5 Kit Lessons - Marathon Mountain Biking in The Dolomites

On my recent trip to the Italian Dolomites, I rode more elevation gain than I have in any other week previously. I rode longer climbs than I have ever encountered before. I raced, in two Italian mountain bike marathons; the X-Bionic Cup and the Südtirol Sellaronda HERO Dolomites, the latter of which is officially the hardest MTB marathon in the world!

I learnt a lot; both about myself, but also about my bike and kit choices. With that in mind, I thought I would share a few of my kit insights; from a week of 'proper' marathon mountain biking!

Lesson 1: Take a 'proper' waterproof jacket

When it rains in the mountains, it properly rains. Thunderstorms were a frequent feature of my trip; and when one takes you by surprise, you can be left both uncomfortable, and potentially very unsafe.

On my first day riding out from Val Gardena, I climbed straight up to the peak of Stevia; above the snow line, at 2,312 metres. On reaching the summit, the heavens opened. I had an expensive wind-proof jacket with me, but it wasn't enough when I needed to descend 1,000 metres back down into the valley below.

My recommendation is that when riding in the mountains, ditch the windproof, and take a proper waterproof jacket, like the GORE Oxygen 2.0 Jacket or Huez Starman Storm Jacket.
I wished I had taken a proper waterproof, like the GORE Bike Wear Oxygen 2.0 Jacket

Lesson 2: Mountain bike marathon racers don't use rucksacks

Normally, I'd ride on the mountain bike with a Camelbak; I use it to house kit, spares, and a bladder of water. I stood out like a sore thumb though, wearing one in the field of Italian racers on the start line at the HERO Südtirol Dolomites.

Mountain bike marathon riders seem to adopt a different (perhaps more old-school approach): bottles on the bike; tubes and tools in a saddlebag; other spares (like tubeless repair cartridges) strapped to the bike; phone and packable jacket in jersey pockets. This approach is lighter, for sure; but it also reduces the discomfort of having an unbreathable object on your back in hot conditions, as well as making water refills quicker.

I need to experiment with saddlebags, jackets and pumps, to find what will work best.
Marathon mountain bike racers tend to ride without hydration packs

Lesson 3: Fit soft foam grips

At the moment, I'm using Hope Technology SL Lock-on Grips on my Pivot LES; they are super comfortable, and provide a really secure hold. However, even using my favourite GripGrab SuperGel XC Gloves, I came away from a week of long downhills in the Dolomites with calluses and blisters on my palms. A set of foam grips, like the Lizard Skins DSP Grips, would have been a better choice.
The Lizard Skins DSP Grips would have been a softer, more hand-friendly option

Lesson 4: Use all-season tyres

I made a last minute switch from my standard UK summer tyres, to the Hutchinson Toro Hardskin RR Tubeless tyres; it was the best decision I've made for some time. The added grip, traction and protection from sharp rock-induced punctures, was priceless. These tyres are now firmly my favourite do-it-all XC tyres; I was finding grip, when many others were washing out.
I got this one right. The Hutchinson Toro was perfect for The Dolomites

Lesson 5: Go BIG on gearing!

Last, but very definitely not least… gearing. A few weeks ago, I fitted a 40 tooth Hope Technology T-Rex Cassette expander cog to my cassette; it gave me a significantly lower gear of 32x40T, compared to my normal 32x36T. It wasn't enough though…

I hadn't anticipated how steep the Dolomites climbs would be; or how long they would go on for; or how much I would crave a lower gear, as I pushed up sections after six hours in the saddle. Next time, I'll look for a 42T cassette at least, and more likely a 44T; it would have given me a 'get out of jail' gear, which I wished for a few times!
Go BIG, or go home. I wished I had more than a 40T on the rear at times. I'll know better, for next time...

Five lessons, which I'll put into practice for my next 'proper' mountain bike marathon. I'm still learning new things every day!


  1. I get terrible numbness in my hands from riding on my MTD. A world of grrr.

  2. Great post! I found it very useful. Love the final result. Thanks for the inspiration and the tips.


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