I’m a big believer in making do with the gear that you already own, especially if you don’t have the budget to be splashing out on a whole lot of brand new gear. Borrowing gear from friends, or buying second-hand from Trade Me and Buy/Sell/Exchange pages is also a great way to get started. The gear and equipment that I use now I have collected in dribs and drabs over the past 5 years, and I’ve included a few examples below.
My biggest piece of advice is to get your gear organised early. This means that over the next few months you can train with what you’re going to use, and will save you running around like a mad woman at the last minute before the event. Take a look at the compulsory gear list for your event on the Spring Challenge website.
The compulsory gear list is your Bible and each item has been listed for a good reason. It’s also a good place to start when packing for your training adventures. You can refine and add to the list as you find what works for you. See this link for my autumn and springtime adventure wardrobe.
A full length wetsuit is recommended for the raft stage. If you don’t own or can’t borrow a full length wetsuit, try a short sleeve wetsuit with thermal layers underneath, and maybe a jacket over top if you really feel the cold.
Because I did triathlon for a couple of years I have a half-decent wetsuit that I purchased from Wiggle. It was my first real wetsuit since borrowing my Mum’s ancient one for waterskiing on summer holidays! It’s been great for Spring Challenge. But as I feel the cold, even with a full length wetsuit I’ve sometimes worn long thermals underneath, and last year because I had been nominated to go in the front of the raft (and get the wettest) I wore my kayaking jacket too!
Your bike should be in good working order and be comfortable to ride for 1-4 hours at a time - depending on which event you’ve entered. Check out the expected times and distances from the Geraldine event last year here to get an idea of how long you might need to ride for. Getting a proper bike fit and finding a saddle that’s comfortable for you will go a long way in achieving long ride comfort. Also, don’t forget a decent helmet to protect your precious noggin.
Full Suspension vs. Hard Tail (no rear suspension)? Carbon or Alloy Frame?
These are probably the most common questions I hear about Spring Challenge. There are really many factors that come into the answer and it depends on each situation. Until you’ve got a bit of riding experience I think what matters most is the machine that is powering the bike, ie. you, and that you're as comfortable as possible. Because you being comfortable also means being strong and fast! The type of bike depends on the type of riding you want to do, your budget, and whether you plan on doing more riding after Spring Challenge - for fun, adventuring, or racing.
I’ve been mountain biking for about 5 years and it’s all been on a hard tail. When I started dabbling in cross-country racing it was with a cheap, second hand alloy frame bike with 26” wheels. Once I was sure I actually enjoyed mountain biking I bought a new but still cheap alloy frame bike with 29” wheels, so I could go a bit faster. Then a year later I treated myself to a carbon frame, 27.5” wheels, once I got to a fitness and skill level where I was a bit more competitive. And all those bikes were perfect for Spring Challenge for the level that I was at. I still ride the 27.5” hard tail now, but recently with doing longer bikepacking rides and the recent Lake Hawea Centurion (hard tail hell!) I’ve vowed to treat myself to a full suspension bike for next summer. My backside and legs deserve it!
I know that doesn’t necessarily answer the question, but hopefully by sharing my quick mountain biking history you can see how it depends on different factors and is different for everyone.
Here’s a link that describes your options for bike shoes better than I ever could - www.singletracks.com/blog/mtb-gear/how-to-choose-the-best-mountain-bike-shoes. Many people will change shoes between disciplines but it all depends on what you’re used to and what you’ve trained with. Personally I ride with cleats - technically 'clipless pedals' but you'll often hear this same set-up referred to as 'clip in shoes'. Somewhat confusing, yes, but the link above should help clear that up! I've ridden with cleats for a few years because of the type of riding I do - cross-country and adventure rides. That means not super technical downhill and not much getting on and off. Plus I notice the difference in power riding uphill - being able to pull up as well as pushing down on the pedals.
A mapboard is key to avoid stopping and getting maps out of your backpack every time you want to check the map. We did this on my very first Spring Challenge event - because we hadn’t even heard of mapboards - and we wasted a lot of time! There are fancy mapboards that you can buy or you can rig up something yourself. My own one is nothing fancy and cost about $15 to make - a cheap clipboard, some foam, and cable ties has done the trick for the past 3 years.
A pair of shoes that you’re happy to walk/jog/run a reasonable distance in and that are still comfortable when you get wet and muddy. I wear Inov8 trail running shoes - I like them because they’re grippy in both dry and wet conditions, and they’re relatively light when wet.
The Inov8 trail shoe love affair.
A daypack with about 8 – 20L capacity, depending on how much stuff you carry, will do the trick for Spring Challenge. Ideally it will have a hydration bladder so you have easy access to water on the move. It should be large enough to carry all the compulsory gear during the event as well as the gear you take on training adventures. I generally use an Osprey Raptor 10 for day mountain bike rides and an Osprey Tempest 20 for day hikes. Check them out online at Bivouac. I’ll normally carry a waterproof jacket, jersey, additional merino layers for top and bottom, a personal first aid kit, and plenty of food.
Practise carrying this gear as much as possible when out walking and biking. Carrying all the gear while riding your bike for many hours can get quite uncomfortable so it’s good to try it out in training and see how it feels.
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