Mountain Bike Weight Distribution – A Guide On How To Ride Safer

Making sure that you are properly distributing your weight on your mountain bike is something that is very important to your safety on the trails. Keeping proper bike weight distribution in mind when mountain biking helps to increase your speed, as well as your safety when riding your bike.

You may notice that a mountain biker may shift their weight backwards when descending a steep hill and forwards when going up a hill. The reason for this is simple: With physics in mind, mountain bikers need to be able to move their weight back and forth in order to adjust to the angle of the terrain in order to thrust the forces that are moving them forward in the most optimal direction possible.

In essence, if a rider can place more of their weight on the front wheel, then this will create extra friction and traction between that wheel and the road which will allow for high-speed cornering, and when a rider moves their weight back, then they can descend downhill with the center of their mass between the wheels, and this in turn makes it more difficult for riders to end up over their handlebars.

Other Things That You Should Keep In Mind

In order to adjust your weight as you need to, there are a few things that you are going to need to keep in mind while you are out on the trail. The first of these is to keep facing forward. This may seem obvious, but your mind reacts much slower than your body does.

Your instincts are fairly quick when it comes to reacting to situations that involve making turns while you’re mountain biking, and as long as you keep your focus ahead and not towards the ground, then you will be able to see upcoming obstacles that appear to be advancing towards you as you move through the trail.

You want to give your body time to react to these obstacles by looking at the highest point of the trail, so that you can avoid crashing and have the time that you might need to re-adjust yourself on your bike.

Part of what can help with this is getting to know the trail before you ride, since you then know what is ahead without having to see it. You want to get more familiar with the different corners and obstacles that you may experience whilst on the trail.

What Is The Ideal Weight Distribution For Bikepacking?

It is generally best to keep your weight distribution as low as possible on your mountain bike. Try keeping your water bottles on a down tube if you know you’re not going to be going over too many fallen logs or rocks while you’re riding, or you can keep your water in a frame bag.

Try keeping the most minimal amount of weight on the bars as you can,3-4 lbs should be alright but not much more than that. If you have Plus Tires, then it is okay to keep some weight in the back if you want to be able to pick up the rear wheel while you’re riding, allowing you to better handle impacts on the road.

Low and centered should be best, and your frame pack should hold as much as possible in terms of food, water, or tools if you’re going to be bikepacking for long periods of time. It is still important to be minimalistic when bikepacking.

For instance, packing less means that you will be much more flexible with less weight on your bike. Areas where carrying your bike would be necessary, like certain pieces of terrain which are too difficult to bunny hop over, will be much easier when there’s less luggage on your bicycle.

Going downhill with less bike packs will be a breeze and your mountain bike will be much easier to handle. The areas where you can install bike packs include your handlebar, saddle, and frame. When food supplies enter into the equation, classical panniers make transporting and storing food much simpler.

Classic panniers are much easier to handle and they’re also simple to take off of your bike, especially when you’re crossing a short river. They are also easy to remove right before entering your tent, which would be much more difficult if you had used the standard bike packs.

Not only are panniers easier to use than standard bike packs, they are easier to load and much easier to find your things later on when you need them. Classic panniers often provide proper sturdiness and are waterproof, so you can consider these to be a rugged part of your inventory.

A Good Bikepacking Setup

Bikepacking can range from short overnight trips to journeys lasting up to a month or more. The proper bike packing bags can be pressed tightly against the frame and will allow you to carry things that you will need during your trip.

If you’ve never been bikepacking before on a mountain, then you probably shouldn’t be too ambitious and should stick to just a one-night trip and return. During your first trip you will quite possibly find that since you don’t have enough experience with bikepacking yet and you will be readjusting your settings throughout the trip.

This includes changing your bags and switching them out when necessary, as well as tightening the straps that keep the bags installed to your bike, and even changing the height of the seat post in relation to the bags placed all around your bike, all in order to maintain proper weight distribution on the mountain trail.

You need to get everything that you will need to survive on your bike, like a tent that you’ll need to pitch before nightfall, a bag for storing water, a cot or something similar to a sleeping bag system, and anything else that you’ll need in order to ride safely back home the next day.

If you’re a newbie and you are just starting off, then you can try biking around your neighbourhood and camping somewhere near a park or even in your backyard – if you have one – in order to truly test if your equipment is satisfactory for camping (staying overnight) on a mountain trail. In essence, you’ll need to master some basic skills before bikepacking and hitting up the trails.

There are a variety of pannier setups for mountain biking, but one setup which is pretty good for a light trip would be high mounted front panniers only and perhaps a 30 L dry bag on top of the rear rack. This type of limited capacity forces you to restrict your gear list to only the bare essentials.

This type of setup supports a 60/40 weight distribution in terms of the front and rear wheels, and this in turn reduces rear wheel damage because you can unload the saddle and let your rear wheel to effortlessly ride over obstacles and fragmentations in the trails instead of crashing right into them due to improper weight distribution.

BikePacking Tips

Once you decide that you actually are going to go bikepacking and have tested your equipment to meet proper weight distribution and survival needs, now would be the time to start planning your route.
A popular type of route to consider are known as loops, which begin and end in the same place.

These reduce the amount of planning that you may need and many of the established routes may contain small eateries, places to spend the night, and even bike repair shops. If the route you plan on taking has these things, then this can really help to cut down on the amount of things that you will need to take with you.

Your standard biking accessories should be brought with you during your bikepacking trip; however, you should make sure to focus on the handlebars and panniers or bags as your most important accessories.

Bikepacking is like a fusion between cycling and camping, where you or a team of bikepackers will be traveling over long distances and then camping afterwards. You want to travel light, but not so light that you forget an essential item for your trip.

When talking about handlebars for bikepacking, there are two types that can affect what you can pack and them and, therefore, your weight distribution. These are: Flat or Riser bars, both of which are perfectly applicable for bikepacking.

Some handlebars are unconventional or untraditional to the bikepacking experience, but they should provide enough space for connecting your bags together, navigational equipment like maps or GPS devices, camera for photography events, and lighting for night time travel. These two types of handlebars offer you different hand positions to keep you comfortable as well as maintaining control of your bicycle during a long period of riding on different types of terrains.

If your bags fall off due to weak strapping, or the handlebars do not provide enough space for you to comfortably navigate the trail, either because there are too many bags installed to your frame or handlebar or if the weight distribution is not ideal for safe maneuvering, then you should probably re-analyze your bikepacking setup.

Remember that your weight should be distributed with 60% of the weight on the front wheel and 40% of the weight on the rear wheel. Since everything that you need to survive for a couple of nights is already properly secured to your bicycle, you can easily and quickly get to places that would take over a day just to walk to.

As long as you have the right strategy, put everything in its proper place, and are smart about weight distribution, bikepacking will be a cinch for you. If you are wise, then you will also keep this in mind: A bike that is overloaded will not manage as well as a bike that does not have anything extra to it.

Make sure you not only consider the weight of each item but also its volume, so consider putting anything that is both lightweight and bulky at the same time over the wheel, and then place anything that’s heavy and small or compact throughout your bicycle’s frame.

You might want to bring some sleeping mats or sleeping bags, as well as any extra clothes that you might need, and you can put these particular items within the package attached to your steering wheel or front handlebar.

As I’ve mentioned before, make sure to place heavier items in the frame, such as a furnace, food, fuel, extra bicycle tubes, as well as other heavy items that are also bulky within the package on your frame in order to maintain a low center of gravity.

Any type of item that you frequently use, such as navigational equipment, should be kept within your reach. These type of items also include your cell phone, maps, water, snacks, and these particular items can be placed within the stem bags of your bike frame where you can easily access them.

Just make sure when you’re considering your luggage to check that your items are 100% versatile, expedition oriented, lightweight or strapped in such a way that the weight is reduced when on the bike, and waterproof.

Don’t spend too much time in the travel aisle, because these types of luggage may provide you some racks or bags which you might find convenient on your bicycle, but they might not be designed to fit in a box or they may not be narrow enough to provide stability when navigating on a trail, and most of them are designed to stick out instead of being compact.

Therefore, when shopping for these accessories like luggage, make sure to spend more of your time in the camping gear aisle of your convenience store instead of the travel aisle. Being minimalistic is best since it requires less packing, so with the right strategy any key item that can be found in a form that can be folded or be made in an orderly fashion which allows for disassembly, creates a compact form for storage, or even to allow its size to be reduced to fit in your pocket would be most ideal when picking out your luggage and other accessories.

Overpacking And Water

When it comes to gear, bikepackers are very similar to backpackers, with the main difference being the bike and additional replacement of tools like bike tubes or even handlebars. However, bikepackers have much more space to bring much more equipment down there and, unlike hiking, you do not have to carry an excessive amount of weight on your back.

This means you’ll be able to travel through the mountain trails much more safely, without the type of strain that is expected from regular hikers. As I’ve mentioned before, try to maintain a majority of the weight on your bike to be as low as possible and place most of these things in the front of your bike. Experiment to see which type of setup or installation works best for you.

The last thing I want to go over in terms of accessories and weight distribution is your water storage. Water is the most critical element when considering the logistics of your mountain biking experience. If you are bikepacking, then you want to maximize the amount of water that you will bring with you.

However, even though you’ll be bringing several liters of water with you, this will put a lot of weight on your bike. Water storage can be added in below the bottom tube or near the lower end of your bike, and if you’re going to put it on the bottom tube, try to install it in bottle cage which is found in most bikepacking setups.

You can even use hydration packs to provide a sufficient overflow of water to you, and while attachment plugs are rare, they can also be useful for helping you store water.

What Is A Bunny Hop?

While knowing how to distribute your weight for bikepacking is very important, there is another thing that requires you to use your weight on your mountain bike as well. This is one key skill that you will need to know when you are mountain biking which is most often called the bunny hop.

To show you how this move is useful, imagine that you are riding down a familiar trail of yours and you see a fallen tree or a root that has really grown above ground and is stretching or sticking out. You could stop and walk your bike around it or even stop and carry your bike over it.

However, it would be much faster and easier to have the ability to just jump over the whole thing while on your bike. This is what a bunny hop lets you do. Not only does this skill allow you to maneuver on the trail much more quickly, but it also makes you safer.

There are occasions where you will find an obstacle right in front of you that you can’t ride around or that you are moving too fast to stop in time, regardless of how good your brakes are. This is the time when bunny hopping would be necessary.

Bunny hopping is simply a method or procedure that allows you to send your bike into the air, allowing you to jump over a plethora of obstacles on the trail. The reason why it’s called a bunny hop is, because the basic or fundamental skill of hopping into the air and over an obstacle is similar to that of a rabbit in motion.

Step 1: Adjust Your Bike To Learn This Skill

The first part of learning this skill is setting up your bike. Lift the saddle out of the way and lower the seat post some by using the dropper button, or the quick release lever to get the seat post down as far as you can.

Make sure that your bike has flat pedals installed and you are not clipped into your bike. Whenever you are learning a new skill or technique, you want to learn it correctly and in a way that provides you a safe outcome in case you mess up.

Flat pedals will allow you to maximize your height, and they can even get your foot down faster in case of an emergency, whereas if you were clipped in dismounting your bicycle takes more time, is more difficult, and less safe at high speeds when braking may not be enough and you will have to clear the obstacle with bunny hopping.

Step 2: Rear Wheel Lifting

Once your bike has been setup properly, start rolling along on flat terrain, perhaps somewhere in the parking lot or at a nearby park. Slow your roll to a pace that’s just enough to keep you balanced, and at your discretion when your pedals are level with each other and are at the same height from the ground, point your toes towards the ground and try to sweep your feet back and up in order to lift the back wheel off the surface.

Try not to let your feet leave the pedals by maintaining pressure on the pedals while you do this. Maintaining pressure in this way will support your body weight on your arms while you’re first getting used to this. Test how high you can lift the back wheel up into the air.

Step 3: Front Wheel Lifting

Once you feel comfortable with your ability to sweep the rear wheel into the air, it will then be time for you to learn how to do the same thing with the front wheel. Roll along slowly in the same manner and use the same type of pumping technique to push down on the pedal, and use your body weight to pop the front wheel up, pulling on the handlebars with your body weight to the back to provide lift.

Don’t use the suspension on your frame to get the lift, but rather use the rebound that comes when your front tire first hits the ground. If you’ve pulled too hard back and you are going to fall off the back of the bike, then as long as you already have one finger on the rear brake lever you should be fine by just pulling on that break to let the front wheel drop to the ground.

So, keep one finger on the rear brake lever while you are practicing. If you don’t pull the rear brake in time and you’re about to completely fall off the bike, then get your feet to the ground as soon as possible.

Of course, you can get your feet quickly to the ground as long as you have flat pedals, which you should be using. If you are clipped in then this is something that becomes a whole lot harder. You should also keep in mind that shifting your weight on your bike will help you with both your front and back wheels and getting them off of the ground.

Step 4: Put Two And Two Together For Lift Off

Now that you have both of these parts down by themselves, it is time to try to put them together. Try to complete these next few steps in this order: Bike slowly and pop your front wheel. Once the wheel is in the air, jump by pushing with a force that goes through your pedals which in turn drives the back wheel off of the ground. Once the back wheel leaves the ground, scoop up the wheel using your pedals.

Step 5: Perfect Your New Skill

Once you’ve done this a few times and you’ve have got used to bunny hopping, there’s one more skill that you can apply to maximize your height. In order to do this, you’ll need to make use of your wrists while executing a bunny hop.

In order to do this, when you scoop up the rear wheel, twist the handlebars forward using your wrists and arms once you have already launched into the air. If you do this at the same time as the bunny hop, you will go much higher than before.

Once you’ve gotten used to bunny hopping, you will then want to refine your technique and master it. You want to be able to execute this maneuver in a fluid motion, and that means you’ll need to practice a lot. Try going over small objects first and then working your way up to larger objects.

Remember that timing is key, and that your rear wheel well only goes as high as the front wheel did when you executed the movement. Once you’ve gone over small objects in the neighborhood, now try bunny hopping over objects in the trail.

Go over small things like rocks, roots, and puddles. Once you got used to it, you can then master this technique by learning how to do this no matter which foot is planted on the front pedal. Therefore, once you practice with one foot in the front pedal, switch your feet and practice the same movement again.

Once you have done this you should find that you can confidently clear whatever obstacles are on your path within the trail because you have applied proper weight distribution in terms of your bike, gear, and even your own body to move, jump, pack, and even camp on the mountain during your next adventure.

Mike Rausa

I'm a 42 year old married father of 3 that fell in love with mountain biking late in life. Mountain biking quickly became my go to fitness activity. I created this blog to help beginners to advanced riders with tips and strategies to improve your riding experience. More About Me...

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