Gearing Up For Winter Mountain Biking
Mountain biking is a sport that is enjoyed for the better part of three seasons for most people. However, harsh winter conditions often force bikes into the garage and bikers off of the trail. Yet, as many trails pass through relatively sheltered wooded areas, biking on these trails in the winter is not as harsh as road biking and for many bikers is a great peaceful way to enjoy the sport year round. Still, in order to enjoy your ride safely in the winter having the right gear is essential. The right gear for winter biking is more specific than for running or hiking as there is a more technical aspect to the sports fundamentals. There are certain specifics that come into play whether we are looking procuring the right gear for the person or the bike. Fortunately, we can simplify winter biking gear into a few categories that will require only minor investments of time and money to make your winter riding experience incredibly enjoyable.
Let's look at clothing for winter biking in a bit more detail and examine what one would need to stay dry and safe.
- Gloves - gloves for winter biking should be waterproof, windproof and offer good dexterity in the fingers. They do not necessarily need to be overly insulated like skiing or snowboarding gloves, as you are only out biking for an hour or two in the winter. Windproof and waterproof gloves will keep your hands dry and warm as you cruise the trails.
- Jacket - Again, windproof and waterproof is a must for a jacket that will act as an outer shell. Tighter fitting jackets are a much better choice as they will allow for a more comfortable ride and are less likely to get caught up on branches and brambles.
- Pants- Tights, or snug fitting pants are a must. Windproof is a help, but many tighter pants are not available with windproof or waterproof options. There are still warm options that are also snug, and ones that will allow for some wind and water protection. Since your legs are slightly shielded from the bike and always moving,winter pants can be less bulky than the rest of your gear, but must be snug so that they do not catch on your bike or brambles.
- Face - Goggles, a face mask such as a balaclava, and a tight fitting skull cap are all a must. You still want your helmet to fit correctly, so a tight skull cap or thin hat is a good choice. You will definitely want serious eye protection and something to guard your face so goggles, (ski goggles work great) are a must.
- Under layer - Socks shirts and underwear should all be tight fitting and moisture wicking to keep your sweat off of your body and keep you warm. Do not use cotton, as it will hold sweat and make you chill quickly if you have to stop.
- Pads - If you have elbow or knee pads its a good idea to consider wearing them in the winter to prevent injuries from falling. Since snow is incredibly slippery you will fall more often thus, it is a good idea to wear pads for any winter ride if you ride aggressively.
There are a few essential upgrades or changes to your bike that you will want to consider, when the winter weather hits. Namely you want to alter your setup to compensate for the snow on the ground and for the cold temperatures.
- Tires - Fatert is better in this case. Fat tires will help you maintain traction in the snow. For many people this means investing in a pair of wider than normal tires that may seem heavy, and sluggish but will provide a tremendous amount of traction for snow travel. It is best to pick tires that are aggressively studded on the edges as that will help you prevent over slide in turns.
- Pedals - Platform pedals are a must in the winter. Clip-in or clipless pedals will have a tendency to freeze up and bind in cold weather making it difficult to clip in and out during tough trail conditions. This means that you will be more likely to have mechanical issues on the trail and take a spill when you can't unclip. Platform pedals make it easier to put a foot down when conditions get tough. You will find yourself wanting to plant more often when the conditions are slippery. Make sure to use platform pedals with wide pinsets and those which are aggressively studded for optimal grip. New pedals do not have to be expensive and you can find great platform pedals for under 100 dollars and even great pedals under 50 dollars if you do not have a lot to spend.
- Don't Over Lube- Don't over oil your chains and forkduring the winter as the cold weather will make oil thick and can actually make your chain less functional. Look for lightweight oils, or wax pase oils and use as little as necessary to avoid frozen chains and forks.
- Get a Fender - Getting a rear or front fender for your tires will drastically reduce the amount of snow you throw up in the winter and will help keep the cold mud and icy water off of you.
- Clean Your Bike After Every Ride - A must in the winter. Keeping your bike clean will help to avoid frozen parts and unnecessary wear on the drivetrain and forks.
Always let someone know where you are going if you go for a ride in the winter. Getting injured can be exponentially more serious if you do so in cold conditions. Make sure to wear bright colors as many areas open to biking are also open to hunting in the winter. Being safe before you go out on the trail will help you to have a better experience regardless of the conditions.
Bring change of clothes with you, if your clothes get wet, it is easy to become dangerously cold. Changing into appropriate dry clothing will help you deal with winter conditions much easier and make for a better 'after ride' experience. It is also a good idea to pack a towel to dry off with as removing sweat from your body will help you to heat back up faster after the ride.
Since the sun sets earlier it is a good idea to keep a light on your bike for winter rides as it can help if you find yourself caught at dusk and need a bit of light to find your way back. In the same vein, it is a good idea to start winter rides on trails that you are familiar with rather than new trails or those you have only been on a few times. Familiar trails can look much different in a blanket of snow and it is much easier to get lost in the winter. Taking the appropriate cautions can help you maintain your fitness in the winter and enjoy a completely different style of riding.