If you strive for more than mere survival when the temperatures fall, and want to actually enjoy riding in cold conditions, follow our guide and put the ‘win’ in winter.
In many parts of the mountain biking world, riding is a seasonal thing where you swap edges for tyres and shralp the brown pow instead of the white stuff. ‘Cold’ days on the bike just mean throwing on a showerproof or a long sleeve top when you ride the gondola. For others, the long winter means short days, freezing temperatures and saturated trails, it’s the season that must be endured.
Cool Kit Kills Cold
Some would say that enjoying cold weather riding is a mental thing, a state of mind that enables you to take pleasure from taking on Mother Nature’s worst. Being cold and wet is utterly miserable and in mountain terrain, potentially life threatening. However, with the right tweaks to your gear it’s completely avoidable.
Beat up from the feet up
Numb feet and chilblains ruin rides. Fact. Specific winter boots are the supreme choice but they are expensive and if you ride flats your options are limited. Luckily there are a number of quick and cheap hacks for toasty toes. Waterproof socks are a mid price option and work well until the water runs down the inside and stays there! A thick wool sock will let the water drain and be warm when wet for half the cost. For added warmth get the heavy-duty duct tape out and cover the vent panels in your shoes, then give your toes a thermal space blanket by wrapping them in tin foil before you put your shoes on. Your shoes are now water-resistant and windproof and the foil reflects heat back into your toes, winner!
Give Winter the middle digit
Losing all feeling in your fingers is a recipe for disaster but winter gloves are usually too bulky for playful riding. Old ski gloves can be thrown on over your favorite gloves for warmth on the climbs and slung into your pack for maximum feel on the descents or slip a pair of nitrile mechanics gloves or washing up gloves under your mitts for a cheap, if slightly sweaty, hack that will stop your fingertips turning black with frostbite. If you run metal brake levers, try putting a silicon cover over them to help insulate your digits and give you added grip in the wet.
To the extremities
Next on your agenda should be your head. Contrary to popular belief, you only lose a proportional amount of heat through your head but this is little consolation when you have a 3rd degree brain freeze, your eyeballs have frozen shut and your face is so red raw that you look like an aging alcoholic. Restrict or warm the flow of air for a happy head; a thermal liner or Buff works well and taping up the front vents of your lid is a cheap winter hack that will drastically decrease the chill factor.
You may shun goggles during the warmer months but, come winter, they are best way to stop 100% of the shit getting in your eye and the cold air from blurring your vision. Plus they keep your forehead and cheeks warm, a real bonus on fast descents and windy ridgelines. These are the best MTB goggles you can buy.
Dumb dumbs get numb bums
Most riders will put up with a wet bum in mild and wet conditions but for cold rides, consider investing in some waterproof shorts to keep your most sensitive parts from feeling like they’ve been power-hosed with glacier run off. Trust us, chilblained testicles are a torture not even the Inquisition would have inflicted. For a inexpensive hack, go to an army surplus store and get some ex MOD Gore-Tex trousers and cut ‘em down!
Poor Planning leads to Piss Poor Performance
It’s an old and probably overused saying but it’s particularly apt for riding the backcountry in winter. Plan your route thoroughly but don’t solely rely on a GPS or phone app to get you home, take a map and compass and know how to use it. Tell someone your route and when you are due home.Take everything you need to repair your bike and know how to fix/bodge a broken component, especially tyres and drive-chain dramas. A long push home in winter conditions is a test of character that you don’t need.
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst
Damp kit leaches heat from your body, using up your precious energy reserves and quickly lowering your core temperature: if it falls by just 2 degrees celsius you are hypothermic. Packing a spare base layer and a synthetic gilet to change into will keep your core warm should you have to stop for a while. Winter is not the time go minimalist, ‘better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it’, is something you need to remind yourself as you pack for each adventure as shit will happen if you leave it behind. So man (or woman) up and wear a pack.
Change like Superman
You cool down quickly once you are stood around so get some dry and warm kit on ASAP. Still balancing on your shoes naked in the car park before throwing all your muddy kit in the back of your car? A changing robe will get you cosy and warm straight away and you can just drive home wearing it. The best ones are water and windproof and make a massive difference to your post ride glow. A rubber doormat, a square of workshop flooring or a proper changing mat will get your socks out of the mud or stones and give your feet some much needed insulation as you get changed and pick up a rubble tub for any DIY store and use this to transport your rank gear and save your car’s interior.
Pain enjoys company and company enjoys a dram!
Make your winter rides as social as possible. A hot drink and cheerful banter will get you amped so meet in a cafe and you won’t be stamping your feet in a cold car park while you wait for your mates. Sharing the challenge with like minded buddies makes even the worst days half as bad. More riders, means more laughs but also more support, which is safer for all and you can spread some of the gear out between you.
Lastly, pack a hip flask with a decent single malt for a wee morale boost when times get dark or to toast enjoying your ride, rather than just surviving it.
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Words: Thomas Corfield Photos: Trev Worsey