A Guide to Safely Mountain Biking in Winter

winter bikingYou don’t have to stop bik­ing just because there’s snow on the ground and tem­per­a­tures are approach­ing sub-freez­ing. With the right gear on hand and a game plan in place, there’s no rea­son not to head out­doors to the near­est moun­tain bik­ing trails. Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be good to go year round.

Lay­er Up
Lay­er­ing is the key to doing any phys­i­cal activ­i­ty out­doors dur­ing the win­ter­time. Tem­per­a­tures in win­ter can fluc­tu­ate wild­ly through­out the day so you have to dress appro­pri­ate­ly. Far too often moun­tain bik­ers will pile on the thick cloth­ing to try and stay warm. Over­heat­ing dur­ing the win­ter can be dan­ger­ous. Sweat will cause your clothes to be wet and once your sweat dries, you will be cold again. You want to stay mild­ly warm, but not too hot. Accom­plish this by putting on lay­ers that can be removed as you get hot­ter. Meri­no wool, wick­ing fab­rics, and base lay­ers are all neces­si­ties. Avoid cot­ton dur­ing the winter.

Fix Your Headspace
Plen­ty of peo­ple avoid the out­doors dur­ing win­ter sim­ply because the thought of fac­ing the cold is too much. Spend some time putting your­self in the right head­space. While it might seem too cold at first, remem­ber that as you get mov­ing your body will heat up and adjust to the weath­er. Med­i­tate, stretch, and warm up indoors and you’ll find that you’re ready in no time.

Prep Your Bike
The most obvi­ous change you can make for the win­ter is to switch to a fat­bike. These hefty bikes are primed for win­ter con­di­tions, with fat­ter tires meant for tra­vers­ing snow and mud. If that’s not an option, fret not—you can still hit the trails.

Before embark­ing on a moun­tain bik­ing adven­ture you’ll want to address a few things. First, switch out your tires for a pair with an open tread pat­tern that’s designed for mud­dy and wet con­di­tions. Sec­ond, low­er the tire pres­sure to help increase the grip. When it comes to your dri­ve­train, you’ll want to use a chain lube that’s specif­i­cal­ly meant for wet­ter con­di­tions. It’s also impor­tant to clear it of snow and debris after every ride. You might also con­sid­er installing a mud­guard to help pro­tect your bike.

Add Lights
If you’re going to be rid­ing in the win­ter keep in mind that you might not be as vis­i­ble as you’re used to. The days are short­er so you’re like­ly to hit dark­ness if you ride late in the day. Also, when there’s snow on the ground it can impair the vision of oth­er peo­ple on the trail. Com­bat this by adding col­or­ful lights to your bike and your clothes. They’ll make you more notice­able and less like­ly to sur­prise unas­sum­ing hik­ers and oth­er moun­tain bikers.

Stay Hydrat­ed
Some peo­ple assume that cool­er tem­per­a­tures mean your body needs less hydra­tion. This is absolute­ly false. Keep­ing your body hydrat­ed is essen­tial whether it’s the mid­dle of sum­mer or a freez­ing ‑5 degrees. Bring along a hydra­tion pack that’s full of water and play with it occa­sion­al­ly so the water doesn’t remain stag­nant and freeze. Keep it under your out­er lay­er to pro­tect it from the cold.

Mind the Ice
While ice might not seem to be as big of a threat on a trail as on the road, it can still cause you to have a very bad day. The speed at which you descend a moun­tain trail can eas­i­ly cause you to miss an icy patch up ahead. Be sure to study the trail thor­ough­ly before head­ing out, so you know how sus­cep­ti­ble it is to bad con­di­tions. If there are rivers, creeks, or streams near­by, it’s pos­si­ble for them to over­flow and wreck your day. Be mind­ful of your sur­round­ings and pre­pared to stop in an instant. Plac­ing studs on the rear tire can help in these sit­u­a­tions, but is not a full-proof solution.

Head South
If all else fails, head south for the win­ter. While you prob­a­bly don’t want to bike up in the high Rock­ies in the dead of win­ter, there are still great options in the South­west for win­ter bik­ing that doesn’t involve quite as much snow. New Mex­i­co, Ari­zona, and South­ern Cal­i­for­nia are all great options for moun­tain bik­ing get­aways that offer warmer tem­per­a­tures through­out the year. Just be sure to check the weath­er fore­cast before you go, because there’s nev­er any guar­an­tee of a sun­ny day.