
  11. Rags: cleaning off drive chain, adding lube, and wiping down bike

3. Make sure all gear is in great working order

Do yourself a big favor and look over all your gear before heading out on your epic mountain bike road trip. If you don’t, you might find yourself shamefully walking back to the car with a broken chain while your friends carry on down the best trail of the trip.

Things to look for/consider:

  1. How long has it been since you’ve added fresh sealant?
  2. How worn is your chain? It might be a good idea to put a fresh one on before your big trip
  3. Is the derailleur hanger bent?
  4. How long has it been since you’ve checked and greased all bearings?
  5. How long has it been since the shocks have been serviced?
  6. Check and tighten all bolts
  7. How worn are the brake pads?
  8. Do the brakes need a bleed?
  9. Are the wheels true (enough)?

4. Service your car

Ok, so your mountain bike gear is in great working order, but how about your car? Heading out for a week or more of awesome mountain biking might just be the push you need to stop putting off that oil change or tire rotation.

Do you really want to risk having your car overheat on the way to Moab? Didn’t think so.

Toyota FJ with two mountain bikes on bike rack and man standing next to open drivers seat door
Make sure your car is serviced before heading out on your mountain bike road trip

5. Research trails beforehand

As much as I love being on the road and enjoying the freedom and awesomeness of mountain bike road trips, I also love planning them. I could spend hours researching the best singletrack trails a destination has to offer and googling “best tacos in….”

My favorite website for discovering trail recommendations is TrailForks. They have a great rider-created ‘Route Finder’ feature that allows you to search routes uploaded by other riders. This is especially handy if you are pedaling everything (ie not shuttling). Discover the best way to link up trails, filter by how many miles you want to ride, and chose routes that suit your skill level.

I also have a ton of mountain bike destination guides to help you plan your trip.

6. Don’t overextend yourself in the first few days

This can be really hard to do when you’re so stoked about being out on amazing singletrack with your friends and incredible views. But it’s important to save some energy so that you don’t bonk mid-trip.

Becky sitting against tree with super muddy legs and mountain bike on ground in front of her

7. Add in a rest day (or two)

Depending on how long your mountain bike road trip is, adding in a rest day or two can be vital. I’m usually crushed after 4-5 days of hard riding and when I get tired I get sloppy which is no bueno when it comes to bombing down technical singletrack.

So if my trip is more than 5 or 6 days, I’ll usually schedule in a rest day that coincides with a cool town. If I’ve been car-camping this is also a great opportunity to splurge on an Airbnb or hotel room so that I can take a proper shower and rest my weary muscles on a plush bed.

8. Check the weather

There might not be much you can do about the weather if you’ve had your mountain bike road trip planned for months, but if the weather is looking pretty iffy, then it might be a good idea to come up with a few plan B’s.

For example, say Moab’s temperatures are freaking hot even though it’s October, so plan B might be to head up the grade for a day or two of riding in Fruita. Or it’s raining cats and dogs in Squamish, but the trails along the sunshine coast and prime and dry.

Be flexible, especially when it comes to weather.

Group of mountain bikers stopped on paved road. Weather is wet and cold

9. Snacks. Lots of snacks. And Hydration Powders.

Trust me: you do not want to be stuck in the car or on the trail with a crew of hangry mountain bikers. And don’t underestimate the number of calories you will be burning. There’s a reason you can wolf down 10 tacos after a big day in the saddle.

I also didn’t start using a hydration mix until recently and holy moly does it make a difference. I cramp less, I bonk less, I’m not as worked after the ride as I used to be, and my pee isn’t an alarming shade of dark yellow the following morning.

Hydration mixes are life-savers for multi-day mountain bike trips, especially if your post-ride re-hydration plan involves a few beers.

If you don’t like putting hydration mix into your pack bladder, install a bottle cage on your bike and use a water bottle for your mix.

I love both the Tailwind Endurance Fuel and the Tailwind Recovery Mix.

10. Buy the local map

I’m often guilty of just relying on my phone for navigation on the trail, but this can go south pretty quick. The phone breaks after a crash, there’s no cell reception, trails aren’t on TrailForks or MTBProject, battery dies, etc…

It’s a really good idea to buy a local trail map or have some sort of paper navigation option instead of relying on technology. Plus, the money from trail map sales usually goes straight back into trail maintenance and building new singletrack.

What is the worst mountain bike road trip disaster you’ve experienced? Let us know in the comments!

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Follow these mountain bike road trip tips so you can make the most of your adventure and (hopefully) avoid any type 2 fun.
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