Basic techniques: Shifting 101

Know your drivetrain:

Your pedal movement rotates the crank arms, which turn the chain rings, which drive the chain, which rotates the rear sprockets and ultimately the rear wheel and propel you forward. You have three chain rings on the front and 7-9 gears on the rear sprockets (depending on whether your bike has a 21, 24 or 29 speed drivetrain). Different combinations of the front chain rings and the rear sprocket gears will make it either easier or harder to pedal, depending on terrain elevation and surface. The front and rear derailleurs do the job of shifting the chain to different gears.

The chain rings (also called “crank rings”):

Shifting the front chain rings is done using the left-hand shifter.

The smallest ring (the innermost one) is the slowest, easiest to pedal and used to climb or riding in rough or difficult terrain (sand, for example). The middle chain ring is harder to pedal than the smallest ring, but using the middle ring gives you choice of the full range of the rear sprocket. It is usually optimal to choose the middle ring if you are cycling on level terrain. The largest gear (outermost one) is the most difficult to pedal and should be used for going downhill at higher speeds.

The rear sprocket:

Shifting rear sprocket gears is done using the right-hand shifter.

You should have 7,8 or 9 gears on your rear sprocket. The higher numbers are more difficult to pedal, and vise versa. When riding in a terrain with variable elevations or surfaces, it is usually best to use the middle chain ring and use the rear sprockets to fine-tune your gear choice.

It is important to avoid “extreme gear” combinations (also known as “cross chain” combinations) which put the chain at a too large an angle from the frame. Therefore, do not put the chain on the smallest rear gear when you have it on both the largest chain ring and largest rear gear, or vise versa. The middle chain ring will give you the full rear sprocket range.

Shifting technique:

As a general rule, you should shift “before you have to”. This means that you should not wait until you get right to the section that requires shifting (difficult climb, fast descent , sand, etc), but rather you should shift early and before you actually need to shift. Anticipate the optimum shifting point in advance and make your choice of gears when you are still on easy terrain. Shifting when or after you get to the difficult section will strain your muscles and your drive train.

If you have to shift after the optimal shifting point (after you actually enter the difficult section), it is best to shift when there is least tension on the chain. To do so, pedal hard once to gain some momentum, then shift right after the power pedal stroke.

It goes without saying that it is important to keep your drivetrain components in good working order (derailleurs, chain and sprockets clean and properly lubed).

Ride log: The Friday Degla Double, May 23rd 2008

What started out as a leisurely main trail spin turned into a 3-hour mini-adventure.

The ride was scheduled to start at 7:30, but waiting for a few first-time/oversleeping riders running late delayed the start about an hour or so. 12 riders, mostly beginners, started out on the main trail at Wadi Degla with the intent to make it to the end of the trail at the dry waterfalls (is there even such a thing as a dry waterfall?) area and back to the Maadi side entrance, a total of about 21km on a relatively level, mostly light sand and gravel trail.

As usual with beginner rides, there is wide spectrum of skill levels, which makes riding in a single group tricky. Some want to have a more spirited ride than last time, others want to take their time (which is what they should do on the first few rides). The decision came to split up into two groups: a “slow” group, and another, faster, one.

One rider broke a pedal early into the ride and had to hike back to the trail entrance. Six riders sped east towards the end of the trail. A stop was made near the end for a quick rest (which is really an excuse for picture taking). The group made it to the end of the trail, where a steep, rocky crevasse was the only way up to the wadi shoulder, where the Wadi Degla visitor center is located. The group decided to climb up and check it out.

Reaching the top of the crevasse, Hani had a “brilliant” idea:”How about we climb up with the bikes (not on the bikes) and get back to the western trail end via the “roller coaster” single track on the southern plateau. Not a group to shy away from adventure (despite the general collective “rookie” status), there was a unanimous “okay”.

We decided to take some video footage of such a (potential) feat: getting the bikes up to the plateau via the crevasse. M. Hanafi had a 2 GB memory card, and I had my small Casio camera for the purpose, but we needed all the man power and the idea of someone being given the luxury of being a camera man didn’t sit well with the group. Ayman and I came up with an ad hoc helmet mount which involved cable ties, string, a mini tripod and of course, my helmet.

The main challenge was to get six bikes up to the top of plateau, a problem solved by using the crevasse’s almost ladder-like formation which made it somewhat feasible. Employing a technique whereby two rides climbed up, were handed the bikes by their mates further down, who then took their turn to climb up and switch roles, the bikes where on top of the plateau in no time (well, it took about 20 minutes). We started the ride back after another photo op.

The rolling singletrack on the southern plateau is a great ride, but it demands a more advanced riding ability. Steep climbs and descents, cliff-edge, technical sections and rock fields quickly took its toll on the rookies, but their excitement gave them an energy boost and no one complained…until someone, who shall remain nameless :), demanded that we descend down to the main trail. Honestly, it was not an unreasonable demand, this was only their second ride and I probably over-estimated the collective stamina of the group. Besides, a group ride is a group ride. One out, all out.

After a short moment of deliberation, it was decided that we exit the singletrack and descend down to the main trail. I, being the ride leader, decided to scout out a suitable decent point and signal the group to follow. Far to my right (north), I spotted what looked like a rocky embankment descending to a steep bluff, which would ultimately lead to the main trail via a short climb to the left of the bluff. Or at least that’s what it looked like from where I was standing.

I descended to the bluff and signaled the group to follow. The team assembled and we climbed down to a flat section which led to a very steep, rocky downhill section, which we descended with some difficulty because of the inability to gain a solid footing on the slippery rock surface. It was hard enough climbing down, let alone climbing down with your bike. The group made it down safely and in relief to see the main trail in sight. Laith was first to make it to (what looked like) the step-down to the trail, but a wide grin on his face told us something wasn’t right.

And indeed, something was very wrong. The “step-down” to the trail was actually a 10m high, 90% double bluff. We were locked in. We had the option of climbing back to the plateau or down to the trail, just not with the bikes. There was a collective “oh #$&^” moment and everyone had one thought : “What now?”

Then Ayman found a rope. Yes, a long, strong rope just lying there, a few meters away, neatly looped. What are the chances of that? It was a Godsend. We instantly split into two teams: one group climbed down and the other rappled down the bikes one by one. We finally made it to the main trail and sped towards the entrance, meeting up with the slower group halfway back.

All in all it was a good ride and an adventure with a lesson learned. This is desert and decisions to change the route plan should be only made when one is firmly sure that the alternate route is feasible and safe. It also shows that it is usually best not to ride solo on longer rides or new trails.

Riding techniques: riding in sand

Picture source

Basic technique:

Sandy trails can vary in the thickness, type and consistency of sand. On trails with thicker sections of loose sand, you should focus on controlling your front wheel and throwing more of your weight on your rear wheel. It is important to keep your front end light so that it doesn’t dig into sand and keep your rear firmly planted to maintain traction. Use a low gear and keep your pedal movement consistent and maintain your momentum. Limit handlebar steering (in deep sand you will easily loose traction at the slightest movement of the handlebar) and try to change directions using your own weight instead. In really thick sand sections, you might need to stand and pedal hard. It is usually best to gain speed on harder terrain and try to” float” your bike over sandy sections.

Sand uphill, sand downhill:

If you encounter sand going uphill, you need more speed and momentum. If the thicker sections are on your way down, you will need to focus on traction and bike control while throwing even more weight on the rear end.

Bike setup:

Trails with deeper, thicker sand require wider tires (such as the WTB Motoraptor 2.4) and lower tire pressure. On trails with light sand on a harder surface, a narrower tire can be an advantage since it will slice through the light sandy surface and allow you to push more on the harder surface below. In Egypt, most trails involve a variety of rock, sand or a mix of both, so your best bet is to run wider tires full-time. If the trail involves a lot of thick sand, it might also help to lower your saddle a few centimeters.

If you find yourself frequently plowing in deep, loose sand more than the usual, you might consider getting a “fat bike” with over-sized tires (3’+) and a frame and fork to accept them, such as the Surly Pugsley.

Video: A collection of descents in Wadi Digla

Thiis is a video made by some members of the Cairo Cyclists. The video shows a series of descents in Wadi Degla. The description provided by Dustin of Cairo Cyclists is :

Hey Bikers,

This collection of clips is hot off the presses. Faysal and I shot most of these on the South Side of Wadi Digla. There are a few notable “North Side” exceptions… namely, Paul’s “Brown Rat” ride near the end of the video.

Watch ONLY if you really enjoy mountain biking.

Dustin and Faysal

Novices should pay particular attention to riding position on descents in the video.

The Friday Degla Double

Title: The Friday Degla Double
Location: Wadi Degla
Description: Easy-paced group ride on main trail, but 8km more than last week’s ride for a small taste of longer endurance rides.

If we get a large enough group, we can split up into two groups by skill-level/speed..but again, this should be an easy ride.

Please bring:

– Your bikes 🙂 (forget this and you’ll be running)
– Enough water (three half-liter bottles is usually good for the ride, stash more in your car)
– Food (candy bars, power bars, left-overs from 7alawet el mouled :), anything to give you sustained energy)
– Ride kit: Your helmet, comfortable riding clothes, small repair kit (at least bring 1 inner tube, L.E. 8 from any bike shop)
Meeting at the Wadi entrance at 7:30, ride starts 8:00

Transportation is always an issue, and I am trying to work on that. If you can provide any help please let me know.
Start Time: 7:30 a.m.
Date: 2008-05-23
End Time: 10:30 a.m.

(Mis)adventures of a novice mountain biker

One of our new members, M.Zaree, has put together an extremely funny short comic of his near-death experience going on a steep downhill (off-trail!) on last Friday’s ride. If you don’t know Arabic, I have provided as good a translation as I could.

Thankfully, Zaree came out of the ordeal with minor injuries, and lived to tell the story for incoming waves of mtb novices to learn from 🙂

“I started off on top of a steep hill, ready to hammer down to the main trail”

“…then I started accelerating downhill at a blazingly fast speed”

“…I was supposed to pump the brakes when I hit the flat section…”

“…only problem is, I had no brakes to speak of…”

“…and the only physically possible outcome was catching air in a trajectory akin to a stalling airplane”

“…but since I had no parachute, the worst part was landing”

“…for which the result was…”

Ride log: Beginners' ride, Firday May 16th 2008

Riders (left to right): A. Ali, A. El Haddad, Hani Morsi, M. Zaree, Laith, Ayman, Doaa, Ehab, M. Hanafi, Husam (not shown are Husam who was behind the camera, May and Karim who left early)

Ride description: We rode the main trail for an easy 6km in and back. A short beginner skills workshop was held and everyone introduced to trail riding basics.

Problems: None other than a semi-flat tire and loose handlebar on May’s bike, which were taken care of swiftly. “Someone” who shall not be herein named went off trail and demonstrated what not to do when you have weak brakes :)…thankfully, the injuries were minor (gat saleema).

Summary: Excellent beginner ride, good turnout, good weather and great company! What more could you ask for?! Another ride of course!

Basic trail riding techniques: Riding position

A good riding position is one that provides optimum balance and bike control. Get on the bike and start pedaling around.

  • Your torso should be neither too outstretched to the front (as if you are reaching for something), nor too upright.
  • There should be a slight bend in your elbows.
  • Your grip on the handlebars should be strong enough for adequate control, but not too strong so as to fatigue your forearms.
  • Keep your body relaxed and your knees and elbows loose. At the lowest point of the crank movement, your leg should only be slightly bent (adjust your saddle height accordingly, preferably to be level with the handlebars).
  • Keep your head up and look ahead of you, not at the front tire (or the back tire of the rider ahead of you) or to the sides. Your bike has a tendency of going where you are looking.
  • Pedal to an easy rolling speed, then stand and coast. The crank arms should be at the 3 and 6 O’clock positions (parallel to the ground), your knees slightly bent and body loose and ready to absorb bumps.

Beginners ride, Friday May 16th 2008

Title: Beginners ride
Location: Wadi Degla
Description: Meet at 8:00 at the Wadi entrance. Easy ride on the Wadi floor for 90 minutes.

This ride that will introduce you to trail riding basics:

– Mountain bike preparation
– Riding position.
– Correct use of gears.
– How to Brake efficiently and safely
– Climbing and Descending techniques

You do not need to have any trail riding experience to attend. You will need to bring your own bike, helmet, water and some food.

We will meet in front of the Wadi entrance at 8:00. We will go on an easy ride on the main trail and have a little “skills workshop”. See below for more information.


Getting to and from Wadi Degla:

– If you have a car and need directions, check “Trails” on
– If you have a car and can take along one or more people with their bikes, and you are willing to do so, please let us know!
– If you don’t have a car or can’t find a ride, post on the wall or email mtbegypt at gmail dot com
Start Time: 08:00:00
Date: 2008-05-16
End Time: 10:30:00

A basic mountain biking kit list

As a beginner, the main objectives for purchasing your riding accessories are 1) safety, 2) functionality and 3) budget. What looks cooler or more expensive might not necessarily work well for you. Here is the basic accessory kit that you should have:

  1. Helmet: It is sometimes argued that riding off-road is actually safer than on-road, as there are no cars to hit you! Nonetheless, the possibility of injury remains and increases as your riding style advances and terrain becomes more challenging. No one should ride a bike on or off road without a helmet. We like and recommended the Giro line of mountain bike helmets. A very good and reasonably prices helmet is the Giro Indicator.
  2. Gloves: You need gloves for a better grip on the handle bars (try sweaty hands!) and to protect your hands in case of falling off your bike. There is full-finger and half-finger variety, which depends on your own preference (full-finger gloves naturally offer better protection).
  3. Eye-protection: A pair of sunglasses or clear-lens glasses to protect your eyes from the wind and dirt/mud kicked up by your front wheel.
  4. Hydration: You need water..plenty of it. Small water bottles in your backpack or bottle cage can often suffice on short rides. However, you will probably want to get a hydration pack (such as the Camelback line) for higher water capacity and almost hands-free use.
  5. Repair kit: Go riding with no basic trail repairs kit and your risk carrying your bike on the way back becuase of a flat tire or split chain. A small repair kit should include:
    1. A bike multi-tool or a small set of allen keys,
    2. Tire patch kit for fixing flats
    3. A spare tire tube
    4. A small or frame-mounted pump.

You can either put this kit in your backpack, or get a small behind-the-saddle bag.

There are other accessories of course, such as mountain biking-specific clothing, including shorts, jerseys and shoes. But we are focusing on the basics in this article.