Riding in the winter sounds as simple as just riding your bike in the colder weather, but there are a few things you need to consider before you venture out, and the more you think about it, the more daunting it can be.
Hopefully we can put your mind at rest with these handy hints.
1. Weather specific clothing.
The most obvious thing to think of when talking about winter riding, is clothing. As we all know, it can be extremely cold but more notably, cold AND wet so using the right kit is key.
We all know that layering is brilliant but layering with what is something that most get wrong – Keep to technical fabric and STAY AWAY FROM COTTON.
(Merino wool is fantastic for socks, base layers, hats and many other items.)
There’s a temptation to throw on a thick fleece and heavy duty waterproofs to keep mother nature at bay but you also have remember that they will make you sweat and when the temperature is hovering around zero, sweat will accumulate under clothes which can make you feel wet, cold and clammy.
As a newbie, you may have clothing that is designed for other sports but be warned this may not have the correct fit for your position when riding, or the correct properties to keep you moisture-free – In a pinch base layers, lightweight windproof jackets, socks and hats for running or other high intensity sports may well do you proud.
Knowing if you have enough clothes on, or even too many for that matter is crucial to a good ride, so if you’re unsure, go outside before your ride and see how you feel, remember though the effort of riding will warm you up so plan to be cooler for the first 10 minutes of your activity and try to stick to clothing with zips, this help with moisture control as you can zip down a mid layer but zip up an outer layer eg. A windproof jacket, keeping the elements at bay.
High quality windproof / winter gloves and overshoes will keep your extremities warm – Braking with numb fingers can be extremely dangerous.
Clear or coloured glasses are a good idea to keep spray and grit out of your eyes – Yellow, Red or Orange tints all help to pick up trail obstacles when the days are grey.
- Waterproof Jacket
- Thermal, wicking base layer
- Eyewear – Tinted
- Technical Trousers – Waterproof shorts and knee warmers.
- Windproof & Thermal gloves
- Thermal socks,
- Under helmet cap / Buff
- Winter specific shoes
Tearing around a damp, mucky trail on your summer tyres isn’t really the best idea.
Lack of grip from these fast rolling lightweight dealers of speed isn’t fun in the winter – Opt for something a bit more mud specific, a slightly heavier weight carcass also doesn’t go a miss – fixing punctures when you’re cold, wet and want to go home is NOT fun.
Depending on your budget and requirements steel bead tyres can be a cheap entrance into the world of mud / winter tyres without going overboard.
Keeping your bike in top condition is something we should all be doing anyway, but in winter you’ll need to point your attention to moving parts especially metal on metal parts, like hubs, bottom brackets, chains, cables and headsets – Suspension parts also take a beating in the winter.
Regular cleaning and lubrication will show up most issues before they become major headaches. As much as using the jet wash at your local trail centre is appealing, steer clear of it – Jet washes force grease out of bearings and pushes water in its place, not brilliant for anyone other than pro-teams who need quick cleaning. A quick hose off whilst the muck is still wet takes the bulk off and using a cycling specific cleaner with a sponge or brush will take the rest of. Cleaning and lubrication post ride should take around 10-30 minutes.
Minimise the mid-ride mechanical mishaps by keeping your bike clean, a clean bike is a happy bike… Especially if you can get someone else to do it.
4. Winter bikes
This is something that breads contention in many circles, however I am a huge supporter of them.
Riding in winter takes its toll on a lot of components and if you’re like me and are just a little bit lazy, having a specific bike for rubbish weather means life is just a little easier.
A winter bike is something that is “generally” a little older and is just a little less posh than your main bike… At least in the beginning.
I started off with an old hard-tail frame from a friend (circa £50 if memory serves) then built it up with spares I had knocking around in the garage. (total spent was around £120!) It was heavy, sluggish and nothing like my main bike, I’d managed to cobble together a single-speed rigid and by using this bike in the winter I had something with no suspension to go wrong, no gears to wear out, significantly less moving parts to worry about less time wasted by swapping over tyres etc.
All I have to concentrate on now is keeping the chain lubricated and the pads fresh.