You 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.