Guide to Winter Biking: Essential Equipment for the Off-Season
A little frost doesn’t have to stop you getting your trail on
Whether you live high up in the Northern hemisphere or are just looking to get a regular ride in this winter, we’ve got you covered. For all but the most hardcore of Northern winter-bred folk, the cold and snow used to mean locking the bike away in a dusty garage for several months while you await the thaw. However, these days equipment has caught up with the seasons and there are plenty of technical products available to assist in a winter ride, making it both enjoyable and fun.
The main thing you’ll want to get covered is the clothing. It’s important to dress warm, obviously, but this doesn’t mean cotton socks and jumpers. Unfortunately your grandmother’s knitted jumper is likely to have little heat retention and when cotton becomes wet it stays wet. You’ll generally want to focus on quick-dry materials and waterproofs. Merino wool is one to look out for; merino wool is thinner and softer than regular wool and can absorb up to 30% of it’s own weight in moisture and still feel dry to the touch.
Merino wool is particularly useful for socks as while biking in cold conditions your feet and toes are particularly susceptible to low circulation and will be the first parts to begin numbing. You can find a hybrid blend called TurboWOOL here in these excellent Wolf Tooth components socks, made of 50% Merino Wool and 50% Polypropylene. These are well insulated and the blend offers increased strength and durability whilst also being itch free.
For the best experience whilst winter biking, it’s advisable to wear more than just a pair of socks. Get yourself covered with a long-sleeve thermal base layer, warm gloves (preferably with a thick insulating material on the backs of the hands), waterproof jacket and sturdy shoes. It’s also important to cover your head; for the coldest of weathers a skullcap will usually fit snugly underneath your helmet and offer a little more protection from the elements.
Make sure to look after your safety whilst out on the trail
It almost goes without saying that riding in harsh and cold conditions can increase the chance of accidents. Snow and ice can be treacherous and slippery so make sure you’ve got your kneepads, elbowpads, helmet and a pair of clear goggles to keep slush and mud from your eyes. Be 100% sure with your safety; depending on the conditions (i.e. blizzard and sub-zero temperatures) it may be safer to stay at home. This doesn’t mean you can’t get the exercise in and ensure your body is in optimal condition for the next big ride. The Wahoo Kikr is an interesting piece of home-training equipment for the days you absolutely can’t get out. The Kikr comes with a fitness app that allows you adaptive control of your training session. This got me thinking about the possibility of combining virtual reality gear like the Oculus with home-training MTB equipment. VR is already pretty world changing in it’s potential, but it could really go far with mountain biking. It could allow you to experience famous tracks, extremely dangerous tracks or simply compete against friends while building your fitness level from home during harsh winter-weather. Exciting times.
Fatbike riding in the snow
The optimal bike for winter and snow is the fatbike; these have immensely thick tires which improve stabilisation and grip. However, if you’re riding in the rain and mud a bike with aggressive tires – this generally means all-terrain tires, which have larger tread blocks and provide better traction in off-road conditions – you may not need to splash out on an entirely new bike. Before heading out simply make sure your bike is well-maintained and unlikely to cause any unforeseen issues. Using a lower pressure tire and loosening your suspension a little will ensure you have extra grip whilst out on the trail. Greasing the headset is a good way to protect your bearings from mud and slush and you can also keep the mud and slush away by installing mudguards on the front and back of your bike.
So that’s pretty much it; dress up warm, get the right equipment, look after your bike and, most importantly, look after yourself. It’s advisable to tell a friend or family member where you are going if you’re heading out in particularly harsh conditions but it’s comforting to know that a little bit of rain or snow no longer has to prevent you from getting your biking fix in. With the right equipment, this is most definitely a year-round sport.
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