Winter Riding tips
Updated: Feb 27
I love riding in winter. It's totally different from summer riding! In the winter, you don't need to worry about bears or mosquitoes. It's easy to enjoy the beauty of the snow, the tunnel vision of riding at night, and the coziness of your pogies.
It can be challenging to ride in winter as well. It's hard to get started and requires a lot of gear.
Hopefully, this post will help simplify winter riding for you. Hopefully, it will either help you get started or help get your existing kit dialed in.
So many choices! Some people get by on plus-tire bikes. Others just ride a regular mountain bike all year round. I love riding a fat tire bike in the winter. Doing so helps me get out more often. How? Wider tires make riding more accessible in soft conditions. I have an Otso Voytek. I love the different wheel sizes that are compatible with this bike. My bike is set up with 4-inch studded tires on 27.5x 80mm rims. I love 27.5 wheels on a fat bike! It feels fast and easy. Whatever your setup, tire pressure is key. Some people swear by composite pedals because they help keep your feet warm. I use metal pedals in the winter. I don't get cold feet with the right boots. I do have carbon handlebars, they don't feel as cold as aluminum bars. Aluminum has higher thermal conductivity than carbon. Yay science.
Pogies: I'd die without them. I use pogies and wear bike gloves inside. This setup works well for me because wearing winter gloves adds a lot of bulk to your hands, making it difficult to brake and shift well. I prefer pogies that lock onto the ends of my handlebars. They don't fall off my bike while I'm driving to the trailhead.
Frame bags: Using frame bags prevents you from carrying a backpack that allows your sweat to evaporate. Moisture management is important in winter. I have a bag in my front triangle, a feed bag, and a gas tank from Revelate Designs.
Hats, gloves, gaiter, etc: I always bring different weights of gloves and hats. Sometimes things happen on the trail and you might have to stop for a bit. If you're out for a long ride, you might experience a 20-degree temperature change during your ride! It helps to have options. It's also nice to have something to cover your cheeks when it is especially cold out.
Warm boots: Wear boots that are comfortable and that give you a little air space. If the boots are tight, your feet will be cold. I have Solomon winter boots. These were boots that fit my budget and were most comfortable for my feet. I made sure to get boots that were waterproof. Sometimes there's water on the trail that is not in its preferred frozen form. Wet feet are a deal breaker for me.
Layers: this takes a lot of practice! Everybody is different and you'll have to do a little figuring out to find what works best for you. As a general rule, there will be base layers and outer layers. sometimes there will be a mid-layer, depending on the temperature. This was a lot of trial and error for me and some days, I still get it wrong. I tend to err on the side of overdressing because you can always take clothes off but you can't add clothes that you don't have. Also, I never wear a chamois in the winter. The last time I did, I ended up putting my partner's fleece hat down the front of my pants because I was too cold. Never again!
Food & Drink
I pack food that won't freeze. Some favorites have all been homemade food. Pretzel balls with cheese and pepperoni, cookies, raspberry muffins, espresso bean-coated date balls...
Some store-bought favorites include Picky Bars and trail mix. I avoid Kind bars, they freeze so hard that I worry about breaking my teeth when I bite into them. Sometimes, I'll put a Fire Island croissant in my gas tank. It's messy but delicious.
I bring a couple of Hydroflasks to bring water. I have had good luck with Hydrapaks not freezing as well. I often bring hot water or tea in my coffee mug. Sometimes I'll pack some broth. Dashi is my favorite. I never use a hydration hose. I've always had bad luck with those. No matter how much I blow the water back, keep it in my jacket, insulate it, etc., it always manages to freeze.
Riding in the snow is very similar to riding on dirt! All the same skills apply!
With the right tires and air pressure, you can find all the grip you need. I run my rear tire a little firmer than my front tire. This is to allow for my front tire to grip a little better and my rear tire to support my weight without folding the sidewalls of my tires, which will ruin your tires quickly.
Winter single track is really fun! It can be challenging sometimes too. You'll see a lot of snow angels on the sides of the trails. These are often made by people who succumbed to the soft sides of the trail. My best advice in avoiding making snow angels is to look ahead. Looking a little further down the trail will help you keep your balance better, which is especially important if you are riding at a slower speed (which you often are on a fat bike!). Sometimes, a little speed helps to keep you upright.
When it comes to braking, it's very similar to mountain biking. You want to make sure you don't lock up your wheels. When this happens, things go sideways (literally). This may mean that sometimes you are going a little faster than you want to. A way to prevent that is to approach with a lower speed. When you do this, you begin descending at a more comfortable speed. If you feel like you're going too slow, you can easily add more speed by releasing a little brake or by adding a few pedal strokes in. Any time you feel out of control, try looking a little further down the trail. Eyes on the prize!
When you're climbing, it's really important to be in the right gear. Too hard, and you'll spin out your rear tire. When you're first starting out, it might help you err on the side of easy gearing. Sometimes different conditions warrant different gearing. You might ride that one hill on that one particular trail in x gear but if it's icy or soft, you might find a different gear works better. A lot of this is learned through trial and error and experience riding in different conditions.
I often get asked about tire pressure. There are no firm rules about what pressure to run. I have a few things I do to help me with my tire pressure. I start out with my tires a little firmer than I'd ride in my garage. By the time I get to the trailhead, the tire pressure will be different due to the change in temperature from inside my garage to the trailhead. I check the pressure at the trailhead before I ride and consider the conditions. I'll go softer for soft conditions, and vice-versa for firm conditions. I check to see if I'm making a rut. If I am, I'll let a little air out. Of course, there may be times when you do make a bit of a track if the snow is really soft or if it's fresh and there is no way to not make a track so keep that in mind when you are checking your pressure. This is yet another thing that will be learned through experience.
The best way to learn is to get out and give it a try. Experiment. Remember that you can always adjust your tire pressure on the trail. Consider your preferences for cold-weather comfort. Lastly, if you need some advice or want to book a winter lesson, shoot me an email. See you out on the trails!